The siren bawled as Lee Sharpe, eyes flashing, grinning like a demon, loomed over my gurney. “Who stabbed you, Maisie?”
Sweat trickled down the hard planes of his face. He was in full SWAT battle rattleâbalaclava down around his neck, Pro-Tech Tac 6 full-coverage vest, combat shirt, tactical pants, and a Sig Sauer .45. Delta helmet and rifle handed off before he got in the ambulance.
I tried to look as pathetic as possible from beneath the oxygen non-rebreather strapped on my face. Which wasn't too tough. The hilt of a five-inch SOG Seal Strike knife stuck out of my thigh, wrapped and packed courtesy of the newbie paramedic whom Lee had kicked to the front of the bus with the driver.
“Don't . . . know,” I lied.
He looked away and ran a hand through his hair. “Christ.”
The heavy plastic gear cases and oxygen tanks clattered and shook as the ambulance took a tire-squealing turn. Even though I was strapped down, I slid beneath the canvas belts, sucking in a breath through my teeth. The blade in my leg seared like molten steel.
Hank's Law Number Thirteen: Anyone can endure expected pain.
Frowning, Lee leaned in close. “Maisie?” He snapped his fingers in front of me. “Maisie? Can you hear me?”
The heart monitor beeps started pinging double-time.
“Maisie?” He eased the mask off my face and bent low, eyes searching mine.
I swallowed. “Lee?”
He kissed me.
What the . . .
Not hard, not soft. Just bizarrely familiar.
Before I could move my head away, he left me with a flick of his tongue across my upper lip.
“You kissed me!”
He replaced the oxygen mask over my nose and mouth. “You're delirious, babe. You don't even know who stabbed you.”
You opportunistic sonuvaâ
He leaned back on the squad bench. “Don't remember, my ass.”
A metallic roar ripped through the ambulance. Lee went airborne, slamming into the front partition. Canisters of oxygen snapped from their moorings, clanging into the gurney and the doors. Tools and boxes shot out of the cabinets. A heavy plastic case jumped the security rail and landed, crushing my legs and smashing the knife.
The ambulance convulsed and stopped dead. The siren kept wailing. I ran out of breath and quit shrieking.
Warm wet spread across my thigh.
My arms and legs were strapped down. I couldn't get the case off. “Lee!” I twisted my head frantically, trying to get a look at him.
He was slumped on the floor, equipment littered around him.
He blinked awake, eyes unfocused.
I shivered. “Help me.”
He rolled onto all fours and used the wall to pull himself upright. He staggered over.
“Move it.” My voice was a whisper to my own ears.
Trying to keep his feet, he lifted the heavy plastic case off my leg. The knife had gone sideways, the packing around it soaked bright red with blood.
My body was ice cold. I panted from the chill.
Lee squinted and shook his head. Hand over hand, he applied pressure at my groin and yelled at the front of the 'bus. “Medic! Get back here!” He stared at me, pupils dilated with concussion. “Talk to me, Maisie.”
I opened my mouth but no sound came out. I felt floaty and light.
He swayed and yelled at the EMTs again.
A steady stream of blood trickled down Lee's ear onto his shoulder.
Funny, really, him trying to stop my bleeding when he has his own to worry abâ
* * *
“Suffering Christ!” My brother Cash's voice jackhammered my eardrums. “T-boned. What kind of asswipe EMT takes a live intersection at forty miles per hour?”
“Shhh,” Mom said.
“How's Lee?” Da asked.
“Concussion, handful of stitches,” Cash said. “Nothin'.”
My eyes were glued shut. I raised my hand and set off a series of electronic beeps.
“Maisie?” Mom pressed my left arm down. I raised my right. “You're okay, baby. You're in the ICU at Rush University Medical Center. You were stabbed in the leg. The ambulance was in an accident. You're out of surgery, and you're going to be fine.”
“I know,” I croaked, rubbing my eyes. My throat hurt.
Da put his hand on the back of Cash's neck. “Tell the lads she's awake.”
Mom waited until the door closed behind my brother. She laid a hand on my cheek and leaned close, her voice low and serious. “You're in a significant amount of legal trouble, darling. Do you understand what I'm saying to you?”
“Yes.” My mind was furry and my mouth tasted of chemicals and unspoken lies.
“I've called in a fixer. We'll get you out of this.”
Da leaned over and stared me right in the eyes. Deep grooves of worry were etched at his eyes and mouth. “Keep your yap shut. Eh,
He kissed my forehead. I turned my head toward Mom, but before I could tell her I was cold, I fell asleep again.
* * *
A hospital room is never completely dark. Maybe that's so you don't panic and think that you've died. I knew I wasn't dead.
My large private roomâwhich felt more like a sterile Scandinavian hotel roomâwas filled to the gills with my family. Hospital rules were irrelevant to the McGranes. Cops and lawyers were above the laws of mere mortals.
The only man I wanted to see wasn't there. Still, I couldn't help but smile.
Da sat in the bedside chair, reading a case file. My brothers Flynn and Rory were at the built-in bureau, sifting through cards and flowers from my assumed “get well” wishers. Wedged together on the couch, Mom and the twinsâDeclan and Daicenâargued in hushed voices. Cash, on the other side of my bed, was setting up a portable electronic station complete with power strip and chargers.
My five older brothers were carbon copies of Da: dark-haired, dark-eyed, hard-muscled men imbued with the treacherous black-Irish combination of charm, piss, and vinegar and the blasphemously un-Irish ability to tan.
“Not while your sister's in the middle of this,” Mom said. “Talk about an obvious conflict of interest.”
“Yeah? But for how long?” Declan put his hands behind his head. “Who's the fixer?”
Daicen adjusted his wristwatch. “Let it lie, Dec.”
“Like hell. We're taking the case.”
“Silly me,” Mom said. “I thought you aspired to make partner oneâ”
For a Few Dollars More
flashed on the hospital's flat screen, theme blaring. “Got it,” Cash said loudly, turning the volume down. “She's set up. I need a chair. And a beer.”
“Get me one while you're up,” I rasped.
“About time you're awake,” Flynn said.
Mom came over and held a plastic cup and straw to my mouth. “How are you, honey?”
Kitten weak and toy-scissors sharp.
“A-okay,” I said, taking the cup from her hand.
Funny, it didn't look like it weighed six pounds.
I took a sip. Flat 7UP never tasted so good. I drank half, then set it on the tray table with nary a tremor.
Flynn put his hands on the Formica footboard of my hospital bed. “So, Ginger Snap, what I want to know is, how in hell did you manage to get stabbed during a Class X Armed Robbery?”
“Not me,” Cash said. “I just want to know how you hooked up with a Serbian crime lord in the first place.”
Neat-o. Interrogation by torture committee.
The twins knew better than to ask a question without knowing the answer, and instead eyed me for tells like hawkish gamblers. Rory kept his back to me, messing with the flowers.
“I . . .”
“Leave her alone,” Rory said. “She's safe as sleeved aces, now. That's what matters.”
A rap sounded on the door.
“The fixer,” Cash said and answered it.
A lightly tanned man with flaxen hair in his early fifties wearing a slim-cut Kiton suit strode into the room. Walt Sawyer. The Bureau of Organized Crime's Special Unit commander. He also ran an elite and secret squad of undercover police officers.
Ah, the irony. Painfully delicious.
All my life I wanted to be a cop, like my da, like my brothers. And now that I was one, I couldn't say a thing.
My father believed I was too reckless to be on the job. So much so, he'd had me expelled from the Police Academy on a technicality. For my own safety as well as my potential partner's, of course.
He might have had a small, though insignificant point.
Walt Sawyer, however, saw me as a perfect recruit for deep-cover workâone with all the training and none of the acquired “tells” of a police officer. Stannislav Renko and his chop-shop operation had been my first assignment.
And my clan would never know. Could never know.
Da stood. Mom went to Sawyer, hands extended, and kissed him on both cheeks. “Thank you so much for coming, Walt.”
I could fairly hear Flynn, Rory, and Da's teeth grinding together. Not much got homicide cops hotter under the collar than working cases only to have them yanked away at resolution. One of Sawyer's specialties.
“You were right to call me, July.” Sawyer crossed the room to shake hands with Da over my bed. “Conn.”
Rory's eyes flickered over Sawyer in disgust. He plucked the card from a vase of a dozen sun-gold roses. “Who's Paul Renick?” he asked me.
“The news director at the
” Sawyer answered. “Your sister's freelance employer.”
My hastily assembled cover.
It's coming back to me now.
I wasn't up for this. Not by a long shot.
And Walt knew it, bless his deceptive heart. “As you know,” he said, “Maisie was injured in the midst of a Class X Armed Robbery. While Renick had assigned her to write a story on chop shops, he was ignorant of the relationship Maisie had cultivated with Serbian enforcer Stannislav âThe Bull' aka âThe Butcher' Renko.” Sawyer smiled winningly at Mom. “I've spoken with the state's attorney. As long as Maisie voluntarily complies with a suppression order, he will forgo all interest in her as a witness, accessory, or accomplice.”
Da and the boys looked at me as though I'd turned scarlet and sprouted Hellboy horns.
“Seriously? You're working at that goddamn rag?” Flynn said.
“Jaysus feck.” Rory shook his head.
Lovely, really, how they're not bothered with the whole Serbian killer bit.
“As policeman and attorneys, you are not unfamiliar with those who bear grudges.” Sawyer passed a measured look over each McGrane before continuing. “Maisie cannot afford the faintest hint of impropriety, and frankly, neither can I. There will be no interference or reexamination. You are all going to let this sleeping dog lie. Agreed?”
Like that's going to happen.
My five brothers reluctantly nodded. “Agreed.”
“May I speak with Maisie alone for a moment?” Sawyer asked.
“Yeah.” Da started toward the door, the rest of them following in his wake.
Mom paused to give Sawyer a squeeze on the forearm. “Thank you.”
“No trouble, July.” He smiled. “Truly.”
Mom's lashes fanned her cheeks. I watched him watch her leave, still smiling.
Sawyer took Da's chair next to the bed and put his hand over mine. “Congratulations are in order. Stannislav Renko's chop-shop organization has been effectively dismantled, and we have four solved murders in the prosecution loop, as well as numerous arrests.”
“Stannis escaped,” I said.
“No matter.” Sawyer sat back in the chair. “This is Chicago. Renko's illicit connection to the mayor would've trumped any charges. Not to mention, not a single worm has turned. His barbarous brutality seems to have left an indelible impression.”
“I failed, sir.”
“Hardly. Overall Operation Steal-Tow was a success. Your work garnered new insight for the Bureau of Organized Crime into both the New York syndicate as well as Chicago's own mafioso Veteratti family. Special Unit now has a line into the Grieco cartel. A strong showing for a veteran, much less a rookie.”
He tipped his foxy, clever head to one side. “Did Renko stab you?”
No sir. Hank Bannon, the love of my life, did.
Walt pressed his fingertips together. “The two of you were emotionally intimate.”
“Yes.” Stannis was charismatic, handsome, and charming.
Until he put a gun to my head.
“Stannis wanted to take me back to Serbia.” I swallowed hard. “One of his . . . er . . . men disagreed and threw the knife in my leg.”
“Forcing Renko to leave you behind.”
Yes, thank God, Hank, and the baby Jesus.
A small smile played at the corner of his lips. “A providential and beneficent escape. The BOC would have been hard-pressed to get you back on American soil.”
Yeah, I've got more good fortune than a pack of Lucky Strikes.