He ran back and grabbed the mic. Snippets of the quiet conversation made Mac’s belly ice up.
“Shooting in progress. Officer down.”
Stella knelt next to Brody and wrapped her arm around his waist.
“Just go!” He waved.
“No.” Hauling him to his feet, Stella staggered under his weight.
A man in a white coat ran toward them from the pharmacy. “I called nine-one-one.”
He went to Brody’s other side and helped Stella carry him across the street and into the building, where they eased him down on the floor in front of the register. Sirens approached. “I told them you needed an ambulance.”
Weapon in hand, Brody tried to sit up.
Stella shoved him down. “Hold still. You’re leaking.”
Brody stopped fighting her and lay still.
“Did you get a look at him?” Stella kept one eye on the yellow house through the plate glass windows. She suspected their shooter was long gone, but she wasn’t taking chances.
“No.” Pain glazed Brody’s eyes. Blood soaked his pant leg and puddled on the gray linoleum.
Dropping to her knees beside him, she tore open his pant leg. “Can you get me some gauze?” she asked the man.
“Yes.” The man disappeared into an aisle. He returned a few seconds later with boxes of first aid supplies.
“I’m the pharmacist.” He opened a box of gauze pads and tore a package. “Bill.”
“Nice to meet you, Bill. I’m Detective Dane and this is Detective McNamara.” Stella exposed a nasty wound on Brody’s leg. A bullet had struck the meaty part of his calf. Covering the wound, she said, “We’re going to need more of these.”
“Try this.” Bill handed her a roll of gauze and an ace bandage.
“That should work.” She wrapped the wound, pulling the bandage snug but not too tight. “Are you hit anywhere else?” she asked Brody.
He didn’t answer, and his eyes were closed.
“Brody!” Stella felt for his pulse. It beat rapidly against her fingertips, but his face had gone dead-white. His leg wound hadn’t bled that much. “He must have another wound.” She ran her hands up his arms and legs.
“Here.” Bill moved aside Brody’s jacket. Blood soaked his dress shirt. “He must have been hit under the arm. How the hell did that happen?”
“He was below us.” Stella pulled at Brody’s jacket. “Do you have scissors?”
Bill ran to the counter and returned with them. She cut away Brody’s suit and shirt. Lifting his arm, she stacked gauze and applied pressure to the wound. The hole was smaller but more dangerous than the one on his leg.
Two patrol cars parked in front of the pharmacy. Bill went out to signal for the ambulance. Stella leaned into Brody. Blood welled between her fingers.
The next few minutes seemed like an eternity. Finally, two EMTs nudged her aside. Stella stepped back. They took vitals, started an IV, and applied a pressure bandage. By the time they loaded Brody onto a gurney and wheeled him into the ambulance, Stella’s legs were trembling and queasiness stirred in her belly like a toxic brew.
Lance rushed into the store, and Stella gave him a quick summary. Then she stumbled to the back of the store, went into the restroom, and heaved her afternoon snack.
She added Ring Dings to her list of foods never to be eaten again. Last time it had been apple cider donuts. At this rate, all her favorite sweets were going to be off-limits.
After washing her face with cold water, she opened the door. Bill the pharmacist was standing outside. He handed her a bottle of mouthwash. “Thought you might need this.”
“Thanks.” She went back into the bathroom and swigged a capful.
Second shooting of her career. Second after-shooting hurl. At least she consistently got the job done before letting adrenaline take over.
“Thank you. For everything.” She handed Bill the bottle and went outside. Three SFPD cars lined the street. Forensic techs crawled over the lawns under portable floodlights, and a mixed crowd of gawkers and reporters gathered behind sawhorses.
Lance led an elderly man with a cane to Stella. “This is Mr. Kiel. He’s the owner of the property. Lives in apartment one.”
Skinny, stooped, and sweatered, despite the blistering heat, Mr. Kiel could have been anywhere from seventy-five to a hundred years old. He squinted at Stella through Mr. Magoo glasses.
“Do you know where Mr. Crawley is?” Stella asked.
“Hold on.” He reached to his ear. A tinny sound, like feedback on a microphone, came from his head. “Sorry. I turned off my hearing aid to take a nap.”
“Where is the tenant for unit four?” Stella repeated.
He leaned both hands on the top of his cane. “Jim died of a massive heart attack last week. His kids live in Florida. They took his personal stuff with them, but they arranged to have the furniture donated. Someone is supposed to pick it up by the end of the month.”
“What about the unit below his?”
Mr. Kiel sighed. “That’s been empty for two months. With two empty units, I don’t know how I’m going to pay my bills.”
“Did anyone inquire about the empty unit recently?”
He nodded. “Got a call this afternoon. First bite in weeks.”
“Can you tell me anything about the voice?” she asked.
“Sounded like a man.”
“Do you have Caller-ID?”
“No,” Mr. Kiel said.
She’d have to request his phone records. Stella realized the sheer ridiculousness of her next question as she asked it. “Did you see or hear anything earlier today?”
He laughed. “I can barely see and hear you, darling, and you’re standing right in front of me.”
“Thank you,” Stella said. “We’ll be in touch if we have any more questions.”
The old man tottered away.
“Let’s get some uniforms knocking on doors.” Stella eyed the maze of juniper bushes and rhododendrons that covered the landscaping. The chances that the neighbors saw the suspect were slim. The shooter had plenty of time to walk away while Stella was busy keeping Brody alive. But she spent the next hour interviewing the residents of the surrounding houses anyway. No one saw the shooter. The uniforms were still canvasing the rest of the neighborhood when she gave up and found Lance in the street.
“I’m going to the hospital,” she said.
“Any word on Brody?” Lance asked.
“No. I’ll text you when I have news.”
Church bells rang as Stella walked to the car. As she turned toward her vehicle, her eyes drifted toward the sound. A few blocks away, a church spire towered over the neighborhood. She hadn’t realized Our Lady of Sorrows was this close.
A reporter broke through the line, jamming his microphone in Stella’s face. “Detective Dane, can you identify the officer who was shot? Was it Detective McNamara? Is that his blood?”
Her hand rose in front of her face in reflex. She glanced down, her stomach recoiling at the splotches of red soaking her clothes.
A large body blocked him. Lance. Before Stella could blink, he sent the reporter sprawling with a shove to the chest. The jerk landed on his back in the street. His microphone flew from his hand and skidded across the pavement.
Stella stepped in front of Lance. She put two hands on his chest, but he plowed forward. Her shoes slid on the blacktop. “Lance. Stop. Please.”
Rage widened his eyes. Breathing hard, he stepped backward. His fists opened and closed at his sides.
Stella signaled for a pair of sheriff’s deputies to take over crowd management. When she turned back, Lance was walking away. He climbed into his cruiser and drove off. Stella made a mental note to check in with him later. Maybe he’d returned to work too soon.
She got in her car, numb, and headed for the hospital, praying that Brody hadn’t lost too much blood.
He locked his gun in his glove box.
Now back to his original agenda.
We now return to your regular programming.
He felt so much better after letting the police know just what he thought of them. They’d be running from their own shadows. He’d need a cool head to ensure tonight’s mission went according to schedule. He had something special planned. He was pretty sure he’d found The One.
And if not, another judgment and more punishment would be delivered.
Back home, he checked the camera feed of the girl’s cell. She was curled up in a ball, unmoving. He should be anxious to get started. He should be preparing her challenge. Instead, he was filled with nothing but apathy. What was wrong with him?
He’d slapped the police. He should be focusing.
Pacing his control room, he reconsidered his plan. He glanced back at the monitor. She looked pathetic and weak. In choosing her, he’d wanted to test the will to survive against physical strength. Missy had been healthy. Physically, she should have had more stamina, but she’d failed. Dena had been accustomed to pain. He’d thought that would give her an edge. It hadn’t.
But this girl was a survivor. Pain and impending death were part of her daily life. She should have great resilience. But looking at her now, all he saw was frailty. He could do nothing and she’d die.
Hardly a challenge at all. In fact, he already felt like he was wasting his time. What had he been thinking?
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