This is the opening of my most recent novel, a thriller. I’ll be querying agents with this in the next few weeks, and am currently working on its sequel ‘Something Found.’
August 7th, 22:45 Atlanta Georgia
The alleyway stunk of piss and decay. Sergeant Burnett shifted his gun to one hand, pulled out a flashlight and pointed it at a dumpster pushed up against the wall at the alley’s end. The suspect crouched beside it, briefcase held across his chest and knife still gripped in one hand. “Drop the weapon, move into the open and lie face down on the ground.”
“Just kill him and get it over with.”
“Drop the knife or I will fire,” Sergeant Burnett shouted, daring a quick glance over his shoulder. Had he just heard something? He backed away when the businessman stumbled to his feet, sidestepping when he hurled the briefcase. “Nobody needs to die today.”
“Oh yes they do.”
“Who’s there?” Burnett swung both gun and flashlight towards the voice, but found only a blank wall.
The businessman surged forwards, treadless brogues finding little purchase on the slick cobbles. He slipped and stabbed at the air, five yards shy of the Sergeant.
Wary, and sure there was someone else in the alley, Burnett backed against the wall. “Last chance. Drop the weapon and lie face down.” One look in the man’s eye told him he’d never surrender. He’d be justified in firing, but this wasn’t some punk dealing death without reason, but a respected businessman. Or he had been until twenty minutes ago.
Burnett hopped backwards when the man scrambled towards him. He bundled gun and flashlight into one hand, pulled out his Taser and fired. The man crumpled, bloodied weapon dropping from his hand.
“You fool. Just bloody well kill him for both our sakes.”
Burnett looked up as he drove his knee into the murderer’s back, sending another high voltage surge through him. This time, he was sure he’d heard someone speak. A woman. “Who the fuck’s there?” Wary, he grabbed one of the man’s arms, slid a cuff over his wrist and then repeated the procedure with the second. Lights illuminated the entrance to the alley. Backup. “I’m down here,” he shouted.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“Warn me?” Burnett repeated, not sure he’d heard it or not. The cuffed man now bucked like a wild mustang beneath him, but at least the cavalry had arrived.
And then somehow the suspect was free of his cuffs, his knife back in his hands and facing upwards. Impossible. Burnett fired twice, and the man rattled out a final sigh as his lungs emptied. Damn. He looked up, shielding his eyes against the light off his colleagues’ flashlights. “I… I thought I had him, but he must’ve slipped his cuffs.”
“Drop your weapon, and step away,” someone shouted.
Confused, Sergeant Burnett looked down at the huge hole in the back of the businessman’s head, fragments of bone shining bright in the morass of brain matter. He was still cuffed, and the knife lay five yards away. How? Someone called his name. Someone shrieking for him to drop his gun. “There was a woman… She saw what happened. He slipped his cuffs… He was going to stab me.” He placed his gun beside the body and held his hands up. “You must have seen-” And then he was dragged to one side, his face pushed into the cobbles, a knee on his neck.
“You executed him, you mad fucker,” someone said.
“Ain’t no one gonna speak for you this time, Burnett,” another voice said. “You’re going down.”
He was pulled to his feet and marched out of the alley, struggling against his restraints when he reached the corner. “Ask her. She saw everything. She’ll tell you what happened,” Burnett shouted, nodding at the shadows.
And then he was being pushed into the back of a police cruiser, but his eyes were locked on hers. She stood there with her hand on an open door at the alley’s entrance. She was talking and, although he couldn’t hear her, he knew she’d just said, ‘I did warn you…”
August 8th, 02:20
Burnett had stared through the bars a thousand times, but never from this side. Normally the duty sergeant would be the only one who’d walk the twenty pace corridor paralleling the six cells. Normally. Then again, they didn’t often hold one of their own. There’d been a dozen sightseers in the last hour, and he could put a name to every one of them. After all, Captain Jeffries had insisted he was taken back to his own precinct. Bastard.
No matter how many times he went over events, they just wouldn’t make sense. The suspect had slipped his cuffs and would have stabbed him if he’d not fired. – He didn’t doubt this had happened. A moment later the cuffs had been back on and he’d been staring into a two-inch hole he’d blown in the back of the man’s head. – He was certain of that too. How he squared one certainty against the other was another matter.
So now he sat on a bunk in a cell. In a few hours he’d be taken before a judge, and he had no idea what he would say. What could he say?
But there’d been that woman. If only the bloody idiots had listened to him, they could have brought her in as a witness and he’d not be sat here waiting for the next pair of colleagues to walk past. He could describe her to a tee if anyone had cared to listen. She must’ve come through the door at the head of the alley. He’d even had to step around it as he raced after the suspect. All they had to do was fingerprint the door and they’d ID her. She hadn’t been wearing gloves.
More footsteps sounded outside, and he lay back on his bunk, feigning sleep. They grew louder, falling silent right outside his cell. Through closed eyelids he imagined one of his colleagues with their phone pushed between the bars taking a little souvenir picture.
“If you’re really sleeping, then you’ve either ice in your veins or you’re guilty as charged.”
Burnett’s eyes flew open, and he even managed a half smile. “Fuck you Taylor. I’m just not gonna put on a show for the goons that come for a look-see.” He twisted around on his bed and faced the bars. “So, what’s the news?”
Sergeant Taylor ran a hand over his shaved head. “Here, I brought you a coffee. I’d have slipped something stronger in it if I could.” He held his friend’s eye. “You’re not gonna like this…”
“Like what?” Burnett was on his feet, across the cell and grabbing hold of the bars with both hands, knuckles whitening. “What’s happened?”
“Well, forensics are still going over the crime scene, and there’s footage of you and the suspect entering the alley caught on a traffic cam. It’s clear as you like, but there ain’t no woman.”
“I told you, she came out of a doorway at the head of the alley,” Burnett said, voice strained. “No camera would have seen her unless it was looking straight down it. You’ll lift prints off the handle. Shit, I could describe her as good as I could my own mother, if anyone just bothered to ask.”
“Yeh, well, forensics know to check out the door too, and the sketch artist will be coming in around nine. Captain never saw fit to wake them in the middle of the night. Thing is, Jeffries is one of those who thinks you just snapped. That door hadn’t been opened in a decade and-”
“It was stood wide open when I chased the suspect into the alley,” Burnett said.
“Bro, it was welded shut and-”
“This is B.S., all of it. Someone is fitting me up.” Burnett punched the only thing he could, an iron bar, and instantly regretted it.
“You need to listen up.” He glanced back down the corridor and lowered his voice. “They got the door opened with crowbars, and the entrance was bricked over behind it. Jesus, I could get suspended just for telling you, but if you keep on claiming there was a woman who came through a welded door with a brick wall behind it, you’re gonna end up wearing a straitjacket.” He leaned closer. “What happened tonight? I don’t buy it that you just snapped, but something happened. Something must have.”
Burnett stumbled back to his bed and sat down heavily. “This cannot be real. This is not happening.” He focussed on a stain on the concrete floor where a prisoner had attempted suicide just a week back by biting his own wrists. “I swear to God there was a woman. Tall, with shoulder length light brown hair and green eyes, perhaps one-ten maybe one-fifteen pounds. She was mid-twenties, covered in freckles and with a mouth that looked like she was puckering for a kiss. I…”
Taylor put the coffee down on the floor inside Burnett’s cell, held his hands up and backed towards the far wall of the corridor. “Bro, we got to end it here.” He glanced up at the security camera. “I dunno what happened tonight, but you’re in a shitpile, and it’s just growing deeper with every word you speak. I’m out.” Without a backward glance, he walked away.
Burnett ran back to the bars, heedless of the coffee he kicked over. “You know who she is, don’t you? You fucking well know,” he shouted. “Ask her. Ask her what happened tonight and look her in the eye when you do. She’ll tell you he slipped his cuffs. Listen Taylor, she spoke to me.”
Taylor paused at the door that led from the cellblock. “She was the suspect’s secretary, the one he murdered. Stabbed her through both eyes and then carved someone’s initials into her stomach.” He lowered his voice, dropping it to the faintest of whispers. “Were you in on that too?”