Cross and crown, p.2

Cross & Crown, page 2

 part  #2 of  Sidewinder Series


Cross & Crown

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  “Detective O’Flaherty!” Captain Branson called from his office door. Nick turned in his chair and glanced over his shoulder. The captain waved him over.

  “What’s up, sir?” he asked when he got closer.

  “The witness from the bookshop?”

  “Yes, sir?”

  “He’s here. You need to get in on this one. ”

  “Sure thing. ”

  Branson handed him a file. It was labeled John Doe.

  Nick shook his head; all it contained was the report from the hospital. He made his way to one of the interview rooms and greeted the officer on the door with a pat on the shoulder.

  When he entered the room, the blond man met his eyes.

  “Hello, Detective. ”

  “How you doing?” Nick asked as he sat opposite him.

  “I would say I’ve been better, but . . . I don’t really know if that’s true,” the man said with a wry laugh.

  Nick snorted. “Still got your sense of humor at least.

  That’s something. ” He opened the file again. It was paltry at best. Useless. “They been cal ing you John Doe?”

  “Yeah, it’s . . . it’s a name, I guess. ”

  “Yeah, I can see that getting old fast. Listen, all the John Does I ever knew were already dead, so how about I call you JD? That work for you?”

  He nodded and gave Nick a tired smile. “Yeah. Yeah, that works. ”

  Nick was silent for a moment, studying the man. He looked even more worn than he had at the crime scene yesterday. Under that, Nick could see the fear. “Has anyone offered you coffee? Something to eat?”

  “I had a bagel. Don’t have much appetite. ”

  “Okay. ” Nick put both elbows on the table. “You remember anything new? Anything at al ?”

  “No, Detective, I’m sorry. The doctors said I have amnesia caused by the trauma. Physical or mental, they couldn’t say. They also couldn’t say when or if my memory would return. They said amnesia was a very case-by-case type of thing, so . . . it might all come rushing back, or it might come back in pieces. Or it might not at all. Ever. ”

  “Wow. That’s rough. ”

  JD laughed bitterly. He twisted his fingers and nodded.

  Nick was having a hard time reading him, something he was usually pretty good at. JD’s exhaustion was masking everything else. Nick gave it a minute or so of silence, waiting to see if the man would begin to fidget or talk. But JD merely sat there, watching his hands, occasionally glancing up to meet Nick’s eyes.

  Nick finally gave up on that tactic. He tapped the file in front of him. “Even though you don’t remember anything, we’re going to treat you as a witness and put you under protection. Bal istics are telling us there were at least two shooters. One was standing behind you, clipped you in the head. ” Nick tapped his own head in the area where JD was bandaged. “Killed at least one of those two victims. ”

  “Just one?”

  “The other bullet hasn’t been recovered yet. We’ll know more soon. But until we get to the bottom of this, you need to be safe. Whoever did this won’t know you can’t ID them when they find out you aren’t dead. ”

  JD nodded. He glanced up at Nick, his blue eyes piercing.

  “You don’t have to dance around it, Detective. ”


  “I know I’m a suspect. It’s okay. You don’t have to mince words. ”

  Nick met his eyes for several seconds, letting JD see what suspects usually saw: a hardened, intelligent cop who would put them behind bars if they made even the tiniest of slips.

  “All right then. You are a suspect. Our only suspect, right now. ”Despite his show of bravado, JD blanched. Nick couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy. Not knowing who he was or what kind of man he was, it had to be terrifying. Add to that the fact that he was facing a potential murder charge? He had to be reeling.

  Nick took his notepad and a pen from his pocket and placed it on the table, then slid it toward JD. “I’m going to go arrange for somewhere for you to stay tonight. While I’m gone, try to write down anything about yourself you can think of. ”

  JD frowned. “Like what? I already told you I don’t remember anything. ”

  Nick shrugged. “Anything. Anything you’ve noticed.

  Your feelings, your thoughts, tattoos or scars, your shoe size, do you have contacts, are you wearing underwear? Anything. ”

  JD laughed and reached for Nick’s notepad. “Okay. ”

  Nick smiled and left him there, hoping the exercise would at least keep JD’s mind off his troubles while Nick tried to find somewhere to stick him for the night.

  It took him nearly half an hour to arrange for a hotel and an officer for the door. He and Hagan played a quick three out of five roshambo to decide who had to stay with him, and Nick won. Which was good, because he had plans this weekend.

  When he returned to the interview room, Captain Branson was standing at the window, watching JD.

  “Sir,” Nick said as he approached.

  The captain turned. “You’re good with him, O’Flaherty.

  That’s the most he’s responded all night. ”

  “He’s just scared, sir. Anyone would be. ”

  “Stay on him. Babysit him. Play the good cop. He’s the biggest break we have in this case right now. If he’s comfortable, he’s more likely to remember. And if he’s faking, you’re more likely to figure it out. ”

  Nick cleared his throat and nodded. “Does that mean you want me to stick with him at the safe house?” he asked, unable to conceal the dread in his voice.

  Branson smirked at him and raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t your boyfriend coming to town tonight?”

  “Yes, sir. ”

  “Even I’m not that cruel. Take the weekend. Let Hagan bad cop him for a few days. After that, it’s O’Flaherty to the rescue, understand?”

  “Of course, sir. ”

  Branson slapped him on the back. Nick watched him walk away, breathing out a sigh of relief, then glanced at the officer on the door.

  “Do you even know how to play good cop, Detective?”

  the man drawled.

  “I don’t know, no one’s ever let me do it. ” Nick put his shoulder against the door and pushed into the room. JD’s head shot up. He’d been dozing. Nick smiled gently for him.

  “Doing okay?”

  “I guess so. ” He pushed the notepad across the table. “I wrote down everything I could think of. ”

  Nick took the notepad and flipped it over. JD had written bullet points in a neat block print. Nick snorted. It was the type of handwriting that was hard as hell to analyze. The kind that people who worked black ops often had a habit of using.

  Nick wrote in the same neat block print. “You always write like that?” he asked JD.

  “I guess. Why?”

  Nick shrugged one shoulder and stuck the notepad back in his pocket. “Muscle memory. It can be interesting. I’ll look over this in a bit. Right now I’m going to take you to get something to eat, then to a hotel so you can get some rest. ”

  JD stood hesitantly. “You’re taking me?”

  “Yeah, my partner has some things to tie up before he can meet us there. Is that a problem?”

  “No. No, I just assumed it’d be someone . . . lower on the rung. ”

  “I’m going to take you out there and get you settled, but Detective Hagan and a uniform are going to stay with you tonight,” Nick answered as he led JD out of the room.

  “Is this going to be your case, Detective? I mean . . . you’re the one who’ll be working it?”

  “That’s right, me and my partner. ” Nick stopped and turned to face JD. They were almost the same height, but JD was thinner and more compact. He took a tiny step back when Nick faced him, like he was intimidated. Nick tried to give him a reassuring smile, but he knew himself well enough to know that
when he smiled, it rarely reassured anyone. “I’ll figure this out, man. I promise. ”

  JD sat with his hands on the table, folded over each other.

  He played with his fingers as he took in his surroundings.

  Nick got the feeling that he was used to having something on or in his hands to mess with. A ring, maybe. There was no mark, though, no cal uses to give evidence of anything being worn there recently.

  JD’s eyes strayed to the memorabilia along the brick walls of the pub as he continued to fidget. Nick tried not to watch him too closely. He knew the scrutiny would make him nervous, and JD already had enough nervous energy to power a small appliance.

  Nick supposed he couldn’t blame the guy, though. He looked away, trying to find something else to focus on for a while.

  His eyes followed a waitress as she walked by, and his gaze landed right back on JD once she was gone. He had stopped moving, and his narrowed eyes were raking over the wall next to him. The lines around his mouth had relaxed.

  Nick straightened. JD had the look of a man who might have recognized something. Nick glanced up at the reproduction plaque on the wal . He had sat under it many times, gazing at it idly as he waited for his food, reading the words when his dinner mate went to the bathroom, staring at it listlessly as he ordered for that last drink that would send him into taxi territory.

  It was a common fake wood plaque, roughly two feet tall and one wide, featuring a frieze of a nameless baseball player in pinstripes—something many people had defaced over the years because those pinstripes looked far too much like Yankee pinstripes and this was Boston, baby. It was also covered in Red Sox stickers and graffiti.

  Nick looked up at it dubiously, then back at JD. “Are you remembering something?”

  JD was still scowling. He shook his head minutely, still examining the plaque. “I just . . . looking at that gives me a feeling I think is familiar. ”

  “Have you seen it before?”

  “I don’t know. I think . . . I think maybe I hate the Yankees,” JD answered with a shrug.

  Nick snorted and couldn’t help but smile as he took a drink.

  “I guess that’s nothing spectacular, huh?”

  “Well. It’s not going to help narrow you down from the crowd any. ”

  The amusement faded from JD’s eyes and he returned his attention to his hands, twisting his fingers together and shifting uneasily in the chair. Nick watched him in sympathy. He couldn’t begin to imagine what was going through his mind.

  “Are you okay?”

  JD was already shaking his head. He turned his head toward the bar as he leaned back in his seat. “I remember that Greg Maddux is the greatest pitcher ever to play the game and that Stan Musial had 3,630 hits in his career. I remember that Darth Vader is a bad guy and that vampires are suddenly good guys who sparkle. I remember that I like spinach and artichoke dip, but not when it comes with tortillas. I know that tequila will make me sick and just the thought of a worm at the bottom of a bottle will make me want to hurl. I know that the tattoo on your forearm means you were a Recon Marine and that makes you a Grade A badass, even if you kind of try to hide it. Probably because you like to go under the radar so you can have the advantage in a fight. But I don’t know my own name. I don’t know where I come from, how old I am. ”

  He lowered his head. His eyes were misting over, whether from frustration, sorrow, or merely exhaustion was anyone’s guess. Nick was shocked by how observant the man was even in the midst of this ordeal, though, and the realization made him uneasy. Only one person had ever called him out for trying to appear less dangerous than he was, and Ty Grady was the most observant man Nick knew.

  Then there was the tattoo. Nick had a lot of tattoos, including the Celtic cross that traced his spine from the nape of his neck to the small of his back; and the eagle, globe, and anchor that dominated his left shoulder. He also had one on each forearm, and while he usually hid them with dress shirts and suits, he’d rolled his sleeves up when he’d sat down at the pub.

  On the right was an ornate Celtic knotwork gauntlet that covered his entire forearm from just below his wrist to an inch or so from his elbow. On the inside of his other forearm was the Force Recon Jack, one that usually got lost amidst the flashier work he had. It was a skull with breathing gear, with a spade and knife crossed behind it, and wings fluttering out from either side. The skull had thirteen bullet holes in it.

  The knotwork gauntlet was far more impressive, but JD had zeroed in on the Jack in particular—the one with special meaning. Nick hadn’t met many people who actually knew what a Recon Jack even was, so the fact that JD did meant he might be associated with the military somehow. Closely associated.

  “I can’t even tell you if I’m a good person or not,” JD said.

  His eyes betrayed the frustration and stark fear he’d been hiding so well up to this point. “I mean, what was I doing there in the middle of the night, stone-cold sober at a bookstore? I could be some sort of criminal and not even know it! I could be a cold-blooded killer, and you’re sitting here eating floppy chips with me!”

  “Listen to me,” Nick said harshly. He leaned forward on the table, seeing the turmoil of his own past reflected in JD’s eyes. “We will find out who you are. ”

  “You can’t promise that, Detective. ”

  “The hell I can’t. And I’ll tell you one more thing. I’ve dealt with a lot of bad people before. None of them are ever torn up wondering if they’re a good person. ”

  JD swallowed, but the words seemed to mol ify him. He calmed, his shoulders losing their tension. He sighed and gave Nick a weak smile. “When you put it that way . . . ”
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