A Savage Trick
BOOK 3 in the Damaged Heroes Series
Highly decorated Chicago firefighter Trick Quinn is renowned for his charmed life. No victims have ever died on his watch, he cherishes his wife and daughters’ love, and he even won the lottery the first time he bought a ticket. His luck disintegrates when he’s accused of depraved acts, plunging him into disgrace. Every attempt to prove his innocence sucks him further into a warped nightmare that threatens his job, his freedom, and his family.
Dutiful Zamira Bey is at an unenviable crossroads: choosing between finding her happiness and restoring her Muslim family’s honor. When the notoriously savage firefighter becomes a court-ordered client, the paradox between the honorable man and the allegations ignites her curiosity. Not only is her growing attraction unwelcome, but threatens her career and guarantees community ostracism.
Bound by their common battles, Trick and Zamira fight to uncover the truth and protect their families, all while facing a growing vigilante threat in a city shaken by terror.
A Savage Trick
is BOOK 3 in the Damaged Heroes Series
The full series reading order is as follows:
- Book 1: Tall, Dark and Damaged
- Book 2: Capturing the Queen
- Book 3: A Savage Trick
- Damaged Heroes, Book Four
A Savage Trick
THE EXCERPT: Start Reading!
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The sight of the ransacked living room hit Trick like a jolt from a cattle prod. He paused at the threshold, forcing in a pranayama breath to settle the momentary panic at the mayhem. Sofa cushions and magazines were randomly strewn across the living room carpet. Articles of clothing dangled from various chairs. Even the blinds hung at irregular angles… Jeez. Eve would have a heart attack if she walked in here.
Trick shook his head. Who was he kidding? First, even without the restraining order, she would never have set foot in here. Second, he’d have moved heaven and earth to make sure she never encountered an eyesore like this.
Third, and most importantly, it was way past time to stop seeing life through the lens of his wife’s anger. This was Pete’s house and Pete’s mess. Trick’s bedroom was spotless, as was his freshly ironed white shirt with the red Chicago Fire Department logo. That was good enough.
Trick crossed to the kitchen—another disaster zone. Today’s Chicago Tribune lay among the debris littering the counter. Even from seven feet away, the photo of Trick’s own face on the front page startled him a second time. Hero Accused of…
“Damn it.” He shut his eyes to the rest, a wave of despair threatening to mow him down. All around the city, people—including his parents and brothers—were waking to new lies about Lieutenant Patrick Quinn’s depravity. No amount of protesting his innocence, no stellar professional record, and definitely no cleansing yoga breath could combat the onslaught of accusations. “Damn it,” he repeated, scrubbing his face.
He’d face the article soon enough—had to, so he’d know how to gear up for today’s battle—but couldn’t stomach it before coffee. He placed the CFD walkie-talkie on the counter beside the Keurig machine, which had a yellow sticky note taped to the handle. Fed Blaze and put him out back. –6:30a. P.
Trick crumpled the note, popped in a pod, then opened the back door and whistled. “Good boy,” he called as his nine-year-old Irish setter loped happily across the fenced-in lawn. Trick smiled, embracing this one moment where his dog’s joy superseded all the negativity in the wreckage of his life.
“Catch any squirrels, boy?” He scratched Blaze’s head, then crouched down and accepted a couple of wet licks up his cheek. “You and me—we’re gonna turn this crap around today, all right?”
The walkie-talkie toned out the alarm for Station 74. Not Trick’s firehouse, and besides, his shift didn’t begin for a couple hours, now that he was stuck on admin duties. “Engine Forty-Three, Ambulance Three,” Dispatch began, “residential fire, two-twenty North Whipple Street…”
Trick’s hand stalled in his dog’s fur, a sense of déjà vu paralyzing him. That was his address… Eve and the girls! “Please, God,” he whispered, bolting upright and snatching the radio. “Please be safe.”
He sprinted out of the house and jumped into his pickup at the curb. His breath came in shallow gasps as he gunned the engine to life and slapped the portable strobe light on his dashboard. “Dear God, dear God, dear God,” he chanted, but couldn’t add to the prayer. Couldn’t conceive of a life without Amy and Tina.
He raced down the residential streets, rolling through stop signs and revving past slow drivers. “Come on, come on!” He should have been there to protect his babies…should have been a better dad…should have never let Eve push things this far in the first place.
Miles passed in agonizing slow motion until he finally squealed around the corner onto his street. His heart stalled. The house was engulfed. Flames leaped from the kitchen windows, and dark gray smoke billowed in viscous plumes from the back of the house, where their living room opened to a patch of backyard. The engine and truck were already curbside. The squad had charged the hoseline and stood poised for action behind the firefighter battering in the front door. Trick careened into the Farnsworths’ driveway and scrambled out at a dead run.
“Trick,” a high voice shouted, “Trick!” He craned his neck without slowing. Mrs. Collins stood near the engine, a garden spade in her right hand. “Your wife’s inside!”
Next to her, the captain was waving him off. Trick wasn’t on the crew. Wasn’t in his turnout gear. Too emotionally attached for a rescue. Probably half a dozen other reasons. He didn’t give a damn. “My kids,” he yelled, racing up behind the men who’d breached the door.
The captain hollered his name as Trick grabbed the end of the hose.
“They went to practice,” Mrs. Collins called. “Eve waved goodbye and went into the house.”
Soccer. Jesus, it was Saturday. Trick nodded, his throat swelling with thanks for the grace of God. The scowling captain was striding up the path to stop him. Too bad. There was no way Eve would die by fire. The door gave way, and the men shuffled forward as the pressurized water strained to tear the hose up and out of their grips. Trick leaned into the powerful flow and nudged the man in front of him. “Haul some ass!”
“Goddam it, Quinn.” The captain gripped the back of his shirt and hauled him out of the pitch-black inferno. “Are you out of your cotton-picking mind?” He thrust Trick several feet away.
“My wife’s in there!”
“I was right beside your neighbor when she told you!” The captain waved irritably. “Go wait by the paramedics. Trust us to do our jobs, lieutenant. You know better than this. We’ll get her out.”
The paramedics stood by their stretcher and gear, gaping at Trick. No doubt they’d seen his life free-fall these last couple of weeks. By their curious frowns, they probably figured he’d finally snapped. But who left their wife to die when they were trained to fight flames and rescue victims? He had the highest save record in the city, for cripes’ sake, and here he stood, with his thumb up his ass!
Trick paced past EMS, too agitated to stand still. How on earth had it started? The flames predominantly centered in the living room. Had they found her yet? Visions of blackened corpses, curled in fetal positions, flooded his mind. A primal scream lodged in his throat.
“Heads up, lieutenant,” one of the paramedics said, almost apologetically. He pointed over Trick’s shoulder.
Trick glanced back, stifling a groan. Media vans were arriving. Lots of media vans, not just the three locals looking for an evening news snippet. Trick spun away, closing the distance to the front door again. Behind him, vehicle doors slammed and shouts of “There he is” and “Lieutenant, did you set this fire?” rang out.
His new normal: life as a monster.
“Lieutenant! Are you trying to kill your wife and daughters?”
“Stay back,” the captain thundered at them, waving his hands like an agitated referee. “Stay on the other side of the street!” The fire was mostly out, and light gray smoke poured from B-side windows. Inside the living room, the paneling would be charred, and rivulets of streaming water probably rained onto the matching armchairs Eve had recently recovered. Had the crew found her yet?
“Why aren’t you in there helping?” a particularly aggressive man shouted, echoing Trick’s thoughts. Trick gritted his teeth but didn’t turn. “What are you trying to cover up, lieutenant?”
A firefighter burst from the house, a body in his arms. Trick raced forward, heart in his throat. He’d been with Eve when she’d bought that white-and-yellow striped shirt. “It’s my wife,” he rasped.
“Stay back, lieutenant,” the captain warned again as the firefighter laid Eve on the stretcher, and the paramedics went to work. Trick took a step back and gulped the smoky air as her stats were shared. She was barely alive. One tech inserted a nasal cannula; the other prepped an IV epinephrine infusion.
Eve’s entire right side up to her neck was blackened flesh, and burned fabric adhered in places to her skin. A swollen knot marred the left side of her forehead, which the paramedics made note of, too.
After they carefully sliced open her t-shirt, they stuck AED pads to her chest. The men worked quietly and efficiently as Trick paid humbled witness to their heroic attempts to save her life.
“Fire was deliberate,” a firefighter muttered from behind. Without taking his eyes from Eve, Trick strained to listen. “The sofa cushions were all piled together like a bonfire. The rest of the living room looked like it had been tossed beforehand.”
“Yeah,” another firefighter said. “Completely ransacked.”
Chills coated Trick’s arms at the word he’d used less than half an hour ago. Ransacked meant a prolonged visitor with time on his hands. A place got tossed when someone searched for something. For what? They had nothing of value. Had the perp already been inside while Eve waved goodbye to Amy and Tina, or had he slipped in later? Why try to kill her?
Her left index finger twitched. Trick inhaled sharply and stepped closer. “Eve?” he said softly, capturing the attention of the crew around him. Silence fell even from the media across the street. “Eve?”
Her left eye opened a slit, dull with pain, and focused on his face. Slowly, the corner of her mouth lifted. His heart stalled. In any other circumstances, he’d have interpreted it as an attempt to smile, sure it wasn’t a grimace. But if he’d learned anything these last two weeks, it was to distrust his perception of reality. Especially with her orchestrating his reality. She hated him, and she was in horrific pain. There was no reason to smile. Unless… Unless she set the fire.
His mind recoiled immediately. He had to be wrong.
“Lieutenant,” the paramedic said gently, “we need you to step back.”
“Eve, did you…” The rest of the sentence died on Trick’s lips. The question was too insane. He had to be misinterpreting. Look at the knot on her forehead! She wouldn’t have knocked herself out.
She released a sigh, and her eye drifted shut. Her muscles slackened. “We need to transport now.” This time the paramedic’s directive was sterner, and Trick stumbled back. The stretcher rolled past, wheel indentations flattening the dewy grass. If she died… What? Opposing words and emotions swirled and clogged his stunned brain. If she dies…what?
“Lieutenant,” that same aggressive reporter called, “who gets the millions if your wife dies?”
Two Weeks Earlier
“There’s another lone wolf out there,” one of the crew muttered as Engine 126 rocked to a halt at the curb. “Or else they arrested the wrong guy yesterday.”
Trick secured his helmet, surveying the flames engulfing the west flank of a two-story warehouse. Dense black smoke billowed from the structure, choking the Friday afternoon rush-hour traffic for miles. The darker the smoke, the more toxic the contents inside. Could be they’d luck out and this place stored ingredients for fertilizer. Or the other side of the coin: this was another act of terror, and the warehouse harbored any of the go-to chemicals easily accessible for homemade explosives, like nitrourea.
Either way, this fire was too big for the first due. Truck 49 with Captain Lewis and the rest of the crew would arrive in minutes, and Cap would take scene command, but for now, Trick was the first-in officer. He’d better get his head in the game. “Lead with the deck gun,” he hollered, climbing out behind his men. “Attack from the corner of D side. Backup can take A.”
“Witness at two o’clock.” Pete Dobson jogged toward a heavyset man with a receding hairline who was waving his White Sox cap. A couple of cops ushered phone-wielding bystanders behind yellow barriers as sirens screamed in the distance.
Focus. Trick snatched the CFD cellphone from his utility belt as he jogged toward the inferno for a three-sixty take on the building. “On scene, Cap. This is a two-eleven. We’ll need more apparatus, for sure a rescue truck. Fire’s compromised D side, smoke is black and turbulent, marginal conditions at this point, could be too volatile for an offensive strategy.”
“Copy. I’ll call for a second alarm. Assess and report.”
Trick hopped over the snaking hose and cut left to B side, his steps heavy and sluggish. Not from the jostling weight of his gear in the late May heat. Or even from nearing the end of a grueling seventy-two-hour shift instead of the usual twenty-four. It was because during this extended shift the only peep out of Eve had been a few cryptic posts to her social media pages.
When Trick did something wrong, he heard about it—loudly and in excruciating detail. The one time he’d forgotten their anniversary, she’d stopped speaking to him for a day. A day. Not three. Meaning he’d messed up huge this time. Every call he made that went unanswered ate up another chunk of his stomach lining.
“Witness said he heard an explosion,” Pete said through the earbud, “followed by a male screaming inside the warehouse.”
A victim in this inferno? “Copy.” Trick buried his marital woes back into the compartmentalized vault. “Do we know what it housed?”
“He thinks it’s imported artifacts.”
“Roger.” Shit. An earlier bomb inside an artifact-filled warehouse had taken the lives of four FBI agents, including his brother Jace’s best friend. But they’d caught that lone wolf, so who was behind this?
Cap barked in his ear, “On scene, over.”
Trick bullet-pointed his assessment, confirming the change of attack to search-and-rescue, then headed around back. Thick smoke spiraled out of an open steel door. “C-side entrance is open. Entering structure to search for vic.”
Cap acknowledged, followed by Pete: “Got your six, Lieu, over.”
Trick adjusted his air pack just as Pete jogged up from behind and planted a palm on his shoulder.
They crouched and duckwalked into an inferno blasting heat upward of seven hundred degrees. Attacking a smoke-filled structure was as insulating as being blind. Trick paused and took stock, his breathing Darth Vader–loud above the snap, crackle, and roar around him. The firestorm was straight from the mouth of hell. Flames boiled up the drywall on the left and danced low across the ceiling. Embers of skeletal crates glowed in the blaze.
A thunderous pop sounded, like a blown transformer, and the men instinctively hunkered in place. A row of interior shelves collapsed, showering sparks and streams of fire with the precision of a flamethrower. Had they not ducked, they’d be dead. Divine intervention, instinct, luck—Trick never questioned it, but there was nothing like battling a fire to kick-start a screaming will to live. Pete’s cursing through the voice-activated telecommunication came across loud and clear.
Adrenalized and determined, Trick rose, activating his thermal-imaging camera. He slowly scanned the blaze for the vic. “I feel him.” One cosmic soul blindly reaching through the universe for another. Where are you? He stepped forward, Pete’s gloved hand still clamped to his shoulder. Trick took in slow, deep breaths. The cool air from the SCBA and even the sci-fi sound effect steadied his nerves. He swept the TIC in another slow arc. Red, yellow, and orange hotspots lit the screen, but it was blowback from the pulsing heat; no shape of a body. They crept forward. The certainty that always preceded Trick finding a victim grew stronger. “He’s close.”
“You got this, bro,” Pete muttered.
Trick ignored the reassurance. The second you started believing your own hype was the second you grew arrogant, careless—and ended up dead. Period. Fires were living beasts that commanded respect. A track record for prior lives saved was for shit when this blaze held a human hostage.
Another Darth Vader breath, a few more hunkered steps into the furnace. Trick strained to hear a cough or call for help over the roar, as remote as it might be. The infrared screen showed squat. A sonic boom reverberated, and they spun right like choreographed partners. An enormous crate at the back had exploded, raining flames and debris in all directions. The fire-ground conditions were declining rapidly, turning the operation into a defensive strategy. They’d have to pull out. Just a few more seconds… Trick stepped right, studying the TIC while projecting his Ajna, the sixth chakra or source of intuition, to turn him in the right direction. Where are you?
A deafening crack from somewhere close. “Eleven o’clock,” Pete called, yanking Trick backward. A load-bearing beam mere feet away splintered, shooting flames to the ceiling. They were out of time. “Come on, Lieu. It’s coming down.”
The next instant, the twenty-foot beam pitched slowly, defying gravity and time as it groaned and timbered in a blazing fall. The ground shuddered on impact, and a surge of heat blasted them back a few steps. The impact fractured the beam into three bouncing, rolling sections, and a trio of glowing readouts blitzed Trick’s screen.
“We’ve got seconds before the roof collapses,” Pete said through the comm. “Let’s pull back.”
“Not yet.” Trick arced the TIC around the raging warehouse again. Nothing. They were out of time—the structural integrity was declining too fast. Chunks of roof began disintegrating feet away. Streams from firehoses were visible now, attacking from the left.
Trick gave his Ajna free rein. The vic was in here—a scream had been heard. Go with your gut. The TIC hovered as Trick concentrated on the man’s spirit. Within seconds, Trick’s hand jerked right, as inexplicably as a Ouija board. A distinct glow emanated on the screen where no flames were.
“There!” The body lay curled near where the beam had just stood. Trick sent up a quick prayer. Had that post not fallen, they’d have never found him. Be alive. He surged forward, clipping the TIC to his utility belt.
“The roof’s going,” Pete warned, his voice tinged with panic.
“We have time.” Trick willed whatever universal power was out there to give him that time.
Pete reported the find into his headset as they serpentined through the bonfire. Trick crouched in front of the vic, gripping the unconscious man’s upper torso and sitting him upright with bent knees. Pete folded the vic forward, across the back of Trick’s shoulders, and helped Trick stand.
“Go, go, go!” Pete muttered as they navigated flames and falling rubble toward the back door, where blessed daylight shone like a dull beacon. “Thank you, hocus-pocus.”
They charged out into the considerably cooler air and jogged to the front of the building, where the EMS crew stood locked and loaded on the sidewalk. As soon as Trick lowered the vic onto the stretcher, the techs slapped an oxygen mask over the man’s gray face. Flecks of ash covered his forest-green jumpsuit, which was being sliced open. Buddy was stitched on a patch above the left front pocket. Aside from burns to the backs of his dangling hands and singed hair, his body seemed unharmed. It was a freaking miracle.
Screaming sirens and the roar of three more engines, two trucks, and a rescue truck sounded down the block as the second due arrived. The sirens died as teams of firefighters jumped out and went into fluid action, tugging hose off truck beds and laying lines.
Trick yanked up his face shield. Sweat streamed from temple to neck. His clothes were soaked under the heavy gear. His pulse thundered from the rescue, and adrenalin ignited every cell. The previous exhaustion was a memory.
Beyond the police barricades, two black Suburbans, dash lights flashing, screeched to a halt. Had to be FBI. Please don’t let it be Jace.
“Pulse ninety, BP one-forty over ninety. Looks like he’ll live,” one of the techs called out.
“Let’s get him in the ambulance.”
Trick closed his eyes and lifted his face to the hot, smoky sky and the universe beyond. Good going, Buddy. Another life saved, another fire on its way to being extinguished. Trick allowed himself a small grin. Each time a victim made it out alive was proof that desire manifested reality. Once again, Trick’s soul was nourished and brimming with gratitude. What a perfect life.
“Lieutenant,” a reporter shouted from behind the barricade. “Hey, Lieutenant Quinn! Did you save another one?”
As busy as Cap was directing the second due, he paused to glare at Trick like that question was his fault.
Trick ignored the cameras. Someone on his crew had outed his sixteen-year save record a few months back, and now the local media hounded Engine 126 calls to see if the “Quinn Phenomenon” still stood.
“Lieutenant,” another reporter called, “is this the work of terrorists?”
“Lieutenant, do you know where your wife is?”
Trick spun toward the last voice, frowning. A familiar woman with short black curls leaned over the barricade, microphone to her lips. Why would a reporter even know who his wife was? Why would she ask where Eve was? She was home, like always. Angry, sure, but home.
He swiped a gloved hand over his perspiring face and stepped off the curb. It was worth breaking from the action to get answers.
“Lieutenant,” Cap shouted, beckoning him with an impatient wave. Trick huffed out a frustrated exhale and changed direction. He jogged by the vic being hoisted into the back of the ambulance. Buddy’s face now had color under the oxygen mask.
“Good work in there,” Cap said without taking his eyes off the full-scale battle. He paused and barked further defensive strategy orders into his headset, then turned the full weight of his attention on Trick. “I’ve told you before not to engage with the media. Especially not in the middle of an active structural fire.”
“Sorry, Cap.” Do you know where your wife is? What the fuck?
“Go help Danny. That probie’s going to be the death of me.”
“Yes, sir.” Trick spun away, almost colliding with his older brother. Crap. “Jace.”
“Trick.” The tone was dismissive as Jace nodded to Captain Lewis, flipped open his oversized wallet, and flashed his shiny gold badge. “Jason Quinn, FBI, sir. I understand there’s a witness to the explosion?”
Cap glanced at Trick, who pointed out the White Sox man being interviewed by a cop. “Said he heard the explosion and a scream,” Trick said. “We got the vic out.” He jerked a thumb at the paramedics slamming the cab doors of the ambulance.
“Oh, good,” Jace murmured, brushing by Trick. “You’re still the angel of life, then?”
A firefighter from the 65th walked up, and although Cap turned to greet him, based on his tightening jaw, he’d caught Jace’s remark. Captain Lewis despised strife—didn’t matter if he witnessed it between blood relatives or among his crew; it triggered his rare temper. Problem was for the five Quinn brothers—especially the first four, each born a year apart—rivalry was a way of life. And as eldest, Jace had always elevated that fraternal competition to a blood sport.
Angel of life. Trick wiped his mouth, swallowing the half-dozen caustic replies. Jace was so not worth turning this grateful energy streaming through his body into something negative. A deep breath reconnected his chi to the high-frequency magic of the universe. Where miracles like Buddy surviving the explosion happened. Where Trick manifested joy and love for everyone, even Jace. He walked backward, calling out amiably, “Have a good one. See you at Mom’s birthday party tomorrow.”
Jace pivoted. “It’s been canceled.”
Trick paused, frowning. The backyard barbecue for fifty of their friends and family had been planned for months. He closed the distance so they weren’t shouting. “Why? What happened?”
“Hello?” Jace’s expression turned scornful. “A lone wolf bombing happened, dipshit. Agents died. Most of the first responders are still out searching the city. There’s no way it’s appropriate for Mom to hold this mega party.” He shrugged. “I told her to reschedule it in a week or two.”
“You told her?” Trick shook his head and gazed off in the distance. Why was this even remotely surprising? All the positive vibes morphed into exasperation. “What did Pop say?”
“He wasn’t on the call. I’m sure he’d have agreed with me, though.”
Trick tapped his helmet on his thigh. “Well, Jace, it’s her sixtieth birthday tomorrow. There’s no reason her family can’t take her out to dinner or something. I’m sure the Bureau will let you off for a couple of hours.”
“But I already canceled Sean.”
As if canceling their youngest brother sealed the deal. Too fucking much. “So call him back. Make a restaurant reservation. Then call Mom and Pop.”
The aggravated suggestions hit their mark, and Jace scowled. “How about you pull some of the load?”
“You made the mess, bro, you fix it. I’ll bring Eve and the girls by Mom and Pop’s tomorrow, and we’ll drive them to the restaurant. Just tell me the time and place.” Trick turned away before his brother could get the last word and rejoined his crew, taking the mentoring time to call out instructions to Danny on the angle of attack or point out the smoke’s changing color and viscosity.
Less than an hour later, the fire was out. Trick trudged toward the crew milling by the engine. “Job well done,” he said to the team. “The faster we pack up, the longer we’ll have to stop for groceries before the AAR.”
“And meditation,” Danny said.
The guys snickered, and Russ muttered, “Yeah, fill up Danny’s chi, Lieutenant Yogi.”
Pete clapped Danny on the shoulder, which he shrugged off red-faced. Trick stifled his grin. As much as the guys pooh-poohed Trick’s implementation of group meditation following an After Action Review—and still goofed on Danny for voicing his enjoyment—the entire squad secretly looked forward to calming the adrenalin and refocusing their mindfulness after an active fire.
“Yep,” Trick said. “We’ll kick ass with an epic meditation. Hop to it.”
His team scrambled to their individual tasks, and Trick helped Danny haul and refold the supply line, immersing himself in the physicality and redundancy of the task. This two-alarmer clearly resembled the recent lone-wolf warehouse fire. Which meant that despite public reassurances and massive citywide searches, the FBI had not found and defused all the bombs. How many more hidden explosives were still out there? How many more innocent citizens would be injured or killed before this was all finally over?
He paused and looked around for Jace, but the SUVs were gone. Most of the media were too, although the dark-haired reporter still stared at him like she held the world’s biggest secret. “Finish up here, Dan,” Trick said impulsively. “I’ll be right back.”
He strode across the street, raking back his sweaty hair with a quick swipe. The closer he got, the more the reporter came to attention, nudging the cameraman, grabbing her mic off the floorboard of the open van, and facing Trick with professional poise. If it wasn’t for what she could tell him, he’d never engage. He’d seen too many butcher jobs done on his fellow firefighters from media looking for a sound bite. He pasted on a congenial grin and greeted her with an easygoing “Hot day to stand this close to a fire.”
She didn’t bat an eye. “Traci Tedesco, Channel Thirty News. Is this the work of terrorists?”
He glanced back at the destruction. “Too soon to tell.”
“Will the victim live?”
“The hospital can give you that information.” He gently batted her microphone down and asked in a quiet voice, “Why did you ask about my wife?”
She arched an eyebrow. “Because you’re a local celebrity. Why wouldn’t Chicago want the scoop on why your wife was at court this morning?”
Trick frowned. Court? “It was nothing,” he said quickly. “Paying a parking ticket. How do you even know who my wife is?”
Secret knowledge flared in Traci’s eyes again as she swung the microphone back to her mouth. “Why was your wife exiting the Cook County Family Court this morning, Lieutenant Quinn?” Her tone held a singsong, baiting quality.
Family court? Fresh sweat beaded his forehead, and his pulse thundered like when the beam had timbered. What the hell was going on?
“Lieu!” one of his men called.
“You’re mistaken,” Trick said affably into the mic, plastering on an easy grin. “No news here. If you’ll excuse me, I need to return to my crew.”
“Of course,” she said sweetly, then glanced at her cameraman and drew a line across her throat. The second he lowered the camera, her smile slipped. “You realize, lieutenant, that court records are accessible to the public.”
“There’s no story here,” Trick repeated. He strode back to his crew as if wading through hip-deep mud. His synapses were misfiring, his muscle coordination not assimilating with his conscious intention to put one foot in front of the other. What the hell? It had to be exhaustion from the multiple overtime, because the reporter’s insinuations were laughable.
Sure, Eve got mad a lot, and yeah, their last interaction had been pretty brutal, which had to be why she’d been radio silent every time he’d called or texted. Overall, though, they were the perfect couple. Everyone said so. She said so. This was just a colossal misunderstanding.
The goodbyes on the other side of the two-way mirror were stoic and subdued. Not surprising, since the entire supervised hour had been steeped in misery. Zamira Bey slipped out of the observation room and met Mrs. Mulroney and her three kids as their door opened.
“That went well,” Zamira said, channeling genuine warmth and compassion into her smile. Only the youngest, seven-year-old Bobby, seemed receptive to the positive emotions and grinned back.
“When will we see you again?” the middle child, Heather, asked her mom. Guilt shadowed Mrs. Mulroney’s face as she pressed her lips together. Before the mother could hang herself with a caustic retort, Zamira sent out more vibes. Let your love pour out. Show your kids how much you need them.
“I don’t know, dear.” Mrs. Mulroney managed a thin smile. “As soon as possible.”
The oldest, twelve-year-old Karen, rolled her eyes. “That’s grownup talk for weeks.” She marched down the hall without a backward glance.
Zamira grabbed Bobby’s hand and motioned for the others to follow. At the juncture between the two designated exits, the group—minus Karen—clustered once more.
“I’ll be in touch to schedule your next visit,” Zamira said to the emaciated Mrs. Mulroney, whose flickering emotions hovered between resignation and irritability. “You did great today.”
“Bye, Mama,” Bobby said in an overly loud voice. His mother winced. The wince of a recovering addict barely hanging on. Again, Zamira mentally urged the woman to respond kindly. Two weeks ago, the initial supervised visit had to be discontinued due to anger and tears on both sides. No amount of positive energy from Zamira had diluted that outpouring of negativity.
“Bye, baby.” Mrs. Mulroney’s tone was filled with remorse, but love shone in her eyes as she kissed both children. “Give Karen a kiss for me.”
Zamira led the two kids toward the south exit, where Karen stood with their father, who glared at his watch. They weren’t late. Punctuality wasn’t just a virtue for Zamira, it was a neurosis. Matter of fact, the session would conclude two minutes early, since the goodbyes hadn’t required the factored-in time. She maintained her walking-with-children stride and streamed compassion toward Mr. Mulroney and his sullen daughter.
As they passed by her boss’s open door, Andy called out, “Zamira, please see me when you’re through.”
She nodded and finished transferring the three kids back into their father’s custodial care. Although Mr. Mulroney drilled her with questions and his suspicious nature never let up, she maintained a cheerful smile and answered with patience. Some custodial parents acquired the herculean compassion to support court orders that benefited their kids. Others, like Mr. Mulroney, found appointments at a supervision center a punishment and wanted any evidence it wasn’t working so their lawyers could pull the plug.
Zamira waited on the top step of the parking lot until his Lexus departed. She inhaled the fresh spring air. Life was about perceiving and acknowledging this precious moment, Insha’Allah. In this instance, the beauty of her surroundings. The dappling play of sun and shadows across the windows of the postwar industrial building. How the three pink tulips blooming in the cracked flowerpot were an inch taller today. And how the gently swaying branches of the oak across the street looked like they were waving at her. Zamira would’ve waved back except for the cluster of kids kicking a soccer ball nearby. It was one thing to honor Allah by creating a life of joy and helping others, and another to come off as crazy.
She raised her face to bask in the warm sunshine and sighed her thanks for such a lovely afternoon. A minute later, she knocked on Andy’s open door. He motioned to the chair across the desk. “I had a call from Nate Henderson’s lawyer.”
Zamira interlocked her fingers tightly in her lap. Mr. Henderson was another parent who couldn’t see past his own pain to help his children through the familial crisis. She’d had to call security yesterday to escort him out his designated entrance instead of following her and his kids out the south exit, where his wife waited. The Henderson case was still relatively new; he just needed time to adjust. “Yes?”
Andy took off his glasses and immediately squinted. That wasn’t a good sign. He only voluntarily blinded himself when he had bad news to impart. “He wants a different supervisor.”
“I’m not surprised,” Zamira said. “But I don’t think it’s necessary. I followed company policy to the letter, and no one got hurt. Except perhaps his ego.”
“It wasn’t the escort back to his car he took issue with.” His squint focused on her teal hijab, a soft, lightweight jersey cotton with beaded trim. It was new; the beauty of it had enhanced her inner joy all day. Wait, he was still looking at it… Had strands of hair escaped? She fingered her temple before the regret in his expression burrowed into her consciousness. Oh. Her heart sank.
He waved the hand that held his spectacles. “The whole bombing situation and those poor FBI men dying. And there was just a news alert about another warehouse explosion in South Shore. I know that terrorist has nothing to do with you, but…you know how some people are.”
Making sure not one muscle on her face twitched, Zamira nodded. “Our community is expecting a backlash, even though we’re Sunnis from Egypt. Different country, different sect than the bomber. In Christian terms, it’s about as crazy as American Mormons being blamed for Irish IRA bombings.” She lowered her head at her sharp tone. Anger never solved anything. Henderson’s Islamophobia wasn’t Andy’s fault, nor his problem. “I’m sorry it’s interfering with my work.” And my social life. And my courage to walk anywhere alone anymore.
She breathed in slowly. To stop this swelling outrage at Henderson’s small-mindedness, she had to view it from another angle. Like pity for his small-mindedness? Compassion for his children’s hard road toward healing? Relief she wouldn’t have any more run-ins with such a mean spirit? Gratitude that her overburdened schedule had just lessened by one? See? Many angles. Anger at his bigotry was wasted energy, and this disclosure was not going to deplete hers. “A couple more Hendersons and I can cut out the overtime,” she joked softly.
Andy’s shoulders lowered. “Thank you for understanding. You’re the most positive, forgiving person I’ve ever met.” He plucked a bright yellow file from his full inbox. “But no, there’s no rest for the weary. This just came in. I was going to assign it to Ann, but I have a feeling she’ll be the one who gets Henderson.”
Zamira reached for the folder. Before she could open it, Andy continued, “Mother obtained court-ordered supervision on charges that the father is sexually abusing the six- and eight-year-old daughters.”
Zamira’s heart clenched. “Andy—”
“I shield you as much as I can when it comes to assigning these, Zamira, but everyone’s overloaded. You’re losing Henderson, and this just came in.”
The positivity she’d worked so hard to cocoon herself in evaporated. On instinct, she sent up prayers, beseeching Allah to intercede. Of all the horrific abuses suffered by children, incest was the most heinous. She despised these cases and loathed the offending parent. After six years in this profession, it still took all her training to supervise the predator, write unbiased observation reports, or testify without prejudice in court.
Zamira dug the nails of her free hand into her palm. Losing Henderson had not been a ray of sunshine. It was the gates of Jahannam cracking open.
Two questions left on the After Action Report before Trick could wrap this up. The guys had to be exhausted with the bomb-related back-to-backs, whereas every cell in his body pulsed with impatience. His thoughts scurried from the reporter’s family court revelation to searching his memory for anything he could have done to piss Eve off, to the two more calls that had landed in Eve’s voicemail. It wasn’t like her to avoid confrontation. Enough! In Buddhism, this scattered inability to focus was called Monkey Mind, and boy, these monkeys were panicked. Fourteen more hours until his shift was over and he could go home and finally face this. Trick cleared his throat and summoned his laidback side. “Are there any thoughts on how communication went during the call?”
Danny raised his hand. “Yeah, uh, my headset didn’t work properly. I couldn’t hear Sam’s directive.”
“Maybe clean the wax out of your ears,” Sam retorted, and the crew broke into jovial laughter, once again at Danny’s expense.
Trick waved the clipboard. It was easy to get off task or keep things light, but AARs were designed to build trust, develop skills, and root out potentially critical issues like this, whether it was equipment failure or more headset-intercom training was required. “Sam, after meditation, switch headsets with Danny and verify any malfunction.” Right on cue, Sam scowled, which Trick ignored. Their communication devices were four years old. To the taxpaying public, that probably sounded new, but not in terms of the beating these things took on scene, nor compared to the newer technology that far surpassed these workhorses and would alleviate a lot of this engine company’s headset/intercom complaints.
“Last item,” Trick said. The crew straightened in their chairs, anxious to move on with their day. “What’s one thing you learned today?”
“That Lieu is still one lucky sonuvabitch,” Russ said. “Way to keep the record alive.” Amid the laughter, he fist-bumped Santiago to his left.
“Yo.” Trick tapped the clipboard on his thigh. “Looking for something deep so we can wrap this up.”
The chuckling subsided, and the men glanced around at any inanimate object. Drawing out emotions from battle-worn firefighters was always a challenge, but the stats on substance abuse, mental burnout, and destroyed marriages significantly decreased when stations implemented this military exercise. Trick loved these men and this life; he’d do anything to protect both. Sure, talking about feelings made him a nerd, the Lieutenant Yogi, but so what? He was all over maintaining the healthiest brotherhood in Chicago. “Santiago?” Trick turned to the quietest member of the squad. “Any takeaways?”
The young man hunched his shoulders, his gaze fixed on the linoleum. After a silence that was fast becoming awkward, he said, “That we should relook at multiple back-to-backs like this. I’m so tired I’m a risk to my team, man.” Others nodded solemnly. “I mean, I know this bombing was unprecedented, but maybe have the governor call in the National Guard or something. We’re being spread too thin.”
Mutters of agreement. Trick noted and starred the comment. “Thanks for the honest insight. Anyone else?” When no one responded, he shoved his chair back. “Okay. A quick meditation, ’cause I don’t want any of you falling asleep”—someone coughed Santiago’s name, and the group broke into laughter again—“and then chow.”
He followed the men toward the rec room, where sofa and chair cushions would be used to pad the floor. Cap poked his head out of his office. “Lieutenant Quinn?”
Trick swiveled in surprise. Cap was rarely formal inside the house. Behind him stood a police officer with an official expression. Trick’s adrenalin shot to red-alert range. Had something happened to Eve? “Yes, sir?” He gestured at Pete to start the session and headed toward the office.
As Captain Lewis stepped back to let him pass, the officer held up an envelope. “Are you Patrick Oliver Quinn?”
What the hell? “Yes.” It came out like a question.
The officer handed over the envelope. “Mr. Quinn, you’ve been served.”