Broken Places

Tracy Clark

The following is an exclusive excerpt from Broken Places, first in a new series from Chicago-based crime writer Tracy Clark. In the following passage, Clark’s policewoman protagonist tries to reign in her colleagues’ excesses as they pursue a teenaged delinquent on a hot summer’s day, in a scene that mirrors national conversations.

Chicago cops had to be on the lookout for any number of nefarious mopes eager to take a potshot, but this morning my biggest enemy was turning out to be the scorching rays of the summer sun. I slid into the driver’s seat of the unmarked car and cranked the windows down, balancing a rapidly melting iced tea, extra ice, between my thighs. A few feet away, my partner, Detective Ben Mickerson, stood in front of the Dairy Queen basking in the hellfire. “Vitamin D,” he said, ruddy face pointed skyward. “Soak in that vitamin D.”

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“You say vitamin D, I say skin cancer,” I groused. The hot vinyl seats nearly seared through my blazer and pants—and they were both summer weight. I checked myself in the rearview. The little makeup I’d started the day with was long gone now, melted away by flop sweat. I flicked at the sweaty ringlets at the nape of my neck and wiggled uncomfortably in my bulletproof vest, my breasts pressed flat, as though squeezed between the hot plates of a waffle iron. I looked like I’d gone through a car wash, and it was just ten AM. No great loss, though. Five minutes tops was all I ever invested in primping. I didn’t have the patience for it, and in the long run it seemed rather silly. Thugs and killers didn’t care what I looked like. They spotted the cop car, they ran, then I had to run after them. I’d be thirty-five in the spring. Eyeliner and blush weren’t going to make the running any easier.

“The sun is going to kill you,” I yelled out the window.

“Tell that to my ex-wife,” Ben yelled back as he continued to sunbathe. “She thought it’d be this job.”

Summer in Chicago was no joke. They say black don’t crack, but it does wilt, and I was wilting. Days like these I imagined all the career paths I could have gone in for. I could have been an oceanographer, swimming with friendly little dolphins in cool, blue water. Or a research scientist stationed in the Arctic. I’d die to be in the Arctic right now. Or even in a bank. Cass Raines, bank manager. Banks had AC, unlike this smelly cop car that would run hot as Hades until January, then cold until summer rolled around again. Or Cass Raines, astronaut—one of only a handful of African-American women ever to go up in space, a footnote in history, just like Sally Ride. Space was cold, wasn’t it? My tea was a watery mess. I was about to nag Ben to get back in the car so we could get rolling, when I saw him take a call. I watched as a grin broke out on his face and he pumped his fist. It was one hundred freaking degrees. What was he so happy about? Maybe he won the Powerball. If he won, I’d be happy for him, of course. What kind of partner wouldn’t be happy? But I was also going to be a little pissed off. Millionaires didn’t sweat their asses off in hot unmarked cars, their tits smashed between two boiler plates. Millionaires could buy enough ice to fill Wrigley Field and then hire the US hockey team to skate all over it.

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“What?” I said as Ben slid into the passenger seat, buckled up.

“Uh-huh. Uh-huh. We’re on it.” He ended the call, slammed the door shut, and flashed me a triumphant grin. “Somebody just saw Jimmy Pick sneaking into his mother’s house. We got him.”

I flicked a look at my silent radio sitting beside me. “Why didn’t we get it over the radio?”

He held up his phone. “Because they tagged another unit and they’re already rolling on it, despite the fact that it’s our case, can you believe that? That was Smitty doing us a solid.”

I actually felt a shiver. “She’s on Sangamon, right?”

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Ben stared at me. “Still freaks me out that you got a memory like an elephant.”

I shrugged. “It’s a blessing and a curse.” I meant it, too. I didn’t want to remember half the things rattling around in my brain.

“Go. We gotta catch up.”

I pulled out of the parking lot and shot out into traffic, lights and siren going, the heat no longer a concern. Jimmy Pick was the cold-blooded killer who’d been eluding us all summer; no one who knew him would give him up. Snitches get stitches. It was the way of things. “Who ratted him out?” I asked, scanning the streets.

“Anonymous. Tip line call. They even sent a photo of him waltzing through his mama’s front door.” He held his phone up for me to see. It was Jimmy, all right. He was young, but hard with a lifetime of street etched on his face.

“Maybe he missed her home cooking.”

Just nineteen, Jimmy had a juvie record as long as my arm: assaults, car thefts, and drug possession, but he graduated to homicide this past Fourth of July when he walked up behind a gang rival and blew his brains out. Then he ran. Because that’s what nineteen-year-olds do once the bravado wears off. The gangs had been sniping back and forth at each other for weeks—one side pulling off a drive-by, Jimmy’s side retaliating by shooting up a park, then a gang brawl to retaliate for the retaliation.

All of it was senseless and stupid and utterly maddening.

All of it was senseless and stupid and utterly maddening.

Four other young men were dead now because of Jimmy’s holiday kill, and we were just shy of Labor Day. Jimmy needed to be off the streets. I pressed my foot to the gas and punched it. I ran through red lights, rolled through stop signs, my eyes checking the street for distracted pedestrians. I glanced over at Ben. “Who’re we meeting up with?”

“Solis, Lyles, Grimes.”

Cops worked in teams. Like salsa dancers and doubles partners.

Ben was one short. “I can count, you know.”

Ben sighed. “Farraday. And there’s no point whining about it.”

I groaned. Farraday wasn’t a cop you wanted watching your six. He was pigheaded, haughty, and woefully slow on the uptake, but what he lacked in skill and temperament, he more than made up for in clout. Farraday was from a family of highpowered cops—sergeants, lieutenants, commanders, and chiefs—who’d paved the way for him. He’d risen through the ranks on the shoulders of giants. There seemed to be no mistake he could make egregious enough to derail his ascent; Farraday knew it and acted accordingly.

“But if he so much as blinks funny,” Ben said, “I’ll shove him down a sewer hole . . . Ferragamos last.”

The Pick house sat as dejected as a whipped dog, one of many that sat on a block of bedraggled frame houses subsidized by the government. The house, crudely painted lime green, appeared to lean to the left, as if an unkind fate had sapped the straightness right out of it. Instead of grass, a rusted car sat atop oil-stained cinder blocks. It was a place dreams went to die. I rang the bell, but no one answered. Solis and Lyles were at the head of the street. Farraday and Grimes were out back covering the alley. Farraday didn’t like it, but Pick belonged to Ben and me, and he knew it. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a warrant, so the porch was as far as we were authorized to go, unless there were exigent circumstances, and I couldn’t see any through the tattered bedsheets that passed for window drapes. I rang again, waited again, as Ben and me melted like butter pats in the mid-morning heat, our bodies angled so we could watch both the street and the door simultaneously.

Something rattled around the side of the house. Ben and I exchanged a look, then carefully leaned over the wobbly railing just in time to see Jimmy sprint out the side door, fly down the gangway, and scale his mother’s back fence.

“Son of a bitch.” Ben took off down the steps with me right behind him. Jimmy crossed into his neighbor’s yard, hopped another fence, and took off down the alley. Ben relayed Jimmy’s description over the radio—approximate height six feet, wear ing black track pants and a sleeveless yellow shirt. Jimmy, half a block ahead, saw us chasing him and sped up. It was too hot to run, but Jimmy was making a race of it, a race Ben and I could not afford to lose.

“Stop!” I shouted, digging in. “Police!” My holstered gun and radio bounced at my side. I caught up to Ben and passed him. Behind me, I could hear him puffing like a steam engine, but he kept it moving. He was knocking on the door to forty and in pretty good shape normally, but wind sprints in a heatwave would have been too much even for Usain Bolt. “Where are Farraday and Grimes?” I yelled. And where were the sirens? There should be sirens by now. Jimmy clambered over a row of garbage carts and scaled another fence. I called out the address so Ben could call it in and then grabbed a handful of chain link, prepared to scramble up and over, but the gate swung free in my hands. Spared the awkward climb, I shoved the gate open with more force than I probably needed, but now I was mad. I barreled through the yard, my eyes boring holes into Jimmy’s back. “Jimmy, stop!” Goddammit. He glanced back, sneered, kept going. He flew through the yard and jumped another fence into the alley. Ben and I went up and over, but Jimmy was well ahead of us. We were losing him. I ramped it up, my legs wobbling from the effort.

“Where the hell’s our backup?” Ben yelled.

We were boxed into a canyon of apartment windows, the sound of our heavy breathing echoing off the dirty glass. Was someone lurking behind them? Watching?

I scanned the alley. No Farraday. No Grimes. No Solis. No Lyles. “Don’t worry about it. Go.” But I did worry about it. I worried about it a lot. Jimmy rounded a corner, and I lost sight of him. I took the corner with Ben right behind me. The alley dead-ended. We skidded to a stop. East and west, apartment buildings loomed over the narrow alleyway. Ben and I stood facing south. Jimmy was nowhere. We were boxed into a canyon of apartment windows, the sound of our heavy breathing echoing off the dirty glass. Was someone lurking behind them? Watching? Were they armed? Did they hate cops? Ben and I moved in circles, checking every opening, looking for movement, praying we didn’t find any. It felt as though we were being tracked by a thousand eyes. “See anything?”

“Can’t depend on that,” Ben answered. “Left,” he called out, indicating which side of the alley he’d take. That meant the right side was mine to lock down. My eyes swept over every shadowy spot, every window, every alcove, my heart racing, my fingers suddenly cold. Minutes ago I’d been begging for relief from the heat, now I didn’t need it quite so much. In my head, I clicked through procedure, bracing myself for whatever came next, hoping to God I made the right choices and held up my end.

“Right,” I confirmed in a tight, clipped voice, my mouth bone dry. No backup. No backup? It was inconceivable but here the two of us were, alone . . . in an alley . . . in active pursuit.

There was plenty of police chatter on our radios, but none of it pertained to us. What bizarre world had Ben and I stumbled our way into? Where was everybody?

“Stop! Police!” The brusque command rang out from above us. Ben and I looked up at the same time, drew our weapons and trained them in the direction of the shout.

“The roof,” Ben yelled. “The six-flat. There.” We bolted for the building. We found the ground-floor door unlocked, and barreled through, rushing into the darkened stairwell, blinking to adjust quickly to the dark. From the street, finally, sirens.

“I said, stop!” Again, the roof, but this time I recognized the voice. It was Farraday. My heart leapt into my throat.

“Holy shit,” Ben muttered. “How’d he get past us?” The door behind us flew open. We both reeled. Detective Grimes.

“What the hell?” Ben’s eyes were wide, hyperalert. Mine were, too. “Why aren’t you with your partner?”

“He told me to cut off the alley,” Grimes said. He bent over to catch his breath. He was just two years out of uniform, still green, which accounted for the look of terror on his face. “He jumped out of the car and took off. I sped around, but then ran into the dead end. I left the unit and doubled back. Where is he?” Ben pointed toward the roof and we all three raced up the stairs. We had six flights to climb. Farraday was not the cop you wanted to leave alone on a roof with a kid who felt cornered.

Our job was to serve and protect, using force only when necessary. With Farraday it was force first, always. He was a cowboy who wanted to be the hero and score bones with his family. Not the best motivators for a good cop, lethal motivators for a bad one. The more stairs I climbed the more there seemed to be. Ben lagged behind, but not by much. Grimes fell in behind him. Do not kill this kid, I prayed silently. Do not kill this kid.


From Broken Places. Used with the permission of the publisher, Kensington Books. Copyright © 2018 by Tracy Clark.

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