Home > Fatal Reckoning (Fatal #14)(10)

Fatal Reckoning (Fatal #14)(10)
Author: Marie Force

“That’s good to know. Hopefully, we’ll get some new leads to follow.”

“I hear the tip line has been doing robust business. We’ll dig into that as soon as we give him the send-off he deserves.”

“Yes, we will.” Her father’s death had relit the fire inside her that burned for justice on his behalf. In the four years since he’d been shot, she’d investigated countless leads that had led nowhere. Skip had somewhat calmly accepted his fate, but Sam had seethed with outrage. While her father contended with his new reality, the person who’d put him in a wheelchair remained free. The sheer unfairness of that was almost more than she could bear at times.

“There’s a massive scrum of reporters at the gate,” Freddie said. “Just so you’re aware.”

“Ugh,” Sam said. “What do they want from us? We gave them a statement.”

“You know that’s never enough where you guys are concerned.”

Shelby came bustling in with Noah strapped to her chest. “Sorry we’re running late. Someone was cranky this morning.”

“Avery?” Sam asked.

Alden and Aubrey went dashing over to see Noah, who, along with Scotty, had become their favorite part of living there.

Shelby laughed. “Nope, not Avery. This little man didn’t want to cooperate with his mama. It might’ve been the first time, but I suspect it won’t be the last.” She corralled the children into the kitchen. “Let’s get some grub into those bellies so we can head to school.”

“We’re going home to sleep for a bit,” Freddie said, “but we’ll be back later to check on you.”

Sam hugged him again. “Thank you for this. It shall be remembered forever.”

“Skip will be too.”

Because she didn’t trust herself to speak, she nodded and saw them out. “I can’t believe they came home.”

“I can,” Nick said. “He’d never let you go through this without him. You’d do the same for him.”

“Yeah, I guess I would. I’m going to run up and take a shower while I can.”

“Take your time. I’ll help Shelby.”

“Maybe you should take the kids to school this morning so Shelby doesn’t have to deal with the reporters by herself.”

“Good call.” He gave her a quick kiss. “I’m on it.”

While he went to alert Brant that he’d be taking the kids to school, Sam dashed upstairs to prepare for another long, emotional day.

* * *

THE OUTPOURING WAS nothing short of astonishing. Food, flowers, cards, people... Five minutes at her dad’s house and Sam could see they were overrun and in need of the kind of assistance only one person could provide. Sam placed a call to her White House chief of staff, Lilia Van Nostrand.

“Sam.” In recent weeks, Lilia had finally conceded to calling Sam by her given name whenever possible. “I was just going to try to call you. I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am for your loss. Harry and I were away for the weekend, and I barely glanced at my phone.”

“That, in and of itself, is one hell of a coup by my good friend Harry.”

“He is very distracting.”

“I can hear you blushing over the phone.”

“You can’t hear someone blush.”

“In this case, I can.”

“I’m trying to be serious and express my heartfelt condolences.”

“Thank you.”

“Are you doing all right?”

“I’m muddling through. It’s a shock, but in many ways, it’s also a relief. Seeing him so diminished every day for the last four years was far more painful than I realized until it was over.”

“That’s a very interesting perspective. What can I do for you?”

“We’re being slammed with kindness. I could use someone to manage it all for us.”

“Say no more. I’ll be there within the half hour.”

“There’s a meeting with the department rep at ten to go over what’s going to happen. Can you attend that too?”

“I am at your disposal and honored to help in any way that I can.”

Sam breathed an audible sigh of relief. In Lilia’s hands, this wouldn’t turn into the total shit show that it would be without Lilia and her mad organizational skills. They needed all the help they could get to record the tsunami of gifts and condolences, so they could be properly acknowledged later.

“Lilia is coming to help.” Sam joined Celia, Tracy and Angela, who were seated around the kitchen table making checklists and going over the details for the next few days. “And Freddie and Elin cut their trip short. They came by this morning. He said the department is holding a candlelight vigil tonight at HQ.”

“Oh, Freddie,” Celia said, dabbing at tears.

“I can’t believe they came home,” Ang said. “That’s so amazing.”

“Do you think Gonzo will come too, Sam?” Tracy asked.

“I’m not sure if he can.”

* * *

AT THAT VERY MOMENT, Sergeant Tommy Gonzales was locked in a standoff with his counselor and the director of the Baltimore-area rehab center. They’d called him into the office after his morning group session to share the news of Skip’s passing, the shock of which was still reverberating through Gonzo’s heart. Imagining what Sam and her family must be going through made him feel sick. Then they’d told him it was in his best interest to stay in treatment, where he’d been making good progress.

Like fuck it was in his best interest.

“There’s no way I can miss this funeral. No. Way. He is not only my boss’s father, but he was also a good friend to me. I never would’ve survived the immediate aftermath of losing Arnold without Skip Holland. You can’t keep me here against my will.”

Standing with his arms crossed, his counselor, Josh, seemed tense. “No, we can’t. But we can advise you to send your condolences and stay put. This is a very important juncture in your treatment. You’re a week sober and fully detoxed. One slipup puts you right back at day one. If you stay here, that won’t happen. If you leave, you’re risking the hard work you’ve already put in.”

“I’m going to a funeral, not on a bender.”

“Research indicates that most people who leave rehab after the first week don’t come back.”

“I’m not most people. I’ve got my entire life and career on the line here. I’m not going to fuck it up.”

A knock on the door annoyed the director. “What?”

The receptionist stuck her head in. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but Sergeant Gonzales has a guest who’s insisting on seeing him.”

The director scowled. “He’s not allowed to have guests—”

Gonzo didn’t stick around to see how that sentence was going to end. He turned and headed for the door, brushing past the receptionist in his haste. In the outer office, Christina waited for him with Alex in her arms. His son let out a happy cry at the sight of his father and strained against his mother’s hold as he reached for Gonzo.

The sight of their faces sparked a tidal wave of emotion in him. Since he’d detoxed, his every emotion hovered at the surface, threatening to spill over at any second. He’d bawled his head off in group therapy two days ago, recounting the night he’d lost his partner, and he was about to lose it again now in the presence of the two people he loved the most.

“We came to bring you home.” Christina handed Alex over to him. “I figured you’d be losing your mind here after you heard about Skip.”

“You figured correctly.” Gonzo breathed in the scent of baby shampoo coming from his son’s hair. “They just told me the news. How’s Sam?”

“I haven’t seen her yet, but Freddie cut his trip short and saw her earlier. He said she seems to be holding up okay. Can you come home?”

“They’re saying no, but they can’t keep me here against my will. I’m going.”

“I’ll take you under one condition.”

“What condition?”

“That you come back right after the funeral and that you’re with me every second you’re not here. I guess that’s two conditions.”

He met her determined blue-eyed gaze without blinking. “I can live with both of those conditions.”

Josh came out of the director’s office. “Tommy...”

Keeping his greedy gaze on her gorgeous face, Gonzo found his center. “I’m leaving, Josh. I’ll be back after the funeral, and I’ll be with Christina the entire time I’m gone.”

“I won’t let him out of my sight,” Christina said.

“I can only tell you that I don’t recommend you do this.” Josh seemed resigned now.

“I hear you and I appreciate your concern, but I’m going. Let me grab a few things from my room. I’ll be right back.” When he handed Alex back to Christina, the child let out a squawk of protest. Gonzo kissed his soft cheek. “I’ll be right back, buddy.”

He moved quickly to return to his room. In the hallway, he passed a guy named Tony, who he’d come to know over the last week.

“Hey, Sarge. What’s your rush?”

“Going home for a funeral. I’ll be back at the end of the week.”

“Whoa. What’d Josh have to say about that?”

“He’s not happy.” Gonzo spoke over his shoulder, not wanting to slow down for any reason. He feared that maybe they could keep him there and were plotting to make that happen while he was dicking around. “But I have to go.”

“Sorry for your loss.”

“Thanks.” He felt odd accepting condolences on behalf of Skip and his family, but as part of the thin blue line, he was family to Skip. The law enforcement community was a brother-and-sisterhood formed by tight bonds that became even tighter when one of their own was taken from them in a criminal act. Skip had lived for almost four years after being shot, but his death would be ruled a homicide.

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