Deadly Intent (I-Team Book 8), p.1Pamela Clare
Also by Pamela Clare
About the Author
An I-TEAM Novel
Published by Pamela Clare, 2018
Cover Design by © Carrie Divine/Seductive Designs
Image: Perfect Lazybones/Shutterstock
Copyright © 2018 by Pamela Clare
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic format without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials by violating the author’s rights. No one should be expected to work for free. If you support the arts and enjoy literature, do not participate in illegal file-sharing.
This story is dedicated to women in uniform, who too often face sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual violence while serving their country.
No one should have to battle her fellow service members or her chain of command while also fighting the enemies of her nation.
Thank you to Michelle White, Benjamin Alexander, Jackie Turner, Pat Egan Fordyce, and Shell Ryan for their unfailing support. Thanks to Shell, too, for the very handy list of Joaquin facts she wrote years ago. It was incredibly helpful. Where would I be without you guys?
Special thanks to Sarah Whitenight, for sharing her expertise from her years serving in the US Army; and to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for answering my questions relating to ballistics and DNA analysis.
Additional thanks to Esmeralda Mijangos, Roxana Marmolejo, and Monica Flores-Rojo for lending me their expertise on Mexican Spanish so that Joaquin could have an authentic Mexican-American voice.
A hug and many thanks to author Jessica Scott, a real-life Army captain and badass, for her friendship and support and for helping to inspire this story.
More hugs and thanks to author Kaylea Cross for her friendship, support, and help in brainstorming Joaquin and Mia’s story.
Thanks to all of you who love the I-Team characters so much and keep this series alive. I’m so very grateful.
Joaquin Ramirez parked behind a squad car, its lights flashing red, blue, and white in the twilight. He checked the Glock 27 he carried concealed in a pocket holster. It was loaded, a round in the chamber. After what had happened at the holiday party last month, he would never leave home unarmed again. Satisfied, he holstered the firearm, grabbed his camera bag, and climbed out of his truck, icy wind hitting him in the face.
A possible homicide.
That’s all he’d been told. It was his weekend on call, and so far, he’d shot a protest at the State Capitol, a minor house fire, and a hit-and-run bicycle accident just off the 16th Street Mall. He’d thought his Pulitzer would free him from this kind of shit and enable him to focus on more significant assignments, but the Denver Independent was a small paper with only four photographers, one of whom covered sports exclusively.
Maybe it was time for him to leave, get out of Denver, and go to work for a more prominent publication, like the New York Times or National Geographic. He could travel, see the world through the lens of his camera, put his skills to the test. There would never be a better time than now. He was young, no woman in his life, no kids, not even a pet.
Then why are you still here, working this same job?
Matt Harker, a reporter on the paper’s I-Team and Joaquin’s best friend, had asked him that question last night. Joaquin had given him the answer he always gave himself. The people he loved—his friends and his family—lived here.
He hurried down the street, pulling out his camera as he went, snapping the wide-angle lens and flash into place. Just ahead, gawkers stood outside the barricade tape, their curiosity drawing them outside in sub-zero January temps.
A woman stepped out of the crowd and waved to him, huddled in a heavy parka. “Hey, Joaquin!”
“Hey, Cate, what’s going on?”
Catherine Warner was the newest—and at twenty-five the youngest—member of the newspaper’s elite I-Team, or Investigative Team. She had replaced Laura Nilsson on the cops and courts beat. She might look like a kid with blond hair and freckles, but she’d landed on her feet with an exposé about a couple of sheriff’s deputies dealing drugs out of the evidence room.
She brought Joaquin up to speed. “A guy heard shouting and then gunshots coming from downstairs. He went down to check on his neighbor—a guy named Andrew Meyer—and found the door open. He walked in—”
“What an idiot.”
“Yeah, well, the idiot found bullet holes in the shower stall along with shell casings. That’s when he called the cops.”
“He’s lucky he wasn’t shot, too. No body?”
“What are the cops saying?”
“Not a word.”
“Did anyone else hear shots?” Discharging a firearm in a small apartment would make one hell of a racket—unless the shooter had a suppressor.
Cate nodded. “A couple of neighbors heard gunfire, too, but they didn’t call it in. This isn’t the kind of neighborhood where people are on good terms with the police.”
“Any chance this guy accidentally shot himself and rushed off to the ER?” Joaquin had a decade of experience on Cate and was doing his best to mentor her, to help her curb her impulsiveness and mature as a reporter.
Cate shook her head. “I overheard one of the detectives say there was no John Doe or Andrew Meyer in any Denver-metro ERs. Also, the guy’s vehicle is still here, parked in its space.”
She pointed toward an old, brown Toyota Camry.
“Bullet holes, but no body. That’s loco.” Joaquin took in the scene, assessing the possibilities. It was his job to tell this story in a single image—not easy when it was dark and all he had to work with were bystanders, police tape, and squad cars.
A man he recognized as Detective Wu stepped out of the apartment.
“Detective Wu, can I ask you a few questions?” Cate hurried off to do her job, leaving Joaquin to do his.
He walked out into the street, looking for an angle that captured the scene with its tension and unknowns—the apartment with its open door, the barricade tape, bystanders, and at least a portion of a police cruiser. He adjusted the camera’s ISO to 1600, snapped a few shots, then checked to see how they’d turned out.
The exposure was okay, but the image felt static. A man might have lost his life here tonight. Neighbors, friends, and family were surely desperate and afraid for him. Joaquin could do better.
He shifted a few feet to his left, reworking the composition in his mind, then dropped to one knee and raised the camera again.
“Do you know what’s going on?” a woman asked.
He lowered the camera and found himself looking up into a pair of big, angry blue eyes set in a strikingly beautiful face—high cheekbones, a little, upturned nose, a full mouth. “I’m with the Denver Independ—”
“Did something happen to Andy?” Red hair ruffled in the wind.
Joaquin got to his feet. “You know the guy who lives in that apartment?”
“Please answer my question.”
Her abruptness surprised Joaquin, but he could see the fear in her eyes. It wasn’t the first time someone had given him shit while he’d been on the job. People hated the media—until the moment they needed something.
“There’s nothing official yet. A neighbor heard gunshots and found the door open but no one at home. He thinks he saw bullet holes and shell casings in the shower stall. They’re calling it a possible homicide. I’m sorry.”
The anger on her face melted into worry. “Thanks.”
She turned away from him, walked up to the barricade tape, and stood there watching, delicate fingers from one hand raised to her lips, distress obvious on her face. Beyond her, a member of the crime-scene investigation team stepped out onto the porch and began to dust for prints.
Joaquin saw his shot.
He dropped to his knee once more, focused on the woman, letting the CSI guy blur in the background, blue and red light from the police overheads bouncing off the apartment’s windows, yellow tape cutting through the center. He took a dozen shots, checked them, then shot a few more to be confident he’d gotten it. He stood, scrolled through the images, and found a few that would work.
Now all he needed was the woman’s name.
He walked up to her, reluctant to intrude into her personal space when she was clearly upset. “Hey, I’m really sorry. I hope this is all a big misunderstanding and they find your friend safe and sound.”
Stranger things had happened.
She didn’t bother to look at him. “Thanks.”
“Can I get your name?”
Her head snapped around, surprise and fury on her face. “Did you photograph me? I didn’t give you permission to do that.”
“I don’t need permission. You’re on a public street, so—”
“God, I hate photojournalists. You show up at the scene of other people’s misery looking for the shot that will land your name on the front page. You don’t really care what’s happening to people.”
“Whoa! You don’t know how I feel or what I’m thinking.” Joaquin knew she was upset, but that didn’t mean he had to take this. “It’s my job to report news. You can give me your name or not, but the photo will still run.”
She looked as if she were about to tell him to go to hell. Then the anger seemed to drain from her. “Mia Starr. S-T-A-R-R.”
Joaquin jotted that down in his notebook. “Thanks, Ms. Starr. Despite what you think, I am sorry that—”
“It was her! I saw her walk up to Andy’s door just a few hours ago.”
A shout interrupted Joaquin, and he looked over to see a man in jeans and a T-shirt—the upstairs neighbor?—standing next to a cop, his finger pointed at Ms. Starr.
“She’s the one! I heard him shouting at her!”
Every head on the street turned Mia’s way.
She raised her chin. “Yes, I was here.”
The police officer walked toward her and raised the barricade tape. “Ma’am, could we ask you a few questions?”
Mia had nothing to hide. “Sure.”
She ducked beneath the tape, glancing back at the photographer, who watched her through dark eyes, an unreadable expression on his handsome face.
Yes, she had noticed his looks. A woman would have to be dead not to.
She followed the officer toward Andy’s front porch, where they were met by a man who introduced himself as Detective Wu. “Is it true that Andy is missing? Someone said the neighbor heard gunshots and found bullet holes in his shower.”
“Where did you hear that?” Wu asked.
“The photographer told me.”
Wu frowned, clearly not happy about that. “We’re not sharing information with the public at this time, but I do need to ask you some questions.”
Mia decided to make it easy for him. “Yes, I was here tonight. Andy and I served together in Iraq. We’ve known each other for almost ten years. He was wounded during my first tour of duty and discharged. I was his company XO—executive officer—and I check on him when I can.”
She did her best to stay in touch with everyone from Bravo Company and to visit the ones who still lived in the Denver-metro area.
“What time did you get here?”
“It must have been around five-thirty. I stayed for about thirty minutes. Andy was sitting on his sofa watching sports on TV when I left. He was alone.”
Wu wrote down her answers in a notebook. “Did the two of you argue?”
“Yes.” The neighbor who’d pointed her out must have heard Andy shouting. “He wants me to help him get VA disability benefits, but there’s nothing I can do.”
It was the truth, if not the whole truth.
Wu pressed on, asking question after question. Did anyone call or come by while she was here? Did Andy give any indication that something was wrong or that he might be in danger? Did Andy have a history of drug abuse or any criminal associations of which she was aware? Did she know of anyone who wished him harm? Had she seen anyone hanging around his apartment this afternoon? Did Andy seem suicidal?
Mia answered “no” and “I don’t know” again and again.
“Do you own firearms?”
“Yes—a SIG P320 and a twelve-gauge shotgun.” Then it hit her. “Am I a suspect?”
“You are likely the last person to have seen him, so you’re certainly a person of interest.”
“Do you have any firearms with you in your vehicle or on your person?”
“No. They’re at home, locked in a gun safe. I haven’t fired them since the last time I cleaned them—about three years ago.”
Wu asked to see her driver’s license, calling in her info over his radio before handing it back to her. “Are you still at this address?”
He wrote her address down, along with her work address and phone. “You say you left at roughly six. Where did you go?”
“I was hungry, so I drove to the taco place over on Federal—Tacos Azteca is the name, I think.”
The detective nodded. “I know the place. They’ve got great burritos, too. So, you grabbed a bite to eat there. Why did you come back?”
“I was pretty sure I’d left my sunglasses here.”
“Wouldn’t it make more sense to call and find out for sure before coming over?”
“I did call. When Andy didn’t answer, I drove over and found all of this.”
Wu pressed a finger to his earpiece, listening, then took his hand mic. “Seven thirty-six. Copy.”
He handed Mia her driver’s license. “Thanks for your cooperation. You’ll hear from us again.”
They’re going to check out your story.
The thought startled her. She’d told them the truth, but what if they couldn’t corroborate it? What if there were no street cams? What if no one at Tacos Azteca remembered her?
“Is there any way I can get my sunglasses?”
Wu turned toward the front door. “You guys find a pair of women’s shades?”
A man wearing white forensic coveralls stepped outside and held up a plastic evidence bag with a gloved hand. “Is this what you’re looking for?”
Inside the bag were Mia’s sunglasses, but they were smashed.
She took a step forward, reached for them.
Wu shook his head. “Sorry, Ms. Starr, but the sunglasses are evidence.”
Mia supposed it didn’t matter. She wouldn’t be wearing them again. “When will you know whether Andy is …?”
“We won’t know anything for certain until we find him alive—or find his body.”
“God. Right.” She swallowed. “Am I free to go?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Wu answered. “Please don’t discuss this case or anything you might have heard or seen here with the media.”
“I’m sorry about your friend.”
“Thanks.” Mia turned and, ignoring people’s stares, crossed the lawn, ducked under the tape, and walked back to her car, a dull ache settling in her chest.
Damn it, Andy!
Who had done this? Whoever they were, they must have arrived right after she’d left. She hadn’t been gone that long—an hour tops.
“Ms. Starr, hey, are you okay to drive?” The photographer had followed her, camera bag slung over his shoulder. “If there’s someone I can call or if you need a lift…”
She clicked the fob that unlocked her Mazda and opened the door. She was used to taking care of herself. “I’ll be fine.”
She climbed into her vehicle, shut the door, and slid her key into the ignition, but it was a good five minutes before she drove away.
Fuck, it was cold.
Huddled in his down parka, he watched from a safe distance while the cops finished up and turned the mess he’d made over to a crime scene cleanup crew. “Poor Andy. You never saw it coming.”
He chuckled to himself, ignoring the pain in his skull. It had been more exhilarating than he’d imagined, and this was just the beginning.
Deadly Intent (I-Team Book 8) by Pamela Clare / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes