Page 25

Stella checked her watch. When five minutes had passed, she started the engine and drove down the street, passing the suspect and making a U-turn. She pulled to the curb just as he lit another match. Under the hood of a sweat jacket, the flare highlighted sharp cheekbones over a gaunt face and scruffy beard.

Stella spotted Lance twenty feet away, hugging the side of the building. Flashlight in hand, she got out of the car and approached the loiterer. “Excuse me, sir. I’d like to talk to you for a minute.”

The man startled. He backed up two steps. Behind him, Lance’s shoe scraped on the pavement. The suspect’s head swiveled and he bolted straight between them, tearing off across the street directly into the path of a minivan. A horn blared. The van bumped his legs as he slid to a stop. He spun, slapping the van’s hood with both palms, and scrambling around the vehicle.

“Stop! Police!” Lance sprinted after him.

Stella was right behind them. The suspect hit the back edge of the parking lot and made a sharp left, skidding into an alley. Lance’s shoes slid on a patch of loose sand as he followed. He cursed and went down on one knee. Lunging to his feet, he ran, limping, toward the corner.

Stella gained ground on Lance, passing him and rounding the brick building. She spotted the suspect in the light of a streetlamp at the other end of the alley and willed her legs to move faster. Her thighs and lungs burned as she cranked up her speed. The suspect slowed, glancing over his shoulder.

She wanted to yell “stop” again but saved her breath for running. The suspect’s strides shortened, and he cut right and disappeared. Stella slowed, her hand hovering near her sidearm as she emerged from the alley into the next street.

Where is he?

She waited, listening, as her pulse thundered in her ears. A movement to her left startled her. Crouching, she flattened herself against the bricks.

The suspect bolted from a dark patch next to a Dumpster, and adrenaline sent Stella’s heart rate into hyperdrive as she went after him. He skidded around another corner with Stella right on his heels. She was close enough to hear his labored breathing over her own.

Stella made the turn into the rear yard of an auto body shop. A six-feet-tall chain-link fence blocked the rear exit. The suspect ran between rows of cars and leaped for the fence.

“Oh, no you don’t.” She closed in, grabbing him by the leg of his jeans. The baggy pants slid down until the waistband encircled his thighs.

Afraid his pants would slide right off and he’d slip away, Stella shifted her grip to his ankles and pulled hard. He fell off the fence onto his back, taking her to the ground with him, right into a pile of garbage. The fall knocked the wind from her lungs. Stella gasped for air.

He tried to scramble to his feet, but the jeans around his knees tripped him. He fell face-first onto the pavement.

Stella flipped onto her belly, got a leg under her body, and launched herself forward. “Get back here.”

He rolled and swung a wild haymaker at Stella’s head. She ducked, but the blow glanced off her jaw. Bright spots flashed in her vision.

She shook her head to clear it as a backhand flew at her face. She blocked the strike with two open palms and grabbed his wrist. Pressing the bone of her forearm into the hollow of his elbow, she arm-barred him to the ground.

He wriggled. “You bitch.”

Placing a knee on his spine to pin him to the ground, she wrestled his hands behind his back and cuffed him. A pat down for weapons yielded a wallet, a pack of cigarettes, matches, a small knife, and an oval medallion on a chain.

She collapsed onto the ground next to him and sucked in oxygen.

Lance limped into the alley. “Are you all right?”

Huffing, Stella nodded, rubbing her jaw. “You?”

“Fine.” But his face was lined with pain. “Just took a wrong step back there.”

She hoped he hadn’t hurt his bad leg on his first week back on duty.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t keep up.”

Stella sat up and forced three deep breaths in and out of her lungs. “I got him.”

“You did.” But the frown on Lance’s face told her he was unhappy with his own performance. He held out a hand.

Taking it, she let him help her stand. “Seriously, stuff happens, Lance. I could have tripped just as easily as you did.”

“But you didn’t.” Self-reproach flashed in Lance’s eyes as he grabbed the suspect by the bicep and hauled him to his feet.

Stella cupped her aching face.

Lance’s frowned deepened. He swung the suspect around. His hands were cuffed behind his back, and his face slammed into the brick exterior of the building.

“This is police brutality. I didn’t do anything,” the man screamed.

The hood had fallen off his head during the chase. In the light of the streetlamp, Stella got her first full look at the man she’d pursued. He was about thirty and as thin as an aging rock star.

“You assaulted a police officer.” Lance jerked the suspect’s arms high up his back.

The suspect rose onto his toes and screamed, “You’re gonna break my arm.”

Lance’s body tensed even more.

Stella grabbed him by the shoulder. “Back off, Lance. We got him.”

“I’m gonna sue your asses,” the suspect screamed into the bricks.

Lance spun the man to face him and leaned closer to his face. The cords of his neck went as taut as steel cables.

“Lance!” Stella grabbed Lance’s arm, her effort barely budging him. His chest heaved, and his jaw muscles twitched. He wanted to hurt the man. Stella could see it in his eyes. He wouldn’t take his eyes off the suspect’s. Stella forced her body between them, pushing on Lance’s chest with both hands. “I’ll take him from here.”

Lance jerked his gaze from the suspect’s face to Stella’s. He blinked and took a step backward, frowning as if the level of his own aggression surprised him.

“I’m gonna sue this whole city.” The suspect licked his bleeding lip. A small cut on the side of his mouth dripped blood, as did an abrasion on his cheek. Rotten lettuce from a broken-open garbage bag hung from the shoulder of his hoodie. “I did nothing to warrant this treatment.”

“Then why did you run?” Lance picked up the wallet from the asphalt and opened it. “Noah Spivak.” Lance thumbed through the contents. “This is impressive. He has six hundred dollars in his wallet. That’s a lot of cash, Spivak.”

Spivak’s arrogant glare set off a warning in Stella’s head.

“Let’s take Mr. Spivak down to the station for questioning.” Stella steered him toward the street.

Lance was still limping as they escorted the suspect to the car and put him in the backseat. Stella turned around in the parking lot. She stopped the car and stared through the windshield. An older model blue Toyota Corolla sat in the light-puddle of a streetlamp. Stella used her computer to run the license plate. “That Toyota is registered to Missy Green.”

They got out of the car and walked around Missy’s Toyota. The doors were locked. Stella doubted there was any evidence in the car. Missy obviously hadn’t made it back to her vehicle after the meeting. “This is where she was abducted.”

Lance pulled out his phone. “We’ll get forensics out here to check the vehicle and have it towed to the impound lot.”

Sliding back into the vehicle, Stella looked over the seat at Spivak. “Does that car look familiar?”

He shot her a fuck-you smile but didn’t answer.

At the station, they secured Spivak in an interview room and posted a uniform to keep an eye on him. While Lance searched for his criminal history, Stella spot cleaned some oily substance from her jacket and pants. From the Italian spice smell, she guessed it was salad dressing.

She met Lance in the hallway. His face still looked pained, his lips pressed white. His gait was stiff, as if he was making a great effort not to limp.

“You OK?” she asked.

He nodded and opened a file folder in his hand. “Spivak isn’t our typical scumbag. He has a degree in chemistry. After college, he moved to Albany, where he was brought up on charges three different times: once for assault, once for domestic violence, and once for statutory rape. The assault charge went away when the victim refused to testify. The domestic violence case was dropped when his girlfriend disappeared—she’s never resurfaced. The Albany detectives think he did her, but they weren’t able to prove anything, which means he’s no dummy. He did serve eighteen months in the state prison for the rape. He returned to Scarlet Falls to live with his parents after his release from prison.”

“Lucky us.” Stella reached for the doorknob.

Spivak had been sitting in the cramped, windowless space for thirty minutes, stewing. His cuffed hands were fastened to the back of the metal chair. His hoodie had been taken with his personal effects, and sweat had soaked through the armpits of his T-shirt.

With an exaggerated sniff, Lance pulled out a metal chair and sat. “The smell of fear in the air.”

Belligerence—and intelligence—shone from Spivak’s eyes.

“If I take the cuffs off, you’re going to behave, right?” Stella wanted his cooperation. Most criminals were smart enough to restrain themselves while being videotaped by a ceiling-mounted camera.


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