Maternal instinct, p.1

Maternal Instinct, страница 1


Maternal Instinct

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Maternal Instinct

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  © 2002

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  Chapter 1

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  Shoulders back, head high, braced for the worst, Hugh McLean waited for the dreaded assignment.

  Damn Riley, he thought bitterly. His partner was on leave with back pain doctors told him might keep him flat in bed for months. Had he hurt himself tackling a bad guy? In a crash during a car chase? Hell, no. He'd tripped over his kid's plastic blocks and tumbled down the stairs in his own house.

  A bulldog in his fifties with a gray crewcut, Police Captain Fisher looked up from Hugh's open personnel file. "You know Granstrom? She's been partnered with Wensson. He's moving to Scottsdale, Arizona—can you believe it?—because of his wife's allergies." His dry tone suggested wifey should have kept blowing her nose. "I'm putting you with Granstrom for now."

  Hugh groaned and his shoulders slumped. "Not Granstrom! Anybody but Granstrom."

  Behind the desk, his captain gazed at him coldly, without favor. "What's wrong with her?"

  She was a damn woman, that was what. Hugh liked women; they were even okay on the police force. He'd worked with ones who didn't think like a woman, and he got along just fine with them. Nell Granstrom was not one of those.

  "Our styles clash," he said from between clenched teeth.

  Captain Fisher grunted. "Funny, she doesn't like you any better."

  That jolted. "What?"

  "She's not enthusiastic. I can't help either of you." He slapped Hugh's file closed. "You're the only two at loose ends right now. I'm not going to break up established partnerships to accommodate your personality clash."

  Desperate, Hugh lied, "It's not that. I swear. We just work differently."

  "Yeah, yeah. Your styles." The captain's gaze was unsympathetic. "Here's my advice—mesh 'em." He looked over Hugh's shoulder. "Ah. Here's your new partner now."

  Hugh didn't turn when the door with the glass inset opened. He knew well enough what Nell Granstrom looked like, all five foot ten of her. She had a model's build: leggy, skinny, fine-boned despite her height, and a face memorable principally for warm brown eyes and a rosebud mouth. Her hair … hell, he didn't know what color it was. He almost turned around to remind himself.

  "Captain," said Granstrom, voice expressionless.

  "I won't ask for 'I do' from either of you." Captain Fisher's grin was sharklike. "Let's consider this a shotgun wedding. You've got each other to have and to hold from this day forward, until Riley gets his ass out of bed. You got problems with each other," he finished briskly, "I don't want to hear them."

  A rap vibrated the glass hard enough to bring even Hugh's head around. "Captain!" Framed in the doorway, the normally imperturbable Lieutenant Nyland looked shaken. "We've got reports of shooting at the Joplin Building. The woman on the phone says a gunman is mowing everybody down."

  The captain was on his feet. "Confirmation?"

  "Multiple 911 calls from offices on the floors below."

  "Units on the way?"

  The lieutenant nodded. "Sir."

  "Call out the SWAT team." The captain brushed by Hugh and opened his locker. "Gentlemen—and ladies—let's get suited up and moving."

  Hugh was able to avoid looking at Nell Granstrom as he raced toward the locker rooms. "I'll drive," he snapped over his shoulder. Start as you mean to go on.

  Both wore black jackets over bulletproof vests when they met at his squad car, she on the passenger side, he on the driver's. She'd apparently chosen not to argue. Over the car roof, their eyes met for a fleeting second of mutual antipathy and disbelief before both leaped into the car.

  Her hair was not quite blond, not quite brown.

  Behind the wheel, Hugh joined a caravan of emergency vehicles tearing out of the parking garage, all flashing lights and sounding sirens.

  Under his breath, he muttered an obscenity. "We'll probably find out some jackass let off firecrackers."

  Nonetheless, his hands were tight enough on the wheel for his knuckles to show white. If this was a legitimate call, it would give his mother nightmares.

  Beside him, Nell Granstrom said in an odd voice, "I hear the dispatcher claims the woman was … 'mewling in fear.' Her words. She was under her desk, whispering. Dispatch could hear bang, bang and yells."

  He shot her a disquieted glance. "Where'd you get this?"

  Her shoulders moved. "Another dispatcher in the women's locker room."

  Hugh swore again and forced his attention back to the road. Adrenaline surged, taking him to that hyper state any cop knew well. "Do we know how many shooters?" he asked.

  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her shake her head. She was looking tense, craning her neck to see ahead where a cordon was already being set up. Hugh wondered if she was scared. He hadn't heard rumors about her cracking under pressure, but any time a guy had to hook up with a new partner, he wondered. Especially when that new partner was a woman who liked to understand the psychology of the scumbags she arrested, who had sympathy because of their tough beginnings.

  She and Connor would get along fine, he thought. His brother had abandoned police work for graduate school at the University of Washington in psychology. Having finished his master's degree a year ago, Connor McLean now counseled kids, specializing in those who'd been sexually abused.

  Hugh figured people more interested in the complex inner life of victims or perps than in justice probably belonged out of uniform. Connor had been a good cop, but he'd always had worrisome leanings. The way he'd met his wife had toppled him right over. It was just as well he was off the force.

  The convoy had slowed to a crawl, using the middle lane to bypass the blocked civilian traffic that clogged the streets. Downtown had turned into a circus of honking horns, yelling commuters, blaring sirens and flashing lights.

  One of the officers on the scene waved Hugh to a place inside the cordon. He and Granstrom got out and crouched behind the back bumper, weapons drawn. They weren't alone. Forty cops or more, all heavily armed, were ready to go in.

  If some idiot had set off firecrackers, he was going to be damn sorry.

  The Joplin Building housed The Greater Northwest Insurance Company, Windermere Real Estate and a title company. Greater Northwest took up the top four floors of the stylish six-story building erected in the twenties and remodeled for new tenants just a few years back. Hugh couldn't hear any gunfire over the sirens and shouted voices out here. Sunlight glinted off windows. The July morning was already hot, and he was sweating in the vest.

  Becoming impatient, tension building to an unbearable pitch, he rose to a bent-over position. "I'll go find out the word," he said, relieved to have an excuse to leave his new partner.

  She nodded, her frowning gaze trained on the Joplin Building. Irrationally, he was annoyed that she didn't seem to like to look at him any more than he did at her.

  He hadn't gone two steps before orders came down the line that SWAT team members were moving in, and other officers were to play backup. Dispatch said the woman on the phone thought the gunman had left or killed himself. She hadn't heard shots for the past four or five minutes. She'd been advised to stay under the desk and keep quiet.

  Going back to crouch again behind his car, Hugh said tersely, "We get the side door to the north. Let's move."

  Two teams of ten cleared the first two floors, checking empty offices, evacuating the silent, dark, locked rooms where terrified secretaries and computer entry clerks huddled. They were sent scuttling down the halls and out the exit doors to run sobbing for the police cordon.

  The two teams formed again at the north and south staircases that led up to the
third floor, where The Greater Northwest Insurance Office's reception area was. Hugh led one group, which moved silently up the north staircase, pausing at the steel door painted with a large numeral three.

  At his nod, Granstrom yanked it open and he went in, weapon at the ready. The long hallway was eerily silent. Four doors down, a body lay sprawled halfway out. It was a woman in a white blouse soaked with blood, her eyes wide and staring.

  Nobody said a word, but Hugh felt the wave of shock. His father had died like this, some crazy opening fire and taking out a bunch of people at the bank. Hugh remembered his mother's grief and impotent anger at a failed police investigation better than he did his father. Yellowed newspaper articles collected in a scrapbook had been his childhood bible.

  Thou shalt be a cop, and do it better than it has been done.

  He gave his head an irritated shake. He was on the job, no place for emotion.

  Granstrom covered him when he went into the first office. Empty.

  The second one, she went into first. He heard a whispered imprecation as he followed. He couldn't even blame her. The man behind the desk had taken multiple shots to the face. The result was hideous.

  In the next office he heard a sound. "Police. Come out," he said in a taut voice.

  A sob was muffled. Silence built, thick enough to make air hard to breathe. Terror did that.

  Hugh and his new partner exchanged a glance.

  "We're police officers," Granstrom said, her voice soft. "You're safe now."

  Still silence. Then the door to a metal cabinet quivered, inched open. A woman, face soaked with tears, stared wild-eyed from a fetal position inside.

  Nell Granstrom gently drew her out and ushered her from the office. A backup team led her away.

  The next hour had a nightmarish quality. They found body after body, all shot. Weapons had been discarded as the ammunition was spent. An AK-47 lay in the hall, an M-2 carbine converted into a full automatic weapon was just outside the elevator on the fourth floor. The smell of death was sickening, the wounded, keening in agony, more upsetting than the dead. Each grisly new sight overlaid the last. His mind took snapshots he knew he'd never be able to discard: the way the blood beaded and pooled on the oatmeal-colored berber carpet, the look of a man shot in the face, the whimpering primal terror of a young woman being helped outside, the blank, shell-shocked expressions on the faces of his fellow cops. And the sounds… God, the sounds. The screams, the bubbly breaths torturously dragged into a ruined chest, the tiny rustles or whimpers that gave away survivors.

  Hugh had seen terrible deaths on Highway 101. The worst was a whole family—mother, father and two kids—killed by a drunk driver who hit their little foreign car head-on. But the drunk hadn't killed them one at a time, looking into their eyes, soaking in their fear. He hadn't meant to hurt anyone.

  Someone here had meant to hurt as many people as possible. He hadn't cared about the widows he made, the kids who would grow up without a mother or father.

  Hugh and Nell did their job grimly, silently, not stopping long enough to react or think, because they might not have been able to go on. He kept expecting to see a dead face he knew. What if some of the cops had family or friends who worked here?

  On the fifth floor, they found no injured and only two bodies, the first just outside the elevators with a single small caliber hole in his temple. A Beretta lay near the middle-aged man in a business suit. In one of the first offices another worker was dead, sprawled over his desk as if he'd been standing behind it. This one had been killed by a handgun as well. Had the shooter been running out of ammunition? Hugh wondered. He'd expended a firestorm to get this far. Where was he?

  A rustling sound brought Hugh whirling to face a partition. Damn it, he was getting careless. He jerked his head, and Granstrom silently circled the room to where the movable partition met the wall.

  Standing behind a metal filing cabinet, Hugh said, "Police! Come out."

  "Is—is he gone?" The man's voice cracked.

  "Please come out where I can see you."

  After a long pause, a disheveled man in the ubiquitous white shirt and tie edged around the partition. Sweat dripped down his face and his gaze darted around the room. He flinched at the sight of his colleague.

  "God!" he whispered. "I heard the shot…"

  "Did you see the shooter?" Granstrom asked.

  He shook his head. A sob wracked his body. "I hid. God help me, I hid. I should have tried to do something. "

  "Unless you were armed, there wasn't anything you could do," Granstrom said quietly. "Hiding was smart. Now, sir, I'm going to ask you to exit the building. Officers in the hall will take you down."

  After one last shocked look at the corpse, he stumbled out docilely.

  Granstrom rejoined Hugh, her face set. "Sixth floor, here we come."

  He grunted. "I can hardly wait."

  Thou shalt do it better, but he hadn't. None of them had, or history wouldn't have replayed itself.

  Nell swayed, almost falling out of the booth onto the tavern floor. Her new partner saved her, his grip drawing her back to his side.

  He was a good guy, she thought woozily. A really good guy. Today they'd gone through hell together. Or was it yesterday? She couldn't remember. Just like she couldn't remember why she'd hated him yesterday. Or was it the day before?

  Didn't matter. She laid her cheek against his arm. She'd been wrong. Hugh McLean was the best man ever. She nodded solemnly and tipped slowly forward toward the tabletop.

  "Whoa," he said, setting her upright again.

  Best man ever. She could tell he felt the same. Why else would he keep putting his arm around her? Maybe they'd stay partners forever. A vague image of them chasing a bad guy, both of them toddling along with walkers, struck her as hilariously funny. She told him, and pretty soon he was laughing, too. Both of them howled until they were crying and lying in the corner of the booth, with her half atop him.

  Their drinking mates, Officers Redding and Gardner, gazed at them in bleary approval.

  "Don't know wha' was so funny," one of them remarked. "But it musht have been real good."

  The other nodded solemnly.

  Nell and Hugh laughed harder.

  "I think I want to go home," she tried to say, but it came out all slurred.

  Up close, his blue eyes were brilliant. Maybe a little bloodshot, she thought critically, but then they'd both been awake for … almost a whole twenty-four hours. She thought. She was trying very hard not to remember why.

  Some part of her knew she was going to be very sorry tomorrow that she'd had so many beers. But right now she didn't care. So what if she got sick, Nell thought defiantly. It was better than … Well, than something. She didn't let herself think what.

  "Me, too," he agreed. "But whosh gonna drive ush home?"

  Her forehead furrowed in thought. "We could go get in the car," she suggested.

  "Okay." He didn't move, and she continued to lie comfortably on him. "You feel good."

  She thought about that, too, and nodded. "I feel good. You're right. But howz … how do you know?"

  "You feel good here—" he squeezed her butt "—and here—" his other hand cupped her breast. "Thash how."

  "Oh." She listened to his heartbeat. "You feel good, too. Right here." She laid a hand on his chest. She used to not like him, but he'd always had a good chest, broad and well-muscled and, she knew now, hot to the touch.

  "Lesh go to the car." He heaved them both upright. "Good night, good morning, good day," he told Redding and Gardner. Enunciating clearly, he added, "We're going home."

  "Don't drive drunk," Redding said, which set them to laughing so hard Gardner was banging his forehead on the table.

  They wove their way among tables of cops, some coming on shift and drinking coffee, staring incredulously at the others. The parking lot was dark, but paler light tinted the skyline. Dawn. Last dawn, she'd been heading into the station to find out who her new partner would
be. By 8:30 a.m., he and she had been in the squad car, lights on, heading to…

  A barrage of images flickered behind her eyelids. Pools and splatters of blood. Body bags. Faces contorted in agony. A faceless…

  No! She stopped dead and said carefully, "Maybe I need another beer."

  "We're going to the car," Hugh reminded her.

  "Oh." They were, weren't they? That's why they were standing in the middle of the parking lot. "Where's the car?" she asked.

  He frowned and turned in a slow circle. "Don't know."

  "I have a car," Nell said. She did remember that much. They'd returned to the station and left separately, in their own vehicles, they and a dozen others agreeing to meet at the Green Lantern after their debriefing to drown their hideous day.

  "Where?" Hugh asked.

  She thought. "Don't know. Let's jush … just look."

  They found his in the alley, next to the Dumpster. He produced keys from his pocket and unlocked the Explorer, boosting her into the passenger side. His hands lingered on her bottom, a pleasant sensation.

  Inside, he pushed the automatic lock. "Can't drive," he said, after gazing in apparent perplexity at the ignition and dashboard.

  "No," she agreed.

  "Got a blanket in back." He looked delighted at the recollection. "We could sleep."

  She was getting sleepy. Very sleepy. Only, every time her eyelids closed, she saw… She widened her eyes. "Maybe," Nell said doubtfully.

  "Or cuddle."

  Cuddling sounded nice. "You feel good," she told him.

  He hoisted her between the seats. Her hips got stuck, and while he was pushing his thumbs exerted delicious pressure between her legs. She almost pretended to stay stuck.

  He fell on her when he followed. Crushed on the seat, his weight on her, Nell contentedly wrapped her arms around him. After a while, his mouth moved on her cheek. "Feel good," he murmured.

  "Mm-hm," she agreed.

  Somehow his lips found hers. Normally she didn't like the taste of beer on a man, but now she tasted of beer, too, so it was all right. This was a good kiss, slow, sweet, exploratory. She was able to close her eyes and think about the sensations his lips and tongue created in her instead of seeing those images she prayed she could forget.

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