Cross & Crown (Sidewinder #2)


by Abigail Roux

Chapter 1

Etective Nick O’Flaherty climbed out of the Dunmarked car and took the opportunity to stretch his back as he looked around the chaotic downtown crime scene. Gawkers were lined up at a checkpoint near a narrow side-road intersection, even though it was barely sunup. An ambulance sat with its lights off near the storefront. Uniforms milled around, waiting for the coroner to show up.

“Hey, Tommy,” Nick said as one of the uniforms approached him. “How’re your girls?”

“Same as always, Detective, running the show. How’s your first week back off desk duty?”

“Blissfully boring. What’ve we got?” Nick asked him.

“Looks like a smash and grab gone wrong. Old bookstore.

Shop’s all busted up. Two dead.”

“IDs?” Nick asked as he pulled a pair of latex gloves from his coat pocket.

“One’s the shop owner. We’re still waiting on the ID for the other. But there’s something else you got to see.”

Nick’s partner joined them, brushing against Nick’s shoulder. “Something besides the dead bodies?”

The officer nodded. “Good morning, Detective Hagan.

Yes, we got a witness.”

“Hallefuckinlujah,” Nick muttered as he followed.

“Don’t thank your lucky stars just yet.”

Nick repressed a groan as Tommy led them toward some evidence tags in the middle of the road.

“This is where they found him,” Tommy said.

“In the road?” Nick asked.

“On the ground?” Hagan added.

“Yes, sirs. Thought he was another body at first.”

“Where is he?” Nick asked.

“Hospital.”

Hagan smacked Nick on the arm. “That’s why they gave us this one. So you could go question him and not f**k up a crime scene.”

“Hey,” Nick grunted.

“You’re the people person who donated half his liver to his dad,” Hagan said. “You take the easy part, I’ll go get coffee.”

Nick grunted as his stocky partner trundled off toward one of the trucks. Hagan and his love affair with coffee were a bane of Nick’s existence.

Nick glanced around the scene again. The front windows of the store had been busted out, probably shattered by the gunfire. Two bodies were sprawled on the sidewalk in front.

Shelves of books inside had been toppled, the interior a mess of old tomes. Dust motes floated in the floodlights. Standing behind the barricades was a mass of onlookers.

Nick sighed heavily and scanned the crowd. He didn’t see anyone who looked like they might be trying to offer information, just a bunch of people with nothing better to do than gawk as the sun rose. Then his eyes landed on someone who looked familiar. Tal , broad shoulders, dark hair. He was wearing sunglasses, and his turned-up coat col ar hid some of his face.

But Nick thought he recognized him. He started toward the barriers. “Garrett?”

The man ducked his head and disappeared into the crowd.

Nick trailed to a stop. Zane Garrett would not have ignored Nick’s greeting. Nick had obviously been mistaken.

When Hagan returned with two steaming cups of coffee, they climbed back into their unmarked, and Nick dumped his coffee into the street before closing the door and heading off for the hospital to check on their witness.

Hagan’s coffee, and apparently his patience along with it, were reaching the dregs when they finally found the room their witness had been moved to after his MRI and CT scans and whatever else they’d put the poor guy through. An officer was on the door, and a nurse was in the room checking the man’s vitals.

He was sitting on the edge of his bed, a blanket around his shoulders. He had his head down. His hair was light and wavy, and he had a day’s worth of stubble. There was a bandage on his neck that seemed to stretch up into his hairline. He was wearing jeans and a blue cardigan, and his shoulder was covered in blood. He certainly wasn’t dressed for midnight acrobatics like a robbery, and though his current state spoke of more than just one bad night in a row, he didn’t ping Nick as an addict.

Nick slid his suit jacket aside to show his badge before approaching the witness. “Morning, sir,” he said.

The man looked up. He was haggard, with circles under his eyes. But he was handsome regardless, with eyes that were an unnervingly clear blue. And he seemed confused and scared. Nick couldn’t really blame him.

“I’m Detective O’Flaherty. This is Detective Hagan. Were you hurt this morning, sir?”

The man stared at Nick for a few seconds, his eyes glazing over. He blinked and focused his attention back on Nick.

When he spoke, his accent wasn’t local. It was so far from local that Nick couldn’t begin to place it, other than he sounded a little Southern and a little British. It might have even been fake. “They said I was shot in the head.”

Nick could think of nothing to say to that. He glanced at the nurse for confirmation.

“He took a glancing blow. It knocked him unconscious, but didn’t penetrate the skul . And I told you to stay in bed,” she said, forcing the witness to recline and covering him with a sheet.

Nick gaped at her. “Jesus.”

The witness cleared his throat and fiddled with the sheet, obviously uncomfortable.

“What’s your name, sir?” Nick asked him.

“I don’t know.” He looked back at Nick, his expression sincerely distressed.

Nick sniffed and scratched at his chin, not sure whether to be annoyed or concerned. Either the man was exceptionally good at stonewal ing, or he had a serious case of traumatic amnesia. “All right. Can you tell me what happened this morning?”

“No, I’m sorry. I don’t remember. I don’t know.”

“What do you know?”

“I know I got shot in the head.”

“You don’t remember anything?”

The witness winced. “No.”

“You don’t remember your name.”

“No, Detective. I’m sorry.”

Nick nodded and carefully patted the man on the shoulder. He turned to his partner, who stood near the doorway. Hagan had both eyebrows raised, his jaw working back and forth. Nick excused himself, and he and Hagan moved into the hal way, leaning their heads close to talk.

The officer on the door offered what little he knew. “He’s got no ID on him. Nothing; looks like whoever shot him thought he was dead and picked him clean.”

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