A high-pitched squeal caught Officer Kate Murphy’s attention.
Searching for the sound, she spotted an elderly woman in a well-tailored, baby-blue skirt and jacket pointing at a tall man sprinting away from her.
Kate rushed out of her patrol car and ran after the man fleeing with a large satchel under his arm. The baby-blue bag matched the senior woman’s outfit—and it definitely didn’t go with the man’s dusty black hoody, jeans, and work boots. It wasn’t hard to guess what had just happened.
Expertly zigzagging her way through the stop-and-go traffic, Kate shouted, “Boston Police!” over the bustling soundtrack of Washington Street and Dorchester Avenue.
Maintaining a fifty-yard lead on the sidewalk lined with various boutiques and cafes, the suspect turned to sneak a look at her. His towering frame stood out among the casually attired crowd meandering through the area, running errands, grabbing breakfast, or getting a late start to their workday.
Kate weaved around the pedestrians, heart racing and pounding. He had height, but she had speed, so she narrowed the distance between her and the suspect. In between breaths, her authoritative voice boomed, “Stop! Get on the ground!”
The suspect turned left on Dorchester Avenue, and Kate followed, further closing the gap between them.
A hundred feet.
Adrenaline rushed through Kate’s veins. There was nothing like the thrill of catching someone in the act, righting wrongs. As she approached him, she gave it her all, her elbows pumping at her sides, her heartbeat echoing in her ears.
The suspect pushed a man in a business-suit out of his way before glancing back again. His eyes grew rounder when he spotted Kate right behind him.
But it was already too late.
She tackled him to the ground. Pinning him to the concrete sidewalk, she noticed a scar on his cheek partly hidden underneath two days of scruff. His jaw remained clenched while his chest heaved, expelling an overpowering aroma of onion. Up close like this, Kate guessed the man to be in his early twenties. She cuffed his wrists behind his back.
“That hurts!” he yelled.
She’d heard that before. A pathetic attempt at gaining sympathy. But she knew how to properly cuff, so he was fine. “You could have made it easier on yourself by stopping when I ordered you to,” she said.
The man lifted his face to her. “I didn’t do nothing.”
“Is that so?” she asked, before patting him down where he lay. Kate retrieved his wallet from one of his jeans pockets.
“What are you doing? This is mine,” he interjected.
“Don’t worry. You’ll get it back. I don’t collect wallets.”
Once satisfied with her search, she climbed off and pulled him to his feet.
He balanced himself just as the elderly woman whose bag he’d snatched reached them on the sidewalk. Kate finished searching his front. A pack of gum, shriveled receipts, and a pocket full of change. No knives or guns.
“Thank God you caught him!” the silver-haired woman said with an overly pronounced T.
“May I have my purse back now?” she continued, her eyes darting toward it and its spilled contents on the sidewalk.
“Do you want to press charges, ma’am?”
The woman shook her head and pursed her wrinkled, peach-colored lips. A flicker of fear flashed through her gray eyes. “Dear God, no! I don’t want to have to go to court.”
“You probably wouldn’t have to. I witnessed it as well. All you’d have to do right now is file a statement.”
“Oh, I don’t know, dear. This seems like an awful lot of work…”
“I get it. But this man’s gonna do it again if you don’t, and the police won’t always be around to stop him—”
“I saw everything. I could provide a statement,” someone with a low, hoarse voice said next to Kate.
She turned to look at the man with curly red hair. He seemed in his mid-twenties, dressed casually in jeans and a T-shirt.
“Great. Hang tight, sir,” she said before reaching for the radio attached to her left shoulder.
“Harry-145. Requesting another unit to process statements for a robbery near the intersection of Washington Street and Dorchester Avenue,” she said.
A few seconds later, the radio screeched with the dispatcher’s voice to announce another unit was on its way.
Kate returned her attention to the woman. “What’s your name, ma’am?”
“Okay. Please stay here, Ms. Greenwood,” Kate said.
Keeping one hand on the suspect’s elbow, Kate bent down to pick the woman’s bag. The soft leather and heavy silver buckles made it obvious it was the real deal.
Handing it to Ms. Greenwood, Kate said, “I’ll let you pick up your other items, then please go through your bag to make sure nothing’s missing. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Kate walked around the corner, steering the suspect ahead of her, and crossed the street again, this time more carefully.
Once they reached her patrol car, parked next door to a coffee shop where she’d stopped to use the bathroom minutes earlier, she opened the backseat door to load him in.
“Watch your head,” she said, placing her hand over his dusty brown hair to prevent him from hitting the frame and claiming police brutality.
As she closed the door, she spotted the other unit arriving and parking nearby.
When a tall and broad-shouldered officer walked out of the car, she tried not to roll her eyes at her bad luck.
Bower, argh. Out of them all, he’s the one who shows up. Well, here’s to nothing. She headed to meet him.
“What’s going on, Murphy?” he asked as he approached.
“Suspect stole a woman’s handbag,” she said. “I caught him as he was running away. The woman is checking if anything’s missing. I just need your help processing her statement and an additional witness’s statement for the report while I take care of him.”
He frowned. “She got her bag back?”
Kate nodded, and then she and her colleague headed across the street to where the small group of people was still gathered, including the elderly woman and the red-headed witness.
“So, is everything accounted for?” Kate asked the woman.
“Yes, thanks to you, Officer.”
The woman dug a manicured hand into her newly returned bag, retrieving her wallet from which she pulled a crisp one-hundred-dollar bill that she offered to Kate. For a split second, images of the food Kate could buy, or the grateful smile on her uncle’s face when she brought him groceries popped into her mind.
“Thank you, but I can’t,” Kate said. Taking payment as a reward was not only an offense she could get fired for, it also created too much of a slippery slope that led nowhere but down Dirty Cop Alley, out in Bribery Town. “This is Officer Bower, my colleague. He’ll take your statement.” Kate then faced the red-haired man before turning to Bower again. “And this man witnessed it all and would like to file a statement as well.”
“Okay…” her colleague said, nodding and frowning.
“You both have a great day now,” Kate said to the woman and the red-haired man. “I’ll be processing the suspect in my car,” she told Bower before crossing the street again.
Back in the driver’s seat of her patrol car, she opened the man’s wallet, sorting through it till she found his ID. Anthony Stefano Martolli. Twenty-two years old.
Kate entered his information into her computer. No outstanding warrants. No police involvement at all.
“New hobby I take it?” she said sarcastically to Martolli.
“Am I under arrest?”
“Yeah, let’s make it official before I start asking you questions. You have the right to remain silent. Any statement you make can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you can’t afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. There. Happy now?”
“What are you arresting me for?”
“Stealing that woman’s bag. What else, Mr. Martolli?”
Kate was halfway through writing Martolli’s details in her official notepad when Bower knocked on her car window. She rolled it down.
“You can thank me now, Murphy. I got us out of filling those reports.”
“I convinced both the woman and the ginger kid that nothing needed to be filed. She got all of her belongings back, so she won’t be pressing charges.”
He’s undone all my hard work?
Her shoulders tightened into knots, and her jaw clenched. She wanted to tell him he was wrong. She wanted to scream it at him. The kid would do it again if he got off scot-free. But she also knew from past experiences that arguing with Bower was pointless. And doing so right in front of a suspect in custody—though not for long, it seemed—was definitely not the place or time.
“Anyway. It’s all sorted. You’re welcome,” Bower said before double-tapping on the roof of Kate’s car.
“Does that mean I’m free to go?” Martolli asked from the backseat.
“Yep,” Bower said as he opened the back door.
“Hold on, Bower,” Kate said. “She may have dropped the charges, but I’m still recording this. I’m issuing him a ticket for disturbing the peace.”
“Fuck! Here she goes again,” Bower said.
Bower peeked in to make sure Martolli’s foot wasn’t in the way before he closed the door. “You heard the lady,” he said, then he stepped back to her window and lowered his voice a tad. “If paperwork gets you all wet, then suit yourself. My work here’s done. I’m leaving. This report’s all yours.”
“Thanks, Bower,” Kate said, the corners of her lips as high as her anger level.
She watched him return to his patrol car.
Bower’s such an ass!
But being one of the most senior patrol officers as well as the tallest and biggest man in the district seemed to always get him his way. Who was she to get him to understand?
Martolli spoke up again, bringing her back to reality. “So, you’ll let me go then?”
“Once I finish writing you this ticket, yes.”
“You’ll have to show up in court. Probably walk away with a fine. But who knows? Not my call. You got off easy, so I hope you learned something from this.”
Kate finished the ticket. With her paperwork ready and the man’s ID back in his wallet, she once again exited her car, this time to release Martolli.
Once he was out of sight and she’d slipped back into the driver’s seat, Kate let out a long breath to try to forget Bower’s actions and his blatant disregard for proper protocol and regulations. The knots in her shoulders had started to loosen when, all of a sudden, an urge to empty her gut overtook her.
Damn it! Again?
She reached for the plastic grocery bag that held her lunch on the seat next to her. She flipped it, and, with a soft thud, her reusable containers landed on the passenger seat. She barely had time to bring the empty bag to her mouth before she threw up. Mostly liquid. For the third time this morning.
What’s wrong with me?
She wiped her mouth and tucked a loose strand of blonde hair back into her ponytail.
I’m sooo glad this didn’t happen while Bower was around.
As she breathed deeply, assessing whether the wave of nausea had passed, her phone beeped with a text message from her husband, Matt.
What’s 4 dinner tonight?
Dinner? It’s not even 10 a.m. yet!
Kate exhaled loudly, trying to calm her upset stomach and doing her best not to think about food while texting him back.
I haven’t had a chance to think about it.
A second elapsed before his answer appeared on her phone.
I want lasagna.
She shook her head. The stench of bile in her bag was upsetting her stomach again, so she stepped out of her vehicle and walked to the nearest garbage bin to dispose of it.
Seated in her car again, she considered her dinner options. She wouldn’t buy take-out like the last time he’d requested lasagna. That had resulted in a two-hour argument about savings and the various chemicals found in store-bought dishes. She’d have to make it for him. And Kate knew they didn’t have all the ingredients at home either. Argh. Her shift ended at 4 p.m., and then she’d be stuck in traffic, and then the store… the long check-out lines… and then the time it’d take for her to prepare it…
But all those annoying details sure beat getting into yet another endless fight with her husband over something as silly as a meal.
The Matt who’d cooked wonderfully and impressed her with his kitchen prowess when they’d started dating had disappeared since they’d gotten married two years ago.
Probably because he was busy being a great software salesman, traveling from lead to lead, turning them into six-figure clients. Yet, somehow, all those sales hadn’t resulted in more income flowing into their bank account. That part didn’t make sense to her. Why work late so many nights without getting paid for it?
But their anniversary was coming up in a few weeks, so she would give him the benefit of the doubt.
Who knows? Maybe he’s planning to cook me a nice, romantic meal this year. Maybe he’s been putting money aside, and he’ll surprise me with a gift.
The sector radio crackled about a minor accident nearby, bringing her attention back to her job. If she wanted more money, she’d have to make it herself, and the best way to do that was a promotion to detective.
Best keep performing at work.
“Harry-145, I’m a few blocks away. Heading there now.” She popped a breath mint then shifted the car into drive, pulling out onto Washington Street.
* * *
At the end of her shift, Kate returned to the station where Julia, the newly appointed in-house psychologist, greeted her with a smile and another cup of her healthy, energy-boosting, antioxidant tea.
The redhead had somehow managed to create a full-time position for herself in some state-funded pilot program, and was constantly chit-chatting with police officers, like a butterfly going from badge to badge.
Does her task description include moral support or is it mostly mindless chatter?
But a light bulb came on in Kate’s head.
Her tea! It could be what’s making me sick!
Kate had downed two cups this morning before roll call. Maybe her stomach couldn’t stand it.
With a smile and a quick excuse about being in a hurry to get home, Kate turned down Julia’s tea then returned her patrol car keys before heading to her locker to change into her civilian clothes.
When she took off the T-shirt she wore underneath her uniform shirt, it dawned on her that she wouldn’t have time to hit the gym or go for a run tonight, not with Matt’s meal request. She shook her head at the thought and looked down, surprised to see her breasts spilling over the cups of her bra.
What the heck?
Bigger breasts were something she’d always wished for. But how? And why now? Did the Law of Attraction finally start working? Magically?
The nausea and swollen breasts certainly raised pregnancy flags, but it was impossible. She’d been on the pill for years. She wasn’t ready to give up a job she loved to become a mom. At least not yet.
Not until she got over Bobby.
Bobby, her tiny baby brother.
Before she could take that risk with her heart, she needed to recover from the grisly memories of finding him dead in his crib more than fifteen years ago.
Flashes of that day still visited her here and there when she closed her eyes. It had happened so long ago—she was just a teenager back then—but who knew if she would ever move on?
But now’s not the time to stroll down Reminiscence Lane back to my childhood.
Bigger tits or not, she had to change clothes and head home to please her husband.
Just as she was about to exit the locker room, she saw Johnston standing there, halfway blocking the door, his eyes glued to his smartphone.
“Have a good evening, Johnston,” she said as she turned sideways to squeeze by him.
“Hey, Murphy. Did you hear?” he asked.
Kate stopped and turned to face him, surprised that he even bothered to talk to her. “Hear what?”
“Have a look,” he said before offering his phone.
When Kate got a hold of it, Johnston pressed the play button to resume a video.
A few seconds into what seemed like random footage of a park and people’s feet, Kate asked, “What am I looking at?”
“Dead pigeons. Let me rewind it for you.”
Kate frowned. “What? What dead pigeons?”
“Not that I’d normally care about flying rats, but my son just sent me this video with dead pigeons he saw in McConnell Park. Weird shit, no? And who’s to say how many got dragged away by cats, dogs, and whatever?”
“That’s strange,” Kate said, when she finally saw the part of the video that showed over a dozen pigeons lying on their sides. The positioning seemed random, as though the birds had fallen straight from the sky. Their legs stuck out like twigs from fat branches. Around them were breadcrumbs large enough to be visible on the shaky video.
“Yep, Anyway… They’re pigeons. Guess they’re not that exciting. Especially when dead. What are you up to? Fun plans for the evening?”
She raised her shoulders at the tall, husky blond man. Kate disliked small talk and preferred to keep her life private, especially since her colleagues didn’t seem to care for her or Larson, the other female cop in the district. But she didn’t want to sound impolite. “Nothing exciting. Heading home to cook dinner.”
Johnston’s shoulders slumped, and his eyes darkened, as though clouds had rolled in. “Gotta do what it takes to keep your home life working, right? Have a good one,” he said before giving her a two-finger salute and leaving the entrance to walk toward his locker.
“You, too. See you tomorrow,” Kate said.
She headed out of the building toward her Subaru, all the while wondering what he meant by his home-life comment.
As she unlocked her car door, she remembered: Johnston had lost an ugly custody battle a few months back and only got to see his son one weekend per month. That explained why he cared so much about the dumb video with dead pigeons. His son had sent it to him.
Cops were not known for their happy personal lives. She and Matt had certainly felt the pressure.
But the two of them had also shared adversities that very few people ever experienced. Kate had never met anyone else who understood what it was like to be orphaned. Her tragic childhood had forced her to develop a protective layer that no other man had managed to get through but Matt.
Matt’s parents had died in a car accident. Drunk driver. With no older siblings or uncle to take him in, he had spent his teenage years being passed around from one foster home to another. That was just the destiny of most teenage orphan boys.
While the story of his parents’ demise hadn’t been as gory as Kate’s, it had nonetheless left a scar on his soul. A scar so deep he was still going to therapy for it. Unfortunately, his therapist didn’t accept insurance, so it added more financial stress to their household, but Kate understood the importance of such sessions for Matt’s emotional well-being.
The fact that they shared such dark pasts had to count for something, right? Even with his grumpy flare-ups and his angry spurts, he was the only person she’d ever fallen in love with. The only man who’d managed to make her feel special. The only one—except for her uncle—who cared for her and made her feel normal.
But was their relationship strong enough to be the exception?
Or was it too late already?