TWENTY-ONE

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Warning: This chapter contains some mild violence.

They had been at it all day, questioning the man they now knew was Peter Mason, a local mechanic who had been in and out of trouble with the law throughout multiple states over the past few years. Small stuff mostly—petty theft, fraud, disorderly conduct—before culminating last month with a restraining order and assault charges filed by his girlfriend.

Captain Beal had grown tired of watching through the two-way mirror as Mason laughed in the faces of his best interrogators. The guy didn't seem the least bit nervous or remorseful. In fact, he hadn't said a word since being Mirandized.

The idea had come out of nowhere, likely born of frustration, a simple variant of good cop, bad cop—nothing wrong with that. At least that's how he kept justifying it to himself as he stood thinking back on it.

"When do we bring in a lawyer, Cap?" Walt asked, peering through the glass.

He groaned. Once lawyers were involved, information dried up like a wrung-out sponge. None of them wanted to see that happen, not in this case. "Get those two out of there and turn off the cameras. Clear this room down to just you and Joe."

Back in his office, he closed the door and phoned Spinelli, not sure if his call would even be taken, surprised when the deep voice came on the line. Immediately. Without giving much thought as to why, he summarized the events over the past few days and their lack of progress so far.

When he finished, there was nothing but silence, during which the captain thought Spinelli may have hung up. Could he blame him? What the hell else had he expected from the man? "Mr. Spinelli?"

"I'll be right over."

Now, half an hour after that call, Captain Beal was waiting in the lobby and still second guessing his impulse. If the top brass got wind of this, he could lose his job, but it was a risk he was willing to take. The station was still reeling from Jack's death, and now this . . .

He would never forget Virginia's first day on the job, the day a young, anxious rookie walked in the door and put them all to shame. The first thing she'd asked was where they kept the coffee. After pointing her in the right direction, the snickers and teasing started, some of the men shouting what they preferred in theirs across the station floor. She ignored them while she poured a cup, added cream, gave it a stir . . . and walked it out to the homeless man sitting on the pavement outside. That shut them up.

Right away the captain knew she was the real deal. How an over-privileged ass like Tom had ever ended up with a woman like her was a mystery. She could have had her pick of men. Young or old, rich or poor, black or white, people were drawn to her genuineness.

Even those who shouldn't be, he thought to himself, spotting the two men approaching the front door. Spinelli and another man walked in. Damn, he looked much larger in person. Handsome bastard too—one of those people who'd lucked out in the gene pool.

After introductions were made, he gave them whatever background information they'd dug up on Mason. Spinelli's anger was like a distant storm, the prevailing calm doing nothing to diminish the threat in his darkening expression.

Captain Beal rubbed across the top of his head with his palm. "I don't know, maybe seeing you will . . ." He sighed, dropping his hand. "Or maybe this was all a stupid—"

"Let us talk to him," Spinelli said in a voice that suited his position, a voice used to giving orders instead of making requests.

With over thirty years in law enforcement, the captain had seen his share of shit, so there were few decisions that left him feeling unsettled. But as he stood at this fork in the road, peering into denim-colored eyes that gave nothing away, he couldn't shake off the sensation of making a deal with the devil.

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