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O’Malley, the beat cop standing guard at the access to the crime scene, tilted his head, frowning in curiosity as he looked at the end of the alley. Gillian was there, in the very middle of it. She’d been standing there for at least the last five minutes, back turned to the street, oddly static.
The Theatre District buzzed with the usual crowd strolling around, in and out of some venue, restaurant, bar. Many people paused near the alley, whispered to each other, pointed or even took a picture, moved on. But none of them noticed Gillian’s shadow there ahead, past the last dim light.
The murmur of a car, slowing down and stopping, made O’Malley turn around. It had pulled over across the street. A black car, tinted glass, federal plates. The window hummed down and he saw the man behind the wheel staring at the alley.
Feds, he thought. Those guys sure slept in their suits. Sure they were taught to scowl, too.
O’Malley waited, feet apart, hands on his belt, in what he thought to be a vigilant pose. The right one to keep the **** feds away when one of them lurked around a PD crime scene.
A whole minute ticktocked away, and he was about to approach the car and ask what the hell did the suit want there if it was a police case, when the window hummed up and the car drove slowly away.
Feds. They loved to wrap themselves in that mysterious air of top-secret, world-saving quest.
A group of young people stopped right by the yellow tape and O’Malley stood strategically between them and the alley. He considered requesting some backup ahead of schedule, since people were specially attracted to this particular place that night.
Then he heard another car turning around the corner, and when he stepped up to look, he had a legit black-cat déjà vu—whether someone was messing with the Matrix or the fed was back. This time the suit behind the wheel pulled over before the access to the alley, right behind Gillian’s car, killed the engine and stepped out. He waited for the young people to stroll away, pretending to be locking up the car, and only when they were gone did he circle his vehicle to the sidewalk.
O’Malley fixed a serious questioning look on him, but the man didn’t even register it. His eyes scanning the alley, he scowled deeper. And he slightly tilted his head, just like O’Malley had done a few minutes earlier. Then he stepped right up to the yellow tape.
“Can I help you, Agent?”
The man didn’t seem to hear him, but O’Malley’s words reached Gillian, fifty yards away.
She spun around and felt a chill down her spine when she spotted the tall figure in the dark suit, hands to his sides, staring straight at her. She hurried toward the street, still trying to believe her eyes and annoyed at her stupid heart for deciding, for no reason at all, that it was a good moment to race.
“Sir, I said how can I help you,” O’Malley ground out, sick and tired of being ignored.
And he was startled when he heard the voice approaching from behind to answer, “It’s okay, O’Malley, he’s with me.” Quick and firm, and then, “Thanks for coming, sir. This way, please.”
Gillian had come only close enough to be heard without raising her voice, and waited for Brock to bend past the yellow tape, wondering what the hell was he doing there. Never mind. This was way better than handing him a few pages of preliminary reports. When he was still a couple of steps away, she turned around and headed back to the end of the alley.
He followed her without a word, not bothering to catch up with her until she stopped past the last light. As he went, he checked the location of the security camera and scanned both sides of the narrow alley. He noticed the mild tickling in his fingertips, and that he was breathing deeper and slower than usual. How long since the last crime scene? Five years, six? Whatever the actual amount of time, it felt like ages. It’d been just too long.
He stopped by Gillian and looked down at the dirty ground, spotting the large stain of dried blood. He crouched down and glanced up and around. Gillian pointed at the container near the end of the alley, against a low wall.
“There’s a parking lot on the other side. I think that’s where they jumped in and out of here,” she said in a plain, firm voice, simply stating a fact. “It’s the only way they could be here and don’t show up in the last twenty-four hours of footage from that security camera.”
Brock straightened up and walked to the container. There he turned to look at where Gillian was still standing, then around to study the end of the alley, nodding slowly. She joined him, producing a flashlight, and turned it on. She used it to point at the cover of the container and the dark red footprint Banks had found on it. Then she slid the light to the wall, where there was another reddish trace, as if a shoe had slipped against it.
He nodded again. “Small, as you said.”
His calm, low voice caused Gillian another chill, which made her mad at herself once more. So she kicked herself back into the professional she was supposed to be.
“Three girls,” she said, and noticed she’d sounded drier than necessary.
Brock arched his eyebrows, inviting her to elaborate, but she turned to look around.
“If I could only find that ****** pipe,” she grunted.
Gillian held his eyes in silence. Did the man think she was some frigging green shot right out from the Academy?
Brock nodded curtly, getting the memo to keep in mind that this woman had obviously worked homicides for years.
“My money is on the parking lot’s container on the other side,” she said. “But it’s already too late. It was emptied early in the morning.”
“Anything on the picture?” he asked.
She was surprised at his question, then she got it: he’d seen her studying it, so it was obvious he would connect the dots too. “It was uploaded by a ghost user. I have my best hacker tracking it down.”
Their eyes met and they quickly looked away from each other. Gillian spotted O’Malley curiously peeping on them and made up her mind in a heartbeat. They couldn’t linger there any longer, but she wasn’t about to let him go.
“Shall we, sir?” she said, very careful to sound dry and distant, not to give him anything that would suggest that she was hitting on him.
Brock had also seen the beat cop watching them, so he just nodded.
Gillian turned off the flashlight and headed to the street. She heard his firm strides behind her and felt yet another chill. There was something so cold and sharp about him that made him hard to have around. Bitter, she thought. But she knew enough about his background to not be surprised at it. She didn’t know much, just enough to guess that in his shoes, she’d be just as distant and bitter as him.
She paused by O’Malley as Brock went on to his car.
“Still alone?” she asked casually.
“Yeah, Huxley is coming in a while.”
“Tell’im I said hi. Thanks, O’Malley, good night.”
Brock was already in his car. Gillian only glanced at him on her way to her own car, right past his.
O’Malley watched them as they both started their engines. Gillian geared in and honked at the beat cop as she drove away. Brock followed her around the first corner.