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"Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway." —John Wayne
Her boots slammed against the pavement as she made her way into the building, her service weapon in her hand and her finger poised on the trigger. She stepped forward with a paced caution, her eyes wide as she adjusted to the lighting. The building that towered around her was dark and musty, filling her with a damp chill, despite her gear. She wore a heavy Kevlar vest, a dark blue long-sleeved V-neck that snuggled her body. Black jeans hugged her legs, a heavy black belt buckling the waist close to her sharp hips. Her feet were clad in sleek black combat boots, the thick soles silent on the concrete, while the heavy breaths of her partner stirring the hair around her ears. She couldn't help but flinch as the A/C rattled to life, clanging through the air vents like a pin ball in an arcade machine. She raised her hand over her shoulder, motioning for her partner to move forward. Her eyes remained fixed on her path as he slid past her, his shoulder brushing hers. He was dressed in similar attire. She watched his dark silhouette as it became outlined against a cylindrical light that hung from the high vaulted ceiling. The hallway was long but narrow, various forms of boxes and crates stacked up alongside the walls. Seven men and four women followed closely behind her; she could hear their heavy footsteps and the shuffle of their guns as they adjusted their grips. Slight irritation shot through her, wishing her and her partner could have gone in solo. She halted as he stopped in front of her, a slight hang motion gesturing for her to wait.
A bar of golden light was thrown into the hallway, seeping under the crack of the doorway. A muffled scream could be heard from deep inside, the sound vibrating through her bones. Her insides froze, her heart dropping to her stomach. He's got another one. She thought, an icy chill creeping down her spine. Her partner glanced over his shoulder, his gray eyes glinting in the light. She could almost feel the thud of his heart, could see the adrenaline as it pulsed through his veins. Dipping her head in a slight nod, she turned slightly and motioned to the officer behind her; a young women with a long blond pony tail and large, sky-blue eyes. She raised her hand and flicked two fingers over her shoulder, signaling for them to get ready to infiltrate. The girl swallowed visibly, and then nodded, repeating the gesture down the line to her fellow officers. Her partner turned and met her eyes, the dark gray nearly black in the light.
"Ready?" He mouthed silently.
She shut her eyes tight for one moment, trying not to listen to the screams. There was no point in denying the fear that dripped through her veins. She nodded and stifled it deep inside her mind as they slid closer to the door. He reached forward, his deeply tanned fingers closing around the handle. She moved forward, her gun poised over her shoulder, her finger pressing down lightly on the trigger. He threw open the door and she dove in; the other officers close on her heel. The sight that met her eyes was gruesome and terrifying, and for a heartbeat of a second she couldn't breathe. The breath was torn from her lungs and a icy chill trickled slowly down her spine. Steely gray concrete walls surrounded them, a wooden table standing to the right. On the table lay several different instruments. She forced her gaze away from them, shuddering with horror. The screaming had stopped, only to be replaced by subtle, but terrified whimper. A light hung from the ceiling above them, swaying from a crooked fan as it spun in a orderly circle. The room was musty, smelling faintly of blood, though the even more powering aroma of bleach masked most of the scent. In front of her stood two people, an older man and a young girl who appeared to be somewhere in her late teens. The man wore a dark gray button up shirt and a pair of black jeans, his brown hair short and tidy. His face was clean-shaven and his eyes were a dull green-gray. His skin was a paled tan, shinning out in the half-light. He held a sharp knife in one of his broad hands, the blade pressed against the girl's abdomen. A sadistic smile slithered onto his face as he pointed the blade inward, causing thin pinpricks of blood to drip down from it. The girl was bare of all except for her undergarments; a bright blue bra and white laced panties. Her skin was a pasty white, though it was rubbed raw from where thick ropes held her strapped to the wall. A grimy cloth gagged her, a few strands of her ruby red-hair caught in her mouth. Her eyes were a deep turquoise, staring back at her with a terror filled expression. She began to cry, her whole body shaking with either relief, or terror, she could not tell.
"NYPD, put the weapon down and step away from the girl!" Her voice was sharp and commanding.
"Put down the knife." Her partner spoke in his heavy, concentrated voice.
She listened as the others filed in orderly behind her, surrounding the room and aiming their weapons at the man.
"You don't have to do this, let the girl go, and we can help you with whatever you are going through." Her voice was weighed and measured, carefully watching the man's reactions to her words.
He pressed the knife deeper into the girl, his eyes shifting focus to the stream of red that spiraled down her skin. "You can't stop me." His voice was a quite whisper.
"Just do what my partner said, and everything will be fine. You got no reason for doing this, man." Her partner pulled back the trigger on his gun, clicking back the safety as his finger itched to fire.
The man looked at him through clouded eyes. "I am purifying the world of all the grime, the plague, the horror that walks over it!" He spat at the girl, moving the knife to her jugular.
"Listen here, this is the last time I'm going to say this; put the knife down." She cocked her gun, aiming for his torso.
He looked her in the eye, his sick smile churning her insides. He moved the blade close to the girls neck and she shot, changing her aim at the last moment. The noise from the gunshot filled her ears, a dull ringing pounding in her head. She watched dully as he fell to the ground, his hand clutching his thigh. Blood poured from his wound, blackening his jeans and pooling around the ground where he fell. She rushed forward as the officers around her moved, one of them throwing her a pair of wire cutters. She fumbled as she caught it, dropping it for a moment before she was able to pick it up again. She fit the cutters around the rope, cutting the girl down. Her partner moved along side her, kicking the blade away from the man and keeping his aim steady on his forehead.
"Sam, you got her?" Her partner called out to her, not taking his eyes off of the man.
"I got her, John," Sam responded, clutching the sobbing girl to her shoulder.
She held the girl under her shoulder as John began to make the arrest, turning the howling man on his stomach and kneeling on his back, placing handcuffs around his burly wrists. She listened with a small rush of satisfaction as she led the girl out of the room.
"Hank Richardson, you are under arrest for the murder of Daneese Richards, Maiya Thornton, Lani Jethro, Hannah Thompson, Camielle Willis..." She had stopped listing by this point.
There were a total of twenty-four names on that list. Twelve counts of felony homicide, three counts of robbery, thirteen counts of kidnapping; and a unpaid parking ticket. That guy is going to be lucky if he sees the outside in a pine box, she thought bitterly. It gave her enormous relief and satisfaction knowing that they had caught the killer, but twelve innocent lives had been lost in the process. She clutched the sobbing girl closer to her, grabbing a heavy jacket from a young police women as she passed by and draped it over the girl's thin shoulders. Sam guided her down the hallway, around the boxes and narrow corners, and out the wide iron doors. They stepped out into the cool night air, the heavy smell of sea breeze hitting her face. Crashing waves could be heard nearby, the cries of late night gulls circling over head. Flashing blue and red lights echoed over their faces, glimmering along the sweat tat ran down Sam's temples and the dark crimson that could be seen on the girl's neck. She took a moment to look upwards, scanning the faint, familiar shine of the stars for something unknown. Sam stopped for a heartbeat and rested her hands on either side of the girl's shoulder, locking eyes with her.
"You're safe now, alright? She gestured with an open hand to the officers milling around them. "One of these nice officers is going to check you out and make sure you're okay. We'll call your parents and you'll be home before the night is over. " Sam smiled encouragingly. She turned and waved over a young Black officer, his smile startling white against the night. "This is Vanessa Matthews." She turned once again to Vanessa. "Vanessa, this is Officer White. He's going to take care of you until your parents get here." She turned back to Officer White. "Make sure she is looked after and have someone notify her parents."
The young officer saluted her. "Yes ma'am." He rested a hand on the Vanessa's shoulders, "Come on, girl, let's get you cleaned up. "
Vanessa glanced over her shoulder at Sam as he led her away, her tears reflected off of the red lights of the ambulance. Sam raised her hand in a slight wave, forcing a smile once again. She turned in time to see John exiting the building, SWAT following close behind. John had his hand wrapped tightly around the suspect's forearm, holding him close and secure.
"You good, John?" Sam called, repulsion welling inside of her at the sight of the man.
"Yeah, I'm good. I'm going to get this son of a bitch booked," John's voice held a mixture of anger and a gleeful satisfaction.
Without waiting for a response he walked over to a police car, opening the back door. He grabbed a fistful of the man's hair, yanking his head back and pushing him into the car.
"Get in the car," He snarled, slamming the door shut behind him. He turned back to Sam, unstrapping his Kevlar as he walked over. "I have to head down the the precinct to get this scum filed and put behind us. Meet you over at the Stag?"
Sam placed a hand on his shoulder briefly. "He isn't going to get anyone else."
He sighed, letting the tension in his arms ease and looking a little more relaxed at the words. "I know, I know. Those families will finally get some closure."
She smiled slightly, her thin lips curling upwards, "I'll meet you at the Stag. Tab's on Ethan tonight."
John rubbed his chin doubtfully. "Dose he know that?"
Laughing, she moved towards her car. "He will in an hour."
He waved her away, a slight smile touching his eyes. She pulled her keys free from a pocket on her vest and popped the trunk on the old 1967 Chevy Camaro, slipping her gear into the back. She raised her head briefly as the sound of screeching tiers came around the docks, a black truck pulling up just behind a thin streamer of yellow caution tape. A man and a women jumped out of the vehicle, racing towards the ambulance. A slight smile slid over her face as the couple embraced their daughter, holding her close while she sobbed and clung to their arms. Pulling her vest off, she shook her head a little.
"These are the moments we live for." She said quietly to herself.
She moved around the side of her car and reached for the handle, pausing inches from it. Glancing back up at the family beside the ambulance, she sighed heavily.
"Ah, what the hell," she muttered.
Sam walked towards them, wincing slightly as the flashing lights from the ambulance hit her. She opened her mouth to get their attention but an older lady with wavy brown hair looked up before she could speak. Her green eyes shone with happiness. She released her daughter and threw her arms around Sam, sobbing almost hysterically. Sam closed her arms around the lady, smiling slightly as she looked over her shoulder at the father and rescued daughter. After a few more moments the lady finally pulled away, wiping her eyes and laughing shakily.
"Detective Dorsen...y-you kept your promise. Thank you. Thank you so much. Without you and your partner..." She trailed off, clasping her daughter's hand.
The father grabbed Sam's hand and shook it vigorously, a wide smile shining through his tear stained face. "My family will forever be in your debt, Detective."
Sam felt a steady flush run up her neck. "Sam," she corrected. "Just Sam." She shifted her eyes between each person. "You have my number." She clapped the father on the arm before releasing his hand. "Anything you need, don't hesitate to call."
He nodded again, his voice breaking slightly. "Thank you," he whispered.
They returned their attention to their daughter and she turned, walking back to her car. Opening the door, she slid inside and tugged her phone out of her back pocket, tossing it onto the seat next to her. Her fingers slid over the power button and it sprung to life, the light from the phone illuminating the interior. She grabbed it and pulled it closer to her face, smiling slightly at the screen. It displayed her and a man around a little older than herself, their arms around each other and broad smiles on their faces. He had captivating dark green eyes and a mop of messy brown hair. She set it aside gently, turning her keys in the ignition and pulling the clutch back, backing out a ways before turning the wheel, driving past the crime scene and ambulance, raising her hand in a silent farewell to the victim and her family.
The drive home was a blur in her mind, the city lights of New York smudging together around her until they were streaks in the night. Her mind raced with their recent collar, the crime scene and all her and John's case notes bounding around in the deepest corner of her mind. She tried not to think about the horror that surrounded it, rather the life that had been saved upon Hank Richardson's arrest. One out of thirteen... The thought made her sick, a cold hand gripping her stomach. I might be a little bit crazy in thinking I can do this job. She gripped the wheel tighter, pressing down on the gas a little harder as she sped along the highway. Someone's gotta do it, Sam. She scolded herself gently, shaking her arms and trying to relieve the stress and tension that had accumulated there over the past few weeks. She eased her foot slowly off the gas, turning her car gently down a side street and pulling up to brightly light building. Turning her car down the back parking lot, she pulled into her parking spot and turning the key in the ignition once more, listing to the engine putter down. She leaned her head back, sighing heavily and grasping her keys tightly in her hand. Reaching behind her head, she pulled her hair out of its holder, letting it cascade down her shoulders in irregular waves. She raised her hand, a sliver of moonlight turning her olive skin a pasty white. She rubbed the bridge of her nose, shutting her eyes against the night and listing to the noise that played outside her window.
A dog could be heard barking in the distance, a long with the more prominent sound of music. The sound was disoriented by the glass, but she could make our snatches of lyrics.
"Don't need no... spaghetti and... I got a stereo and the best of Patsy... I got blue over my head... alright..."
She laughed a little, reaching over the center compartment and grabbing her phone. "Looks like Zach's got country playing again."
She straightened up, sliding her phone into her back pocket once more and reaching for the handle of her door. A figure appeared at her window, his mouth wide in a gaping smile. Sam gasped and jumped back, her heart pounding against her chest and her eyes wide with surprise. He knocked on her window, laughing slightly.
"Planning on sitting there all night, Sam?" His voice was a rumbling, comforting sound that filled her heart with a lightness.
Huffing, she pushed the door open playfully against his stomach. "I've told you not to do that, Ethan." She shut the door and locked it, turning back to the man and folding her arms, a disapproving frown dripping on her face.
He laughed, his green eyes glimmering with happiness as he slid a hand around her waist, tugging her closer. "Ah, come on, Sammy."
She glared playfully up at him, her lips tugging up in a smile. She tried to keep her frown, but her mouth smiled on its own accord. A laugh bubbled in her throat, and she tossed her hair back, leaning her head against his chest. "I hope you had a better day than me."
She looked up at him once more, examining his facial features with a careful eye. He was the man from her lock screen. He had laugh lines that ran down his face, crows feet wrinkling the corners of his eyes. Forest green eyes locked with hers steadily, warm and concerned, though she could see something lingering beneath the surface; something that she constantly wondered about. His long brown hair fell against his face, messy and tangled along his forehead. He pushed her hair away from her face gently, cupping her cheek and grinning down at her softly.
"Better now that your here," His voice was soft.
She rolled her eyes and shoved him away gently. "Ethan, what have I told you? None of that sappy stuff."
He laughed and threw his arm around her shoulder, kissing her head. "John says you volunteered my wallet?" He mumbled against her hair.
She shrugged, smiling a little more and walking towards two double doors. "You're the only one who can afford it."
He paused, looking at her skeptically. "I hate that you're always right."
She laughed and looked around them, her eyes widening slightly as she tried to see through the darkness. Sam scanned the parking lot slowly, searching for anything out of the ordinary. A tall gray brick wall towered to their right, bright green and white graffiti jumping out at them. The doors loomed in front of them, golden light pouring out the glass panes and the music growing steadily louder with each step. They finally reached the doors and Sam pushed it open, blinking quickly as light and noise slammed into her. Inside was a bar, televisions blaring silent football games and horse races. Somewhere close to twenty, maybe thirty, people milled around the room, laughing and chattering with one another. Snips and snatches of conversations reached her ears as Ethan led he gently through the thong of people, his hand clasped firmly on her upper arm. A slew of familiar and new faces slurred past her eyes, some calling out to her and some raising their hands in greeting. The waitresses and waiters slid past her, silver trays balanced on their palms high above their heads. Their uniforms consisted of dark blue jeans and a black short sleeved shirt, the company logo of a stag on their breasts. The room was washed with a light brown, the wood underneath their feet dark and springy. Tall oak tables surrounded them, a few booths crammed into the back corner for families. The bar counter was made from a black granite, tall bar stools with black cushions lined up against it. About five or six people sat at the bar, chatting with the bartender. The bartender was a tall man with chocolate skin, his arms thin but muscular and his jaw was square and prominent. A light stubble crept along his jaw line and his hair was short and his black hair was shaved close to his head. He grinned and dipped his head to her, raising his hand in greeting.
Ethan acknowledged his greeting with a nod and a smile before tugging her to a table near the window, sitting underneath the bar's logo. The words Stag's Head was printed on the window in gold letters, backwards from Sam's point of view but she new the words by heart. She slit into her seat and leaned back, grateful to be in a familiar atmosphere that wasn't her car. Almost instantly they were joined by another, her light brown eyes shining. Her slender body was hugged by a radiant blue dress that ended just above her knees, flaring out and shifting with each step she took. Small black flats encased her delicate feet, her long black hair woven into a tight knot on the back of her head, exposing her slender neck. Her skin was a deep black and her lips were lush and wide. She grinned, showing her sparkling white teeth.
"Samantha!" She extended her arms, pulling Sam into a hug.
"Hey, Octavia," Sam replied, hugging her back.
Octavia's voice was heavy with a North Bronx accent that curled off her tongue smoothly. She turned and embraced Ethan next, pulling a chair up beside them and seating herself side-by-side with Sam. She draped her handbag over the neck of her chair, a thin leather purse with a sleek shoulder strap clipped on by shiny silver clasps. She leaned against the table, folding her hands and resting her head on them, batting her eyes playfully.
"How are my love birds on this very fine evening?" She cooed affectionately.
Sam couldn't help but smile, warmth tingling through her arms. "Better than yesterday," she said truthfully.
Ethan shook her shoulder in a fond mix of comfort and playfulness. "Well I," he added an emphasis on 'I', "Had the pleasure of dealing with two screaming students and five angry emails from mothers wishing to inform me that their daughters were perfect little angels and didn't deserve to have their cell phones taken away during my class period." He turned his chin down thoughtfully. "Apparently checking the latest Twitter post is more important than learning basic chemistry skills."
Octavia laughed then, her chest bobbing up and down as she threw back her head. "That's teenagers for you."
The bartender appeared at their table them, his dark skin shiny with sweat. On his arm he ladled a tray of drinks; two bottles of cold Corona beer, a tall glass of sparkling rum, the ice tinkling against the side, and a bright, florescent pink margarita. Octavia sat back as he presented her with the margarita, Ethan the rum and Sam the beer. He sat one bottle to the side, in front of where an empty stool stood, the perspiration already beginning to coil at the base of the glass. He then moved and embarrassed Sam, his shoulder bumping sharply against her lip. She blinked quickly as the sting throbbed against her skin, already beginning to ebb away even as the minor trickle of tears jumped to her eyes. She grinned up at him as he stepped back, allowing the tray to drop loyally by his side.
"Hey Zach," She said his name fondly, enjoying the way it rolled off her tongue.
Octavia huffed, placing her hands on her hips in a distasteful manner. "Excuse me! You give her a hug before your own sister?" Her voice was playfully shrill and offended.
Zach smiled and shook his head, hugging her from behind. Sam blinked again, surprised for a moment how much the two resembled one another. Even for twins seeing the pair together was vexing. Their eyes were both rich and warm, sparkling with the same mischief and yearning for knowledge. Both had high cheekbones that stood out against their skin, creating an almost exotic look about them; or at least on that one was more likely to find on some island off the coast of Haiti; not the streets of downtown Manhattan. Sam took a moment to sip at her beer, noticing the distinct differences between the two as well. They both had wiry bodies, though Zach was taller and his shoulders broader. Octavia was smooth where her brother was all edges. She couldn't help but grin at the two. They'd been her closest friends since her move to New York three years ago. Distracted, she looked up in time to see John pushing his way through the crowd, a young girl clutching at his hand and a teenage boy following close behind; a scowl on his would be handsome face. Ethan raised his eye brow in a silent question at the sight of the children.
John smiled apologetically. "Lisa couldn't stay for another three hours; she's studying for midterms tomorrow."
Sam slid from her stool, scooping up the girl as she ran into her arms. "Sammy!" The girl cried, giggling against her neck.
Sam buried her face into the girl's feathery red-brown hair, clutching her back and spinning her around. "Aubrey," she said softly, feeling the girl tighten her grip around her neck.
She looked up to see the fond faces of her friends staring at her, lazy smiles on their faces and a knowing look in their eyes. Sticking her tongue out at them playfully, she set Aubrey down on to the ground once more, kneeling down and looking the girl over. She wore a neat blue dress with a pair of small black flats, her hair falling down in silky girls around her heart-shaped face. Sam felt a pang in her chest, her heart swelling with a mixture of love and pride for the girl. She pushed the girl's bangs behind her ear and kissed her forehead affectionately.
"Hey, I have an idea," she said, sneakily stealing a glance up at John for his silent approval.
"What?" Aubrey's light gray eyes danced with curiosity.
Sam reached into her pocket and pulled her keys free, handing them to her. "Why don't you and Jason go upstairs? I left the games all set up for you guys."
Her small hand clutched around the keys, jumping up and down with excitement. She whirled around to face her father. "Can we, Dad?"
John ruffled her hair gently. "Go ahead."
The two kids turned to walk away but Sam jumped forward and grabbed Jason's arm, pulling him back into a reluctant hug.
"Didn't think you were getting away without giving me hugs, were you?" She teased.
She pulled back to see him trying to force a smile away. "Hi Sam," he said sheepishly.
Jason was the spitting image of his father; his brown hair falling down around his shoulder and his dark gray eyes calm and calculating. Stray freckles dotted his face, a mark his mother had left upon him. His shoulders were broad and beneath his Nirvana t-shirt she knew he was all muscle and bones. She swatted at his bangs playfully.
"There's pizza in the oven if you get hungry." She gave his shoulder a tight squeeze before letting him slide from his grasp to join his sister.
John heaved a small sigh of relief and threw himself down into the extra stool. "I don't know how you're so good with them Sam." He ran a hand over his face tiredly. "The whole way here Jason was complaining about wanting to stay home."
Sam chuckled and took another swing of her beer, seating herself once more. "They like me because I spoil them rotten," she replied truthfully.
Zach shook his head. "It's a wonder you don't have kids of your own."
Sam shifted slightly in her seat, heat rising up her neck. She looked down at her bottle, deliberately not looking at Ethan; though she could feel his dark green eyes upon her skin. "You want me to raise a bunch of kids in a tiny one bedroom studio above a cop bar? You gotta be kidding me Zach." She scolded him.
"They'd be safer, though." John pointed out, a teasing note rising through his logic. "You'd have to be insane to hit a bar like this." He gestured wildly around them.
Zach clapped a hand on his shoulder. "Sorry to say it, but I'd better get back to work."
After a few protests, Zach said his goodbyes and headed back to the bar, balancing the tray once more on his arm. The others began to chat once more, but Sam felt herself falling out of the conversation and deeper into her own head. She looked wistfully around the room, counting the wishes that had gotten her this far. She had come to New York looking to start anew from the life that haunted her before. Walked the silent streets of Bellflower, California gave her the chills, and returning to her tiny cramped apartment made her long for the wide windows of her parent's home; though there was no peace in returning their either. Since her sister's disappearance; nothing had been the same. She finally packed everything into six orderly boxes and got in her car, her just-adopted Dalmatian puppy, Storm, wagging his tail in his seat beside her's. It had been sheer luck that John's old partner was coming upon the threshold of retirement, and that her former captain had been able to secure her a spot in the 17th prescient. Even more so that she'd been able to find a affordable and rather roomy apartment above the Stag's Head; her landlords being Zach and Octavia. She and John's began a fast friendship, one that grew and steadied into a solid rock as the years passed on. He'd even gone so far as to name her Jason and Rachel's godmother. By some miracle she found a place among the bustling city lights and crowded streets of New York, and slid comfortably into her own space in her tight knit circle of companions.
She shook herself back into reality as Ethan tapped her arm, a concerned look flooding over his face.
"You alright, Samantha?" His voice was layered with thick coats of affection.
She smiled and planted a soft kiss on his nose. "Just reminiscing about old times."
He slid a hand around her knee and squeezed it softly, understanding in a heartbeat. Turning back to their companions, she took another swing of her beer and lay herself down in conversation.