Not Without Risk

Copyright

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the
product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance
to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is
entirely coincidental.

 

COPYRIGHT © 2006 Sarah Grimm, Updated 2013

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner
whatsoever without written permission of the author.

 

Cover Art by Arial Burnz

 

Publishing History

Triskelion Publishing, 2007
First Crimson Rose Edition, 2010

 

Published in the United States of America

 

 

Not Without Risk

by

Sarah Grimm

 

Chapter One

 

Justin didn’t recognize the uniformed officer guarding the hotel room door and identified
himself. “Sergeant Harrison, Homicide.” He pulled a pair of latex gloves from his
back pocket, silently sympathizing with the man’s poor hue and pinched expression.
“Were you first on the scene?”

“Yes, sir,” the man choked out. He swallowed hard.

“Don’t worry, it gets easier.” The officer was young and as green as his complexion,
but he wouldn’t remain that way for long. Not with another San Diego summer right
around the corner. In the heat of summer the homicide rate always went up.

Snapping the gloves into place, Justin moved slowly into the room. He cringed inwardly
as all eyes turned toward him.

Damn, he hated this. His arrival delayed by his morning appointment, the number of
fellow officers in attendance was down. Those left on scene were the men he didn’t
see on a daily basis. The men he saw only at times such as this, when murder brought
them together. Although he didn’t doubt the sincerity of the greetings that filled
the air, he knew he was a subject of curiosity. He hadn’t worked with these men in
months—it was only natural that he would have to prove himself.

That didn’t make him feel any less like a lab specimen under a microscope, as he withstood
their examination with more than a little effort.

Unaffected by his sense of dread, the surge of anticipation as he crossed the threshold
and stepped into the crime scene was strong. Adrenaline pulsed through him. The thrill
of being back doing the one thing at which he excelled.

With no wish to interrupt, he stepped to the side, stood back and absorbed the activity
about him. Besides the man at the door, three others occupied the room: two men from
the forensics team and his partner, Allan Simmons. Allan moved about freely, which
indicated they were all but finished. It would be up to Justin to play catch-up, to
assess the scene.

He straightened, ignored the twinge of pain that radiated down his arm, and turned
toward his partner. “What have we got?”

Even as he asked, he began to move. As if on automatic pilot, he wandered slowly,
allowing his gaze to drift. Yesterday’s newspaper lay atop the desk, a dirty water
glass at its upper right corner. Alongside the desk sat an empty wastebasket. A suitcase
occupied the chair in the corner, its contents piled haphazardly. What might have
been the clothing the victim removed before slipping into bed lay on the floor at
the chair’s feet.

Justin visually checked the corners of the room and the bathroom. He scanned every
surface, looking past the dusting of powder the forensics team used while checking
for prints. Then, only when he’d seen everything else, he turned his attention to
the bed.

The deceased lay atop industrial white sheets—face down, arms stretched out to the
sides, the orange-and-red bedspread tangled around his legs. His upper body remained
exposed, the sandy-blond hair at the base of his skull matted with blood. The pillow
beneath his face was also soaked with blood.

“Glad you could join us.”

Justin turned at Allan’s words, accepting the quick flash of concern that crossed
his partner’s face. He waited, silent, as Allan’s gaze swept over him before rising
once more.

“You’re late.”

“I had an appointment,” Justin responded dryly. He tried not to shift uncomfortably
as Allan continued to openly study him. He knew—ten years of working side by side
brought a bond stronger than friendship—Allan was sizing him up, silently pondering
Justin’s physical condition.

“Therapy?”

Justin nodded as he waited for more to be said. He wondered, hoped his easy reading
of Allan’s thoughts didn’t go both ways. If so, Allan would see the pain that kept
Justin up most of the night, prowling the house. A clawing pain that remained, exacerbated
by his morning workout, and left him questioning the intelligence behind his return
to active duty. “So, what have we got?”

He breathed a sigh of relief when Allan moved on to the business at hand.

“Victim’s been identified as one Leroy St. John, age thirty-three. Death appears to
be from a single shot to the back of the head. The Medical Examiner said it looks
like a small caliber. Probably a .22 or .25.”

“A throw away.”

“Yes.”

Justin turned to the forensics men standing with them, McClemmens and Toombs. “Are
you done?”

“Yes,” McClemmens replied as Toombs packed up their kit.

“Did you find anything interesting?”

“If you find a room all but wiped clean interesting.”

“Nothing? No prints at all?” He wanted a smoke. Justin caught himself before fishing
for a pack of cigarettes that he no longer carried. He’d quit months ago, but on rare
occasions such as this, the urge for nicotine was strong.

“We got a full palm print off the bedside table.”

“I doubt if our shooter missed a spot,” Allan piped in.

McClemmens shook his head. “I don’t think so, either. My guess is it doesn’t belong
to our shooter.”

“Are there any cameras in the lobby?” Justin asked.

“No,” his partner replied. “And the desk clerk doesn’t remember anyone inquiring about
this room number.”

“Who found the body?”

Allan pulled his notebook from his front jacket pocket. “A friend of the deceased.
A woman by the name of Paige Conroy. She’s waiting in the manager’s office for us.”

Justin looked around the room once again. His eyes stopped on the newspaper. “I don’t
suppose we’re lucky enough to have any witnesses,” he commented dryly as he flipped
open the paper. “Someone who heard anything?”

“We should be so lucky.”

Justin picked up the snapshot as it slipped from the newspaper. The poor-quality picture
showed a man standing behind a woman, his arms about her waist. The man, clean-cut
and blond, wore a self-satisfied smile just above his dimpled chin. He questioned,
his gaze shifting between the two, whether the man in the picture was the same man
that lay on the bed. Then, Justin focused on the woman.

Something jumped in his gut, tightened, and for a moment, all he saw was her. The
room, its occupants and the noise about him faded away.

Her eyes—he couldn’t make out their color—sparkled with joy…a happiness barely held
in check. Her cheeks were sculpted, angled in just a way that drew his attention to
her plump, full lips. Staggering came to mind as he studied the photograph. She was
stunning, with a cascade of rich, reddish-brown hair that hung in loose curls to her
shoulders.

“What is that?”

Allan’s voice brought him back to the job at hand. He passed the photo over hurriedly,
eager to break the strange spell he’d fallen under. Shaken by the thought that his
concentration could be broken so quickly by a mere photograph of a woman he’d never
before met, he turned to the bed and replaced the image of the woman with the reality
of the man.

“You think that could be our victim?” Justin asked.

“That’s hard to say.”

Justin circled the bed as best he could in the limited space. His concentration returned.
His mind clicked into motion. At the head of the bed, he squatted and attempted to
get a better look at the victim’s face.

“It looks to me like he’s pushed pretty far into the pillow. My guess is he was rolled,
held down and then shot.” The longer he studied the form on the bed, the more he felt
his thinking correct. “So our shooter’s strong. You’ve got to have upper body strength
to move a man this size, especially if he’s struggling against you.”

He straightened. “The room’s been searched. Is anything missing?”

“Five hundred in cash is still in the wallet along with three credit cards.”

“So it’s not a robbery. Our shooter’s looking for something in particular. He’s smart,
making certain to wipe everything clean and leave nothing behind. But he missed something,
he missed the photograph.”

“Maybe he left the photo for a reason,” McClemmens piped up. “It might not have interested
him.”

“Or he planted it, left it for us to find. Our man’s cocky, he didn’t even attempt
to make this look like a robbery.”

Wasn’t that a disturbing thought? It hinted at something far greater than a simple
murder. In Justin’s experience, most murders played out in a moment of passion or
anger, which left most killers not thinking enough to get away without making a mistake
or two. But a killer who meticulously wiped everything down, who had gotten away with
walking into a fairly busy hotel and shooting a man in cold blood was another story.
Especially when he showed enough foresight to take away everything that could implicate
him.

And leave behind a photographic clue.

As if reading his mind, Toombs spoke up. “That’s not the worst part.”

Based on his tone, Justin wasn’t going to like what the man had to say. “What is?”

He caught the evidence bag Toombs tossed him and then flipped it over to get a better
look at the contents. Bile rose up the back of his throat. His muscles bunched and
tightened, sending new waves of pain radiating down his arm and side.

“Shit.” His curse echoed back at him in the now-silent room.

This was not good. Definitely not the kind of case he wanted to face now. Not after
just returning from medical leave. This would be nothing but trouble both emotionally
and physically, for this meant long, exhausting hours on the job, and stress levels
well beyond the norm. Levels high enough that his body would be a mass of tension
until they cleared the case. Which, without much evidence, wasn’t likely to be soon.

Already, as Justin met his partner’s knowing gaze, the ache in his side grew and spread.
For in his hand, sealed in the clear bag they used for gathering and storing evidence,
sat a gold shield.

“Our vic’s a cop.”

* * * * *

Paige paced the floor of the manager’s office, her long strides making short work
of the distance between the walls. Pulse pounding, body trembling, she worked to push
the image of Leroy from her mind. With great concentration, she managed to walk the
length of the room without stumbling. Placing one foot carefully in front of the other,
she reached the wall in no time and turned.

Paige struggled to breathe. She was on edge, torn up and confused by the happenings
of her morning. With perfect clarity, she could see the inside of the hotel room,
even though she had not spent that much time in it. She’d walked in, found Lee and
left again to call in the police. Yet she could still envision the diamond pattern
of the bedspread tangled around his lower extremities. With every deep breath, she
continued to smell the room, the sweet scent that hung in the air mixed with a much
stronger odor she would forever equate with death.

She stumbled, twisting her ankle as she overcorrected, and kept moving. She worked
harder to pull her mind back to the act of movement. In the state she was in, it wouldn’t
do to let the memories flood in, for if she did, she would either fall flat on her
face, or curl tightly into a ball and begin to cry. She would, perhaps, do both.

And wouldn’t that be a sight? The detectives she waited for would come into the room
to find a mass of female emotion curled into a corner. Frozen, sobbing, unable to
give them any insight into what had transpired. That wouldn’t do at all.

Squaring her shoulders, Paige continued to pace. She questioned, not for the first
time, exactly what had happened in that room on the third floor. Unfortunately for
both the investigating officers and for Lee, she had no idea. Sometime late last night,
her phone rang. What she’d heard on the other end had been enough to leave her restless
and unable to sleep. A voice from her past greeted her, a voice that at one time she
knew well. But last night, instead of the friendly voice she remembered, she’d found
anxiety in short succinct phrases.

He’d come all the way from Boston to see her. They couldn’t speak on the phone. She
must meet him first thing in the morning. It was urgent.

Paige stopped abruptly, pushing her fingers against her closed eyelids and breathing
deeply. With the past they shared, just the idea of talking with Leroy after two years
put her on edge. The tone of his voice and mystery surrounding his words caused what
felt suspiciously like fear to settle in her stomach.

Moving her hand from her face, she pressed it against her stomach. She forced her
fingers to uncurl, laying them flat against the buttons of her suit jacket. When she
opened her eyes, certain to be once again in control, she discovered two men standing
just inside the door of the Manager’s office. Her gaze flitted between the gold badges
each wore clipped to his belt.

“Paige Conroy?”

“Yes.”

“Ms. Conroy, I’m Sergeant Harrison. This is my partner, Sergeant Simmons. We’d like
to ask you a few questions about your activities this morning.”

Sergeant Harrison’s hair was a deep brown and cut short, his eyes the color of dark
chocolate. Eyes that remained cool—very cool—as they skimmed down her body.

She trembled. Whether from the circumstances, or the unwanted shock of awareness that
arrowed through her, she wasn’t certain. “I’m afraid there’s not much I can tell you.”

“I understand you found the body,” he prompted.

“I…” A wave of nausea tightened her stomach.

“Ms. Conroy?”

“Yes, I found him. Have you verified… Is it Leroy?”

“It looks that way.”

“I wanted to be wrong. Wrong room, wrong something. I was supposed to meet him this
morning. He called me last night.”

“What did he say to you?”

She tipped her head, hearing again Leroy’s voice in her ear. “He said he needed to
see me. He sounded anxious, agitated. That wasn’t like him. Nothing ever ruffled Lee.”

“Did he tell you what had him so upset?”

“No.”

“Did he explain why he needed to see you?”

“No. He mentioned he didn’t feel safe speaking with me on the telephone, so we made
arrangements to meet here.”

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