Book excerpt

I Shall Not Want

A Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne Mystery

Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries Fergusson/Van Alstyne Mysteries

Julia Spencer-Fleming

St. Martin's Press

Chapter One

Ordinary Time

July

When she saw the glint of the revolver barrel through the broken glass in the window, Hadley Knox thought, I’m going to die for sixteen bucks an hour. Sixteen bucks an hour, medical, and dental. She dove behind her squad car as the thing went off, a monstrous thunderclap that rolled on and on across green- gold fields of hay. The bullet smacked into the maple tree she had parked under with a meaty thud, showering her in wet, raw splinters.

She could smell the stink of her own fear, a mixture of sweat trapped beneath her uniform and the bitter edge of cordite floating across the farm house yard.

The man shooting at her turned away from the porch-shaded window and yelled something to someone screaming inside. Hadley wrenched the cruiser door open, banging the edge into the tree. She grabbed for the mic. "Dispatch! Harlene? This bastard’s shooting at me!" Some part of her knew that wasn’t the right way to report an officer under fire, but she didn’t care. If she lived to walk away from this, she was turning in her badge and her gun and going to work at the Dairy Queen.

The radio crackled. "Hadley? Is your eighty still the Christie place?"

She could barely hear the dispatcher over the shouting and swearing from the farm house. She thought she made out two masculine voices. "Yes," she yelled, getting a squeal of feedback from the mic. She tried again, forcing herself to speak in something like a normal tone. "He’s got a .357 Magnum." She had recognized the sidearm. Hot damn. "There may be more than one of them. Men, I mean. Not guns. Although there may be more guns." She could hear herself, close to hysteria. "For God’s sake, send help!"

There was a pause. The hell with this, she thought. The hell with it. I’ve got two kids at home who need me. As if invoking Hudson and Genny cleared her head, she suddenly realized the highest- pitched shrieking wasn’t coming from a woman. Oh, my God. Oh, shit. She squeezed the mic again. "Dispatch, it’s not just the sister and the caseworker. The kids are in there, too."

This time, Harlene’s reply was instant. "We’ve got cars on the way and the state sharpshooter team is scrambling. See if you can keep him talking until backup gets there."

Hadley stared at the mic. "Keep him talking? About what? Jesus H. Christ, I’m not a negotiator! I haven’t even finished the Police Basic course yet!"

"You talked to angry guys in prison, didn’t you? Think of something. Dispatch out."

Talk to angry cons? Hell, yeah. The difference was, they were behind bars, weaponless, powerless, while she walked around free, armed with baton and taser. Cons didn’t shoot at you from a house full of hostages.

The kids were screeching, a woman sobbing, the man swearing. Think of something. Think of something. Hadley slithered out of the squad car and crouched behind the open door. She raised herself up until she could see out the window. "Hey!" she yelled. "Hey! You!"

The end of the .357 Magnum swung out of the farm house window, knocking a few more shards of glass onto the front porch. Goddamn, that thing looked as big as a cannon. She inhaled. The July sun beat down on the dirt drive, throwing up waves of heat. It was like breathing in an oven. "How ’bout you let me take those kids off your hands?"

"How ’bout you come up here and—" He launched into a graphic description of what he wanted her to do for him and what he was going to do to her. She hoped to God the children didn’t understand.

"Let the kids go and we can talk about it," she shouted. "You want money? You want a ride outa here?"

"I want what’s mine!" the shadowy figure with the gun yelled. "It’s got nothing to do with you, bitch. Leave me alone and nobody will get hurt!" Something from the interior of the house caught his attention. He swiveled around. Yelled something she couldn’t make out. Then the gun went off again.

Hadley was up and moving without thinking, running toward the house, her Glock 9 mm awkward and slippery in her hand. If she had any plan at all, it was to get past the end of the porch to the corner of the house, where he couldn’t see her without opening a window and leaning out. He turned back toward her. She could see the outlines of his face now, his eyes glittering in the dimness of the front room. He brought up the .357. She heard the breath sawing in and out of her chest, the howling of women and children, the susurration of tires on dirt and gravel, and she knew she wasn’t going to make the shelter of the house in time.

Oh God oh God oh God oh God— she heard the shot, higher and keener than the last two, and dove toward the hewn stone foundation, rolling hard into its cool dampness. The blow stunned her, numbed her, and she beat against herself with one hand while trying to raise her gun to a defensive position with the other, all the while wondering, Where is it? Where am I hit?

Then her head steadied and she looked back across the dooryard. A big red pickup straddled the drive—defensively sideways, not head- on like her cruiser. Russ Van Alstyne, the Millers Kill chief of police, had his arms braced on the hood of the truck, his Glock .40 tight in a two- handed grip, pointing at the porch. The gun, she realized, that she had just heard discharging.

"You okay, Knox?" Van Alstyne didn’t take his eyes off the window.

"Yeah." She struggled to sit up. "I mean, yes, sir."

"Stay right there. Don’t move." She glanced up. Some four or five feet above her, a closed window reflected the maple facing it. Hadley squeezed against the edge of the house, drawing her knees in close, doing her best to disappear.

"You shoot one more time and I swear I’ll cap one of ’em here," the man screamed. "I’ll blow one of these bitches’ heads off!"

The chief raised one hand, showing it was empty, and carefully placed his sidearm on the hood of the truck with the other. Hadley heard the crunch of more tires. Another squad car pulled in, flanking the chief’s. The door popped open on the far side. She caught the glint of bright red hair and then a bristle brush of gray. Kevin Flynn and Deputy Chief MacAuley. MacAuley and the chief had a short and inaudible conversation.

"What’s going on?" the gunman demanded.

The chief had a way of making his voice big without yelling. "My deputy here says the state SWAT team is on the way. They’re not interested in talking to you. But I am."

"Screw you!" the man yelled. His voice, so near, made Hadley’s skin crawl.

"C’mon, man, talk to me." The chief sounded like he was about to buy the shooter a beer. "Whaddaya gonna do, shoot one of them? Shoot one of us? They’ll send you up to Clinton, life with no chance of parole. For what? Is one of those bitches worth the rest of your life?"

Hadley felt the shock of the chief’s words sizzle up her spine. Was this the same guy who said "Excuse me" when he accidentally swore within her earshot?

"C’mon," the chief went on. "You put your gun down, I put my gun down, we’ll call it drunk and disorderly. You’ll get thirty days on the county, watching cable TV and sitting in air conditioned comfort."

"I don’t want no trouble," the man yelled. "Me and my brothers just want what’s ours. You hear?" his voice shifted, as if he had turned away from the window and shouted to the people inside. "Yeah, I’m talking to you, girlie! You been holding out on me?"

In the drive, Flynn and MacAuley had taken up positions ranged to either side of the chief. Van Alstyne pointed at Hadley, then toward the back of the house, then at his eyes. See what’s around in back. She nodded. She rolled belly down on the ground and crawled knees- and- elbows toward the rear of the house. It reminded her of the funny salamander-style crawling Hudson had used when he was a baby, except he hadn’t been saddled with a bulky belt and an increasingly heavy gun.

The chief was going on about the weather and the heat, and— Jesus Christ!— he actually offered the guy a cold one. Hadley crawled out from beneath the maple’s shade, the sunlight pressing on her back like a hot iron taking the wrinkles out of her blouse. She paused at the corner of the building, wrestled her gun into a half- assed shooting position, and peeked around the side.

Peeling white clapboards. A wheezing air-conditioning unit dripping water on the ground. Five steps leading up to a narrow roofed porch. A rusty wheel supporting a clothesline bolted next to the back door . . . the back door that was half open to the room inside.

"Hel- lo, momma," she whispered. If the chief could keep the guy in the front room distracted, she could sneak in and try to get the kids out. There wasn’t much cover— the land sloped away from the house, the clothesline running maybe fifty yards over open grass until it connected with a lone birch tree. But if she could get them down the porch steps and around the corner, she could keep them against the foundation, out of the line of fire.

She crawled forward, one foot, two, then raised herself up to get a better view of the door.

Hadley was staring into the eyes of a dead woman. She was half in, half out of the doorway, mouth still open from her last word, her blood soaked into her shirt and puddling beneath a plastic laundry basket filled with towels.

Oh, my God.

Hadley collapsed back onto the ground, squeezing her eyes shut like a kid hiding from the boogeyman. She swallowed, dry- mouthed, against her rising gorge. I’m not going to throw up, she thought. I’m not going to throw up. With her eyes closed, she noticed the things she should have earlier: the bright copper tang of blood, the nose- wrinkling suggestion of human waste, the buzzing of full- bellied flies.

She could hear the timbre of Van Alstyne’s voice floating on the heat- saturated air. I have to let the chief know about this. Of course, to do that she was going to have to move, which she didn’t want to do, not now, not maybe ever. She didn’t want to deal with yet another dead person. What was this? The fourth? Fifth?

With that, she had another realization. The chief’s promise of thirty days in the county jail— a lie to begin with, since the guy had shot at a cop, for God’s sake—wasn’t going to seduce this man. He wasn’t going to give himself up. He was already headed for Clinton. He had nothing to lose.

Hadley reversed herself, staying as low to the ground as she could, then belly- crawled back around the side of the house. The chief was focused on the man with the gun, who was ranting about getting ripped off and not being able to trust anyone. Hadley ignored him. She stuck her hand up in the air to get someone’s attention. The chief’s eyes never wavered from the window where the shooter was hunkered down, but behind the squad car’s tail, Kevin Flynn poked his head up and nodded once. He had been the MKPD’s least experienced officer before she was sworn in, and his per sis tent attempts to be helpful and friendly didn’t lessen the gall of playing catch- up with a guy eight years her junior. She hoped he was good at charades— there was no way she could use her radio this close to the house— as she laid her gun on the grass next to her.

First she jerked her thumb toward the rear of the farm house: back there. She used two hands to make the universal feminine shape, out, in, out: a woman. She drew a finger across her throat: dead. She held one hand like a pistol and "shot" herself in the chest.

Flynn shook his head as if to clear it, then nodded again. His red hair disappeared, to pop up again moments later, behind the chief. The chief heard what ever it was Flynn said to him. His eyes narrowed and his skin seemed to stretch across his cheekbones. He murmured something to Flynn, who slid into one of the cruisers and grabbed a mic.

"What’s going on?" the shooter asked. "What’s he doing on the radio?"

"I just told him to ask the state troopers to stay back a ways." Van Alstyne held up one hand. "I want you and me to have the time we need to talk our way out of this thing. Can’t do that with a bunch of staties with guns hanging around."

More likely Flynn was telling the SWAT team to detour its sharpshooters farther along the road leading to the Christies’ half- mile drive. If they went the long way around and stuck to a narrow approach through the sheep pasture, they could make it to the barn without being seen. Once inside, they would have an ideal vantage point through the haymow and upper windows.

The same idea seemed to occur to the gunman. "You tell those bastards to stay away from us," he shouted. "Anybody tries to mess with us, they gotta go through one of these kids to do it." Within the house, a woman cried out. Hadley didn’t realize the man had left his defensive position at the front window until the chief shouted, "Knox! What’s he doing in there?"

She scrambled to her feet and peered into the window she had been crouched beneath. She got a beautiful view of the front hallway and the stairs. Useless. She covered the eight feet to the next window in two long strides. The sill was just low enough for her to see into a room in chaos, children scattering, a teenager clutching an infant, a woman struggling with the man as he yanked a little boy off his feet.

"He’s holding a kid," Hadley yelled. "He’s—oh, shit, no!" She watched, helpless, as the man clubbed the woman in the face with the butt of his gun. The woman dropped to the floor.

"Are there other shooters?" the chief yelled.

"I can’t tell!" she screamed. "Maybe in the front—"

The man holding the squirming child turned toward the window, aiming the revolver at Hadley. She ducked and covered just in time. The window shattered. Shards of glass sliced into her hands, stabbed the back of her uniform, caught in her hair.

The chief was yelling for her and Flynn to get to the back door. She heard the muffled thud of footsteps against grass and then Flynn was beside her. He tossed her a Kevlar vest identical to the one he was wearing. She caught it, rose, and took off for the rear of the house, glass tinkling as it flew off her like water off a shaggy dog. She struggled into the vest as Flynn rounded the corner, taking the steps up to the porch in two bounds. He went high, holding the door open, while she crouched low, stepping over the body of the murdered woman—I’m sorry, ma’am, so sorry— shouting, "Police! Put your weapons down!" to the empty kitchen. She moved aside for Flynn to pass through and almost fired when a straggly boy appeared in the doorway. "Porsche!" he bawled. From unseen rooms beyond she heard Van Alstyne bellowing, a girl shrieking, and then, Holy God, the sound of gunfire, one, two shots and the .357 Magnum going off.

"Get in here!" Hadley shouted at the boy, as one gun and then another gun fired, and fired, and fired, too many shots, way too many. She and Flynn pushed past him into the doorway, low, high, her heart beating so fast she thought she was going to die.

She thought she was going to die.

The teenager screamed, yanking one of the kids out of the way. They rounded the big table dominating the space and approached the front room. Through the doorway, Hadley could see the other woman, out on the floor, bleeding from a vicious cut in her forehead. Beside her, the gunman was sprawled half on and half off a sofa, his eyes staring unseeing at the ceiling, his chest a bloody mess. A second man slumped in the far doorway, folded over like a stringless marionette.

Hadley thought she might collapse on the spot from relief. Instead, she and Flynn fanned into the room. She froze. Flynn let out a keening sound like a banshee. Omen of death. There was another body crumpled on the wooden floor.

Russ Van Alstyne.

Lyle MacAuley looked up from where he knelt beside the chief. "Call nine- one- one," he snapped at Flynn. He looked at Hadley. "Get me something I can use for compresses." His voice was as sharp- edged as ever. She and Flynn stumbled into the kitchen, where Flynn whirled and ran out the door, while Hadley stood stupidly, thinking, Compresses? Then she remembered the basket of laundry. She stepped over the dead woman, dug into the basket, and emerged with two bath towels.

"Hurry, Knox!"

She dashed back to the front room, holding out the towels. MacAuley snatched them out of her hands. While he folded them into thick pads, she looked down at the chief.

"Oh, Jesus," she said.

"Shut up!" MacAuley nodded toward the dining room. "Get these civilians out of here."

Hadley turned around. The door between the two rooms was crowded with crying kids. The teenager with the infant stood weeping— the scraggly boy’s Porsche, she supposed— rocking the red- faced baby back and forth while it screamed. Best to start with her. Hadley stepped through the doorway, forcing the girl to retreat.

"Porsche? Are you Porsche?"

The girl nodded, openmouthed with crying.

"Is this your baby? What’s her name?"

The girl gasped. "Amari." Her voice was wet and shaking.

"Why don’t you let me hold Amari for a sec while you catch your breath." Hadley scooped up the baby and ran her pinkie knuckle over its toothless gums. The baby stopped wailing, a startled look on its face. Then it clamped around Hadley’s knuckle and began sucking with a vengeance. An old ploy, but it still worked. "Porsche." Hadley moved her face so she blocked the girl’s line of sight. "Let’s get these little ones out of here. They don’t need to see this anymore."

"M-m- my aunt."

"The ambulance is on the way. The best thing you can do for her is help calm the children down."

The girl nodded. Wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Let Hadley slide the baby back in her arms. The girl copied her pinkie- nursing trick. "C’mon, everybody," she said, in a fake- calm voice that Hadley herself used when she was trying to keep it together in front of her kids. "We’re going outside." She stepped into the kitchen, saw what was blocking the door, and whirled around. "No, Aston! Not that way! Out the front hall."

Hadley helped steer the kids toward the mercifully blood-free front hall. The little boy she had seen in the kitchen stopped beside the door to the front room, his eyes fixed on the unconscious woman. He looked up at Hadley. "Is Izzy gonna die, too?"

Hadley scooped him up in her arms. "An ambulance is coming to help her, sweetie. She’ll have to go to the hospital, but she’ll be fine." She prayed she wasn’t lying. She took the last child’s hand and followed Porsche out the front door and across the drive, to where a small grove of large maples cast a deep shade over the grass.

Kevin emerged from one of the squad cars. "Ambulances coming." He headed for the house. "Harlene called them in before we got here. Support team from emergency ser vices and Children and Family, too."

Hadley shot a glance at the traumatized family, then followed Kevin.

Without the crying children, the farm house sank into the deep dreaming silence of a hot July afternoon. The only sounds were the clunk and rattle of cubes falling from the icemaker and a hoarse, wet churning as Russ Van Alstyne tried to breathe. MacAuley had folded one towel around the wound in the chief’s thigh and cinched it tight with his belt. As Hadley watched, a pulse of blood appeared on its white surface. MacAuley pressed the other towel, already sodden, against the chief’s chest. Flynn was dragging cushions off the couch, wedging them beneath the unconscious woman’s legs, getting more blood flow to her injured head. Hadley scooped some ice cubes out of the freezer, knotted them into a dishrag, and laid the improvised ice bag over the woman’s eyes and nose. None of them said anything, as if a single word would break open their pretense at composure.

A wracking, phlegmy sound split the silence.

"Can’t . . . breathe." The chief’s voice was a whisper. Flynn nearly tripped over himself getting to Van Alstyne’s side.

"I think you’ve punctured a lung," MacAuley said. "The EMTs will set you to rights. Listen." Far away, a faint siren sounded. "They’re almost here."

The chief inhaled. It was liquid, choking, horribly wrong. Hadley looked down. The towel around his thigh was crimson. Almost here, she realized, would not be fast enough.

"Lyle... tell Clare..."—the chief breathed in again— "tell her...."

"You can tell her yourself when you see her."

Hadley’s stomach turned. She looked at Flynn. Tears smeared his sunburned cheeks. Without thinking, she reached over and grabbed his hand. The siren was louder now.

"Russ?" MacAuley sounded panicked, which was almost as scary as the chief’s struggle to breathe. "Don’t you die on me, Russ!"

The sucking, gurgling sound was louder, accompanied by a hiss, as if Russ Van Alstyne’s air was pumping out of him along with his life’s blood.

"Clare," he said. And then there was silence.

Excerpted from I Shall Not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming.Copyright © 2008 by Julia Spencer-Fleming.Published in June 2008 by St. Martin’s Press.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING is The New York Times bestselling author of One Was A Soldier, and an Agatha, Anthony, Dilys, Barry, Macavity, and Gumshoe Award winner. She studied acting and history at Ithaca College and received her J.D. at the University of Maine School of Law. Her books have been shortlisted for the Edgar, Nero Wolfe, and Romantic Times RC awards. Spencer-Fleming lives in a 180-year-old farmhouse in southern Maine with her husband and three children.