A strange noise interrupted her thoughts. She peered through the blinds on the glass wall into the bustling detective bureau and listened intently. There it was again.
A burly man appeared in the doorway. He bumped off either side, then staggered into her office. Facedown. Hands dripping with blood, clutching his abdomen.
“What in the world …?” She jumped to her feet, frozen in place.
Detective Sean O’Toole looked up and stretched out his hand toward her, his eyes screaming with pain. He collapsed in front of her desk and hit the floor.
“Officer down!” she shouted. “I need an ambulance—now!”
She hurried around the side of her desk, grabbed the clean hand towel next to the coffeepot, and got down on her knees. She laid the towel over the bloody wound and applied pressure.
“Sean, talk to me. What happened?”
The detective’s face was ashen. “He c-came from behind … put me in a choke hold … stuck a knife in my gut … said he was coming after you—to f-finish the job.”
“You never saw his face?”
“No. Hairy arms. White guy. Navy blue short sleeves. Smelled like c-cigarettes. Deep voice.”
“Where did this happen?”
Sean moaned, his face pallid and contorted with pain, his eyes slits of icy blue.
“Come on, Sean, stay with me.”
Detective Captain Trent Norris burst into her office. “I’ll take it from here, Chief.”
“How did he get from the watercooler to my office without someone in the DB seeing he needed help?”
“I guess we were all focused on other things. It’s been crazy.”
Trent got down on the floor and swapped places with her, his palms pressed over the wound. “Hang in there, buddy. The paramedics are just down the block. They’ll be here any second. You’re going to be fine. Stay with me. Talk to me.”
Brill sprang to her feet and hurried over to the officers who crowded outside her door. “O’Toole was just stabbed by some lowlife who snuck up behind him at the water cooler. We’re looking for a white man wearing a short-sleeve, navy blue shirt, possibly bloodstained.”
She locked gazes with Sean’s partner. “Detective Rousseaux, secure the scene and make sure it’s not compromised.
“Captain Dickson, lock down the building and search every corner of every room.
“Sergeant Chavez, set up a containment for two blocks around the building.
“Sergeant Huntman, clear the route to St. Luke’s and make sure we have officers in radio cars ready to escort the ambulance. Come on, people, move it!”
The officers scrambled in all directions, and she ran out to the restroom.
She tore off paper towels until she had a stack, folded them in half and held them under the faucet, then pressed out the excess water and rushed back to her office.
She got on her knees and gently pressed the wet towels onto Sean’s forehead, all too aware he was sweating profusely and still bleeding despite the pressure Trent was keeping on the wound. “We need something to elevate his legs.”
She went over to the bookshelf and grabbed several thick books and put them under Sean’s feet, hoping he wouldn’t die of shock before the paramedics arrived.
Lord, don’t take him now. He’s young. He’s got a wife and three kids.
“Come on, buddy, talk to me.” Trent patted Sean’s cheeks. “What else do you remember about this creep?”
“Tell Jessica I love her. The kids, too. Promise me.”
“You’re not going to die,” Trent said. “The bleeding’s slowing down. Talk to me, Sean. We want whoever did this to you.”
“He’s coming after the chief. Going to kill her.”
“Who’s going to kill her?” Trent’s dark eyes shot Brill a glance. “Give us something else. You’re too sharp of a detective to have missed anything.”
“Had a mark. Top of right hand.”
“What kind of mark?”
“A tattoo. Or b-birthmark. Size of a quarter.”
Brill heard voices and heavy footsteps in the DB, and seconds later two paramedics glided through the door and asked her to stand aside with Trent.
She observed in disbelief as the pair worked to save her detective’s life, heartsick that she might have to tell his wife and children he’d been murdered on her watch—and just feet away from armed police officers.
She started to brush the hair out of her eyes and realized her hands were bloody. She shuddered with the realization that whoever thrust a knife into Sean O’Toole had threatened to finish the job when he got to her.
Five hours later Brill sat at the conference table in her office with Detective Captain Trent Norris, Detective Beau Jack Rousseaux, Patrol Captain Pate Dickson, and Sheriff Sam Parker trying to assess where they were in the case.
“It’s a miracle Sean made it through surgery.” Brill looked from man to man. “We could be sitting here planning his funeral.”
“He’s too stubborn to die,” Beau Jack said.
“Stubborn’s no match for a knife blade, Detective. I want this animal locked up.”
“Don’t forget he threatened to come after you,” Trent said.
“How’d he get in here, anyway?”
Pate’s face turned pink. “One of my sergeants, Tiller, reported that a white man dressed in navy blue coveralls with the Miller’s Air Conditioning logo on the pocket was standing outside the door when he arrived this morning. The guy said he was here to fix the AC. He had a toolbox and a big smile. Dark hair and mustache. Big guy. Looked fifty to fifty-five.”
“So the sergeant just keyed in the combination and let him in without checking with maintenance?” Beau Jack said. “Real smart move.”
Pate stroked his chin. “Come on, Miller’s service people are in here all the time. The sergeant let down his guard. We’ve all done it.”
“Yeah, well, my partner nearly died because Sergeant Tiller let down his guard.”
“What’s done is done,” Brill said. “It’s not like we have a precedent for this kind of thing in the Sophie Trace PD.”
Beau Jack stuck a Tootsie Pop in his mouth. “I guess we do now.”
“We definitely need to tighten security,” Trent said. “Since we have no idea who this guy is, everyone we bring into the DB to be interviewed will be suspect.”
“I can’t spend the rest of my life in fear of this nutcase coming after me,” Brill said. “I have a job to do. Trent, you take charge of tightening security. All of us need to heighten our awareness of our surroundings. Anything or anyone that doesn’t feel right, check it out.”
Sam’s white eyebrows came together. “I can’t believe y’all were that trusting. My deputies would never let unauthorized individuals into a secured area. They’re trained to follow protocol.”
“So are my officers.” Brill forced herself not to sound defensive.
“But those of you in the county sheriff’s department deal with a broader range of criminals. Until now, the Sophie Trace PD had no reason to fear an officer being attacked in a secured area.”
“I’ll cover it in each briefing,” Trent said. “From this day forward, no one gets in the secured area until he has clearance. I don’t care how inconvenient it is to check him out.”
Brill looked over at Pate. “Tell me about your search of the building.”
“No evidence was found in the building, ma’am. My officers searched every nook and cranny and checked the sinks for hair and blood. Doesn’t appear the attacker stopped to clean up.”
“How’d Chavez do with the containment?” she said.
“He contained a two-block area around city hall, checked license plates, and talked with pedestrians. That yielded one female witness who passed the suspect on the sidewalk around 10:45—just after O’Toole was stabbed. The suspect was headed down First Street at a pretty good clip. Our witness says he was overweight, average height, dressed in navy blue coveralls and a black windbreaker and carrying a gray toolbox. She said he was wearing sunglasses and did not have a mustache. She’s working with Tiller and our sketch artist. We ought to have something soon.”
“Did she see which way he went?” Trent said.
Pate shook his head. “Once he passed her, she didn’t give him a second thought until Chavez questioned her.”
“Well,” Brill said, “I’m eager to see the sketch. If this man has threatened to come after me, I’d sure like to see if I recognize him.”
A short time later, Brill sat at her desk and studied the artist’s sketch of the man who stabbed Sean O’Toole. Sergeant Tiller was the only one who saw the suspect’s eyes, and the female witness was the
only one who saw his mouth without the mustache. He looked vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t put a name to the face or even explain what it was about him that looked familiar.
Her cell phone vibrated, and she read the display screen.
“There you are,” she said. “I guess you got my message?”
“Honey, I’m so sorry,” Kurt Jessup said. “I’ve been following the news. I’m glad Sean pulled through. Must’ve been horrible for you.”
“I thought we were going to lose him.”
She told Kurt everything that had happened from the time Sean O’Toole staggered into her office until the paramedics took him to St. Luke’s in an ambulance—except that the assailant told O’Toole he was coming after her to “finish the job.” Why get into that over the phone?
“Sounds intense. You must be emotionally drained.”
“I don’t think it’s caught up with me yet. It was surreal washing Sean’s blood off my hands, and I had to throw away my uniform shirt. Beau Jack lent me the extra shirt he had in his locker so Emily wouldn’t have to see the mess. Does she know about the stabbing?”
“Yes, but I made sure she’s not planted in front of the TV, listening to the gory details. It’ll just trigger thoughts of the hostage ordeal, and we both know she’s not over it.”
Are any of us? Brill glanced up at the clock. “I’ll be home in forty-five minutes. Is Vanessa there yet? I can hardly wait to see her.”
“She’ll be here between seven and eight. Said not to plan on her for dinner.”
“By the time I get home, it’ll be too late to cook anything,” Brill said. “And you know what Friday night is like. If we go out, we’ll have to wait forever, and I don’t want Vanessa to come home to an empty house.”
“I’ve got it covered, honey. I bought a baked chicken and a quart of potato salad at the grocery store. We’ve got stuff here for a green salad. That should work.”
“What would I do without you?”
Kurt laughed. “I have no idea.”
“I’ll see you soon. I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
Brill hung up the phone and looked out the window. Through the leafy trees and beyond the ridges of hazy green foothills, the blue gray silhouette of the Great Smoky Mountains dominated the early evening sky. She sat for a moment and just enjoyed the beauty and the calm.
Lord, thank You for letting Sean pull through.
Her office phone rang, and she picked it up. “Yes, LaTeesha.”
“Captain Donovan from the Memphis PD is on line one for you.”
“Thanks.” She pushed the blinking button. “Hello, John.”
“Hey. It’s great to hear your voice. Saw you on the news last fall. I figured you’d make a name for yourself, but I didn’t think you’d go to such extreme measures.”
She smiled. “Things got pretty crazy, all right. So are you enjoying my old office?”
“Not today. I’ve got bad news … Zack Rogers was stabbed night before last. Happened in his driveway. Some worthless piece of garbage came up behind him and stuck a knife in his gut, and said to tell District Attorney Cromwell he was coming after him. I didn’t call you because the doc said Zack was going to be all right. But his heart gave out …”—John’s voice cracked—“an hour ago. No one saw it coming. His kids are still in high school, and with their mother dead … well, it’s a tragic loss. I knew you’d want to know since you and Zack were partners for so long.”
Brill felt a wave of nausea sweep over her, a decade of memories flashing through her mind in an instant.
“The thing is,” John said, “we knew Zack was being targeted because one of my detectives was stabbed last week, and the perp told him he was coming after Zack. We offered Zack protection, but you know how independent he was—bound and determined he could take care of himself.”
Brill’s heart pounded so hard she was sure he could hear it. “John, one of my detectives was stabbed today just outside the detective bureau. The attacker told him he was coming after me, to finish the job. This can’t be a coincidence.”
There was a long moment of dead air, and she figured John was processing the implications.
“You and Zack helped put away lots of perps, Brill. And Jason Cromwell was district attorney during the time you two were partners. Did anybody ever threaten you?”
“Are you kidding? All the time. We blew it off.”
“Well, looks like one of them was dead serious. Anybody in particular stand out?”
“Sure, Bart and Sampson Rhodes. But they’re lifers and not eligible for parole. Zack and I busted them what, nine or ten years ago? If they had been serious about taking us out, they could’ve snapped their fingers and gotten it done in nine or ten minutes.”
“Maybe they’re patient,”
“Or maybe this is someone else,” Brill said. “Someone who was forced to wait a long time for the chance to get even—someone who served out his sentence. Someone who wouldn’t think of hiring a hit man, but rather delights in the systematic elimination of the people who put him away. Someone who enhances his enjoyment by first stabbing a person who is close to the intended victim and making sure that person lives long enough to tell the intended victim that he or she is next.”
“You’ve worked with the FBI profilers so long you actually sound like one.”
“Unfortunately, John, I think I’m right.”
©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. The Last Word by Kathy Herman. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.