Author’s Note: So all the time I worked on this today, I kept seeing my word count and thinking, “hmm. I could finish the 50,000 words today. It wouldn’t take that much more.”
It’s eleven o’clock, and I just don’t think I have it in me, though. Where the marathon no-sleep sessions from 2012 were (I actually completed my 50,000+ and the story in eleven days,) this year is not like that, and I’m glad because that was a painful experience last time.
Anyway… I have part of it worked out. Pretty soon, I get to share the nice brick wall I wrote because I’ll finally have hit it. Ugh.
“How many times do I have to tell you—he threatened me with the gun. It just happens that I knew how to take it away from him,” Nolan said, frustrated. He didn’t understand why they couldn’t accept what he was telling them. They had to know that Shaelynn was saying the same thing—and that meant that they should know what had happened by now. She’d pointed out that they’d look like the bad guys, but he hadn’t thought the cops would be this stubborn in believing it. They had to know that his car had been vandalized and his apartment broken into, right? Why was he being treated like the criminal?
He hadn’t done anything wrong. He hadn’t wanted to knock the kid unconscious, but he also didn’t want to let him run. He wanted this whole nonsense done and over with, and the only way to get that to happen was to make sure that kid got arrested. Then it would all be settled.
He didn’t know why that guy had been so intent on killing him, and that should bother him a lot more, but he didn’t think that part had hit yet—it was too busy being obscured by the way he was being treated right now. He was not the one who’d showed up and held people at gunpoint. He was—he hated this thought—the victim here.
“Witnesses saw you with your arm around Mr. Harrison’s neck. No one saw him threaten you.”
“Shaelynn did. She was standing right next to me—and trust me, Shaelynn would not lie for me. That’s not the way she works.” Nolan reached into his pocket, rummaging around and trying to find the card the lieutenant had given him the other day. He didn’t remember the man’s name, just the bad suit, but this was ludicrous. “My apartment was broken into yesterday. That kid probably did it. If he did, he would be the one who spray painted ‘traitor’ on my car the day before, too. I am not the one with a problem here—he is. I don’t know what I did that pissed him off, but the guy said he was there to kill me. He must not know me very well because if he’d read much of anything about me, he’d know that I grew up in a cult where I was trained as a soldier. He didn’t scare me, but I didn’t want him shooting anyone, either. Once I had him distracted, I moved in to disable him. So did Shaelynn. She took the gun. I was trying to keep him in place until the cops got there. I didn’t really think that those cops would be dumb enough to think that I was the one trying to mug or kill anyone. What do I look like to you, anyway?”
The man across from him said nothing. Nolan would have preferred to get a dark look or even some sarcasm out of this guy, but he was doing an impression of a stone—he did not seem willing to listen to anything Nolan had to say.
“I didn’t do anything wrong, but I want my lawyer,” Nolan said, shaking his head. “I don’t believe how ridiculous this is getting. I was the one being threatened. I didn’t hurt him—I could have, but I didn’t. Just go call my lawyer if you’re going to be this idiotic about it.”
“We’re waiting for confirmation on the break-in and the vandalism.”
Nolan leaned back in his chair. “Do you think I am a complete moron, then? Your department cannot be that big. I did not even transfer precincts when I chose to stay in a hotel instead of my apartment. The restaurant was not that far away, either. You haven’t even asked anyone about those other cases. You’re trying to make the most of the fact that I was talking without a lawyer. Guess what? That ends right now.”
The other man grunted. Nolan folded his arms over his chest. They were going to have to get that idiot with the law degree down here to deal with this, as much as Nolan hated lawyers. He also refused to be railroaded into some bogus charge. He had acted in his own defense, and they’d have to stretch it pretty far to say he’d done anything to that kid.
Unless they were thinking he was setting the kid up, but why the hell would he do that? He didn’t know Harrison. He had no idea why the guy would try and kill him, and he wouldn’t bother arranging the damage to his car or his apartment to get that guy. Harrison was, all things considered, pathetic. He had gone up against Nolan like some teenage boy trying to challenge a gang leader—someone with more bravery than brains.
True, Nolan wasn’t a gang leader, but he was also not the pushover target that Harrison had been expecting.
The door opened, and Nolan was pulled out of that train of thought when he saw the woman who’d opened it. He would have expected someone else, someone with more expensive clothes or more of a chip on her shoulder, but this one was just as welcome. “Kaplan. Good to see you again.”
She nodded to him before focusing in on the lump in the chair across from him. “Sheppard’s mine. So’s Harrison. If you want to make an issue out of it, have your superior call mine, but they’re both persons of interest in my case, and that means he’s coming with me.”
“He just asked for his lawyer.”
She turned back to Nolan. “You need a lawyer?”
“Only because that waste of space over there thought I was the bad guy. I don’t know why Harrison went after me, I don’t even know him, but he pointed a gun at me, not the other way around. Considering what Ambrose taught me to do to people who did that, the kid got off easy.”
She nodded. “That’s what I told him. Come on. Raleigh wants to fill you in on a few things before you head back to the hotel.”
“Those things include his brother’s number for my sister?”
Shaelynn had to admit that she didn’t have a lot of respect for law enforcement in general, but this latest go round with them made her even less inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. If these people were all Nolan had standing between him and the threat to his life, he’d already be dead. She didn’t think the police had done anything useful in the time since his car was vandalized, and she’d wanted to be wrong about them treating Nolan like the criminal, but judging from what she’d experienced before Kaplan and Morton showed up, the cops were ready to pin the whole thing on him instead of the idiot that had threatened them.
She didn’t want to believe it, but then again, she’d grown up in a cult, and she’d seen enough to believe just about anything.
“Geneva should have him in a second. Simpson will deal with transferring Harrison over to our facility, though I don’t know how long we’ll end up keeping him.”
Shaelynn looked over at Morton with a frown. “You’d just cut him loose like that? What about the threats? That is the guy that wants Nolan dead, isn’t he?”
“I think someone wants everyone to think he is, but I’m not convinced. Neither is Geneva. Thing is, Harrison was probably put up to the whole thing. Someone let him think that Sheppard was something he wasn’t and the kid took it too far trying to make it right.”
She shook her head. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“It does if you figure that Harrison was probably one of the missing girls’ boyfriend or wanted to be,” Nolan said as he joined them. “Since I’m about the only ‘suspect’ that Kaplan has had, it would make sense for him to come after me to try and get his girlfriend back.”
Shaelynn grimaced. “That kid really is an idiot. I thought it was just the stress of the situation getting to him.”
“Just because someone might have told him I betrayed the cult does not mean they told him that the cult trained its own soldiers,” Nolan reminded her. He rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t know. It makes a certain bit of sense, but it’s rather frustrating all the same.”
“You could have died for no good reason at all. You didn’t have anything to do with those girls going missing.”
“No, I didn’t, but I think that if this story hits the news—”
“Your reputation will be ruined.”
He laughed. “I don’t think so. I was going to say that if the girls did run away, then Harrsion’s actions might get their attention. They could come forward now to end that investigation and its collateral damage. That would be worth a bit of awkward publicity, at least to my mind.”
Kaplan nodded. “It would be worth a lot more than awkward publicity to me if those girls are alive and unharmed. That is… priceless, and it doesn’t happen enough in my job.”
Morton put his hands on her shoulders. “I couldn’t do what she does. I don’t have the stomach for those kind of losses.”
“You’re stronger than you think, Morton,” Kaplan said, smiling up at him as she covered his hand with hers. Nolan would have something to say about how in love they were again, and Shaelynn knew that she did not want to hear it. She chose to change the subject.
“You’d have to be with that daughter,” Shaelynn said, getting him to laugh.
Nolan looked at her. “Couldn’t be that much worse than you.”
Shaelynn glared back. She did want to hit him, but she didn’t think it would do any good. He didn’t seem to understand why she hit him—or maybe he just didn’t care. She didn’t want to bother with something that wasn’t going to make any kind of difference.
“This doesn’t mean that it’s over. If Harrison is the girl’s boyfriend or wannabe boyfriend, he doesn’t have a reason to threaten Nolan beyond the loose connection that Kaplan made, and we all agree that it was shaky at best. That kid didn’t have the sophistication to break into Nolan’s apartment and leave no trace other than that drawing on the wall.” Shaelynn shook her head. “This is far from done.”
“Give us time,” Kaplan said. “We haven’t had our talk with Harrison yet. If someone did set him up to go after Nolan, we will get that name from him. In the meantime, unless you want to take over watching the hellion that is my stepdaughter, there’s nothing for you to do. Go back to the hotel, make whatever arrangements you might need—for the press, any lawsuits you might want, or start looking for a new apartment—and we’ll call you as soon as we have more information.”
Shaelynn grimaced. She didn’t like the idea of waiting. She also wasn’t sure that she believed that Harrison was the end of this—just because he might have been put up to it didn’t mean that it ended with him. He might give them a name, but that didn’t mean much. Not to her.
Nolan’s trouble sleeping had started before he went on his trip. He had been feeling like something was off for far longer than those girls had been missing. Even if Harrison was put up to it, if he was behind the vandalism and the break-in, that didn’t explain what had brought her here in the first place. She wasn’t satisfied. This wasn’t done.
“I want my gun back,” she said, looking pointedly at the feds. “I don’t think Nolan is safe, and I do have a permit for it.”
Morton nodded. “That should just be a matter of paperwork.”
“I wish you’d lose it, personally,” Nolan said, and she looked over at him. He shrugged. “What? It’s not like you don’t know how I feel about guns.”
“So you’re telling me you almost got shot again?”
“There was almost no risk of that happening, Nora,” Nolan said, sitting down on the suite’s couch and closing his eyes. The day had been long enough already. He shouldn’t be this tired, but he was. He had just wanted pancakes. He did not know why having pancakes was a crime, but his choice of breakfast could have cost him his life. That was just wonderful.
Not, of course, that he wanted to discuss that with Nora. He didn’t know that the kid would have been able to pull that trigger, and he was going to assume that Harrison couldn’t, at least for Nora’s sake. She didn’t need to know that it was at all close to anything—and it mostly wasn’t.
“The kid did have the safety on, and between me and Nolan, he was disarmed within seconds. He wasn’t at all frightening. He was pathetic.” Shaelynn shook her head, disgusted.
“That doesn’t change what happened. It doesn’t change that you almost got shot. Again. Nolan, when are you going to get it through your head that your life actually matters? That a threat is not a little thing?” Nora folded her arms over her chest and started pacing. “Why are you doing this? Are you suicidal? Do you have to push your limits to feel alive because nothing makes you feel that way after having been shot?”
“Have you been reading a bunch of psychology books?” Nolan demanded. “I am not suicidal. Just because I don’t think this is the threat that you two seem to think it is does not mean that I am looking to get myself killed. I didn’t go out to breakfast thinking I’d get confronted with a gun right afterward. All I wanted was some pancakes—and for you two to get some distance because I knew you were fighting about me. Shouldn’t we all be glad it’s almost over instead of fighting again?”
“It’s not over,” Shaelynn said. “Harrison is a patsy at best. I don’t think he was capable of breaking into your apartment. Maybe he could have vandalized the car. Maybe. He doesn’t have the skill to do what that person did to your apartment. Doesn’t have the control to make sure there’s no forensics. He came up to us in a parking lot in broad daylight with a gun he had no experience with. He was not ready or able to use that thing. He was not behind all this.”
Nora cursed. “You’ve got to be kidding me. We’re going from cults to conspiracies? Who is supposed to be behind this guy, then? Are we talking Cunningham? Please tell me we’re not chasing some kind of phantom now.”
“Kaplan and Morton were going to see who put Harrison up to it, and I think I trust them to get it out of him,” Nolan said. He let out a breath. “I think both of you want to take my inability to sleep too far. Maybe that had nothing to do with any of this. If Harrison was dating one of those girls, then it’s just him trying to find them. He was, in a delusional way, trying to be a hero. He isn’t, but that doesn’t mean that it was really about killing me.”
“And then what? After we know who is behind this, they arrest him and we go back to our lives?”
“Why are you saying that like it’s a bad thing?”
Nora’s eyes went to Shaelynn. “How long are you planning on staying, then?”
“Since when is that any of your business?”
“I told you why this morning.”
Nolan held up a hand. “Not again. You are not going to start on that. You’ve already had this discussion once today, and rehashing it—not necessary. Not at all. We need to start looking into things like new apartments and maybe a new office—new security system—something. I should have something to work on now that I’ve finished the Allens’ consultation. Where is it?”
“Nowhere. You are not working,” Shaelynn told him, and he glared at her.
“I’ll find it. I’m sure it’s in my stuff somewhere,” Nora said, turning to leave. Shaelynn glared at her back, shaking her head.
“Nora and I don’t agree on much, but I do agree with one thing she said—you can’t go around pretending this is nothing. You can’t just go back to work like you weren’t attacked this morning. This is ridiculous, Nolan.”
He looked at her. “Shaelynn, you know as well as I do that there isn’t a lot we can do until we find out who put Harrison up to that and why. We need to know exactly what he did. If he’s not the one who broke in and not the one who vandalized the car, that changes things, but I already told you how I wanted to handle this, and you keep ignoring me. I want to work. I want to take care of the things I can control.”
“How did you miss what happened with the cops this afternoon? They were ready to arrest you instead of Harrison. You can’t expect them to end this thing.”
“I didn’t say I expected the cops to end it.”
“Or the feds.”
He shrugged. “I like Kaplan and Morton. I think they can handle their part. I’m not worried about them or their respective cases. They can do that. I don’t have to. Sometimes it is okay to let other people do things. It doesn’t always have to be you, Shaelynn. You’re used to doing it all yourself, and you think you have to, but you don’t. You don’t have to be alone.”
“I am not alone.”
He found himself gritting his teeth against her obvious lie, and he rose, deciding to find his sister and his file before he said something he would regret.
“Are you kidding me?”
Kaplan shook her head. “No. It was, apparently, Ms. ‘Monroe’ who decided to tip the scales in Harrison’s mind toward you being the one behind his girlfriend’s disappearance. She told him a carefully censored version of your past within the cult—including your marriage to Ms. Sheppard—and got him to think that you were not the ‘traitor’ in the sense that the cult does, but he did vandalize your car and leave that message on it.”
Shaelynn folded her arms over her chest, studying the agent as she did. She was tempted to look over at Nolan—she’d been right about that woman, and it had nothing to do with jealousy. That femme fatale had set Nolan up to get killed. She was just what Shaelynn had thought she was.
Nolan shook his head. “I don’t understand. Why would she want me dead? That doesn’t make sense. Are you sure that’s the same woman? What if that was someone Cunningham was using or the girl’s mother?”
“We’re sure,” Morton told him. “Harrison thought she was very attractive and took a picture of her on his phone that he was able to share with us. We traced her back to the tip you gave the local authorities when she concocted that story about a stolen family legacy.”
Nolan frowned. “I don’t understand. I know I did turn her in, but I didn’t think she could trace that. I didn’t even think it would make much of an impact to the police. It was an old cold case, after all, and she was only interested in it because she thought she could steal from the original thief.”
“She must not have been as dumb as she looked,” Shaelynn said, rolling her eyes. “Honestly, Nolan, if there was any hint of the cops looking at her she’d peg that for you right away. She would have figured out that what you gave her was a misdirect. Once she did that, she’d either suspect you of going for it yourself—and we all know that’s unlikely—or she’d think that you proved true to your boy scout image and turned her in.”
“I was never a boy scout.” Nolan said. “Pretty sure they don’t give out badges in drinking the Kool-Aid.”
She ignored that one. He was just pissed because he’d tried to tell her that woman was nothing, tried to make it out like Shaelynn was just jealous when she’d never been jealous of him once in her life. They weren’t like that, not even when they were “married.”
“The important thing is that we know who put Harrison up to it, and we also know why,” Morton said, reaching for Kaplan’s hand. “It’s a bit anticlimactic after the whole semi-stalker thing, but I think you should take that as a blessing and run with it because the opposite isn’t pleasant.”
Kaplan shuddered, and Morton wrapped his arms around her, speaking softly in her ear, and she nodded to all of his words. She was starting to think that Kaplan had been stalked before, and that made her a bit uncomfortable. Even Nolan was doing his best to pretend they weren’t in that intimate conference.
Nora’s return to the room interrupted them, and whatever moment they were having was gone, a relief for Shaelynn, at least, since she’d wanted that to end. She knew Kaplan had a right to comfort—she just didn’t want to be watching it happen. She wasn’t that sort of person. Affection between other people had always seemed out of place and given her the sense of being a voyeur. She did not want to be that, nor did she like feeling that awkward.
“I didn’t realize I’d taken so long.” She set down her bag and looked at them. “I missed the revelation of who is behind all this nonsense, didn’t I?”
Shaelynn shrugged. She still wasn’t sure Nora cared as much as she claimed she did. “You thought it was important to get that file.”
“Nolan wanted to work.”
“Not again,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t have the patience to play peacemaker between the two of you today. Just leave it alone. The important thing is that, yes, Kaplan and Morton got a name from Harrison.”
“Nolan’s just mad because it was Monroe, and I wanted to go after her but he kept saying I was just jealous.”
Nora frowned. “Monroe? She did all that? That doesn’t seem… her style. I’d have figured more on her coming in and trying to seduce Nolan again, not set him up like that.”
“She might have noticed that he wasn’t the type to give into seduction,” Kaplan said, and Shaelynn wasn’t the only one frowning at her, though surprisingly her husband did not. “Seduction should have fooled him the first time, right? He should have bought into her lies and given her exactly what she wanted when she consulted him in the first place.”
That was true enough, Shaelynn supposed. Nolan fidgeted, uncomfortable with all the attention he was now getting.
He shook his head. “All right, fine. It was Monroe. She set this all up. We have no proof that she was in Nora’s place or the office, so we can resume using the office in the morning, and Nora could probably go home tonight. I still have to decide if I’m willing to go back to my place now. There was a break-in there and a nasty message, and I just don’t know how I feel about trying to make it home again.”
“Might be more difficult considering my daughter has your cat now,” Morton said, letting out a breath. “She loves him, unfortunately.”
Shaelynn fixed him with a hard look. “Unfortunately?”
“It’s not like I dislike the cat or that he’s being mistreated. He’s not. Carolina just thinks she needs more cats now. That is—it’s not far for her and Tim to share Boots. They need more than him.”
“Not any more of my cats, thank you very much—and not a word from you, Nora. I don’t care if Patchwork is skittish. She’s mine.”
“I am not trying to get rid of all your cats,” Nora said, stopping to pick up Hazelnut as he circled her feet. She started petting him, not looking at her brother. “I’d told you before that Boots wasn’t meant to be an indoor cat. I think it’s better for him to have a yard, much as it pains you. You could just have gotten him a yard, though. I would have been satisfied with that.”
“What the hell do I need a house for? I’m not going to be there to maintain a yard and all the rest of what comes with a being a homeowner. And what would I need all that space for?”
“I don’t know, big brother. Maybe a family?”
Nolan shook his head. “I tried being married once. It didn’t work. It’s not going to happen again.”
Nora let out a breath. Shaelynn just shrugged. If Nolan decided not to marry again, that was his business, no one else’s, and she didn’t see why he’d want to. The first time had been a mistake, so screwed up as to turn anyone off from the idea of marriage at all.
Morton cleared his throat. “I think we’d better get going. I have to go back to the joys of parenthood while Geneva gets the greater joy of paperwork, so…”
“Yeah,” Nolan agreed. “We have a few logistics to work out, but we owe you. Thanks. I do still want that number, though.”