A high-pitched alarm assaulted Delta Devlin’s ears. She awoke with a start and almost fell from her chair. Strobing lights flashed against the white walls of the Fourth Precinct’s fifth floor. Outside the floor-to-ceiling windows, a column of red taillights snaked into the distance along Veterans Memorial Highway—rush-hour traffic out of the city and into Long Island. Only 7:00 p.m., but in New York, night came early in February.
“Can we turn that off?”
She had to yell over the noise.
“Sorry, Detective, no can do,” the young officer replied.
Clean-cut, rosy cheeks. Were the new recruits getting younger? Delta answered her own question. No, she was getting older.
“Devlin,” Delta said, and held out her hand. She hadn’t met this kid before.
“Smollin.” The young man shook hands.
Strong grip. Good kid, even if he looked as if he should still be in high school.
The alarm warbled and whined. Delta winced. Just the two of them, alone, half crouched by her metal desk at the edge of the half-height cubicle warren that occupied most of this floor.
“Smollin, what can you tell me?”
“They caught him down in the evidence locker.”
“It was between shifts. The day and night managers were changing. We set up a perimeter outside, so he’s somewhere in the building.”
“What does he look like?”
“Caucasian, maybe eighteen, nineteen. Tight cornrows and tats—you know the type. Baggy white sweatshirt.”
“That he’s been lost?”
Delta watched his face carefully—an ingrained habit impossible to turn off. She didn’t watch his eyes, but more the area around them. They didn’t change shade in her unique vision. He was being truthful, but then, what would he lie about? She couldn’t help it, the reaction automatic. His forehead glowed from sustained stress.
“Can we turn the alarm off?” she asked again. “Unless we’re trying to deafen him into submission?”
“Following protocol,” Smollin said. “You keep watch here, and I’ll head down.”
Delta grabbed the recruit’s shirtsleeve as he started to leave. “Is he armed?”
“Evidence locker had lot of weapons.”
“Did they see what’s missing?”
“No time to do inventory, but my guess is drugs. A pound of coke and amphetamines from a bust a few weeks ago was still in there.”
These days, you couldn’t assume that anyone wasn’t armed. She swore and unclipped her Glock and checked the side. The loaded indicator nub confirmed one in the chamber.
The evidence locker was in the basement.
Six floors down.
She was the only person in here this late on a Saturday in Suffolk County Police Department headquarters, the new seven-story, glass-walled edifice that was the pride of Commissioner Basilone. Everyone fell upward to the level of their incompetence, as the saying went, and Delta had fallen upward here to be mired in departmental management paperwork. Her own fault—a reward for her good work.
She had come in on her day off to host a tour of the precinct for a local school’s career day. Orders came in from the top, tipping the hat to her for reasons unknown. She didn’t mind. She enjoyed the kids, and it gave her a chance to catch up on paperwork.
In the past hour, she hadn’t heard anything or seen any movement, but she had been wearing her earbuds. Old-school jazz made paperwork easier to bear. She would have noticed the elevator pinging, or someone opening the stairway door—wouldn’t she?
Better to be safe.
She unholstered her Glock and unconsciously gripped it in a weak-hand-thumb-past-the-straight-strong-thumb position, with the weapon out in front of her. The siren blared. With Smollin gone, she felt exposed. She retreated to the wall and opened the double doors going into the stairwell, checked the corners and edges, and glanced down a few flights. Smollin’s head bobbed on its way down two floors below. She crept back through the doors and scanned the desktops.
Was she nervous?
She always asked herself the question when she got her gun out. Her father drilled it into her head every time she went home for dinner, each Tuesday at their family home in Brooklyn. Every cop had better take stock of themselves when they reached for their weapon, he said. Too many civilian lives had paid the price for undertrained and overstressed officers twitchy on the trigger.
The first door by the stairs was the technical services bureau. With her gun down and away in her right hand, she unlatched the door with her left and swung it open. She checked the edges and ducked her head in for a second before retreating and reaching around the corner to flick on the lights. With her right foot, she pushed the door fully open as it swung back.
The fluorescent tubes in the ceiling panels popped on.
Three half-height cubicles down the right side of the thirty-foot room. An equipment bench down the left, next to the windows, the tables scattered with electronic devices half dismantled.
Anything digital forensics related, from all six Suffolk precincts, that needed evaluating ended up here. In fact, anything from upstate and even Albany. Most of it involved extricating data from disk drives and reconstructing erased digital images. At the end of the room was a squat box with rounded corners, two feet high and three wide—the new 3-D printer, the pride of Lucius, their resident tech guru. It was surrounded by plastic odds and ends it had spat out.
Nothing seemed out of place.
Not that Del would be able to notice if anything had been disturbed. The place was a mess. Still smelled of sardines. Lucius loved the damn things. It was why the rest of the squad on this floor made sure the door stayed shut.
The alarm screeched.
She flicked the light switch off. The 3-D printer at the end of the room glowed orange through its plastic housing. The thing was busy at work. Lucius often left it on at night to complete his projects. He made sure to tell everyone not to touch it.
No problem. Nobody even wanted to go in there. It wasn’t just the lingering smell of the tech’s lunch choices, but also the desire not to disturb stuff the average cop didn’t understand and didn’t want to understand. Life was complicated enough.
The next door over, thirty feet to the right, was the sergeant’s office. Lights off. Door locked. Brake lights of cars winding down the highway winked through the blinds pulled down over the windows on the far wall.
Lights were off in the vice pit as well.
Del had her hand on the doorknob just as the alarm went silent. Her ears rang with an audio afterimage, a piercing whine that died away slowly. Her shoulders relaxed an inch from their hunch against the siren’s assault.
They must have got the guy.
Her shoulders relaxed another inch. It was late. Time to go home.
An almost imperceptible creaking noise behind her. A door hinge.
She turned and said, “Smollin, so you caught the—”
Windmilling arms flailed over baggy jeans as the kid tried to keep his balance sprinting out the tech services doorway. Sneakers squeaked against the linoleum floor.
“Damn it,” Del muttered under her breath. Then: “Stop! Stop right there!”
She swung her weapon up, then lowered it. The building was full of cops, and she didn’t even know whether this was the perp Smollin came up about—but a half second of mental processing confirmed the description: close-shaved head, white sweater, jeans almost falling off his ass. Had to be Smollin’s guy.
Del sprinted to her desk and rifled through the top drawer to find her walkie-talkie but had to settle for her cell phone. The kid had fled to the stairwell, the door already closing behind him. His footsteps echoed. The heavy clumping sounded as though he was going up.
He wouldn’t go down, would he?
She tried to search for the phone number of the desk downstairs. Glanced up to make sure the kid hadn’t backtracked. Cursing again, she gave up and pocketed the phone and ran to the stairwell’s double doors. She was about to scream out a warning for any officers below when the alarm wailed to life again.
“What the hell . . .?”
She swung the door back with her left hand, weapon raised. She edged forward and tried to scream over the alarm. Reaching the stairs, she swung her weapon up and checked corners and edges for any movement.
Should she go up?
The next floor up was the mechanical room. Heating and ventilation. Then a set of stairs onto the roof. The structure was like a half pyramid. If he got onto the roof, he could jump down one level to the next and exit onto the parking lot. Smollin said they had a perimeter.
But could the perp be up to something else?
Her Glock out ahead of her and aimed upward, she worked her way up the stairs. Impossible to hear anything over the piercing shriek. One level up was the door to the mechanical. Metal railings. Polished concrete floor. Still smelled of fresh paint.
She jogged up the steps to the doorway and clicked the handle, crouched, and swung it open. Pitch black beyond. Not quite black. Her eyes picked up a faint red glow to one side.
“Put your hands up.” Del pivoted and raised the Glock.
The red smudge levitated, and a light clicked on. A cell phone light. The kid ran up another set of stairs and banged the door’s exit bar.
“Stop, or I’ll . . .”
Del’s command trailed off as she sprinted forward and found the stairs to the rooftop. He hadn’t turned, hadn’t stopped. Probably couldn’t hear her over the siren—but he’d seen her. She had announced herself. She could have fired.
But she didn’t.
Was he armed? Not sure, but he didn’t shoot at her. He was probably just one more drugged-up teenager, either a tweaker or a victim of the opioid epidemic. Long Island ranked depressingly high in the sad statistics nationwide.
Still, she had to be careful. Just because he hadn’t fired at her didn’t mean he wasn’t armed. At the door, she paused before edging out onto the rooftop, leading with her weapon, scanning back and forth.
The door swung shut behind her, mercifully muting the siren’s racket.
“Hey,” she shouted as she scanned right, toward the terraced rooftops. “This doesn’t have to end with you getting hurt. The building is surrounded.”
A sleeting rain had started. Cars hissed by on the freeway. She wiped her eyes with the back of her left forearm. Her eyes adjusted to the dim glow from the streetlights twenty feet below. The second she stepped out on the roof, the wet cold assaulted her. Forgot to grab her coat.
“I can’t go to jail,” said a quavering voice.
The sound wasn’t to her right. She swung around left, gun up.
“Put your arms up,” Del said.
A dim ghost appeared in the direction of the voice. The kid must have been crouching by an exhaust vent. In her enhanced vision, his hands and face glowed in the dark. His two hands, red blots in her eyes, went skyward.
Del said, “Get on your knees,” and advanced toward him.
The kid backed up. “It’s not my fault.”
“What isn’t your fault?”
“They said I wouldn’t get caught.”
Her eyes had adjusted better now. She could make out his face, the sneakers, the whites of his eyes. His hands up, palms out. He stood at the far corner of the rooftop.
“Get on your knees,” Del repeated. “And then flat on your stomach. Hands out.”
She advanced ten feet toward him. As she neared the edge of the building, the glow of a streetlamp flashed in her eyes, illuminating her and the kid. If Smollin looked as though he should still be in high school, the young man before her now surely couldn’t have graduated from middle school yet. He still didn’t get down though. Still had his hands up.
“Come on,” she said. “Please, get on your—”
“You’re Detective Devlin, right?”
She stopped in her tracks. “How do you know my name?” Her weapon lowered an inch.
The kid reached into his pocket.
“Don’t do it,” Del yelled as she crouched, the Glock aimed at center mass.
He pointed something at her. Her finger moved from trigger guard to trigger, but she hesitated. She gritted her teeth, half-expecting a muzzle flash and the thudding impact of a bullet.
The kid stumbled, his arm still out, and toppled backward over the parapet.
Del sprinted forward and skidded to a stop on the tar-and-gravel roof. One of the kid’s arms was hooked over the low wall—the only thing keeping him from falling. His fingers and knuckles blanched. She holstered her gun, grabbed his arm, and tried to haul him in. She took a wide stance and pinned her quads against the three-foot wall.
He slipped an inch, then another, away from her.
As she tried to get a better grip, his sweater pulled up, exposing a pale, emaciated torso. He dangled in open space over the four-story drop to the grassy slope in front of the building. His chest heaved in and out, rib cage stretching his pallid skin, each breath puffing out a white cloud of dissipating vapor. Glowing taillights swam past the periphery of Del’s blurry, water-fogged vision.
His left hand still held on to whatever he had pulled from his pocket. Was it a gun?
“Drop it,” Del said through gritted teeth. She leaned farther over the parapet, into space, and tried to get a hand under his armpit, all the while keeping an eye on that left hand. What was that? It looked like a—
“Don’t let go,” the kid shrieked. His arm slipped farther through the sweater in her grip.
His weight pulled Del forward, her feet scrabbling against the gravel. Her left hand gripped his right triceps, her right under his left armpit. He flailed and scratched at her face, grasping for something, anything. His feet bicycled frantically against the glass wall.
“Stop . . .” Del grunted.
The kid was stick thin but six feet tall—had to weigh at least 150. She dug her nails into his exposed skin, clenched her teeth, and hauled back with everything she had. The young man moved up a foot, his right hand thrashing to find a grip.
Del’s feet slid away in the sleet-and-gravel slurry. She slumped forward, her nails peeling back the kid’s skin. He squealed and grabbed her hair. She felt herself off balance, losing the battle. She had to let go.
No. I can do this.
In a quick motion, she repositioned her left hand under his chin. She tensed her midsection and tried to straddle the parapet.
But it was too late.
She spun forward in a wrenching cartwheel and sailed headfirst into the darkness.
From Meet Your Maker by Matthew Mather. Used with the permission of the publisher, Blackstone Publishing. Copyright ©2020 by Matthew Mather.