Authors: Jeanne Tosti
LIES OF THE PHOENIX
Introducing the Lieutenant Alec Cassidy
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or transmittal system, without prior written permission of the author. The only exception is brief quotations for the purposes of written reviews.
Cover photograph © Alexander Potapov
Also by Jeanne Tosti
To my husband for his support and encouragement, and to Pam and John for their thoughtful critiques and editorial help
ARAH LAWRENCE FINISHED
brushing her teeth and slipped into a silky camisole and matching shorts. It was after 1:00 a.m. They had spent the evening with friends. Dinner was at a new Greek restaurant followed by drinks and a decadent dessert at Eric and Ruth Abbot’s house. There was nothing special about the evening. She smiled contently as she thought about it.
They had connected a few months earlier through an on-line dating service. He was new to the area and she was a busy professional with little time to search out dating prospects. They arranged to meet for the first time over coffee. She had no expectations that it would amount anything. To her surprise, the chemistry between them was immediate. He was handsome, engaging, and made her feel like she was the center of his universe. He shared her interests, liked the same foods and music, and moved effortlessly into her circle of friends.
In past relationships she had always been the one to bend and adapt to hold things together. Before Jordan, there had been Jeffrey. After two years she thought that they were moving toward marriage. Jeffrey, on the other hand, had other ideas. It all came to an ugly and abrupt conclusion one day when she came home early from work and found him with another woman.
She was in a dark place for a long while after Jeffrey, and then she met Jordan. He was everything Jeffrey was not. It scared her at first, but Jordan had put her at ease and passed every test she had set for him. She listened politely as her friends admonished her to be cautious. She wasn’t one to act impulsively, but sometimes things just feel right and this was one of those times.
When Jordan proposed, she accepted without any misgivings. She had always pictured a wedding with all the trimmings, but she knew Jordan had no friends or family in the area. It would have been unfair to him to fill a church and a reception hall with a sea of strange faces just to satisfy her girlish whim. He argued convincingly that the moment should be theirs alone and there was no reason to wait. It didn’t take long for her to agree. Jordan took charge and made all the arrangements.
They stole away for a long weekend and were married in a private ceremony on a romantic beach in the Caribbean. It was like a dream. She felt no remorse for sacrificing a church wedding and catered affair as long as they were together. That was two months ago.
She did feel a small pang of remorse for not telling her best friend, Ruth Abbot, about their plans to elope. Those feelings, however, were quickly pushed aside by images of the gentle ocean breeze on her face, the beautiful moonlight, and sipping champagne on the beach with Jordan.
Ruth was hurt and more than a little surprised at the news, but she set aside her feelings and arranged a small dinner party at a local restaurant in honor of the newlywed couple. Sarah’s friends welcomed Jordan into their group and wished the couple well. Secretly they all hoped that Sarah had not made the biggest mistake of her life.
Jordan moved from his cramped apartment into Sarah’s townhouse and they slipped effortlessly into married life. She couldn’t be happier. She loved the settled feeling and she loved Jordan. She was thirty-three years old and ready for the new door that had just been opened in her life.
She finished in the bathroom and walked into the bedroom. Jordan was sitting on the bed focused on his laptop. She plopped down beside him.
“Why don’t you put that computer away and pay some attention to your wife?” she said. “What are you working on anyway?”
“Just catching up on some things for work. Pretty boring stuff.” He flipped the laptop closed as she moved closer to him.
Sarah didn’t know a lot about Jordan’s work. It had to do with international finance and investments. He told her that he had been an accounts executive at a respected investment firm in Los Angeles and then relocated to Chicago to take a similar position with a well-known Chicago firm. He managed large corporate investment accounts and lived in a world of spread sheets, long distance phone calls, and complicated on-line international wheeling and dealing that made money for his clients.
How anyone could love numbers and accounting mystified her, but Jordan did. That was fine with her. Now that they were married, she was happy to leave all the household finances and money management to him.
Jordan put his laptop on the nightstand, clicked the lamp off, and pulled her close. Sarah snuggled into his shoulder. Yes, she was happy.
HE BED JARRED
suddenly and jolted her awake. Sarah reached across the pillow for Jordan, but he wasn’t there. She sat up and rubbed her eyes trying to get them to focus. Someone moved in the darkness across the room. As her vision cleared she recognized Jordan’s figure.
“Jordan? What is it? Is something wrong?”
“I think there is someone in the house. Stay here. I’m going downstairs.”
“No, don’t go! We should call the police!” The image of him confronting a prowler filled her with terror.
Jordan ignored her and moved towards the open bedroom door. He stopped near the doorway and Sarah heard a drawer slide open and then shut. He then disappeared into the darkened hallway.
Her heart was pounding. She fumbled in the darkness for the phone on the nightstand. She found it and punched 911 into the key pad.
An emergency service dispatcher answered immediately, “911. What is your emergency?”
“We need the police! We think someone is in our house!” Just then she heard a crash from downstairs. “Please hurry, my husband went downstairs and—”
cracked through the darkness and Sarah froze. She had to force her body to move. She ran to the bedroom door calling frantically, “Jordan! Are you all right?” There was no answer. A couple of seconds later another
broke the black silence. “Jordan!” She tore down the stairs in a panic.
She reached the bottom of the staircase with the phone still in her hand. Jordan was standing silently in the living room. A sense of immense relief washed over her. She ran to him and threw her arms around his neck. “Thank god you’re safe. Is everything alright?”
Jordan pulled her arms from around his neck and gently pushed her away. “Go back upstairs, Sarah.” He had a strange look on his face. He began searching the first floor of the townhouse, moving about as if she wasn’t even there.
She looked down at his side and saw a gun in his hand. “What’s happened?” The scene seemed unreal, as if she was dreaming.
Jordan gave her no response. He brushed by her and went to the window looking intently up and down the street without saying a word.
Sarah scanned the room trying to make some sense of the situation. Ceramic shards from a broken lamp were strewn across the floor. In the dim light she saw something by the sofa. As she edged closer, she could make out a dark crimson pool creeping across the floor. Her eyes followed the puddle back to its source and her breath caught in her throat. The body of a man lay next to the sofa.
She remembered the phone in her hand. She lifted it to her ear. The 911 operator was still on the line. She mumbled numbly into the phone, “Send the police. Please, we need the police!”
The 911 operator assured her that the police were in route and then followed with a barrage of questions. All that Sarah could get out was, “A man broke into our house. I think my husband shot him.”
* * * * *
The police and crime scene team were swarming over the townhouse. Lieutenant Alec Cassidy, Chicago Homicide Division, was in charge. He was forty-seven years old and had been at this job for a long time. He earned his rank and position through shear tenacity and a proven ability to close cases. He kept his team on track by seeing through the fog of deception in an investigation and by coming up with leads when others were at a dead end. People said he had a sixth sense for finding the truth.
The uniformed officers had already reported to him and his own team was combing the crime scene for evidence. As usual, Cassidy did his own survey of the scene. He walked through each room of the townhouse making mental notes. He wanted to understand how the invader gained access, the path taken by the homeowner, the proximity of the wife to the crime scene, the placement of furniture, things in the environment that may have impacted how the action took place, and anything else that may provide a clue as to what occurred.
The lock on the back door of the townhouse showed tool marks and was identified as the point of entry by his forensics team. He walked upstairs and looked at the furniture configuration in the bedroom. The bed was positioned with the headboard against a side wall. A bottle of scented moisturizer and a landline phone were on the nightstand closest to the front widow. A pair of women’s shoes lay under the window where they had probably been kicked off. He moved around the room and noted the dresser next to the door and the straight shot from the bedroom door down to the living room.
He walked down the stairs to the living room. A nearby desk had two drawers hanging open. Papers in the drawers were stirred up, but the drawers had not been dumped. A large lady’s handbag sat perched atop a pile of papers on the desk. He unzipped the purse and found a wallet containing one hundred and fifty-two dollars in cash, several credit cards, an ATM card, and a driver license, all belonging to Sarah Lawrence, the wife.
The home invader’s body lay undisturbed on the hardwood floor awaiting the Cook County Medical Examiner’s field officer to arrive. Cassidy stooped down to inspect the corpse more closely. He was careful not to disturb the blood pool that spread in a circle around the torso of the dead man. A bullet wound to the chest and one to the head were apparent. The wound to the head showed powder burns—close range.
He looked with particular interest at the clothes and shoes—expensive. He made a mental note.
Jordan and Sarah had been questioned separately by the uniformed officers first on the scene and then by two homicide detectives. Cassidy had received a full report from both. Now Lieutenant Cassidy wanted to speak to the couple himself. They were directed to take a seat in the dining room and wait out of the way of police personnel working on the primary crime scene.
Cassidy observed the couple from across the room. Sarah Lawrence appeared like most victims who had just been through the nightmare of a break-in and a shooting. She was emotionally drained and unable to focus effectively. Her body language communicated her feeling of vulnerability. Jordan Cassidy, on the other hand, was taking in every detail of the investigation. He watched intently as the forensic team poured over the house. He communicated his impatience by unconsciously tapping his fingers on the table and paying very little attention to his wife.
He’s someone who is used to calling the shots. Let’s see what happens when he is pressed a little,
thought Cassidy as he crossed the room and introduced himself.
Cassidy had an air of authority and control that gave Sarah a sense of relief after the chaos of the last hours. The safety and tranquility of her home was gone and a hollow feeling enveloped her now. She focused on Cassidy’s words, shutting out the blur of police personnel who were crawling all over her townhouse.
“Mr. Lawrence, I know you have been over this several times with the uniformed officers and my detectives, but I want to hear directly from you what transpired with this shooting.” Cassidy focused his attention on Jordan. “Tell me the sequence of events that led up to the shooting.”
Jordan began, “I heard noises downstairs—”.
Cassidy broke in, “What kind of noises?”
“I don’t know. It was like someone knocking around. Opening and closing drawers. That type of thing. I went down to investigate—”
“Did you say anything to your wife before you went downstairs?”
“Uh, yeah. I told her to stay put, and then I went—”
“Did she say anything to you before you went downstairs?”
“She said something about calling the police. I wasn’t paying much attention since I was afraid that someone had broken into our house. I went down—”
“Is there a reason why you didn’t wait for the police?”
“Look, I was checking out a noise! I didn’t know what it was. If someone was in our house, I wasn’t going to wait to see if the guy was going to come upstairs!”
“So when you went downstairs, you thought that someone may have broken into your house?”
“Yeah, that was running through my mind.”
“O.K., I’m just trying to get the whole picture of what happened.” Cassidy said in a calming tone. “Do you keep any weapons in the house?”
“No. No weapons,” Jordan said with a hint of irritation in his voice. “As I came down the stairs, I saw a man going through one of the desk drawers and I ran at him. I guess it was a stupid thing to do, but it was a knee jerk reaction. We fought, he pulled a gun, and I made a grab for it. We knocked over that lamp over there and it broke.” Jordan pointed to the remnants of the destroyed lamp and ceramic shards scattered across the floor.
Cassidy nodded for Jordan to continue.
Sarah listened silently trying to make sense of it all as Jordan went over the horrific details of the last hours. She was thankful that he had taken the lead with the police. She needed time to process what had happened.
“I wrestled the gun away from him.” Jordan continued. “I told him to stop, to back off, or I would shoot! He made a lunge for the gun and I shot him. That’s it.” Jordan punctuated the end of his story by pushing back in his chair and folding his arms across his chest.
thought Cassidy. He studied Jordan carefully and continued his questioning, “My team tells me that there were two rounds fired from that gun.”
Jordan looked directly at Cassidy and with an edge to his voice said, “He kept coming at me. I had to fire a second time to stop him. I wasn’t going to take the chance that he would get through me. I had my wife to think about.”
“I see,” Cassidy said calmly. “Could you show me where you were standing when you first fired the gun?”
Jordan rose from the table and walked to the living room. Cassidy followed closely behind. Jordan was wearing a short sleeved t-shirt and a pair of lounging shorts. As Jordan led the way, Cassidy had an opportunity to look Jordan over closely. He had no bruises or abrasions on his arms, legs or face. Nothing that would indicate he was in a fight for his life. Jordan stopped and pointed to a spot on the floor.
“Thank you,” said Lieutenant Cassidy. “Now show me where you were standing when you fired the second round.”
“I don’t know!” snapped Jordan. “We were fighting. Things were happening pretty fast. He was charging at me and I fired again before he got to me.”
Cassidy ignored Jordan’s irritation. “No injuries to you, I take it?”
“I am just fine, but thanks for asking,” Jordan shot back sarcastically.
Sarah’s head was pounding. She kept hoping this was a bad dream and she would wake up to find it all gone. She rubbed her head wearily and looked around. It was all still there—Lieutenant Cassidy talking to Jordan, strange people walking through her house, the broken lamp on the floor. There was no escape. She was still in her night clothes and pulled the sweater around her that she had grabbed off a dining room chair. The emotional numbness was wearing off and she was starting to feel cold.
Jordan and Lieutenant Cassidy returned to their seats at the dining room table.
“When you first came downstairs, did you see the intruder’s gun?” Cassidy asked Jordan.
“No. If I saw a gun, I wouldn’t have jumped at him. I’m not stupid.”
“Where did the gun come from? Did he have it in his belt or a pocket?”
“I don’t know. It was dark. Everything was happening fast. We started to fight and the next thing I knew he had a gun in his hand and we were wrestling for it.” Jordan irritation rose even higher with Cassidy’s detailed questioning.
“What hand was the suspect holding the gun in when you first saw it?”
Jordan hesitated for a moment then answered, “It was in his right hand.”
As Sarah listened to Jordan answer questions about the gun something bothered her. She excused herself to go upstairs to get her robe. She went to their bedroom and closed the door. The police and the crime scene team were all on the first floor of the townhouse and had not invaded the second floor yet.
She replayed the night’s events in her head. There were parts that didn’t match what Jordan had told Cassidy. She never heard Jordan warn the intruder to stop or back off
In fact, she never heard any voices. The bedroom door was wide open and was right at the top of the stairs. She should have heard anything that was said. And then there was the fight that Jordan described. She heard the lamp break and the two gun shots, but no sounds of a struggle.
Maybe I was so frightened I wasn’t paying attention,
An uncomfortable feeling settled in on her. She looked at the dresser and hesitated for a moment, then she opened the top drawer of Jordan’s dresser. The drawer was full of underwear and socks. She took her hand and ran it around under the clothes in the drawer. In the back corner she felt a hard object. She grabbed it and pulled it out. It was ammunition clip for a hand gun. She felt around in the drawer for anything else, but there was nothing except for underwear and socks. She carefully replaced the ammo clip where she found it. She bit her lip and hesitated again. Then she did a quick search of the other drawers in the dresser. They contained only clothes.
She put on her robe and went back downstairs to the dining room with questions running through her mind.
Was that Jordan’s gun? If it was, why wouldn’t he tell the police?
She returned to her seat next to Jordan where Cassidy was still questioning him.