Four bodies. Two men, two women. Shot in the back of the head. Executed while restrained and vulnerable. On the floor, written in blood:
Find the Mockingbird. Bring her to me. Or more die
Lincoln Sullivan swallowed the acidic words bubbling on his tongue. For five years he had made every blessed attempt to move past the events of that day. Trying to carve out a new life, a better one. No one deserved it more than he did.
“Are you ready for us, sir?”
Startled out of his stupor, Lincoln looked at the lead crime tech. “Uh, yeah.” He backed out of the forensics’ way.
Escape. He had to escape. Turning on a worn-down heel, he headed for the open door of the abandoned crack house. Head bowed, he shoved his hands in the pockets of his overcoat; that night of screams and gunfire biting at his ankles as the memories chased him out of the building.
The killer knew Lincoln would investigate these murders. Had staged everything perfectly to remind Lincoln of what he lost. And was forcing his hand.
Because there was no way Mockingbird would ever come out of her nest.
A bitter blast of cold December air smacked Lincoln as he breached the doorway. He paused on the weather-beaten porch and drew in a bracing breath. Damn, smoking a cigarette would feel good right about now. The need for the relaxing lull of tobacco had him salivating. Shit, he’d given up the things two years ago, after a doctor warned the two pack a day habit was about to kill him. Despite the hell that had been his life up to this point, Lincoln guessed he preferred living too much to die like a sick, old man.
Rummaging through his pocket, he found a stick of wintergreen gum and dragged it out. He ripped the wrapper off and flicked it away before shoving the piece into his mouth. He moved to take the first step toward freedom.
“Not so fast.”
The hand on his arm was unwelcome and by no means necessary. Lincoln jerked free of the grip, turning a murderous scowl on the man behind him. “I’ve told you before, don’t touch me.”
Holding up his hands, David Beckhorn stepped off. Surrendering didn’t sit well with Lincoln, it always smacked of retreat, and Lincoln had been trained never to retreat.
“Hey, all I want to know is where you’re headed,” Beckhorn said.
“I’m getting out of the way. Happy?”
Beckhorn’s deep blue eyes sparked like live wires. He was a fifteen-year veteran of the force. As young as he looked, it was hard to swallow that Beckhorn was a superior officer. But the prick knew this job inside and out, had put away more murderers than the whole of the investigative squad because of his meticulous attention to detail. Lincoln was the new guy on the job. One year paired together and somehow Beckhorn hadn’t found a way to shovel Lincoln off onto someone else.
Beckhorn’s features tightened. “There’s getting out of the way for the techs, and then there’s getting the hell out of Dodge. Which is it, Sullivan?”
“Have you talked with the witness?”
“Done. The kid is cooling his heels with an officer.”
“Then you won’t mind if I just hang right here trying to get the smell of death out of my nose.”
Staring at each other seemed to be standard operational procedure (SOP) for them. It was an ongoing war of wills that hadn’t determined a winner. Lincoln didn’t plan on losing.
“You know something I don’t, Sullivan?”
“Now, why would you ever think I would know more than you, Beckhorn?”
Grunting, Beckhorn quit the conversation and re-entered the crack house.
The tension in Lincoln’s shoulders eased. Prick.
Wandering to the far-left side of the battered porch, Lincoln looked out over the area. Nothing but rickety, broken-down homes for blocks. Most were abandoned, some still occupied by those too stubborn or too stupid to leave. Gangs and drugs took over a long time ago, but even now those were sparse. This was the perfect place for an execution.
See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
The executioner got his audience where he wanted it. Two men and two women. Four people who had done nothing but their jobs.
Lincoln peered over his shoulder at the gaping doorway. Their faces, laughing and teasing, then serious and focused, played through his memories. Those four had been eyes in the sky and the lifeblood of information for the team. They kept the unit informed and alive. No longer. Four more lives taken for what reason? Closing his eyes, he turned from the door.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
She wasn’t going to like this. Who would after the hell they’d all been through? But Lincoln was about to bring her past crashing down on her head. He just hoped she wouldn’t kill him on the spot.