I WALKED through O’Hare at seven Friday morning, and I was surprised when I came through the security area and had Kohn and Kowalski there to meet me.
“The fuck?” I said by way of greeting.
“Nice work in San Francisco,” Kohn said, smiling wide. “My city is the shit, huh?”
“It’s hilly” was all I gave him. “I didn’t get to appreciate much of it running through alleys and chasing down dirty DEA agents.”
“So what’s with the reception?” I asked him and his partner.
“Well,” Kowalski began, smiling smugly. “We’re here to take you to breakfast and then officially give you back custody of your children.”
I was confused, and it must have shown on my face.
“Those fuckheads, Cabot and Drake,” Kohn snarled. “Jesus Christ, Miro, that shit is a full-time job!”
I chuckled, even though I knew he was right. Drake Ford, now Drake Palmer, and Cabot Kincaid, who used to be Cabot Jenner, were two witnesses Ian and I not only took custody of, but took under our wing. A lot of it had to do with the fact that they were young, both eighteen when they entered WITSEC, and we were the ones they bonded with.
“First you ask us to watch them last year when you and Doyle were in Phoenix, and then after when you were gettin’ better from the whole kidnapping, and—”
I called him on his bullshit. “That’s crap, man. Ian and I took them back from you as soon as I was off desk duty.”
“Yeah, but then you left the boys with us when Doyle was deployed and you were sent to San Fran, and we’re here to officially give them back.”
“What’d they do?”
Kohn threw up his hands. “Drake saved a little girl who fell in the water at Navy Pier.”
I scowled. “Why is that a bad thing?”
Kowalski shook his head. “The saving was good, the forgetting to call us before he talked to a reporter… was not.”
“Oh shit,” I groaned.
“Yeah, so we’re all set to ship him and his boyfriend off to New Mexico or wherever, but they’re crying about school and jobs and mostly—I shit you not—you and Doyle.”
“I told you before, those guys are way too attached, and Kage says you have to ship them out or they’re out of the program.”
“Out of WITSEC?”
“Apparently the shit they were in for is over. They’re not considered targets at this stage.”
“You checked with the Feds?”
“And the investigation is closed?”
“He and the boyfriend are cleared, but because of the threat from Cabot’s father to both he and Drake that you noted in his file, the call can be made to keep them in the program, but just not in Chicago.”
I understood. “So they can be out of WITSEC altogether and stay in Chicago, or remain in WITSEC and move.”
“You got it,” Kohn told me.
“Kage is giving you today and the weekend to get it all sorted out. Come Monday morning he wants a status report.”
“And why’s he sending that message with you guys and not telling me himself?”
“He sent you a memo,” Kohn clarified. “And us. Do you need him to yell at you too?”
I did not, no.
“I mean, he can. We both know he’ll be fuckin’ happy to do it. I think he was just cutting you some slack until Doyle got back.”
“Which’ll be tomorrow,” I informed them.
“Good,” Kohn said, grinning at me. “So what, you ready to eat?”
Kohn wanted to take us to Jam over on Logan, but Kowalski wanted mounds of food and something closer, so we hit a diner on our way from the airport, some greasy spoon where a short stack of pancakes was six high. Just watching Kowalski eat was terrifying.
I cleared my throat. “That doesn’t frighten you?” I asked Kohn, tipping my head at Kowalski’s shovel of a fork.
“I make sure to keep my hands away from his mouth and we’re good.”
It was fun to watch sleek, metrosexual, model-handsome and manscaped Eli Kohn partnered with the belching mountain of muscle that was Jer—short for God knew what because he’d never tell me—Kowalski. Their banter was always fun to listen to, especially about fashion, but heaven help you if you threw out a dig about the other in his presence. I’d seen Kowalski put an FBI agent on the wall—like, several feet off the ground up on the wall—for quietly insinuating Kohn was more interested in his hair than in taking down a fugitive. The guy was lucky to keep his lungs.
I looked back at Kohn from my plate.
“You sleeping okay?”
I was really sick of people asking me if I was or wasn’t. I could see the dark circles under my eyes as well as anyone else—I just didn’t want to talk about it. There was nothing to say. The dreams would stop when they stopped. “Why, don’t I look all right?” I teased.
“You look like shit,” Kowalski apprised me, his raised eyebrow daring me to contradict him.
“I’m fine,” I muttered, going back to eating even though I wasn’t that hungry.
“Oh fuck,” Kowalski groaned after the bell on the door jingled, bumping Kohn with his elbow. “It’s this shit again.”
Turning in my seat, I was surprised to see Norris Cochran, along with another guy I’d never met, walking toward me.
“He can’t eat in peace?” Kohn barked at Cochran as he closed in on us.
Cochran gave him his arrogant cop grimace that didn’t hit his hazel eyes, and when he reached us, grabbed the chair beside me, turned it around, and flopped down. The man I assumed was his new partner took the seat on the other side of me so I had to lean back to keep an eye on both of them.
“The fuck do you want?” I asked my ex-partner.
“Nice,” Cochran said, forcing a chuckle. “Didn’t I tell you he loved me, Dor?”
The guy to my right nodded.
“Miro, this is Dorran Barreto. Barreto, my first love, Miro Jones.”
We didn’t shake hands. I didn’t offer and Barreto didn’t either.
“What do you want?” I asked Cochran again.
“You ain’t even gonna ask after my kids?”
“Your wife and I are friends on Facebook,” I informed him. “I know how the kids are.”
That surprised him. I could tell from the flicker of annoyance and the trace of something else crossing his face. But it had been a long time since I’d been around him, so I was out of practice reading him. Not that it mattered. We weren’t friends.
“So what, detectives stalk marshals now,” Kohn baited.
Cochran glanced over at him. “If you had just told me when he was coming back instead of giving me the runaround, I wouldn’t’ve had to do that.”
“And I told you,” Kohn replied fiercely, leaning forward, pointing at Cochran, “that we are not in the habit of giving out personal information to people who are not family or friends of members of our team.”
“I’m his ex-partner and I’m a cop.”
“And cops in the city are, of course, to be trusted,” Kohn scoffed.
“Yeah, maybe not, huh?” Kowalski rubbed salt in the open angry wound that was the ongoing Justice Department investigation of the Chicago PD. “I’m not sure any of you fuckers know what procedure is.”
Before things escalated, I got up and headed for the door. Cochran was no more than a half a step behind me.
Outside, I rounded on him, already annoyed that my food was getting cold, and he took a step back so he wouldn’t run into me.
“What do you want?” I growled, venting every bit of irritation, not caring, not bothering to filter as I would with practically everyone else.
“A gun,” he answered flatly, crossing his arms, his gaze locked with mine.
“Explain.” A demand, clipped and cold.
“It’s about Oscar Darra.”
Everyone knew the story. “The ex-mob enforcer?”
I had to think. “I thought he was dead.”
“Yeah, so did a lot of people, but he turned up last week in a routine sweep of a Turkish bath down on Cicero.”
“Where the hell’s he been all this time?”
“He’s been laying low down in Springfield with some cousin.”
I grunted, leaning back against the wall of the diner. November in Chicago right before Thanksgiving wasn’t arctic yet, but it was cool. I was glad I had on a hoodie under my leather jacket. The wind would have blown right through me. “What does any of this have to do with you being here?”
“Is this gonna be a long-ass story?”
He didn’t answer, just coughed and put his shoulder against the wall so he was facing me. To anyone walking by, we looked like two buddies out shootin’ the shit.
“Fine,” I sighed. “Talk.”
“Okay, so after we pick him up and get Darra back to the station, he starts telling us that if we agree to cut a deal with him, he’ll tell us where the gun is that was used to kill Joey Romelli.”
I shook my head. “You lost me.”
“You don’t remember Romelli?”
“I remember Vincent Romelli, who was in charge of the Cilione crime family, but he’s been dead awhile. Who’s Joey?”
“He had a son?”
“‘Had’ being the operative word, yeah.”
“And how’d he die?”
“Well, according to Darra, he was shot by one Andreo Fiore.”
“Who?” I could feel myself getting annoyed all over again. I hated playing name the thug and I especially didn’t want to do it with Cochran.
“He was Vincent Romelli’s muscle back in the day.”
“Okay, so lemme get this straight,” I began, turning to face him. “You guys pick up Darra because he’s in town for whatever reason, and when you grab him, he wants to give up this Fiore to cut a deal.”
“And you care about this why?”
“Well, we don’t at first. Barreto and I figure it’s bullshit, right? But we go to where he says he’s stashed the gun and—”
“This is already fucked up, Nor,” I said, slipping back into calling him by a nickname like we’d never been apart. It just came out. Shit. “I mean—”
“Just stop.” We stood there in silence, him staring at me and me finally looking away because I had no idea what the hell to say.
“It was good you caught Hartley.”
My eyes were back on him.
“I’m sorry we—”
“It is,” he croaked, stopping me, hand slipping around my bicep, squeezing tight. “We—I didn’t know what to do with how that went down. It would’ve been better off if you let me shoot him.”
I cleared my throat. “I know.”
“More people died because you let him live that night.”
I yanked free of his hold and took a step back. “I know that too,” I retorted, angry but quiet, feeling my body wash hot, then cold with regret and shame.
He moved forward into my space, grabbing hold of my jacket. “But it was right, what you did.”
I searched his face for clarity because he was making no sense.
“If I’d shot him, I would’ve been guilty because I had him.”
I understood like no one else could because I was there. Hartley had me in his hands, a knife shoved into my side, and Cochran was looming above us, gun in both hands, and he could have shot Hartley, killed him if I hadn’t used my body to cover the psychopath and keep my partner from becoming a murderer.
“You—” His voice bottomed out. “—did it to protect me, not him.”
That revelation had only taken close to four years. “Fuck you,” I raged, the hurt and anger over his betrayal—he’d never even visited me once when I was in the hospital—boiling over like it always did whenever I revisited that time in my life.
He had been my family, his wife and kids, his parents, his siblings, and in one moment he was gone and so were all the rest of them. His wife had come around, finally, but no one else did, and it still hurt. Mostly it was that helplessness that came from things being taken away while I’d had no control. I hated that. I was a foster kid, so I’d never had a say about any part of my life, and to have that happen again when I was older had made me gun-shy of partnership and putting my faith in anyone. Ian was the one who changed that, the only one strong enough to break through the wall I’d put up.
From the beginning, Ian had simply assumed I belonged to him, his backup, his friend, his shadow, and because he took me for granted, I had uncoiled, relented, and finally trusted. Anyone but Ian, anyone who wasn’t a battering ram, all prickly vulnerability, dangerous temper, and raw, primal heat—constantly in my space, close, leaning, bumping, touching—I would have kept at a distance. But there was no saying no to Ian Doyle. The ache that welled up in me made it hard to breathe.
“Fuck me?” Cochran yelled.
I couldn’t even be bothered to have my head in a fight. That was how much I didn’t care about Norris Cochran. After shoving him back, I strode to the edge of the parking lot. He was there fast, walking around in front of me.
“So,” I demanded shortly, meeting his gaze. “If Fiore killed Romelli, where did your guy get the gun?”
He took a breath. “Well, so Fiore shot Romelli, Darra’s sure of it. He was in the bedroom when he heard the shot, and when he came out, he saw somebody run out the front door.”
“So he followed him out to the street?”
“No, Romelli was killed in his penthouse.”
“Oh, so your guy follows this Fiore down however many stairs.”
“Yeah,” he confirmed. “And when he gets there, he follows him into an alley and watches him stash the gun in a drain.”
“Why would he do that? Why not just take the gun with him?”
“Well, I don’t know if you remember, but at that time, with his father having just been murdered—everybody was watching Joey. They found him that night like a half an hour after the shooting.”
“And this Fiore, he was a mob enforcer like Darra?”
“No, not at all. Like I said, he was just one of Vincent Romelli’s goons.”
“Then why kill his son?”
“We don’t know.”
“Does he still work for Strada?”
“No, I ran him through the system and he’s clean. He’s always been clean. He was a known associate of Vincent Romelli and he was questioned when Vincent Romelli was gunned down, but he and his buddy Sal something were the only ones who got out.”
“Oh, and Joey Romelli.”
“The son was there when his father died?”
“Yeah. Fiore was the one who got him out of the massacre.”
I needed a second. “I’m sorry, what?”
“I know!” he snapped at me. “It makes no sense.”
“So Fiore saves him and then turns round and kills him?” I was incredulous. “This is what Darra would have you believe?”
“Tell him to go fuck himself and charge his lying ass.” I was done and turned to go.
He grabbed hold of my shoulder to keep me there, and I rolled it, out of habit, instinctively, because someone I didn’t like was touching me. “Wait,” he barked. “The gun he gave us, the ballistics matched.”
“What gun? The gun he turned over to you?” I said, exasperated that I was having to stand there and listen to his bullshit.
“Well of course the ballistics match. He killed Romelli, probably on orders from Tony Strada. The last thing you fuckin’ want around when you’re the new boss is the old boss’s kid.”
“Yeah, that’s what we thought, but when we ran the DNA on the gun—there was Romelli’s on the muzzle, like the gun was shoved down his throat—and someone other than Darra’s on the grip.”
“So?” I was so aggravated. Cochran had always taken forever to get to the point.
“So Romelli was killed execution-style with a bullet in the back of his head. That’s why everyone figured it was a mob hit.”
“Well, now we think whoever did it shoved his gun in Romelli’s mouth first—probably so he’d know who was pulling the trigger—and then shot him like he did to make it look like everyone would expect.”
“Okay, so lemme wrap my head around this. You have the gun, the ballistics match, so it’s for sure the one used to kill Romelli, but Darra’s DNA isn’t on it, and he says it was Fiore.”
“Yeah, plus we have Fiore’s prints.”
“You have Fiore’s prints on the weapon?”
“So bring his ass in.” I almost growled. “The fuck does this have to do with me?”
“Why not?” I retorted, done, at the end of my rope. I wanted to eat and go home and pass out. “You’ve got prints, DNA—get a court order and test Fiore’s DNA.”
“Yeah, we can’t get an order.”
“Why the hell not?!”
“Because we don’t have the gun.”
“What do you mean you don’t have the gun?” He was making no sense and I was a second away from walking—hoping he’d try and grab me again. I really wanted to hit him. Some of it was his fault because of our past and because he’d always been fucking irritating. But a lot of it was Ian and how much I missed him and how stretched thin with yearning I was. I needed my man home, and this close to getting it—a mere day—I was in that headspace where anticipation became panic racing around in my head like a cat scrambling after a mouse. I was scared something was going to happen and Ian would be gone again. I was taking it out on Cochran, but he was taking for-fucking-ever to get to the point. “You just said you got prints and DNA and—”
“We don’t have the gun ’cause it was transferred to the marshals by mistake,” he explained almost sheepishly.
“Come again?” I asked, incredulous, beside myself.
He cleared this throat. “My lieutenant—”
“Who’s that now?”
“Okay, sorry, g’head.”
“Yeah, so Cortez transferred three guns to your office because, like your guy said in the diner, lots of cases are being looked at by Justice right now, and lots of evidence is being reexamined. So our gun went back to evidence after ballistics and prints and DNA was run, but from there it was accidentally transferred to you.”
“What does it matter? It was tested for prints, which you got, and you’ve got the sample of whoever’s DNA was on it, so just get Fiore’s sample and match it… or not. It’s done either way.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“Of course it is. The prints will compel the DNA sample.”
He shook his head. “No.”
“No? How the hell you figure no?”
“The ASA assigned to the case—Sutter—she says that without the gun, it’s our word against Fiore’s that the prints were from the gun. She says they could’ve come off anything, and it could look like we’re trying to set him up. Fiore could make a case for tampering.”
“Are you serious?” I asked, overwhelmed with the stupidity of all of this.
“Yeah, I’m serious!” Cochran flared. “Without the goddamn gun, we can’t make Fiore give us a DNA sample.”
If I thought about it logically, that made sense. No judge in their right mind would issue a court order to compel Fiore to give them a DNA sample if the item his DNA was supposed to be on was, in fact, missing. What if it was always missing? Never found? What did that say about the police department that they’d had the weapon in their possession but didn’t anymore? What if the prints in question had come from somewhere or something completely different, and Andreo Fiore had, in fact, never even been in the room where Joey Romelli was killed? It was a mess.
“I get it,” I admitted. “You need the gun.”
“Fuck, yeah, I need the gun, and that’s where you come in.”
“How?” I could hear how icy and stilted I sounded, so no way Cochran was missing it.
“Chain of custody says it’s in your property room.”
“But your boss says the gun’s not there.”
Now I was really lost. “Okay, wait. You’re telling me that you already questioned the chief deputy about the gun?”
“Barreto and I did, yeah.”
This finally felt like the gist of it. “And?”
“And like I said, he told us that it’s not there.”
“Then what the fuck, Norris? If he says it’s not there, it’s not there.”
“But I think it is, and I think he’s lying.”
“What?” My brain was ready to explode. “How dare you fucking—”
“Calm the fuck down!”
“Don’t tell me to calm down!” I roared, drilling two fingers into his collarbone. “You don’t know shit about Sam Kage because if you did you’d never—”
“I think your boss is purposely hiding the whereabouts of that gun,” he yelled over me.
“For what reason?” I shouted.
“I have no idea.”
“Does Sam Kage even know Andreo Fiore?”
“Not that we can tell. There’s nothing at all that links them.”
“Then why the hell would you think he would lose the gun?”
Cochran cleared his throat. “You know, back in the day, his partner was dirty, and guess where that guy went—into WITSEC,” he said offhandedly.
“What are you insinuating?” I asked, feeling my skin heat under my clothes, afraid of what I would do if the words actually came out of his mouth. Irritation, annoyance, all of it was gone, replaced solely by anger. How fucking dare he.
“Dirty partner… you understand.”
“I don’t think I do,” I said flatly, my vision tunneling down to him, lost on the edges, going black, my throat dry, my heart beating so fast I wondered how he couldn’t hear it.
“C’mon, Miro, don’t be stupid.”
“That was a long time before my boss was even a marshal,” I ground out.
“Whatever. It’s not right and you know it.”
“What isn’t?” He had to be clear. I couldn’t bury his career if he wasn’t.
“Your boss is fuckin’ dirty.”
It was worse than I thought it would be, hearing his words, having them out there, the accusation making my stomach churn.
“Did you hear me?”
The rage filled me up, made me see red, and fisted my hands at my sides. Only the thought of Kage, his disappointment if I surrendered to my base instincts, kept me still. “You don’t know him at all.” I bit off each word.
“Like I said, I know of him. I know his partner was dirty and he—”
“Well, I know him,” I spat out, my voice hoarse. “And he would never, ever, tamper with evidence, any evidence! If anyone is screwing with you, it’s your boss. Who the fuck transfers the wrong guns to the Justice Department?”
“Cortez signed a piece of paper to transfer a crapton of evidence, not just one gun! Do you have any idea how many cases and reports and everything else Justice is going through? It’ll take years for them to get through it all.”
“And then they can start looking into Homan Square,” I blasted.
“Fuck you, Miro!” he yelled, shoving at me hard but barely moving me, as I was prepared for his reaction. I knew Norris Cochran; his fuse was far shorter than mine. “You know I never—”
“I don’t give a shit that you never,” I roared, knocking him back several feet. “But don’t you dare come at me with some bullshit accusation about my boss covering up a crime by tampering with evidence. For all we know, the goddamn gun was never even there in the first place!”
He threw a wild roundhouse punch that I ducked easily, and I would have tagged him right in the jaw, but someone grabbed me from behind and got my arms pinned behind me.
As I struggled to free myself, Cochran caught me in the right eye, but I managed to twist hard enough to take the next one in the right shoulder instead of the side of the face, and the last one in the gut. He was ready to hit me again; I saw the fury all over him, knew he’d been waiting years, ever since we arrested Hartley the first time, to kick the shit out of me.
Then we both heard a bellow of outrage. I was released instantly, and before I hit the gravel, I was in Kowalski’s arms.
“You better fuckin’ run!” he thundered after them. “I’ll have both of your motherfucking badges for this!”
“For crissakes, Jones,” Kohn grumbled as he reached us. “We can’t leave you alone for a second? Why didn’t you yell for us?”
“I didn’t know he had backup. How is this my fault?” I railed.
“Jesus,” he moaned, “lookit your face, man. I think we’re gonna have to get you to the hospital.”
“Fuck that,” I groused, spitting out a mouthful of blood. “Nothing’s broken. Just take me home.”
“We’ll call Kage on the way.”
I couldn’t argue with that.