I'm Watching You

Excerpt

Prologue

Chicago
Monday, December 29, 7:00 p.m.

The sun had gone down. But then again, it tended to do that from time to time. He should get up and turn on a light.

But he liked the darkness. Liked the way it was quiet and still. The way it could hide a man. Inside and out. He was such a man. Hidden. Inside and out. All by himself.

He sat at his kitchen table, staring at the shiny new bullets he'd made. All by himself.

Moonlight cut through the curtains at the window, illuminating one side of the shiny stack. He picked up one of the bullets, held it up to the light, turned it side to side, round and round. Imagined the damage it would do.

His lips curved. Oh, yes. The damage he would do.

He squinted in the darkness, held the bullet up to the shaft of moonlight. Studied the mark his hand-crafted mold had pressed into the bullet's base, the two letters intertwined. It was his father's mark, and his father's before him. The symbol meant family.

Family. Carefully setting the bullet on the table, his fingers ran down the chain around his neck, feeling for the small medallion that was all that was left of his family. Of Leah.

The medallion had been hers, once a charm on her bracelet that had jingled with her every movement. Engraved with the letters in which she'd once based her faith.

He traced them, one by one. WWJD.

Indeed. What would Jesus do?

His breath caught, then released. Probably not what he was about to do.

Blindly he reached to his left, his fingers closing around the edge of the picture frame. He closed his eyes, unable to look at the face behind the glass, then opened them quickly, the more recent picture in his mind too agonizing to bear. He never believed his heart could break yet again, but every time he gazed into her eyes, frozen forever on film, he realized he'd been wrong. A heart could break again and again and again.

And a mind could replay pictures hideous enough to drive a man insane. Again and again and again.

With his left hand he measured the weight of her picture in its cheap silver frame against the flimsy weight of the medallion he held in his right.

Was he insane? Did it matter if he was?

He vividly remembered the sight of the coroner pulling back the sheet that covered her. The coroner had decided the sight was too gruesome to be done in person, so the identification had been done by closed circuit video. He vividly remembered the look on the face of the sheriff's deputy as her body was revealed. It was pity. It was revulsion.

He couldn't say he blamed him. It wasn't every day that a small-town sheriff's office discovered the remains of a woman intent on ending her life. And ended it she had. No pills or slit wrists. No veiled cries for help from his Leah. No. She'd ended it with determination.

She'd ended it with the business end of a .38 against her temple.

His lips curved humorlessly. She'd ended it like a man. So like a man he'd stood, nodded. But the voice from his throat was that of a stranger. "Yes, that's her. That's Leah."

The coroner had nodded once, acknowledging he'd heard. Then the sheet went back up and she was gone.

Yes, a heart could break again and again and again.

Gently he set the frame back on the table and picked up the bullet, one thumb stroking the pressed mark that had belonged to his father, the other the mark that had been Leah's. WWJD. So what would Jesus do?

He still didn't know. But he did know what he wouldn't do.

He wouldn't have allowed a twice-convicted rapist to roam the streets preying on innocent women. He wouldn't have allowed the monster to rape again. He wouldn't have allowed his victim to become so wretchedly depressed that she saw taking her own life as her only escape. He certainly wouldn't have allowed that rapist to escape justice a third time.

He'd prayed for wisdom, searched the Scripture. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord, he'd read. God would have the final justice.

He swallowed hard, feeling Leah stare at him from the picture frame.

He'd just help God grant His final justice just a little bit sooner.

Chapter One

Chicago,
Wednesday, February 18, 2:00 p.m.

"You've got company, Kristen." Owen Madden pointed toward the window to the street where a man stood in a heavy winter coat, his head tilted in question.

Kristen Mayhew gave him a brief nod and he entered the diner where she'd escaped the enraged protests inside the courtroom and the barrage of questions from the press outside its doors. She stared into her soup as her boss, Executive Assistant States Attorney John Alden sat on the stool beside her. "Coffee, please," he said and Owen got him a cup.

"How did you know I was here?" she asked, very quietly.

"Lois told me that this is where you come for lunch."

And breakfast and dinner, too, Kristen thought. If it didn't come in a microwavable carton, it came from Owen's. John's secretary knew her habits well.

"The local station interrupted programming for the verdict and reaction," John said. “But you held your own with the press. Even that Richardson woman."

Kristen bit the inside of her cheek, anger roiling at the memory of the platinum blonde's microphone in her face. She'd so wanted to shove that microphone up Zoe Richardson's ... "She wanted to know if there would be ‘repercussions' in your office because of this loss."

"You know this is not a performance issue. You've got the best conviction record in the office." John shivered. "Damn, I'm cold. You want to tell me what happened in there?"

Kristen pulled the pins from the twist that held her hair in severe check, a raging headache the price of curl control. There was enough compressed energy in her bobby pins to fuel downtown Chicago for a year. Her hair sprung free and she knew she was now Little Orphan Annie. With eyes. And no dog named Sandy. And certainly no Daddy Warbucks watching over her. Kristen was on her own.

She massaged her head wearily. "They hung. Eleven guilties, one innocent. Juror three. Bought lock, stock, barrel and soul by the money of wealthy industrialist, Jacob Conti." She sing-songed the last, the press's description of Angelo Conti's father. The man she knew had corrupted the system and denied a grieving family justice.

John's eyes darkened abruptly and his jaw tightened. "You're sure?"

She remembered the way the man who sat in chair number three wouldn't meet her eyes when the jury filed back in after four days of deliberations. How the other jury members looked at him with such contempt. "Sure I'm sure. He's got a young family, lots of bills. He's a prime target for a man like Jacob Conti. We all knew Conti was prepared to do anything to get his son off. Can I prove Juror Three took money from Conti in exchange for a hung jury?" She shook her head. "No, I can't."

John's fist clenched on the countertop. "So we've basically got nothing."

Kristen shrugged. Exhaustion was beginning to set in. One too many sleepless nights before the culmination of a critical trial. And she knew she wouldn't sleep tonight either. She knew that as soon as she laid her head on her pillow she'd hear the tortured cries of Paula Garcia's young husband as the jury disbanded and Jacob Conti's son walked away a free man. At least until they could try him again.

"I'll get started tracking Juror Three's spending habits. Sooner or later he'll spend the money to pay off his bills. It's just a matter of time."

"And in the meantime?"

"I'll start a new trial. Angelo Conti will go back to Northwestern and resume his drinking and Thomas Garcia will go back to his empty apartment and stare at an empty crib."

John sighed. "You did your best, Kristen. Sometimes that's all we can do. If only ..."

"If only he'd wrapped his Mercedes around a tree and not Paula Garcia," Kristen said bitterly. "If only he hadn't been so drunk that beating Paula Garcia to death with a tire iron to keep her quiet seemed like a good idea." She was shaking now, a combination of exhaustion and grief for the woman and the unborn child that had died with her. "If only Jacob Conti was more concerned about teaching his son responsibility than keeping him out of prison."

"If only Jacob Conti had taught his son responsibility before giving him the keys to a hundred-thousand dollar sports car. Kristen, go home. You look like shit."

Her laugh was wobbly. "You sure know how to charm a girl."

He didn't smile back. "I'm serious. You look like you're about to drop right off your feet. I need you back here tomorrow ready to go again."

She glanced up, her mouth bent in a wry grimace. "You sweet-talker, you."

He did smile at that, briefly. Then he was sober once again. "I want Conti, Kristen. He's corrupted the system, tainted the jury pool. I want him to pay."

Kristen forced her body to slide off the stool, forced her legs to hold her up, fighting gravity and exhaustion. She met John's eyes with grim determination. "No more than I do."

***

Wednesday, February 18, 6:45 p.m.

Abe Reagan walked through the maze of detectives' desks, well aware of the curious stares that followed him he searched for Lieutenant Marc Spinnelli. His new CO.

He heard the conversation inside when he was three feet from Spinnelli's cracked-open door. "Why him?" a female voice demanded. "Why not Wellinski or Murphy? Dammit, Marc, I want a partner I can trust, not some new guy nobody knows about."

Abe waited for Spinnelli's response. He had no doubt the woman was his new partner and based on her recent loss, he couldn't say he blamed Mia Mitchell for her attitude.


"You don't want a new partner at all, Mia," came the level answer and Abe figured that was true enough. "But you're going to have a partner," Spinnelli continued, "and since last I looked I was your superior officer, I get to pick who that partner is."

"But he's never done Homicide. I gotta have someone with some experience here."

"He's got experience, Mia." Spinnelli's voice was soothing without being condescending. Abe liked that. "He's been undercover in Narcotics for the last five years."

Five years. He'd gone under a year after Debra was shot, hoping the added risk would dull the pain of watching his wife exist in the life-support induced limbo doctors called a persistent vegetative state. It hadn't. A year ago she'd died and he stayed with his cover, hoping the risk would dull the pain of losing her completely.

That it had done.

Mitchell was silent and Abe had started to knock when Spinnelli's voice cut through once again, this time reproachful. "Did you read any of the information I gave you?"

Another half-beat of silence, followed by Mitchell's defensive answer. "I didn't have time. I was making sure Cindy and the kids had food on the table."

Cindy would be Mrs. Ray Rawlston, the widow of Mitchell's former partner who'd been killed in an ambush that left Mitchell with a scar just above her ribs where a bullet narrowly missed every major organ. It would appear Mitchell was a lucky cop. It would also appear that Abe knew a lot more about her than she knew about him. No longer compelled to eavesdrop, he lifted his knuckles to the door in a hard knock.

"Come." Spinnelli sat behind his desk and Mitchell leaned against a wall, arms crossed over her chest, eyeing him sharply. At five-four, her one hundred twenty-five pounds was a well-distributed muscled mass. Her file said she was single, never been married, thirty-one years old. Her face looked a good deal younger. Her eyes, on the other hand ... She might as well have been coming up for her retirement Timex. Abe knew the feeling.

Spinnelli stood, his hand extended in greeting. "Abe, so good to see you again."

Abe met Spinnelli's eyes briefly as he shook his hand, but quickly resumed his study of his new partner. Her eyes met his even though she had to bend her neck to look up. She didn't blink as she continued to lean against the wall, every muscle visibly tensed.

"Good to see you, too, Lieutenant." He returned her stare. "You're Mitchell."

She nodded coolly. "Last I checked, that was the name on my locker."

Well, at least this won't be boring, he thought. He stuck his hand out. "Abe Reagan."

She shook his hand fast, as if sustaining physical contact was a painful thing. Maybe it was. "I figured that out myself." She shot him a hostile look. "Why'd you leave Narcotics?"

"Mia!"

Abe shook his head. "It's okay. I can give Detective Mitchell the Reader's Digest version since she's been too busy to read my file." Mitchell's eyes narrowed but she said nothing. "We closed a five-year sting operation, nabbing the bad guys and fifty million in pure heroine, but my cover was blown in the process." He shrugged. "Time to move on."

Her stare never wavered. "Okay, Reagan, you made your point. When do you start?"

"Today," Spinnelli said. "Everything finished up in Narcotics, Abe?"

"Almost. I have to tie up a few loose ends at the prosecutors' office, so I'll head over there when we're done.” His grin was rueful. “I've been under so long, it'll be an adjustment, walking in the front door of the SA's office, introducing myself as a detective again." Abe sobered. "Do I get a desk?" he asked and saw the pain that flashed in Mitchell's eyes.

She swallowed hard. "Yeah. I still have to clean it out, but--"

"It's okay," Abe interrupted. "I can do that."

Mitchell shook her head hard. "No," she bit out. "I'll do it. Go tie up your loose ends. The desk will be yours when you get back." Turning on her heel, she headed for the door.

Spinnelli faltered. "Mia ..."

She spun around, rage supplanting the pain. "I said I'd do it, Marc." She was breathing hard as she fought for control.

"Did they, Mitchell?" Abe asked softly. Her eyes flew up to meet his. "Did they what?

"Did Ray's wife and kids have food on the table?"

Her breath shuddered out. "Yeah. They did."

"Good." Abe saw he'd scored a point with his new partner. Her nod of response was jerky, but she was back in enough control that she didn't slam the door behind her. Still, the blinds on the window clattered and shook.

Spinnelli drew a breath. "She's not over him yet. He was her mentor." Spinnelli shrugged and Abe could see he still had unresolved grief of his own. "He was her friend."

"Yours, too."

Spinnelli managed a smile before sinking back down into the chair behind his desk. "Mine, too. Mia's a good cop." His eyes sharpened and Abe had the sudden, uncomfortable feeling Spinnelli was looking straight into his own soul. "I think you'll be good for each other."

Abe was the first to look away. He jangled his car keys. "I need to be getting over to the prosecutor's office." He'd made it to the door before Spinnelli stopped him again.

"Abe, I have read your file. You were lucky to be alive at the end of that last sting."

Abe shrugged. It was the story of his sorry life. Lucky, lucky, lucky. If they only knew the truth. "Looks like Mitchell and I have something in common after all."

Spinnelli's jaw tightened. "Mia went down guarding Ray's back. You have the reputation of taking chances, riding in to save the day." Spinnelli's expression was severe. "Leave your death wish in Narcotics. I don't want to go to any more funerals. Yours or Mia's."

Easier said than done. But knowing what was expected, Abe nodded stiffly. "Yes, sir."

Copyright © 2004, Karen Rose Books, Inc.