“That rotten Walker fellow! Has he done something to my baby?”
“Ma’am, why don’t we go sit down?” Lilly placed a hand on the crook of Eileen’s elbow and to Braden’s surprise, the woman didn’t argue. She allowed herself to be led to the living room where she collapsed onto the love seat.
Braden wanted to tell her that her daughter was dead, but he didn’t want her to dissolve into tears and be unable to speak before they got more information. “Who is this Walker person you mentioned?”
“Daniel Walker, Mallory’s ex-boyfriend. She’s too old to be dating him anyway. He can’t be more than twenty-three. She said he was sexy and even though she won’t admit it I think she likes his dangerous image. She thinks she can change him,” she muttered.
“Why do you think he might have done something to Mallory?”
“He hit her once and she broke up with him. Ever since then he’s been harassing her. Phone calls, driving by her house, where she works.” Her dark eyes were wide as she looked back and forth between Lilly and Braden.
Braden knew she had questions but he needed this information. “When did they break up?”
“About a month ago. That’s when the calls started. Ever since he showed up at her place drunk and started banging on her door, she’s been sleeping over here almost five nights a week.”
“Did she file a restraining order?” He would have remembered seeing it, but he had to ask.
“No, she didn’t want to make him angrier. She hoped if she kept avoiding him, he’d get the picture and move on.”
“Do you know where he lives?”
“It’s not the best part of town. I think the yellow house on Cedar Street. Why can’t you just ask her?”
This never gets easier. “Eileen, I’m sorry to tell you that Mallory has passed away.”
She shook her head, sending her dark hair swishing around her face. “You’re wrong. I just saw her this morning.”
“I’m sorry, Eileen. We found her this morning at her yoga studio.”
“I want to see her. Now!” She clutched the arm rest.
“That’s not possible…yet. Until we finish the autopsy—”
“Autopsy? What happened to her? What did he do to her?”
“Your daughter was murdered but until we close this investigation I can’t give you any more details. I promise that we’re going to look into every lead possible.” It felt so cold to just lay the facts bare but there was no other way to tell her.
Shrieking, she fell to her knees and covered her face with her hands. Before Braden could react, Lilly crouched on the floor and wrapped her arms around her. She whispered soothing, incomprehensible words until Eileen was softly crying instead of sobbing uncontrollably.
As he watched Lilly comfort the woman, he wanted to turn away, give them privacy, but he couldn’t tear his gaze from them. When Lilly had left him, he’d despised her. Overnight his world had been turned upside down and it had been easy to tell himself she’d just been using him. In his heart, he knew that wasn’t true. Watching her now only solidified that. Everything about her was kind and pure. Need burned low in his belly and more than anything, he wanted to wrap his arms around Lilly and ease the pain she must be in.
“Is there someone you want us to call? You shouldn’t be alone right now,” Lilly said.
“My daughter—other daughter—and my son. They live in the next county. I don’t know how I’m going to tell them their sister is—”
“I’ll do it. Do you have their numbers written down anywhere?” Lilly’s voice seemed to have a calming effect.
Eileen swiped at her tears and nodded. “On the fridge. Their names are Max and Aurora.”
“You just wait right here.” Lilly disappeared and Braden suddenly felt very inadequate.
From the other room, he could hear the low murmur of Lilly’s voice. He wasn’t great at the comforting thing. Never had been. He opened his mouth a couple times but anything he came up with seemed to fall pitifully short. He’d lost a lot of friends to violence, but the situation had been different. They’d been in a warzone. And telling this woman he knew how she felt wouldn’t help anything anyway. Hell, it’d probably upset her even more.
Still, he crouched down next to her and held her hand. A waterfall of tears rolled down her cheeks but she didn’t sob. Just quietly cried. Braden tightened his grip on her hand and allowed the anger that had been building inside him to course freely.
Two women—three counting Lilly’s therapist—all murdered so closely together. Whoever this guy was, he’d make a mistake. He had to. Striking in the middle of the day meant he was getting braver. Arrogant.
No matter what happened, Braden was going to bring this guy down.
“Thank you for what you did back there.” Braden kicked his truck into park a few houses down from the only yellow house on Cedar Street. After leaving Mrs. Spinoza’s, he’d immediately called the station and gotten an address on Daniel Walker. The guy had a long rap sheet, including past instances of domestic violence.
Lilly shrugged. “I have a little experience with it. Like I said, I…lost a couple friends in Africa and I went to see their families afterward. There’s not a lot you can do other than listen.”
“I know, but still, thank you.”
Her cheeks tinged a light shade of pink, but she didn’t respond.
Braden looked at his watch, then in the rearview mirror. “Where the hell is Perry?” he muttered. His detective should be here by now. Braden hadn’t wanted to waste time dropping Lilly off at the station when he could be picking up their first good suspect.
“Uh, Braden…” He followed Lilly’s nod.
A blond haired man wearing a brown hoodie and jeans had walked into the front yard and was smoking a cigarette. They were too far to make a positive ID, but compared to the picture Perry had sent to his phone, it looked like their guy.
“I’ve got my weapon if you don’t want to wait for backup,” Lilly said.
Braden pulled his gun out of its holster but didn’t make a move to get out. He wanted this guy but he couldn’t put Lilly’s life at risk. “How much training do you have, exactly?” After seeing the way she handled a weapon it was obvious she knew what she was doing but he needed more information.
“I have a Master’s in criminology, which you might already know. I have experience in prisoner handling, tactical evasive driving. I’ve been on numerous domestic and international anti-terrorism operations working with various joint task-forces involving the FBI, CIA and the DEA. Uh, I’m also trained in reconnaissance and surveillance, foreign weapons and communications, and I have current DOD top secret clearance. There’s more, but that’s the basics.”
The Department of Defense clearance was good but it was her mention of weapons experience and prisoner handling that convinced him. “Come on. We’re not waiting any longer. I’ll cross the street. You head down this side, cut across two or three houses down, then loop back in case he runs.”
He waited until Lilly had gotten out of the truck and was a few paces down the sidewalk before getting out. Keeping his weapon close to his side, he kept his pace casual as he crossed the street. Braden wasn’t wearing his uniform, but the chances of this guy knowing who he was were bigger than normal considering he was the sheriff.
A chain link fence surrounded the front yard. As Braden neared the yard, the younger man took notice. He straightened and tossed his cigarette. There was a look in his eyes that said he knew Braden was a cop and he was going to run.
Don’t run, don’t run. Braden repeated the words over in his head, but it was no use. Before he’d reached the edge of the fence, the kid turned and sprinted across the yard.
Shit! He might not be guilty of murdering Mallory, but he was guilty of something. Braden tucked his gun into the back of his pants and took off. He grasped the top edge of the fence and propelled himself over. He jogged five days a week, but running outside in the middle of winter still sucked.
Just as he rounded the side of the house, he saw the guy jumping the fence into the next yard. He glanced over his shoulder before shoving the back gate open.
Braden’s leg muscles strained as he sprinted across the yard after him. As he followed him through the gate into another yard, Braden pulled his gun from his waistband. Slowing his pace, he edged along the side of the house. Once he reached the next street, he scanned the perimeter.
His heart pounded wildly in his chest and he looked both ways. It wasn’t a dead end street so the kid could have gone anywhere. A blur of movement to his right caught his eye. The guy jumped from behind an oak tree and sprinted down the sidewalk.
“Police! Freeze!” Braden shouted as he resumed the chase.
As the guy neared the next intersection Lilly appeared from behind one of the houses, gun drawn. Her weapon was pointed directly at their suspect and by her steady grip, it was obvious she knew how to use it.
“Don’t move!” she shouted with surprising force.
The guy nearly tripped, then swiveled around. When he saw Braden with his gun drawn too, he held up his hands.
“Keep your hands where I can see them!” Braden shouted.
Out of the corner of his eyes, Braden could see Lilly closing in on the other side.
The guy muttered something under his breath but kept his hands up. When Braden was within two feet of him, the kid lunged at him.
Letting his shoulder drop, Braden ducked down and out of range of the poorly planned punch. Before the guy could regroup Braden swiped his ankles and flattened him against the sidewalk. He pressed his knee into the guy’s back.
“You okay?” Lilly asked as he handcuffed him.
He nodded, but kept his focus on their suspect. “Assault on a police officer. One more thing I can add to your list of crimes.”
“I didn’t know you were a cop, man,” he muttered as Braden jerked him to his feet.