One Clean Shot
Hailey Wyatt's life is finally settling into a sort of normalcy after the tragedy that struck her family. Or it seems that way until an investigation into the homicide of two powerful San Francisco residents is suddenly the center of a media frenzy.
Because someone is taking a strong stance against guns . . . and they're willing to kill to make sure they're heard.
The department has a message for Hailey, as well. Solve the case. Quickly. Or else.
Worse, the only connection between the victims is a friendship with Hailey's father-in-law. As the evidence points closer to home, Hailey's partner questions her dedication to the pursuit of justice.
As he should. Because Hailey has secrets of her own.
Secrets she's willing to die for.
Release date: March 27, 2015
Publisher: Saddle Peak Entertainment
Print pages: 396
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One Clean Shot
Standing in her in-laws’ kitchen, Hailey Wyatt removed the red bell pepper from the steamer with a pair of tongs.
Her eyes burned with exhaustion. She just wanted to be home, catching up on her sleep so she could face another day tomorrow. And hopefully make a break in this case—the murder of a couple in San Francisco and a death in Sacramento that had previously been ruled a suicide. There was some connection between the deaths and gun politics. That was as much as they knew. That and the killer liked to leave them strange clues.
One night off and here she was, at the senator’s house. She’d be back on the case tomorrow, banging her head against the walls in Homicide. This was supposed to be her night to relax. She’d wanted a quiet evening at home, with her children.
“A family dinner,” John had pressed when she balked at the idea of going out. “My parents want to spend time with us and their grandchildren.” She’d never known her grandparents. Hell, she had never even met her father. Of course, she wanted Camilla and Ali to be close to John’s parents.
But wasn’t it fair to want time with her family? Just her and the girls and John?
And since they’d arrived, the girls weren’t even spending time with their grandparents. Not Ali anyway. And Hailey was alone in her in-laws’ kitchen, making chicken parmesan.
Her mother-in-law, Liz, was helping Hailey’s older daughter, Camilla, get dressed for their evening out. Liz had bought tickets to take each of the girls to dinner and a show, and tonight was Camilla’s turn to see Wicked. In a few weeks, Ali would get to see the Lion King with her grandmother, but she was already feeling left out. In the last half hour, she’d moped through the kitchen twice, complaining she was bored.
To make matters worse, Hailey’s husband and her father-in-law had shut themselves in the den, planning for John’s first political campaign. John had been an attorney in the DA’s office for almost six years. The time was right.
According to Jim.
Jim had won his bid for senate, and now the focus was to get John on the next ballot for state representative. What was supposed to be a family dinner had turned into a campaign meeting.
That happened a lot these days.
Lately, Hailey’s priorities and John’s were rarely aligned. He commented more frequently about her retiring from Homicide. Even Jim had started dropping hints.
California state legislators did not have homicide inspectors as wives.
Neither man had asked Hailey what she wanted. Quitting her job was not an option. She was proud of what she did. Once upon a time, John had been too.
Ali stomped back into the kitchen. “It’s not fair that she gets to do everything first.”
John walked into the kitchen and gave Hailey a smile—like everything was fine. Everything was exactly how it should be. He didn’t see her frustration. Or he didn’t care.
“Once Grammie and Cami are gone, we’ll make popcorn and watch Lady and the Tramp,” Hailey promised Ali.
John brought down two crystal highballs from the cupboard. They would be pouring scotch now. How could they have a proper campaign meeting without a little scotch? Tink, tink went the glasses on the concrete countertop. Ice cubes pinged against crystal. Hailey waited for the sound of the cork coming out of the bottle of Glenlivet John had given his father for Christmas, the splash of liquid pouring. Only there was no pop of the cork releasing from the bottle. John wasn’t pouring. He held the bottle in one hand, the other on the cork.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“My dad just gave me a gun,” he whispered as though in shock.
“What?” Hailey scanned the kitchen and was grateful that Ali had left the room. The girls knew how they felt about guns. She did not want to try to explain why their grandpa would have one. “A gun—why would he do that?”
“He’s worried about the threats.”
Over the past few weeks, John had received a series of death threats at the DA’s office. They came mostly via phone message, but only a few days ago, someone had sent a rather grisly package—a sheet soaked in pig’s blood.
“The DA’s office always gets threats,” Hailey said. “You know that.” Jim had always been anti-gun too. Why would he arm his son?
John had recently helped put away a high-level drug dealer, and it wasn’t uncommon to receive threats after a successful conviction. Some of the more seasoned Assistant DAs took the threats as a badge of honor. Had Jim gotten wind that John was in real danger?
Of course John’s father would worry. His mother too. John was their whole world. What different experiences Hailey and her husband had as only children. While she and her mother had taken care of each other, John was protected by his parents.
John uncorked the scotch. “So you don’t think we should keep the gun?”
“God, no. I’ve got my service weapon. One gun in our house is more than enough.”
She stared across the room at the man who’d sworn he’d never touch a gun, let alone own one. How many times had she come home with a story of how a gun in the home had killed someone it was meant to protect? How many times had she heard Jim preach about the need for stricter gun laws? What had changed?
John watched her scatter slivered peppers over the layer of breaded chicken. “I wish I could be as calm as you are,” he said.
“Look at it rationally,” she said. “Why come after you? If you die, another Assistant DA takes your cases. The guy doesn’t get off because you’re dead.”
He was silent.
“If I were a delusional psychotic who thought murder was the answer, I’d take aim at Scott Palin.” She nodded to the oven. “Could you get that?”
John opened the oven door, and she slid the casserole onto the top rack.
“Palin?” he asked.
“Sure. I’d go straight to the top. Why take out an assistant when I could take out the DA?”
“That’s sort of dismissive of the work the ADAs do. Palin’s not the only one in that office who’s a threat to criminals.” He rubbed his face. He’d shaved. For a Saturday night at home with his parents. When had he become so much like his father?
Jim called out from the den. “You gonna bring those drinks before I die of old age?”
Hailey closed the oven. “Dinner will be ready soon,” she said as John lifted the two glasses and turned to leave. “I need to make it an early night. Got a huge week ahead of me.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s Saturday night, Hailey.”
He used to say that when he wanted to stay out for an extra round of drinks with their friends. Now it was spending time with his father, closed off in their inner sanctum. Man to man. John and Jim could sit in that room for hours. Not tonight. Not her. She was too tired. Dinner and then home.
Liz entered the kitchen in a cloud of Chloe perfume and the musty scent of her fur coat. “Can we help get dinner on the table?” she asked.
“It’s almost ready.”
Camilla trailed in behind her grandmother, and Hailey leaned down to give her eldest a kiss. The masses of curls Hailey loved were pinned back from her face. Though she had grown leaner recently, her cheeks were still as round and rosy as they had been since her birth.
“You look beautiful,” Hailey said.
“The show will be over by ten, and we’ll come right home,” Liz assured her, grabbing Camilla’s hand. “We’ve got church in the morning.”
Camilla made a little face, but Hailey held hers void of expression. Her in-laws had been talking about the girls attending the confirmation program at Saint Mark’s, and Camilla was finally old enough.
“Camilla, why don’t you finish packing up your clothes and cleaning up so you don’t have to do it tomorrow? I’ll call you down as soon as dinner is ready.” At some point, Hailey would need to talk to Liz about the confirmation. Did she want the girls to be confirmed in the church? They were baptized. Was it any different than that?
They should at least have a say. Hailey wasn’t sure Liz had considered her feelings on church. Liz had always gone and simply taken the girls when they were with her on Sunday mornings.
But Hailey was too tired to have that conversation with Liz tonight.
Camilla frowned and headed for her bedroom.
Jim’s sister walked into the kitchen. As always, Dee’s makeup was flawless, her hair looked like it had just been styled, and her slacks and light pink sweater were pressed—all the signs of a woman without children. Standing in the kitchen now, Dee fingered the gold locket around her neck. She also had a hard time sitting still. “Would it help if I set the table?”
“It would,” Hailey told her. “Thanks.”
Jim barked from the den. “That’s a load of horse manure, and you know it.”
Hailey turned toward the door, listening as Jim’s voice grew muffled, the volume dropping.
Jim and John rarely fought. Had Jim been drinking before they arrived? Would that explain why he wanted John to have a gun?
She took a couple of steps toward the den and listened, but the room had grown quiet again.
The oven timer buzzed, and she stooped to pull the casserole from the stove. “Dinner,” she called. A moment later, “Dinner’s ready.”
The crack of gunfire. Shattering glass. A window.
She dropped the casserole dish on the floor. Reached for her holster. Her gun was locked in her case in the car.
“Help!” Jim shouted. “Someone help me!”
Hailey sprinted from the kitchen and almost barreled into Dee coming out of the dining room.
Liz came running down the stairs. “What was that noise? What happened?”
Hailey pushed past them, heading for the front of the house. The door to the den opened and Jim stepped into the hall. He held Ali in his arms, his body hunched over hers. Protecting her. Her legs hung over his elbow. Her head against his shoulder. Her eyes closed.
Liz shrieked. “What happened?”
Jim’s face was ashen, his lips open, exposing small gray teeth. Hailey touched the thin, pale skin of Ali’s neck.
Pulse was quick but strong. “What’s wrong with her?”
“Jim!” Liz shouted.
“She’s fine,” Jim said, gasping silently as though struggling to draw air. He was trembling. His brow and lip sweaty. Shock.
Hailey took her daughter from his arms, laid her down on the hallway rug.
Jim glanced toward the den. “Shooter.”
“John?” she called.
Jim’s mouth fell open. Fear.
Something had happened to John.
Jim leaned against the wall and then sank to the floor. His head made a hollow thud against plaster as he began to sob.
Hailey stood and ran for the open doorway. Her shoulder caught the jamb and she fell into the room. A breeze blew in through the broken window. “John!”
Gasping, he opened his eyes. Blood saturated his white collar. Hailey dropped beside him and pushed his tie out of the way, fumbling to unbutton John’s shirt. The buttons were stubborn. Her hands shook.
Stop the bleeding. Find the source.
Liz and Dee appeared at the door, Camilla behind them.
“Call an ambulance!” Hailey yelled.
“Mommy?” Camilla asked from the doorway.
Dee took Camilla by the shoulders and led her away.
“Get me a towel,” Hailey barked. “Do it now.”
John’s eyes followed her movements. Skin pale. Sweating. “It’s a Façonnable,” he said, trying to joke.
Hailey thought of how she always called the shirts “Fassa-snob” for their outrageous price tag. “Liz!” she screamed toward the door. “Ambulance?”
John’s chest stuttered under the strain of breathing.
John’s mother ran into the room, clutching a dish towel. Hailey grabbed it and pressed it against the wound. “What about the ambulance?”
“Jim. They’re on their way…”
“You’re kidding? We’re less than a mile from the hospital. I could run in eight minutes.”
“Mommy,” Camilla called from the doorway.
“I need to help Daddy, Cami. Stay with Aunt Dee.”
“Hailey,” John whispered, struggling to speak. His hand flinched as though to reach for hers.
Slow the bleeding. Keep the blood in his vital organs. Work. Think.
“The ambulance will be here soon. You’re going to be okay. We need to stop the bleeding.” She pressed his hand to the towel. “Hold this.”
She lunged for the ottoman, dragged it toward him, and lifted his feet. Took hold of the towel again.
Already, it was wet on her fingers.
Eight minutes was forever.
“Where’s Ali?” he whispered.
“She’s okay. She bumped her head. She must’ve heard the shot. She’s fine.”
“I’m positive. She’s going to be fine. You are too.”
John’s breath was ragged. “Take care of the girls.”
“You’re not going anywhere,” she said, feeling a rise of anger. “Don’t you dare, John Wyatt.”
“Make sure they’re okay.” He struggled to breathe. He gasped. He wasn’t getting air.
She pushed harder on the towel. So much blood.
“Hailey.” The weak, whispery quality of his voice was terrifying. “Give me your hand.”
Jim cried out from the doorway. Small and broken.
She pressed her free hand into John’s.
John turned toward his father. “You take care of her.”
“John!” she shouted. She could take care of herself. She didn’t need Jim or Liz. She needed John. “Damn it, John. You stay right here. You fight for us!”
He drew a trembling breath.
“Focus on me,” she pleaded. “Fight for me.”
His nod was barely perceptible in the shift of his chin. An involuntary shiver twitched in his shoulders.
The towel was saturated. Blood leaked between her fingers.
His eyes fluttered closed as the paramedics pounded on the door.
Rain struck John’s black coffin like sprays of tiny silver bullets. The air was bitter, the sky a gray so thick it looked like ash spread upon a canvas. The wind stung their skin through coats, threatened to tear their umbrellas from tight fists, and snapped the pages of the priest’s Bible.
Behind the damp of the rain were smells of earth, cedar mulch, and a pungent rotting scent that reminded Hailey of tramping to the waterfall in Kauai on their honeymoon, plodding along in the wet mud with the ripe smell of rotting guavas beneath their feet.
The girls clung to her long black coat. She held one under each arm. Hailey pressed her nose to Ali’s head, taking in the buttery smell of her scalp before standing straight against the cold.
Even the bitter, angry wind couldn’t break through the chill she’d felt since John’s death.
The rain slowed, but the air remained heavy. She didn’t know most of the faces in the crowd, although many were familiar—politicians and powerful business people who worked with John’s father.
The crowd of friends was smaller.
Jamie Vail, an inspector in Sex Crimes, stood with her friend Tony and her adopted son Zephenaya. Captain Linda James and Jess Campbell of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were talking with them. Three of John’s closest friends were pallbearers. The other three were Hailey’s friends from the station.
They had divided themselves—John’s friends carried the right side of the casket, hers the left.
John’s friends were polished, their suits dark, finely pressed, and high-end. They seemed to struggle with the coffin’s weight.
The others, hers, wore their dress uniforms. There was her partner Hal, Cameron Cruz, who was as tall as two of the men on John’s side, and Tim O’Shea from Homicide. The officers were sharp in their dress uniforms and more at ease with the job.
Cops had buried men before. John’s friends had not.
In the last five or six years, their marriage had been divided in much the same way.
How much had changed since they were newlyweds, volunteering nights stuffing envelopes for Bill Clinton. Back when Hailey had been new with the department and John had finished law school and taken a job in the DA’s office.
At night, they returned to a tiny South San Francisco apartment and drank wine from big jugs of Gallo, using chipped mugs or two glasses that had come free with a bottle of Jameson she had bought him for their first Christmas.
Those were days when John had dreamt of being DA, when he’d been proud of his newly promoted inspector wife, when they had devoured each other’s stories.
When they had been on the same side.
Before everything had changed.
Staring at the box that held his body, Hailey struggled between cataloguing those moments, clinging to every memory of that man and, at the same time, feeling overwhelming anger at the man he had become. A facsimile of his father.
When it came time to sprinkle dirt on the coffin, Hailey couldn’t step forward. She couldn’t let go of the girls who clung to her sides.
Her father-in-law caught her eye. He looked at each of the girls and stepped forward in Hailey’s place, the grief in his face palpable. Losing John was something she and Jim shared. In some awful way, it had made her lean on him. That was okay. It was okay to need him right now.
Ali gripped her mother tighter. Her pupils were too wide, her pallor too fair, as though that night was imprinted on her eyelids, visible at every blink. She slept with Hailey most nights, waking her mother with the smallest whimper, while Hailey whispered into her hair that Mommy was there, that Ali was fine. Praying that she was, that she would be.
Camilla was more stoic, quieter.
In some ways, Hailey worried about her more.
The ceremony ended with the blessings of the priest John had known since childhood, the one who had married them ten years before.
Ten years, four months, and three days before, when Hailey and John had stood at the altar and promised to honor and obey, to love and cherish.
Hailey had failed John.
And now he was gone.
As the dirt struck the hard, dark coffin, Hailey pictured her husband in his casket. The starched collar of his favorite Façonnable dress shirt, his best navy suit, the tie Hailey had chosen that brought out the green of his eyes, the one she noticed even on the days when she could hardly stand to look at him.
Liz had suggested a lighter one.
“No,” Hailey had said sharply.
Liz had looked surprised.
“This one,” Hailey had said, more softly.
Liz had deferred. Maybe she had understood Hailey’s need to dress him this last time, or perhaps she thought it had simply been a power play, some attempt to recapture her husband from his parents.
Something Hailey had failed to do when he was alive.
She shivered thinking of him inside that black box. She would never see him again. Never touch his skin.
Hal took hold of her arm then, and she was surprised to see the crowd walking away from the gravesite.
Back at her in-laws’ home, people Hailey had never met showed up with casseroles, cakes, and trays of food. Tom Rittenberg was there. A short, heavyset man with a cane, he moved slowly, head down. He’d suffered a stroke a few months after his daughter—Abby Dennig—was killed. Now, he seemed so broken, so much smaller than before. She remembered him from Jim’s political functions as a bit shy, but happy—almost jolly. She watched Tom shuffle through the crowd and wondered how Jim would change with John’s death. And Liz.
Her friends from the department also came to the house after the service. Cameron brought green chili enchiladas, “My favorite comfort food,” she’d said. Linda James brought tiramisu. Jamie and Tony brought a lasagna he’d made, while Hal came with a potted hydrangea.
Hailey was so thankful for them. Thankful that they looked at Liz and Jim’s house the same way she did—as though it were a museum where none of them belonged.
They were her people.
Even Bruce Daniels came. Hailey thanked him but only briefly, too afraid that Jim would realize that for the six months before his son was shot, Hailey had been in love with another man. A man now standing in his home under the guise of mourning his son.
Until the few final moments of John’s life, Hailey had no longer loved her husband, often couldn’t find a way to like him. But, in those last moments, Hailey had loved John more than she had ever loved anyone.
And now he was gone.
When the officers left—all but Hal—Hailey had wanted to go too. Hal stayed, letting Camilla and Ali climb over him, turning them upside down and tickling their bellies until Ali got the hiccups from laughing so hard. It was the first time Hailey had heard them laugh since John’s death.
Hailey fought not to cry.
When the girls were finally asleep, tucked into the bed they’d all shared those first days, Hal sat with her on the front porch, in the muggy, cold San Francisco air, and drank coffee in silence.
One Year Later
After her leave of absence, Hailey spent most of the spring readjusting to working beside Hal. For the first few weeks she wondered why she developed an ache in her neck—until she remembered her long-standing rule: never stand closer than two feet from Hal while talking to him. Barefoot, Hal was six-four where Hailey was only five-four in heels. When they’d first started working together, she’d spent so much time looking up during conversations that she’d developed chronic neck pain.
Hailey was a pale white, the color gracious people call alabaster and others might call pasty, while Hal was so dark-skinned black that unless his eyes were open wide enough to catch the whites, they melted into the shadow between his cheeks and nose. Her head was a mound of dark curls while Hal’s was shaved bald. Despite the physical differences, Hal had never acted in a way to suggest that he was bigger, stronger, or better than Hailey, even though he was at least two of the three.
More and more, Hailey thought he was three for three.
Monday morning, after working all weekend, Hal announced that they had a lead on the Dennig murders. Several weapons matching ones stolen from Dennig Distribution more than a year before had turned up in the arrest of a local weapons dealer. The Triggerlock group—who handled weapons-related crimes—was putting together a sting.
Hal pushed the DA’s office to resubmit their request to exhume the body of Nicholas Fredricks, a lobbyist working against guns and gun manufacturers. His fingerprint had been found on both the NRA buttons found at the murders—both the Dennigs’ murder and the killing of Colby Wesson, an heir to the Smith & Wesson company, up in Sacramento.
Monday afternoon, when Hailey was practically asleep on her feet, Hal came bursting into the department like a storm, waving a piece of paper. “They approved the court order.”
Hailey inhaled sharply. “They’re letting us exhume the body?” They had been waiting a year to get access to Fredricks’s corpse.
It had been fourteen months since Abby and Hank Dennig were murdered. The defensive wounds on her and lacerations on him were consistent with a letter opener that Abby Dennig kept in the car. Cause of death for her was strangulation, exsanguination for him. Tox screens showed that both Dennigs had taken some form of sedative in the hours before their deaths. The Crime Scene Unit had ruled out other blood types, but the vehicle had contained no fewer than thirty unidentifiable prints and a dozen hair samples that didn’t belong to the victims or their kids.
According to several of the couple’s friends, the Dennigs had been in the midst of filing for divorce at the time of their deaths. The scene suggested the two had killed each other.
The Dennigs had two children, both girls. Just like Hailey and John had. Now, those girls had no parents. They had family, but it wasn’t the same. Kids needed their parents. It was the kind of case Hailey would have been a bulldog about. Except for the timing …
When the Dennig case had fallen on Hailey’s desk, she was also working a serial rape case alongside Jamie Vail. And trying to solve the murder of one of their colleagues.
She never should have caught the Dennig case.
But she did, because Jim had insisted.
Murder by spouse was the right call, based on practical assumptions. Occam’s razor—the simplest explanation was usually the right one.
This time, it wasn’t.
After Hailey had closed the investigation, a sheriff up near Sacramento linked Colby Wesson’s suspected suicide to the Dennigs’ murders via a partial fingerprint on a small, round anti-NRA button, identical to a button found in the minivan where Abby and Hank Dennig were killed.
The print matched a man named Nicholas Fredricks who worked for a local organization on gun violence. He was a big lobbyist in DC for stricter gun regulations, and he’d had the ear of some very powerful people.
Fredricks made a decent suspect. He was certainly outspoken on gun control. And his short temper was well-documented. He’d twice been arrested for assaulting police officers charged with using unnecessary force.
There was just one small problem with Nicholas Fredricks as a suspect—he had been dead for twelve years.
Now, over a year after Hailey had been on the case, they still only had the two partial prints, each on a separate button. And they were no closer to solving the puzzle of who was killing these people. Or why. Anti-gun activists were usually passive. They argued against violence. But this one was different. This killer was using violence against gun supporters.
Which meant, somehow, the fight was personal.
The court approval to disinter the body of Nicholas Fredricks meant the investigation could finally move forward.
Hailey looked at the time on her phone. She was half tempted to go pull him out of the ground now.
“I’ll let the cemetery know we’re coming tomorrow morning,” Hal said as if reading her mind.
Parked outside her in-laws’ house, Hailey took two puffs of her albuterol inhaler and mounted the steps to the front door. Her front door now, she reminded herself.
A few months after John’s funeral, she’d sold her house and moved in with Jim and Liz. Her work schedule made living alone with the girls impossible. Not without being able to afford live-in care. Which she could not.
Surprisingly, living with Jim and Liz had been comfortable, enjoyable even, although it took some time to get used to how Liz liked to make every dinner a formal event. The house was easier when Liz wasn’t around—more casual. Unfortunately, that often meant that the girls weren’t there either. Tonight she was taking Camilla and Ali to Cirque du Soleil, which meant Hailey would be home with Jim and Dee. They’d probably be working, which might give her a chance to get caught up on her paperwork.
She threw her keys on a table in the foyer and made her way to the kitchen, where she found Jim eating a sandwich on a paper plate and drinking a cabernet sauvignon Cinq Cepages from a crystal glass. Hailey sniffed the air. “Tuna?”
He nodded. “You want some?”
“I think I’ll pass,” she said. “That’s quite a combination.”
He smiled. “I know. A terrible waste of a good vintage, but I was starving.”
She shrugged out of her jacket and hung it on the back of a chair. She and John used to banter this way—casually teasing each another. She had never imagined having this kind of banter with her father-in-law. One on one, he was surprisingly kind. And funny. He had John’s quick wit.
She’d been so angry with him for getting her assigned to the Dennig murders. He’d only been looking out for a friend. If she’d had this kind of relationship with him when the Dennigs were killed, she would have offered to take the case. She would have wanted to help him.
John would have loved to see them like this.
“You want me to make you something else, other than tuna I mean?” she asked.
“Oh, no,” he said. “This is fine. There’s more in the fridge if you want some.”
“Thanks.” Hailey made herself a sandwich while Jim finished his.
He refilled his wine glass and she wondered if this was the first bottle. Lately, she had noticed Jim was drinking more. Had it started with John’s death? She couldn’t recall now. “Wine?” he offered.
She set her plate on the table across from him. “No, thanks.”
“There’s beer in there. The kind you guys like,” he added.
You guys. As though John were still alive. She still woke some mornings, expecting him beside her in the bed or to come in from the bathroom.
Sometimes, she still woke up angry about something he’d said or done. Then she remembered he was dead.
“Christ,” Jim muttered.
Hailey searched for an excuse to leave the room. But she didn’t really want to be alone either, so she accepted the offer for a beer. John would always be in this room. She sat at the table while Jim got her a beer from the refrigerator. Pyramid Hefeweizen, her favorite.
“You want a glass?” he asked.
“Didn’t think so.” He set the bottle in front of her and sat back down, pushing the paper plate with the crumbs to the center of the table and running his thumb along the dark rim of his wine glass until the crystal sang.
Hailey drank from the cold bottle, thinking Jim would bring up John. Over the last few months, the sharp pain of new loss had faded into an ache. Even when she wanted to talk about him, the ache was still there.
With Camilla and Ali around, the subject of John became silently forbidden unless one of them brought him up. When the girls asked about him, his death, heaven, his bones—and the questions sometimes seemed limitless—they didn’t hold back. They followed the advice of the child psychologist and told the girls they would always answer their questions.
Over the course of the months, the torrent of questions had dried up. The questions now caught her off guard like ghosts hovering in closets.
“Rittenberg came to see me today.”
She was wrong. It wasn’t John that Jim wanted to discuss—it was his friend Tom Rittenberg, another man who had lost his child. His daughter, Abby Dennig, was the victim of the killer they were still hunting. Hailey had met Tom Rittenberg a few times. He’d done well in the insurance industry, and since retirement, he’d become involved in supporting local politics. He was short and a little round, with reddish cheeks that made him look a little like Santa Claus—something Camilla had pointed out at a fundraiser once. But since his daughter’s death, he was shriveled and frail, all the joy gone.
She took a bite of her sandwich and said nothing.
No question, this was going to be about Nicholas Fredricks.
“He told me about the court order.”
Hailey said nothing. The order gave them authority to disinter Abby as well as her husband if they found the need.
“No one likes to think about their child being dug up.”
Hailey drank from the bottle. “I don’t imagine anyone likes to think about them being buried.”
Hailey pushed her half-eaten sandwich away. “We’re not looking at the Dennigs, Jim. Just because we have authority to disinter the Dennigs doesn’t mean we will. At the moment, I can’t see a reason why we would. We’re only interested in Fredricks right now.” She would never have shared these details with Jim a year ago. But Tom Rittenberg had lost his daughter, and Jim would be thinking of John. Tom and Jim had each lost their only child—within a month of one another.
It was Jim’s turn to be quiet.
“Did he say he was going to try to stop us?” Hailey asked.
“He didn’t mention being opposed to it.”
Tom Rittenberg was a powerful businessman with close ties to the political heavyweights in town, including Jim and the mayor. He’d also been president of the NRA for a time, something Hailey had held against him when they first met. Now, she wished he were still their president. His gun politics were a lot more reasonable than the guy leading the NRA now, who was practically suggesting they arm kindergartners.
Hailey waited for Jim to say more on the subject, but he was silent. “I’ll let you know what we find,” she finally said.
Jim looked surprised. “Thank you.”
“I also got a call from Inspector O’Shea today,” Jim said.
“About John.” It wasn’t a question.
“They have another suspect,” Jim said. “They wanted to come back and look at the den again.”
“What did you say?”
“I said they were welcome to come,” Jim said.
Jim’s sister stood in the doorway. How long had she been standing there?
“Oh, hello, Dee,” Jim said. “Come sit. We were just catching up.” He rose and pulled a chair out for her. “Can I get you a glass of wine?”
“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” she said without moving from the doorway.
“You didn’t,” Hailey told her.
Holding her locket, Dee crossed the room with the slow grace of someone with royal blood and smoothed her slacks as she sat. “I’d love a glass of wine.”
Her brother filled a glass for his sister.
Hailey often wondered why Dee lived here. A success in business, she had plenty of resources, but she had never been married and seemed to like being close to her brother. John had mentioned a few times during their marriage that he was surprised she’d stayed away as long as she had.
Dee had moved in with Jim and Liz a few months before Hailey and the girls did. She’d been working back east and decided she needed a change. Now, she occupied the large basement suite of Jim and Liz’s house and worked for Jim.
“You were out?”
“Tom took me to dinner.” The skin on Dee’s neck appeared flushed.
Hailey recalled how grief-stricken Tom Rittenberg had looked at John’s service, which had been a cruel reminder of his own daughter’s funeral just a few months earlier. She was glad to hear he had someone, though she had a hard time picturing the lively Rittenberg with reserved Dee.
“You’ve seen a lot of him,” Jim commented.
“We enjoy each other’s company,” Dee said.
“You deserve it,” Hailey interjected.
“Agreed,” Jim said, raising his glass.
The three clinked their drinks.
Jim paid a strange deference to his younger sister, indulged her. And she him. They were sweet together, sometimes more like an old married couple than Jim and Liz. Hailey had never had a sibling, but the relationship between Jim and Dee seemed unusually close.
A quiet woman, Dee was hard to read. She spoke carefully, as if she expected her every word to be examined and weighed. Except with Camilla and Ali, who adored her. Watching Dee with them, Hailey was sure Dee regretted not having a family of her own.
Nobody talked about that either.
The doorbell rang and Jim frowned, while Dee, who sat closest to the door, made no move to answer it. Jim stood to get it as Hailey’s phone buzzed on her hip. She answered the call. “Hal?”
“There are two ways to look at getting called in again,” Hal said, his tone light and playful. Hearing him made her realize he had been like that less often lately.
Hailey felt Dee’s gaze on her. “I’m listening.”
“One, we’ve worked our asses off all weekend, we’re being called in again before I’ve finished my first beer, and the game just started.”
Hal would be reclined in the worn, navy leather chair that had been his father’s, a Bud propped on his lap and the remote within easy reach.
“And the other way to look at it?” she asked.
“This call saves you from dinner at the senator’s.” He drew out the s like a snake’s hiss. “You are there, aren’t you?”
“I like the glass-is-half-full view,” Hailey said, ignoring the dig at Jim. Old habits died hard. She’d have done the same thing a year ago. “Nice touch. So what is it?”
Hailey heard the groan of Hal’s chair as he sat forward and pictured the way he perched his elbows on his thick legs when he was serious. “I got the call. Ryaan Berry’s informant says a group is being put together to try to move the guns stolen from Dennig Distribution. I’m going to join.”
Ryaan Berry was an inspector in the Triggerlock department. Hailey had heard she was also part of the small group of women officers who gathered monthly for dinner at Tommy’s Mexican down in the Sunset. The Rookie Club, someone had dubbed the group, although Hailey didn’t see herself as a rookie anymore. She also hadn’t been to a dinner since John’s death.
Hailey scanned the address on her phone. “What time do you need me there?”
“An hour would probably be about right.”
“I’ll be there in an hour. Call if you need me sooner.” Hailey ended the call, dumped her beer into the sink, and tossed out the sandwich.
Dee fingered her locket with one hand and held her wineglass with the other. “Heading back in tonight?”
“Yeah.” Hailey reached for a glass in the cabinet. Something pinged in the front hall. She froze, her hand outstretched.
The sound, though soft, was distinct.
Hailey drew her gun. “Get down,” she hissed to Dee.
Another ping of the bullet through a silencer cut the air. Then, the sound of shattering glass.
Dee dropped to her knees and crawled around one of the table’s legs, huddling in the center of the rug.
Hailey crept to the edge of the kitchen and pressed her back to the thin slice of wall beside the refrigerator. She waited for footsteps. The creak of the front door. Anything.
The big grandfather clock in the hallway ticked out a rhythm. Her heart pulsed in her throat. The refrigerator at her back kicked on. Startling her. She listened for sounds. The house was silent.
She rounded the corner into the hall slowly, barrel first, crouched low. “Jim!”
She turned into the dining room, cleared it and continued along the hall.
The window beside the front door was broken, glass scattered across the dark wood floor, confirming that the shots had come from outside. There was no sign of Jim. “Jim!”
The front door stood partially open. She froze, unsure if the suspect was inside or out.
The hallway was the only route to the back of the house. If Dee stayed under the table, she was safe.
Thank God Liz and the girls were out.
At the threshold to the front door, Hailey paused, drew air until her lungs were full, and yanked the door open.
No shots fired.
She ducked low, crept onto the porch. Empty.
Scanned the front hallway again. Clear.
She crossed to the top of the porch stairs, searching the street. Silence penetrated the dark where the scent of rotting leaves filled the wet air.
No tire sounds.
Whoever he was, he was on foot. Or he was inside. She spun back. Where the hell was Jim?
“Jim!” Panic filled her voice. The only reason he wouldn’t answer was … no. This family could not survive another death.
Pausing in the doorway to the living room, Hailey counted to three and hooked around the doorjamb, flipped the light switch, and dropped behind a Windsor chair.
She rounded the couch and checked the fireplace—only a small mound of ashes sat piled in the center, waiting to be discarded.
She thought of John. An intruder. All the unanswered questions around John’s death—the intruder who shot him. Now there might have been another intruder in the house.
Fear caught in her throat, burned her eyes. Ali and Camilla could have been home.
A trail of dark spots lined Liz’s white Persian rug.
Behind the coffee table, Jim was flat on his back.
He groaned and lifted a hand to cup his ear. Blood seeped between his fingers. She saw John—all that blood—and blinked the image away. “You’re okay.”
Beside him lay a thin, white FedEx envelope. Pinned to the clear plastic on the outside was a round, white button.
Hailey didn’t need to read its anti-gun message. She already had two other pins just like it—one from the Dennigs’ murders and one from Wesson’s.
But she was only more confused by the attack on Jim. Anti-gun proponents were normally people who argued that violence was not a way to resolve violence. But this anti-gun terrorist had taken aim at her father-in-law with the very weapon he claimed to despise.
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