Even though this murderer had butchered two families, he wasn’t the sadistic Bryan Foster.
Metal trash cans crashed to the ground, scattering their contents as the suspect barreled through. Leila Wells smirked at the obstacle—his fourth attempt at slowing her and David Neal, Jr., her partner, down. The two detectives vaulted over the garbage cans and continued their pursuit.
Since he bolted at the sight of them at his apartment, the chase had spanned two blocks, snaking through alleyways—alleyways she knew like the back of her hand. David, behind her, enjoyed the chase like a hound after a scared rabbit.
His adrenaline, Leila thought.
Up ahead, the alleyway branched into two separate paths. Leila ran over the map in her head—eventually, both pathways crossed again. Knowing David would likely guess at her plan, she turned down the right one.
“Move!” she ordered the two men standing in the middle of the alley. They flattened against the walls of the lane. She charged through and kept running.
She kept track of her location relative to the others’. On the map in her head, two red dots traveled down paths, and both lights raced toward the crossroads. Since the suspect and David would be close to reaching it, Leila pumped her arms harder.
Near the intersection of their alleys, pounding footfalls and panting grew louder. By the sounds of his running, the suspect neared her exit. She lunged.
Within seconds, Leila collided with the running man—knocking him off his feet—and sent them both to the ground.
Only stunned for a second, the criminal scrambled back to his feet. It was enough. Leila quickly jumped up and kicked the man across his face, sending him cartwheeling.
Leila landed into the Tiger stance of her Five-Animals Kung Fu, ready for his next attempt to evade capture. Cradling his nose, the man rolled in pain, moaning. Not many could take a kick to the face and keep going, so maybe she should’ve dealt a lesser blow.
David slowed to a jog as he met them. “I had him,” he said, breathless.
She straightened and walked over to the downed man. “Sure you did.” She threw handcuffs on the man’s wrists as she Mirandized him.
“And now you won’t let me arrest him?”
Leila smiled. “I got him; he’s my collar.” She led him back the way they came to their unmarked car. David sighed behind her but followed.
The station’s locker room with its drab navy blue and gray color scheme and metal lockers dating back to the eighties wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, but it did provide Leila some isolation. David dealt with the apprehended criminal—who, courtesy of her boot, sported a broken nose—so she had time to herself.
After redoing her black hair into a smoother ponytail, she waited a moment to see if anyone would come in, then she pulled a thin notebook out from under a folded NYPD hoodie. Her private case notes. Flipping it to the middle page, the written numbers one to twelve were marked through while thirteen was untouched… until tomorrow began. She heaved as her hazel eyes traveled up to the number at the top: 14.
Thirteen days since 12 became 14. Almost two weeks since Bryan Foster killed Detectives Penny Uehl and Jamie Washington, and no hint of that killer resurfacing.
Paper crinkled as Leila’s hands clenched. She shut her eyes against the memory, but the images, sounds, and smells came anyway.
Burnt flesh. Vacant eyes staring at the equally dead clocks Foster hung around the room, each frozen on either the time of her kidnapping or her time of death. Uehl’s mouth agape in a scream. A sudden gunshot; Washington’s body thudding onto the tile floor. Fresh, dark blood pooling around his head. Gunpowder, body odor, the sickeningly sweet smell of Washington’s brain matter…
Leila took in a sharp breath to prevent from getting sick again. She had visited many murder scenes, but the smell that accompanied headshots was the worst.
Like most times, her frustration and disgust turned into anger, which became stored by internal heat. Leila looked into the mirror, seeing the darkness broiling within. Her face remained calm only because those emotions were now muted. That dark side emerged whenever she needed it—absorbing the horrors of her job and powering her through—putting her rage in reserve.
Saving it to release on Foster.
That man. With the way he left his horrendous killings, it remained a mystery how he continued to elude capture. Foster played on psychology. No one escaped him; no one survived. The victims were chosen because of how their deaths would affect others.
It wasn’t how he killed his victims, where he put them, or how many he murdered, but the way he got under the skin. Every kill he made personal. He’d snatch a cop, a cop’s family, or someone well-known in the community, and then he’d lead Leila and her squad on a goose-chase as he tortured his victim—or victims. He’d make the pursuers think they were almost there—they’d have rescue right at their fingertips—only to find another trail, or if they bored him, a body.
All the people he had killed or families and communities he had ruined had been despicable but killing Penny Uehl and causing Jamie Washington’s suicide will be his downfall. For it involved Leila.
She’d show him what a mistake it was involving her. She would catch Bryan Foster—the most-wanted person in the States. It would be known nationwide—perhaps internationally—that no criminal could escape Leila Wells.
“What was that today?”
Leila jumped, not hearing the door open. She stashed her notebook back under the hoodie and shut her locker. If someone discovered her private notes, she’d be taken off any future Foster cases. She smiled innocently at David leaning against the doorway. “What was what?”
“Tackling my criminal.”
“That’s part of my job—stopping felons. Besides, you were too slow.”
The brown-eyed, brown-haired man walked in and grabbed her around the waist. “I would’ve gotten him.”
“In thirty minutes, if I hadn’t taken that shortcut,” Leila said.
Leila wouldn’t be one of the ‘Super Cops’ or share the record of only one lost criminal—Bryan Foster—if not for her partner, David Neal, Jr. With a fierce drive and constant optimism, he was the most logical and levelheaded of the duo. Well… mostly. He never hesitated in throwing himself toward danger to save an innocent, but he’d still be cautious.
When their partnership began turning romantic five years ago, and they proved to the captain that they could continue working together, he allowed them to date and keep their positions.
“About that.” He poked her in the head as he spoke. “I wish you would let me into that head of yours sometimes.”
She scowled. “You wouldn’t like what you found, but why? You figured out what I was doing.”
“I guessed,” he corrected.
“You’ve been around me too long to be surprised at anything I do.”
“That other side of you is a surprise; sometimes I can’t tell what you’re going to do,” he said.
“I’m not stressed out or—” she began.
“Pissed off,” he added.
Leila rolled her eyes. Three weeks ago in her apartment, he mentioned her temper wasn’t healthy for her, and she lost it. His backing away empowered her dark side. “I’m in control now.”
“Making sure. I don’t want to see you change like that again. If we were in the kitchen you might’ve stuck a knife in me. That Psycho killing-music probably would’ve played in the background.”
“I scared you?”
“You worried me,” David corrected. He nipped her ear. “You can’t intimidate me.”
She squirmed out of his arms and cut her eyes at him. “I can’t?” she challenged.
He grinned with that crooked, charming smile. “Nope. I’m bulletproof. I pretend I’m worried to guilt-trip you and pull out your nurturing side.”
Leila smiled—she could always rely on his snarky attitude to lighten her spirits. “You’re terrible.”
“But you’re smiling.”
She matched his snark. “Only because you expected me to, and I pity you.”
He pretended to wince. “Ouch. I guess I haven’t restrained that temper enough. You still burn me.”
Leila hit him in the stomach—not hard. He recoiled, and she smiled. “You can’t restrain fire.”
Heath Fonda, the third of their squad, poked his head in. He stood slightly taller than her and David with short-cropped blond hair. His love of bench pressing gave his big frame enormous arms and chest. “Hey, lovebirds, stop hitting each other, and come on. The captain has called all of us.”
That didn’t bode well.
She followed Heath out of the locker room, David behind her.
The precinct buzzed like a beehive in constant movement and noise. Phones rang, the sound lost among the noise of officers speaking to victims, answering calls, and other personnel. People snaked through the narrow aisles between the desks, loaded with papers or coffee cups in hand. Other officers escorted criminals to and from the interrogation room. If the hive ever grew silent, David would be the first of the bees to die from lack of busyness.
In a somber but eager line—since this kind of meeting only occurred when something major happened—each stepped into his office. The black decal on the door reading Captain Colin Sullivan wasn’t needed. Because of the 5th Precinct’s nearly flawless incarceration record, all in New York City knew the name of the police captain. Once they were in, David shut the door behind him.
DeMarcus Dixon—the fourth of their squad—with skin as dark as tar and the shortest of the four, sat before the captain’s heavy desk. Fast and stout as an NFL Running Back, he could plow a criminal over—he shared their cockiness, too.
Completely bald, Captain Sullivan carried a little extra weight around his middle. He looked older than a man in his early forties. Only ten years separated him from Leila, and she was thirty-two.
DeMarcus turned to greet them with a smile. “So, how long did it take the Super Cops to catch our butcher?”
“Nine minutes and fifty-two seconds,” David boasted.
“Ha!” DeMarcus turned on Heath. “My guess was closer! You owe me five bucks.”
David looked at the blond man. “What did you guess?”
“About fifteen minutes. D said ten,” Heath said.
“Such faith you have in us.”
Leila got straight to business. “What’s happened, Captain?”
Captain Sullivan had a smile on his lips as the men joked around as usual, but now the smile dropped and his eyes hardened, becoming serious—all humor gone. “Bryan Foster is back.”
She jolted still like electricity had shot down her spine. Silence enveloped the room. Because she had just been thinking about Foster, fate must be on her side. This was Leila’s chance to finally get him.
David grabbing her hand pulled her back to the present, out of her dreams of catching Foster and the praise she would receive.
“Where?” Heath asked.
The captain shook his head. “He’s only just been sighted. When we get an exact location, you four will be the first ones notified.”
His blue eyes encompassed Leila and David both. “But we won’t lose our heads over this, right? Do not make this case a personal vendetta.”
David saluted to smooth over the tension. “Sir, yes, sir! Keep our heads attached at all times!”
He shook his head ruefully. “Until then, business carries on like usual,” the captain concluded. “Lei. David. I need to speak with you.”
“Busted,” DeMarcus whispered as he and Heath headed out of the room.
After they left, the captain ran a hand down his face as he sighed—a habit of his. His blue eyes were strained from a sleepless night.
“I know getting Foster means more to you two than Heath or D… which is why I’m ordering you to take the rest of the evening and tomorrow off.”
Leila frowned. The captain revealed that Foster roamed the streets again—the opportunity she’d been waiting weeks for—and he now forced a break? And he refrained from looking at her or David.
David picked up on it too. “Something’s bothering you…”
A quick smile ghosted his lips. “Damn cops, I can’t keep anything from you.”
“We are the best for a reason,” Leila said.
“I know.” The captain sighed heavily and ran a hand down his face again. “Things aren’t getting any better from here on out. I don’t know what or how, but it starts next week. Call it detective’s instinct.”
She needed an elaboration, but David speaking took her chance. “Freedom for an evening and two days… What do I do with it?”
“Something that keeps you away from here. I’ll see you two Monday. Enjoy your weekend.”
To satisfy him, they hurried out of his office to do as he said. Leila tried to pay attention to David’s suggestions for their weekend, but her mind lay elsewhere.
No matter what reason lay behind the captain’s order, Bryan Foster was close, and she wouldn’t let him escape this time.