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“Yeah, but that’s the only thing that matches Grant’s description. She said tan pants and a spider tattoo. This guy might have been the one hired to take her out, but he isn’t the one who did it.” Armstrong turned from the desk. “Damn it.”

“I’m not sure what you think we’re going to do.”

“We reopen the case.”

Gray paused. “Okay, fine.” He was the older of the two of them and tended to be more pragmatic about their cases. “But this guy, the one hired to murder Ms. Grant, is dead. And the man who hired him is also dead. Which leaves whoever beat up our victim only guilty of third-degree assault.”

“Second-degree,” Armstrong corrected. “Broken bones, ICU.”

“Good luck making that stick. No weapon was used, she’s not a public servant. And there were no long-lasting effects of the attack.”

Armstrong doubted that.

“Any wet behind the ears public defender will get the charge dropped to a misdemeanor, and Spider Man will be back on the streets in a few hours.” Gray pushed back from the computer and grabbed his cup of coffee.

“Unless he has priors.”

Gray rolled his eyes. “A few days, then. C’mon, man. It’s a low priority.”

“Not for her.”

“I understand that. Let’s give her a day and then let her know we’re reopening the case.”

“Opening and then ignoring.” Armstrong looked at the pile on his desk. They didn’t have a choice.

“We can find all the ink in the world, but unless there is something else to go with it . . .”

“I know.” Armstrong released a sigh and went back to his desk.

Avery shed the rental car as soon as she entered the city. She didn’t fool herself for a minute that she’d find her assailant by looking at arms throughout the streets. Besides, it was fall, and the nip in the air had everyone in long sleeves and sweaters. Then there was the pesky fact that there were one point six million residents in Manhattan. Even if you cut it down by race, that left 56 percent of that one point six falling into the Caucasian category. The arm bearing the spider tattoo had been white. Cut that in half for gender and take out the percentage of children in the mix . . . yeah, Avery had done the math. She was searching for one man in a sea of four hundred thousand. Omit the old, the ones that didn’t have tattoos . . . she’d hated math in school, and she hated it even more now.

But nothing was going to stop her from looking. Spider, which was the name she used in her head for the guy who attacked her, was out there. He’d haunted her dreams, altered her appearance, and changed her life. She deserved to face him.

Avery stuffed a few hundred-dollar bills into her wallet and put it into the inside zippered pocket of the parka she wore. No subway pickpocket was getting the drop on her. One of the many things she’d learned from Brenda. The woman was practical to the core and assumed everyone was out to get her. It suited her teachings of krav well.

Avery left the luxury hotel just after two and started toward the West Village. Once there, she searched out the local college and then a coffee shop. Her stomach reminded her that she’d skipped breakfast and was working her way toward dinner without so much as a piece of toast. After grabbing a coffee and a bagel, Avery sat at the far end of the small café and waited.

College art students started pouring in and scouting out tables. Avery nibbled on her bagel and watched. Some of the kids sat absorbed in their phones, while others hovered over their textbooks with earbuds blaring music into their brains.

Avery abandoned her seat and meandered through the room. Two guys and a girl sat closest to the window. On their table were unopened artist sketchbooks and coffee.

“Which one of you is the budding artist?” Avery asked as she pretended to walk by.

The three of them stopped talking and looked her way.

“We all are,” the girl said. She was white, average height, sporting coal black short hair with a streak of red on her bangs.

“Any of you good?”

They glanced at each other and smiled. “Lady, we wouldn’t have gotten into the institute if we sucked.” This from the Asian guy.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to offend you. I was looking for someone who might want to make a little cash for a quick sketch.”

College kids and cash.

Bait and hook.

“What kind of sketch?”

“Can I sit down?”

The Asian guy stood and offered his chair while snaking one from another table.

Avery thanked him and removed the picture from her pocket. “I’m Avery, by the way.”

Their names were Hiraku, Monique, and Emmett.

“I want someone to do a better job at sketching this.” Avery showed them her paltry scratches.

“Spiders. Cool,” Emmett said.

“Is this supposed to be an arm?” Hiraku asked.

“Yeah. I’m thinking of a tattoo here.” She patted the underside of her right arm.

Monique leaned back. “That’s all you guys.”

“Oh?” Avery questioned.

“I’m all about the face. Hiraku is anatomy and Emmett is still life.”

Avery looked between the two of them. “Think you can sketch something if I can describe it to you?”

“What’s in it for us?” Hiraku was the businessman.

Avery liked that.

She removed three one-hundred-dollar bills from her wallet and set them on the table.

Monique snatched up the money.

The guys looked at her.

“What? The rental agreement is in my name. Consider it an advance.”

The kids shrugged as Hiraku tugged his sketch pad closer. He pulled out some kind of fancy case and removed a few pencils and got to work.

Avery would guide him once in a while. “More muscular. The veins protruded more. Hairy.” With each instruction, the sketch came to life.

When Hiraku was done, he sent the page over to Emmett, who had been studying the image she drew.

“What’s the scale on the arm?”

“Three-quarters, with the bulk of the body here and the legs spanning around.”

Hiraku pulled another pad out and started drawing a posterior forearm.

Avery concentrated on what Emmett was sketching.

“It was long legged but hairy. You can see the joints. Almost like you’re looking at it through a microscope.”

“Wicked,” Monique commented.

“More pointy on the legs,” Avery encouraged.

Around them, the coffee shop buzzed with movement in and out. As the image in her head slowly came into view on the page, chills ran a path down her spine. But unlike before, this time the chill was laced with excitement. Like she was discovering something for the first time.

“Like this?” Emmett turned the sketch around for her to see.

“Yeah, only more lifelike. Dimensional.”

Emmett shrugged like she had requested ice in her water. He twisted the page around several times, making slash marks on one side of the spider until it looked like it was crawling off the page.

“That’s it.” She stared at the paper like it was fine art that cost a fortune. Avery didn’t doubt she would see this image in her head for years to come. But right now it was a blessing after months of darkness. This was the hand that hurt her.

Emmett took the paper back from her and drew over Hiraku’s posterior arm.

Seeing the tips of the spider legs come to life on the other side of the arm was alarming. Almost like someone was grasping her with sharp nails that she couldn’t krav her way out of.

“Dude, that’s seriously good,” Monique praised her friend.

“Spiders are cool. They get such a bad rap,” Emmett said while he continued to add the dimension needed to match the other side of the arm.

“They run too fast,” Avery said under her breath.

“You would, too, if you had eight legs and an exoskeleton,” Hiraku said.

Emmett handed her the other page. Together they were matched perfectly.

“You guys are really good.”

“Damn straight.” Monique had attitude.

Avery loved it.

Avery stood with the papers in her hand.

“Here.” Hiraku handed her a plastic sheath to put the sketches in.

Avery set them back on the table. “You should sign them. Since you’re going to be famous one day.”

Even though they laughed, they totally scratched their signatures on the bottoms of the pages.

“Thank you, guys.” She dug back into her pocket and placed several hundred-dollar bills on the table. “Dinner’s on me.”

Stunned silence.

“Ah, anytime you need any other help. We’re here all the time.”

Avery winked. “I’ll take you up on that.”

Chapter Twenty-Three

She was busy. That’s what Avery told him in her morning text.

But then nothing.

Liam tossed the ball for Whiskey in the backyard while drinking a beer. The days were getting shorter, but there was no lack of heat in the air.

The back door opened and his sister stepped out. “Dinner will be ready in fifteen.”

“Thanks.”

Michelle walked all the way outside. “Okay, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” He set his drink down and attempted to wrestle the ball out of his dog’s mouth.

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