“Get away from the car, Suze. Get away from the car, right now,” Drake demanded. Even though he was speaking to the girl with the backpack, he wasn’t aiming the gun at her. Instead, the barrel was focused squarely on the shadow of the man’s head in the rearview window.
“What the hell are you doing?” she snapped back, her thin eyebrows knitting together. Her face had turned a deep shade of scarlet. “Put the damn gun away!”
Drake shook his head.
“Not until you get away from the car,” he repeated.
The driver side door suddenly flew open and a thin man hauled himself out of the Mercedes.
“What is going—” he began, but stopped when his eyes fell on the gun in Drake’s hand. Unlike Suzan, any color that he might have had in his narrow face drained away.
Without so much as uttering a word, he immediately tried to slide back into the driver seat.
Drake didn’t let him.
“Get out!” he shouted.
The man’s eyes darted from Drake’s face, to the gun, and back again giving the detective just enough time to think don’t do it, before the man leapt into his car.
Drake swore and rushed at him, lowering the gun to his hip.
Thankfully the window was open, and Drake grabbed the opening before the man could put the car into drive.
“Get the of the car, now,” he hissed. For a split second, Drake thought that the man—who he now saw was in his mid-forties, sharply dressed in a maroon V-neck and a pale gray sport coat—was going to put the car into drive anyway.
But when he raised the gun again, not quite putting it in the window, but just raising it high enough that the sun glinted off the silver barrel, the man withdrew his right hand from the gear shift, and held it up with his left.
Drake opened the door and then twisted his fingers into the collar of the man’s sport coat.
“Get out,” he grumbled. This time he helped the man complete the request by yanking him from the vehicle.
“I don’t know who you are, but I’m gonna call the fucking cops,” the man said. In that moment, he must have realized that others were around them now, standing a respectable distance from Drake and his gun.
Anywhere else, they might have run screaming or thrown themselves to the ground and covered the backs of their heads with trembling hands.
But this was NYC; they didn’t run when they saw a gun. Instead, they watched.
And their presence seemed to imbue the man with courage.
“Call the police! Someone call the police on this psycho!”
“Shut up,” Drake spat. His fingers still gripping the collar of a very expensive feeling sport coat, Drake spun the man around and shoved him gruffly up against the car. Then he leaned in close, smelling his own whiskey-tinged breath even before he spoke. “You think you can come here in broad daylight and kidnap a teenager? You think you can—”
“Someone call the police!” the man yelled. Drake pulled back then shoved again. The man’s nose bounced off the hood of the car and he groaned. Yet despite his obvious pain, he never stopped yelling.
“Call the police! Help! Help! Call the cops!”
Drake grit his teeth.
“He is the police!” Suzan suddenly shouted. “He is the fucking police!”
And with this, the man with the now bloodied nose clammed up.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Drake said, tugging the gold shield off his belt and flashing it in front of the man’s face as he looked over his shoulder. “You think in broad daylight you can drive around in your fancy car, wearing your fancy suit and lure young girls into your car? In front of a cop? You cocky—”
Someone grabbed his arm, and Drake roughly shrugged the hand off. When the voice that cried out was young and female, he turned.
Suzan was standing a foot behind him, tears spilling down her cheeks as she massaged her palm.
“He’s not a pervert,” she said quietly.
Drake’s grip on the man’s jacket loosened.
“Suze, sweetie, you don’t know that. He may seem nice, and I don’t know what he offered you to get into his car, but men like this… I know men like this. All they want is—”
Drake bit his tongue.
The girl was already terrified, and nothing could be gained by making inferences to other crimes that her father had gone to great lengths to protect her from.
She was shaking her head, and as he watched her hands went to her face, cradling her soft features.
In the distance, Drake thought he heard a police siren. And then he was outside of himself, watching the scene play out before him not as the orchestrator, but as one of the bold spectators.
What the hell am I doing?
Drake’s hands fell to his sides, and the man on the car managed to flip around, only he was no longer clean-shaven, with neatly, if thin, cropped hair and gold spectacles framing his narrow face.
Instead, this man had a thick brown beard and dark eyes. Eyes that were welling with tears.
It was Clay Cuthbert’s face, his partner’s face, moments before he died.
“Wha—” Drake croaked as he stumbled backward. If it hadn’t been for Suzan standing behind him, he might have fallen on his ass.
“He’s not a creep,” Suze said angrily. “He’s my fucking psychiatrist!”
Drake shook his head and turned to look at her.
“My psychiatrist!” she screamed. And then, completely unexpectedly, Suze slapped him across the chest with both hands.
“Don’t fucking Suze me! Only my dad calls me that!” she slapped him again, and Drake moved away.
“You fucking ruined everything! Everything! Why don’t you just leave me alone?”
Drake was shocked to the point of silence.
Psychiatrist? Why was a seventeen-year-old girl seeing a psychiatrist?
But he already knew the answer; after Clay had been killed, the use of a psychiatrist had not only been offered to all members of NYPD Homicide, but had been encouraged.
And this offer had been extended to their families, of course.
Suzan’s face was a mess, the tears streaming down her face spreading what little makeup she wore in streams like melted crayons.
“You ruined everything!”
Drake swallowed hard and slipped the gun back into the holster under his armpit.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly, holding back tears of his own. Now it was his turn to look around. Children stared at him from between the bars of the fence, the black metal framing their faces as if they were being held in a pediatric prison. Teachers stood gape-mouthed, clipboards clutched to their chests so tightly that a small breeze might cause the particle board to snap.
Parents were frozen half-in and half-out of cars that cost at least five times as much as his own.
What the fuck are you doing, Drake? What are you doing?
“I—I—I’m sorry,” he stammered. He pulled his detective shield out again, this time holding it up for everyone to see. “NYPD—this is all just… just a terrible misunderstanding. Please, there is no danger here. Go back to your… to your classes.”
Drake was saying the words loud enough for every bystander to hear, but they were only meant for one person: the terrified girl standing with her hands at her sides, her long hair now draped in front of her face.
And then he turned and hurried back to his car.
“You got blood on my shirt!” the psychiatrist called after him. “I’m sending you the dry-cleaning bill, asshole!”
Drake’s own face was burning now and his ears felt as if they were on fire. He knew that everyone was staring at him, but Drake’s only focus was on his rusty Crown Vic.
His hands were shaking, and when he was finally within the safe confines of his vehicle he reached into his pocket for another miniature. And he would have pulled it out too, right there with everyone watching, when time unexpectedly burped forward and the sound of kids resuming their games as if nothing had happened reminded him of where he was.
Clutching the bottle inside his pocket, he used his other hand to slip the car into drive and sped off, trying his best not to look at anyone, Suzan Cuthbert included.