Justin was awakened by the realization that he was being stripped. He tried to move, but he couldn’t. As feeling began to creep back into his body, he felt her climbing on top of him. He slid his hand under the pillow and instinctively grasped the handle of his gun.
Opening his eyes, his gaze was met by the knife that hovered above him. Ah, Shit! Groggily, he swung the gun out. He had cocked it under the pillow, unconsciously. He raised it chest-level as the knife swung down and pulled the trigger just as he felt the blade bite into his chest. His attacker collapsed on top of him.
He knew he was mortally wounded. His friends wouldn’t reach him in time. At least he would get to see Evangeline. He smiled as he slipped into darkness.
His three would-be rescuers heard the shot. Michael staggered back, suddenly weak. Reilly braced him and they continued up the stairs.They had to reach their friend.
They had no idea which apartment he was in. Nor where the second man had been put. But they knew he was in one of them. Michael motioned without a sound.
Reilly and Danforth chose a side of the hall and began breaking in the doors. Each time, they were greeted by emptiness. Going two rooms at a time, they searched vainly until they came to her own apartment. Though it was empty, they found her keys. The master set to every apartment. They would make searching a lot easier.
In the next room, they found him. He’d already died, the knife still sticking out of his chest. She lay on top of him, as if she had been having sex with him. Her hand still clutched the knife as she lay there. Caught in the act.
One bullet had ended the case. One bullet had stopped the murders. It was over. She had claimed one more of their own as a victim, but he had taken her down with him.
Michael turned away. “Get the teams up here. Find the other victim. We’ll want to search every inch of this complex for any clue not already in our possession.”
Reilly looked at him. “We have a ton of new clues out in both dumpsters.”
“And maybe some down in the basement as well,” Danforth agreed.
Michael looked at his friends. “We’ll let the teams bag and tag.”
The two officers nodded. Michael left the complex. He’d had enough. In a few days, after he had his reports done, he was going to leave the force. There was no tomorrow for Justin and it was his fault. He’d allowed his friend to be the bait.
And their killer had taken the bait. Or had there been more to it? Suddenly, he was tired. He felt old. Too old for his age.
He headed home. He had to make up time with Arlene. And the kids. Then, they would have to figure out how to explain to Justin’s kids why their daddy wasn’t ever coming home. God, that was going to be painful.
A week later, the precinct held a policeman’s funeral for Justin. They buried him a hero. And rightfully so. He had died in the line of duty. Michael only wished that he had also died that night.
But he hadn’t. And life would never be the same. Though the nightmares had ceased, He still had the guilt. The guilt of not having been the one to take it for the team. the guilt of not knowing that he had been sending his friend to his death.
Had they known the full extent of what they had been dealing with, perhaps things would have been different. But they had no clue what they had been up against until it was too late. It hadn’t hit Michael until days later, after the whole thing was done. He doubted that Reilly or Danforth had ever realized. It didn’t matter by then.
Each of the survivors were given citations for valor, but Michael felt as if it was empty. He hadn’t been valiant. Hell. He hadn’t been brave at all. Nor had he been a hero.
He had simply followed a hunch and been two seconds too late to save the only lives that mattered. He shook his head. Nothing made sense anymore. Nothing mattered. Well, almost nothing.
He turned in his letter of resignation, then began cleaning out his desk. As he did, memories flooded in with every scrap of paper, every object. Memories that hurt, no matter how funny they had been at the time. They hurt because his friend and partner was no longer there to joke with. Justin was gone. Nothing would bring him back.
He stuck them all in a single box. When he was done, he took his badge and his gun and turned them in. He wouldn’t be needing them anymore. He was done. Even though he wasn’t technically off the force for another couple weeks, he took his one leave of absence. It would help him heal.
He took his box out to his car. Setting it on the hood, he turned back around and took one last look at what had been his second home for almost ten years. He opened the passenger door and sat down. Putting his head in his hands, he began to cry. For Justin. For Evangeline. For all the victims. Most of all, for Justin’s children. And the killer as well.
After a few minutes, he rose and wiped the tears from his eyes. Grabbing the box, he sat it on the seat, then closed the door. He went around to the driver’s side. Opening the door, he got in and started his car. Closing the door and putting on his seat belt, he drove home.
Reilly and Danforth stood before the chief. Reilly was first to speak. “Sir, We wish to leave the force. For us, it ended when we lost Justin. And now, without Mike, we are nothing. Mike knew where to look and for what. We merely carried out his instructions.”
The chief looked at Danforth. “Do you feel the same way?”
Danforth nodded. “Yes sir. You can replace a team, but to try to replace individuals from a team and have it work as smoothly is asking for trouble. Besides. This case ate us all alive. We were all used up before it ended, and all have suffered because of it. Even Justin was going to retire after this case.”
The chief nodded. “I know. He submitted his resignation the day of his death.”