Devil’s Corner - Chapter 1

By Lisa Scottoline

Vicki Allegretti always wondered what it would feel like to look into the barrel of a loaded gun, and now she knew. The gun was a black Glock, nine millimeter, and it was aimed at her right eye. Vicki observed the scene out-of-body, as if it were happening to a girl with a better sense of humor. Wonder if black guns make you look thinner, she thought.

Holding her point-blank was an African American teenager with cornrows, who looked as terrified as she was. He looked about fourteen years old, showing just a shadow of a mustache, and his brown eyes were jittery with fear. He kept shifting his weight in his big Iversons, standing tall in baggy jeans and a red satin Sixers jacket. He'd frozen in place when he'd come downstairs and found Vicki standing there, his shocked expression suggesting that he hadn't shot many lawyers. At least not his share.

"You don't want to do this, pal," she said, only apparently calmly. The kid's long fingers trembled on the gun's cross-hatched grip, and his other hand cradled a bulge underneath his jacket, as if he were hiding something. She had evidently interrupted a burglary by a rookie. Unfortunately, the Glock was an all-star. "I'm an assistant U.S. attorney."

"Wha?" The teenager swallowed hard, his eyes flickering with confusion.

"I work for the Justice Department. Killing me is like killing a cop." Okay, it wasn't technically true, but it should have been. "If you shoot me, they'll try you as an adult. They'll go for the death penalty."

"Get your hands up!" The teenager's eyes flared, and he wet his lips with a large, dry tongue.

"Okay, sure. Relax." Vicki raised her hands slowly, fighting the instinct to run. He'd shoot her in the back if she did; the living room was so small, she'd never make it to the front door. Maybe she could talk her way out of it. "Listen, you don't want to upgrade a burglary charge to murder. The stuff that's under your jacket is yours now. Take it and run."

"Shut up!"

So Vicki did, holding her hands up, her thoughts racing ahead. None of this was supposed to be happening. She had come to the rowhouse tonight to meet a confidential informant in a minor straw purchase case. The meeting was to be so routine that Bob Morton, an ATF case agent, was finishing his cigarette outside by the car. Could she stall until Morty got here? And where was her CI now?

"Jay-Boy!" the kid yelled up the stairwell, panicky. "Jay!"

Vicki noted the nickname. She could identify every zit on the kid's face. She wasn't getting out of this alive. She couldn't wait for Morty. She had to do something.

"Jay! Where you at?" the teenager shouted, half-turning away, and Vicki seized her only chance. She grabbed the barrel of the Glock and twisted it upward. At the same instant, Morty walked though the screen door and the whole world exploded.

"Morty, watch out!" Vicky shouted. The Glock fired, jerking convulsively. The barrel seared her palms. The shot split her eardrums. The teenager wrenched the gun back, yanking her off her feet. Simultaneously, another shot rang out. Not from the Glock. Too close to be from Morty's gun. Vicki's throat caught and she looked past the teenager. A man in a goatee and a black coat was shooting at Morty from the stairs.

"No!" Vicki screamed, grappling for the Glock. She glimpsed Morty as he fell backwards, grimacing with pain. His arms flew open like a marionette's, throwing the gun from his hand.

"NO!" Vicki screamed louder, as the shooter on the stairs kept firing. A second gunshot, then a third and fourth burst into Morty's chest, exploding the blue ripstop of his down jacket, jerking his fallen body on impact.

Vicki's heart hiccupped with fear and she yanked harder on the gun. The teenager punched her in the stomach, and she doubled over, gasping for breath. She released the Glock and hit back. She connected with his Sixers jacket and held on for dear life.

"Let go!" the teenager shouted, punching Vicki again and again. She flailed and after a solid body blow, crumpled to the floor, the wind sucked out of her. As she fell, she heard the faraway scream of a police siren and the kid shouting scared, "Jay, we gotta go! Jay!"

Vicki lay doubled over on her side, her body paralyzed with pain. Tears blurred her vision. She couldn't collect her thoughts. She heard footsteps and panting, then a rifle chamber being ratcheted back. She opened wet eyes into the two bottomless black wells of a sawed-off shotgun. Hot smoke curled from the barrels, filling her nose with a burning smell. Aiming the weapon was the shooter with the goatee.

My God, no. Vicki rolled over in a last effort to save herself.

"Don't do it, Jay, she's a cop!" the teenager screamed. Then, "No! Get it! Hurry!" Suddenly they were scrambling to pick things up off the floor. Whatever they'd stolen must have fallen out of the Sixers coat.

"Leave it go, Teeg! We gotta go!" The shooter was already sprinting away, his hands full. The teenager bolted after him, jumping over Morty and out the front door, leaving the rowhouse suddenly quiet.

Morty. Vicki rolled back over and struggled to her feet, stumbling across the living room to him.

"Morty!" she called, anguished, when she reached his side. He was lying on his back, his arms still flung wide, his blue eyes fluttering. "Morty, can you hear me? Morty?"

He didn't answer, his gaze barely focused. His neat features had gone slack and a sheen of perspiration coated his forehead and wet his sandy hair. Fresh blood gurgled from his chest and drenched his jacket, soaking its bright blue to slick black, spattering its exposed white stuffing with red flecks.

No please God. Vicki choked back tears. She covered the wound with her palm to stanch the flow and reached into her raincoat pocket, grabbed her cell phone, flipped it open, and pressed speed dial for 911. When the dispatcher picked up, she said, "I'm at 483 Maron Street, off of Roosevelt Boulevard! I have an officer down! Officer shot!"

"Excuse me?" the dispatcher answered. "Miss, what did you say your name was?"

"Allegretti! Hurry, I have an ATF agent shot! Send an ambulance! Now!" Vicki tucked the slippery cell phone under an ear and pressed against Morty's wound with all her might. "What do I do? He's shot in the chest! I'm trying to stop the blood!"

"Keep it up and don't move him," the dispatcher answered. "Stay calm and I'll get you an ambulance."

"Thank you! Hurry!" Vicki pressed harder on the wound. Blood pulsed hot and wet between her fingers. Morty's lips were parting. He was trying to say something.

"Vick?" Morty's forehead creased. "That...you?"

"Yes, I'm here, It's me!" Vicki felt her heart lift. She kept her palm over the horrific wound. If anybody could survive this, Morty could. He was a fit forty-five year old, he worked out religiously, and he'd even run a marathon.

"What the hell...happened?" A watery red-pink bubble formed in the corner of Morty's mouth, and Vicki fought to maintain emotional control.

"Two kids were here when I came in, it was a burglary. The door was open, and I thought I heard somebody say come in."

"How's...the CI?"

"I don't know. She may not be home."

"You're okay...right?"

"I'm fine. You're gonna be fine, too." The blood bubble popped, and Vicki watched in horror. If only she'd let him smoke in the car. If only she'd grabbed the gun sooner. The shooter hadn't killed her because he thought she was a cop, but Morty was the cop. On the cell phone, the emergency dispatcher was saying that an ambulance was ten minutes from the house. Vicki said, "The ambulance is on the way. Just hang in, please, hang in."

"Funny. You always said...cigarettes will...kill me." Morty managed an agonized smile.

"You're gonna be fine, Morty. You'll see, you'll be fine. You have to be fine."

"You're bossy for...a midget," Morty whispered, then his smile suddenly relaxed.

And he stopped breathing.

Vicki heard herself scream his name, then dropped the cell phone and tried to resuscitate him until police showed up at the door.

And things got even worse

2009© by Lisa Scottoline. All rights reserved.

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