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. Her call.  
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, Bernard.”
   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 wrist.
   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.
   Not again.
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 danced overhead.
   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 breath.
   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, sweat-slicked skin.
   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.
   “Delaney here.”
   “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 you got?”
   “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.”


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