She knew this place.
Wet asphalt glistened under sodium-vapor lights. Soaked
trash clogged storm drains and gutters swelled. For ten
minutes they’d waited in the unmarked car, watching the
corner rowhouse as the blue flicker of a television pulsed
behind a sheet tacked over the first-floor window.
They didn’t need backup, she told Spencer. Her case.
As she crossed the dead-end street, the rain against her
skin was a relief from the hot July night. A dog
barked, high-pitched and frenetic. She imagined its eyes, bulging
from behind one of the darkened windows next door. Spence offered a
wordless nod, then jogged around the east side of the house. As the
silence swelled, she gave him time to go up the alley, get to the back
door and into position.
She followed the walkway to the porch. Took the three
steps. Brushed back the edge of her jacket and unbuttoned the safety
strap of her holster. Exhaled. Steadied herself, and lifted her fist
to the door.
“Hey, Bernard! Baltimore Police.”
She waited. Nothing.
“Come on, Bernard. Open up! Police.”
The night took another silent breath.
Then it erupted. And he was there — Bernard Eales. All
six-foot-four of him, flinging open the front door. He filled the
opening. Barging onto the dark porch. Massive. Smelling of booze.
In his eyes, she saw something flare. Wild and primal.
Meaty lips parted in a malignant smile, revealing overlapped teeth.
She drew her Glock, the nine clearing leather fast even
as the rubber grip slipped once in her wet hand. “Just back up,
But her voice faltered.
And Eales grinned. In a million dreams she would never
forget that evil smile. Or the lightning-speed jab that cracked her
She swore at him. His next strike smashed the words
back into her mouth, instantly filling it with hot blood. She swung
hard, her closed fist connecting with the soft cavity of his temple.
His startled cry came out in a belch of fetid breath.
And then the beating started. One blow after the next.
In the cramped and shadowed porch, there was no telling what was
fist and what was Eales’s heavy, leather boot. She lost count after
a half-dozen, after her throat gagged against the blood, and her
lungs clutched for air.
The world around her lurched out of focus. She thrashed
at him, desperate to find a weakness. Another punch took her square
in the stomach and she buckled, a burst of air and blood rushing out
of her as she tumbled off the porch.
Disoriented, she searched the dark lawn for Spence.
But Eales wasn’t finished. Lumbering down the steps, he
came after her. She braced herself. Dredging a final burst of
energy, she rolled and hooked her leg around his.
Eales teetered. For a second she envisioned
two-hundred-plus pounds of Baltimore billy-boy dropping on her. But
he caught himself. One beefy hand skidded across the sidewalk inches
from her face. He cursed, righted himself, and this time she heard
the deep crack of bone when his boot tore into her side.
Against her cheek, the cement was cold. Her own blood
warmed it as she felt her body go weak. And here, on this filthy
piece of pavement, in a grime-slicked puddle, she was ready to give
up. Close her eyes. Surrender.
time when she reached for the holster at her hip, the Glock was
there. She drew it. Fast and fluid.
Eales never knew what hit him. There was the
white-orange flash at the nine’s muzzle. The satisfying kick of the
weapon in her hands. The plume of burned gunpowder. And the
hollow-point spiraled from the barrel, twisting through the air in
slow motion and driving into solid flesh. In the pallid light, a
mist of blood sprayed from the exit wound.
The second shot followed the path of the first. A dark
stain bloomed across Eales’s chest even before his knees caved
beneath him. This time when Spencer charged around the corner
of the house, Eales was at her feet.
It wasn’t the nightmare gunshot that woke Kay Delaney
lately, but instead a quiet gasp. From sweat-soaked sheets, she
stared at the dark ceiling. The light from the streetlamp below her
third-story bedroom fractured through the rain-smeared window and
She drew in several long breaths, trying to calm the
drumming of her heart. If only that night had gone down the way it
did in her dreams now. If only it was Eales who’d bled out on his
front lawn fourteen months ago instead of Spence.
Pushing back the sheet, she dragged herself to the
bed’s edge, looked at the clock. One a.m. A low pain throbbed at her
temples. Kay found the bottle of aspirin in her night stand drawer
and shook out three. A mouthful of warm beer from the bottle she’d
brought to bed earlier helped wash them down.
When she tossed the container back into the drawer, the
pills clattered, the plastic striking the metal slide of the Glock.
The 9mm in the shallow drawer lay in shadow. It was
more her knowledge of its presence that delineated the square
contours of the heavy, Austrian-tooled sidearm. It wasn’t loaded.
But then, she didn’t keep it by her bed for protection. For
that she had the .38, tucked in its leather holster, hanging from
her bedpost. She’d bought the Chief’s Special months ago, a heavy
snub-nosed revolver with a Pachmayr grip and a smooth, clean trigger
pull. And she’d kept it by her bed ever since. A by-product of the
fear Eales had implanted.
Kay hated the fear that lived in her now. Resented that Eales had taken up permanent residence in her head.
She shoved the drawer shut. No, the 9mm was there for
only one reason. To remind her.
Spencer charging around the side of the house, the look
of disbelief on his face when he took the bullet, the way he seemed
suspended for a moment in the thick night air before crumpling to
the wet grass less than thirty feet away, his mouth gaping like a
fish drowning on air, its rhythm keeping tempo with his slowing
heart, and then his eyes. He’d stared at her well beyond his last
The Glock in her night stand kept the images alive.
Her Glock. The one Eales had smashed from her hand the second he
came out the door. The one he’d used to gun down Spencer.
She imagined the fine layer of dust dulling the nine’s
once-buffed surface. She hadn’t touched it since the day Ballistics
had finished their testing, and the technician had casually slid the
gun across the counter. She could still remember the strange weight
of it in her hand. She’d never holstered the gun again, reverting to
the off-duty, subcompact nine that she had qualified to carry. And
the departmental-issue stayed in the drawer.
Kay moved to the window, its bottom pane propped open
with her Koga, the protection stick’s handle firmly wedged against
the low frame. The night air sucked at the curtain, heaving the
sheer material out, then in again, caressing her naked,
Below, Hamburg Street dead-ended at Federal Hill, empty
except for parked cars. Over the neighbor’s roof, she could make out
the top of the hill, and past it the lights of the city across the
Inner Harbor. The bass of an overamped car stereo pulsed through the
damp streets. Then the wail of a distant siren.
Kay shivered, but didn’t move from the window. She
embraced the bite of reality the chill offered, and wondered what
her shrink, Constance O’Donnell, would think of this latest slant on
the same old dream.
When the phone rang seconds later, it made Kay jump.
“Kay? It’s Sarge. Sorry to wake you.” Sergeant Ed
Gunderson cleared the smoker’s phlegm from his throat. “But we got a
situation. I think you’ll wanna be in on this one.”
Static crackled over the line.
“Are you there, Kay?”
“Yeah.” She lowered herself to the bed again. “What’ve
“A murder down here in Canton. Twelve-hundred block of
Luther. Body’s burned up pretty bad. Found it in an abandoned
warehouse. We don’t have a positive on the body yet, but...” More
static, only this time it sounded like Sarge fumbling with the cell
phone. “Thing is, we could get some heat on this. From the media.
And the brass. A real red ball.”
Kay took another sip of warm beer, enough to wet her
throat. “What is it?”
There was a burst of interference, then voices in the
background. And finally Sarge whispered: “I think it’s your girl,
Kay. Your witness. Valerie Regester.”
TOP OF PAGE