“You know, Roland. I think that hot pathologist likes you.”
Roland turned his eyes from the street outside the passenger window to study his partner’s face, glad to find Keefe’s focus was still on the traffic. “Aye?” He said slowly, not really sure who Keefe was talking about.
“You know, Ellen. Blonde, green eyes, Tracy would slap me for looking.”
“Oh, aye, Ellen.” Roland frowned and turned his attention back on the street. “You really think she likes me? I thought she was just bein’ nice.”
“Yes. She likes you. I think you should ask her out.” Keefe said. “Hell, we could do a double date if you’re nervous. Tracy’d like that… get somebody to watch the kids and…”
“No.” Roland said, a bit too quickly. “I dinna fancy her. She’s a verra nice lass and sharp as Damascus steel but… no.”
Keefe let out a little huff of breath. “If I didn’t know better I’d think you had aspirations to the priesthood.”
Roland chuckled. “No. That isna for me either.”
Keefe snorted. “If you say so… Check that map again? I don’t know the neighborhood.”
Roland tugged the tablet closer, shifting his fingers against the screen to bring the map closer. “We’re still going the right way. Next right.”
“This is just a routine interview on that Calloway murder isn’t it? Don’t know why it got handed off to us.”
“No, I dinna ken either. I’ve been over basics of the file but it isna ours.” That nagged at him as it had been since they’d been given the call, and he turned to frown out the side window again. “It must be urgent?” Roland tapped his fingers on the car door and watched worn buildings slide by the window. “Otherwise I dinna ken why Rogers wouldna just put it off until he could do it himself.”
“I’m not sure what could be so urgent about an interview. They didn’t say anything about an arrest. Maybe we’ll have some idea when we get there.”
“Aye. I hope so.”
Somewhere above the city a storm was building. Down between the buildings the weather was barely more than a small heaviness in the air, a deepening of the shadows that came too early for evening. Roland felt the tension seeping into his bones but had no explanation for the feeling until the car slid to a stop in the small parking lot and Keefe killed the engine. Roland looked skyward as he shut the car door behind him, taking in the heavy grey of the clouds. Even under the myriad other scents of the city he could almost smell the storm.
“It’s goin’ tae rain.”
Keefe glanced up. “Looks like. Now what was that apartment again?”
Roland tugged the small notebook from his pocket, frowned down at the number he’d scrawled there when they got the call. All the while unease pricked at him. There was no good reason for it that he could give voice to. He might blame the storm, he might blame his questions about this assignment, but none of his reasoning did anything to ease the creeping feeling that settled between his shoulder blades. “513-A.” He said, looking up at the building again as he tucked the notebook back into his pocket.
“Well, let’s get this done.” Keefe turned from the car toward the building.
Roland’s eyes followed the movement as he tried to swallow down his own nerves. “Doesna look like the best place tae live.”
Keefe chuckled. “Not really.”
Roland frowned, his hand briefly drifting toward his hip before he aborted the movement. “Wasna the victim some well-to-do fellow’s wife?”
“Yeah.” Keefe’s long strides slowed as Roland came abreast. “She was.” The words came slow and thoughtful.
“Murder was i’ their home.”
“Yeah. Husband has an alibi.”
“Just seems a wee bit odd…” Roland’s eyes went back to the building in front of them. At this proximity the age of the place was obvious, the little signs of its decline readily apparent. Graffiti tags, cracked concrete, the cars parked near that looked as worn down as the rest of the neighborhood. The hairs on the back of his neck tried to rise, even before his eyes caught that little movement, the glint of light on metal.
“DOWN!” He yelled, jumping at Keefe just as the sound of it filled his ears.
The force of the sound whelmed into Roland like a fist, knocking him forward, stealing the breath from him. He collided with Keefe, and his palms hit the roughness of the asphalt before he even realized they’d fallen. He tried to draw in a breath and it caught on the most intense pain, the rasping gasp of it harsh in his own ears. He touched his chest and his hand came away red.
“Fucking hell!” Keefe struggled up to his knees from under him. His hand went for his own gun, as a second shot followed the first. It skittered off the asphalt so nearby they felt the dust it kicked up. His eyes darted at the all too open parking space around them and then settled on a nearby car. “We need cover.”
He hurt like hell, but far worse than the pain, Roland couldn’t seem to draw in a full breath of air. He swallowed, his breath coming in short, sobbing rasps of sound, as he tried to find the breath to speak. “Got tae bloody move…” He could barely hear himself.
“Shit! You’re hit. Shit! Come on, Roland. Help me out here.” Keefe’s left hand curled hard into the shoulder of his shirt. The fabric pulled tight against his neck, chafing at the pain in his back as Keefe lunged forward. aiming for the gap between two parked cars.
Roland knew he had to move, but his legs seemed to have gone somewhere else. He could feel them, but tucking them under him, making himself move along with Keefe felt damn near impossible. He fell more than leapt, and rolled onto his back as they came to a stop, taking up more than his fair share of the narrow space between the two vehicles. He hadn’t meant this to happen. Not like this. “Keefe. You need tae ge’ out.”
“Like hell!” Keefe’s hand slapped down over his chest, the sound of it sodden and sickening.
The pain no longer troubled him. Roland knew he should feel it but it had grown into a distant memory of a thing. “Ave Maria…” he whispered, slapping his own hand down atop Keefe’s for a moment and trying to jar his thoughts back from the dizziness rapidly claiming them.
“Shots fired.” Keefe’s voice was sharp. “Officer down. I got an officer down. We need medical and some fucking backup.”
Roland couldn’t make out the voice on Keefe’s phone as more than a crisp, distant sound, tinny and mechanical in response. “Gratia plena, Dominus…” He shook his head again, the ground catching at the strands of his hair. “Keefe, Tracy needs you.” He could hear something else, though he couldn’t seem to make sense of it. But the sound made his heart pound and he fumbled again for his gun, his hand slick and wet with blood in a way he knew better than to let himself think about.
“Stop with the Latin. No one’s going to fucking die here, Roland! Get me that god damned ambulance!”
“Dominus… tecum. Benedicta…” The familiar words escaped him. Footsteps. He could hear footsteps. Asphalt crunched just a little under soft soles, the rhythm of the steps slow but surprisingly steady. “Keefe…”
“Shooter’s still at large. Just get me the help.” Keefe’s hand pressed harder against his chest as though he could stop the flow of blood with that alone. “Damn it, Roland. Just keep breathing.”
“Keefe. Listen…” The secure strap on the holster finally popped free under his thumb. His fingers closed slick and sticky around the butt of the gun and he tugged it out.
“Don’t you be telling me your last fucking words or something. I don’t want to hear it. You’re going to be fine.”
Roland didn’t need those words or the look on Keefe’s face to tell him. He could feel it. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, “No… Keefe, damn it… listen!” He thumbed the safety off, rubbed the gun against his own belt and leg, hard. Once, twice, until he felt the slide move back and heard the telltale sound of the bullet chambering. His eyes closed and he fell back gasping for air that wouldn’t come. The footsteps moved closer. Ora pro nobis peccatoribus, “He’s coming.”
“Shit.” Keefe looked frantically around them, then shifted his weight, setting his back up against the nearest car, his free hand still pressing firmly and futilely down on Roland’s chest.
Blood soaked the asphalt underneath him. Roland could feel it seeping beneath his shoulder blades. He coughed and tasted blood. His chest heaved, but he couldn’t seem to fill his lungs and sparks were starting at the edges of his vision. His left hand closed hard around Keefe’s fingers and he tugged. “You…” Roland swallowed down the taste of blood in his throat. “need your hands free tae shoot.” He could barely hear his own voice and for a moment Keefe struggled against his grip, but then finally, reluctantly let his hand be pulled away.
The footsteps stopped. He had to be damn near on top of them. Roland tugged his own gun up to rest with his hand atop his stomach, trying to ignore the stiffness in his fingers and the chilled, clammy feeling that made him tremble against the ground.
“Roland…” Keefe began.
Roland shook his head. Nunc. The words of the prayer in his thoughts were a familiar thread of comfort, and he clung to them as he waited.
Silence. Save for the ever present sounds of distant traffic and the soft patter of the first droplets of rain on the roofs of the cars. Then sound, the quick scrape and thud of feet as the man darted around the back of the car, gun raised.
Roland lifted his hand, aimed around the darkness swimming in his vision. The boom of gunfire filled his ears and he couldn’t tell if it was one shot or three. Et in hora… The man fell. Ears still ringing with gunfire barely caught the sound of his own gun rattling from his fingers to the pavement. He couldn’t breathe.
“Roland.” Keefe shook his shoulders the gesture as frantic as his voice. “Come on. Look at me! Damn it. Don’t fucking do this! Please.”
He wanted to apologize. He needed to warn Keefe about something, but he couldn’t catch hold of the thoughts any more than he could have spoken the words. Rain kissed his cheek, but Roland couldn’t see the grey sky any more. …Et in horis mortis nostrae. Amen.
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