“There’s something wrong with a man that grins like that at a crime scene.”
Detective Vincent Moretti glanced up from where he’d been studying the gunshot wound of the vic and glared at the officer who’d been shadowing him for the past three months.
“I wasn’t grinning.”
Detective Tyler Dansen never paused in scribbling in the black notebook he carried everywhere. “You were definitely grinning.”
Dansen glanced up. “Fine. Maybe not grinning. But I’m one hundred percent sure I saw you smile.”
“How about you be one hundred percent sure about who shot this guy instead?” Vincent said irritably.
Dansen returned his attention to his damn notebook, but he didn’t look particularly chagrined by Vin’s reprimand.
Oh, what Vin wouldn’t give to go back to those early days when all he’d had to do was look at Dansen, and the kid practically dropped into a deferential bow.
Three months of spending every workday in each other’s company had the newly minted detective acting nearly as impudent as Vincent’s real partner.
Nearly being an important distinction, because Vincent didn’t think they made ’em sassier, more stubborn, or more annoying than Detective Jill Henley.
And he would know. They’d been partners for six long years, and their pairing up as partners was proof of God’s sense of humor.
Jill Henley was Vincent’s opposite in every way.
Jill was chipper, charming, and smiley.
Vincent was…none of those things.
Especially not the last one. Although, if he was being really honest with himself, Dansen may have been right about Vincent cracking a smile earlier.
It’s not that Vin was immune to death. There was absolutely nothing humorous about a man lying cold in his own blood and guts, dead from a gunshot wound to the stomach.
But after six years as a homicide DT for the NYPD, one learned to compartmentalize. To let the brain occasionally go somewhere else other than death even as you were staring straight at it.
It was the only way to survive. Otherwise it was nothing but puking and nightmares.
And speaking of puking…
Vincent stood and gave Detective Dansen a once-over. “If you’re gonna barf, do it outside,” he said, just to needle the younger man.
Dansen threw his arms up in exasperation. “That was one time. One time! And I hear it happens to everyone on their first day.”
“Didn’t happen to me.”
“That’s because you’re a machine,” Dansen muttered under his breath.
Vincent didn’t respond to this. It was nothing he hadn’t heard before. Robot. Machine. Automaton.
He just didn’t know what people expected him to do about it.
In the movies, there was always some reason for the semi-mechanical, unfeeling action hero.
Either a dead wife, an abusive past, or some other sort of jacked-up emotional history. But Vincent had always sort of figured he’d been born this way. Quiet. Reserved. Broody.
It’s not that he didn’t feel. Of course he did. He just didn’t feel out loud.
He wasn’t sure that he really knew how to. Wasn’t sure he wanted to learn.
But in Dansen’s defense on the puking thing, the kid’s first crime scene as a homicide DT had been a rough one. A sixteen-year-old girl sliced to pieces and then tossed in the Dumpster behind a one-dollar-a-slice pizza joint in Queens.
Vincent’s fists clenched at the memory.
It had taken them three days to find the guy who’d done that to her—a real sicko who’d claimed he’d done it because he was “bored.”
That was one son of a bitch he hoped prison was really rough for.
“Let’s move out,” Vin growled at Dansen.
He headed toward the door of the hotel room where the body was found, and Dansen fell into step beside him, flipping through his notebook. “Okay, so here’s what I’m thinking. The wife is the one who found the body and called it in, but—”
“She also shot him,” Vincent said, impatiently punching at the Down button for the elevator.
Dansen huffed in exasperation. “I was getting to that.”
“Get there faster,” Vincent said as they stepped into the elevator.
“So can I—”
“Bring her in for questioning?” Vincent finished for him as he pulled out his cell phone. “Do it. And don’t go easy on her. She’ll slip up within minutes, all tangled up in her own guilt.”
The younger man snapped his notebook shut. “It’s really annoying when you do that. Finishing other people’s sentences.”
“K.” Vincent said distractedly, already striding off the elevator.
The lobby was crawling with reporters, and Vincent glared at Dansen, who held up his hands in surrender. “Don’t look at me. I didn’t call them.”
Vincent gritted his teeth. He hated hotel cases. There was always some bell hop or housekeeper who couldn’t keep his or her damn mouth shut, and the result was a media circus that made the police work a thousand times more complicated than it needed to be.
Not that it really mattered in this particular case. There wasn’t a doubt in his mind that the wife had pulled the trigger. Vin would bet his pension on it. He’d been doing this too long not to see the signs immediately. The too-fast way of speaking. The awkwardly forced eye contact in an unconscious effort to minimize nervous blinking. Fidgeting hands.
The vic’s wife had all of the above. This murder was practically the definition of open-and-shut case.
“You care if I leave you to finish this one up on your own?” he asked Dansen as they headed toward Vincent’s unmarked patrol car.
Dansen skidded to a halt. “Seriously? You even have to ask? I’ve been begging you for three months to let me take point, and—”
“All right, calm down,” Vincent said, jerking open the door of the driver’s seat. He hesitated before getting in, realizing that there were things to be said.
He rested an arm on the roof of the car and glanced at Dansen who was…
“Wipe that shit smile off your face,” Vincent said without any real heat.
“You’re gonna miss me,” Dansen taunted.
Vin narrowed his eyes. “Don’t push it, kid.”
“Kid? I’m thirty-one.”
Dansen gave an incredulous laugh. “You’re thirty-three. Two years’ difference hardly makes you my senior.”
Not in years maybe. But in experience…
It wasn’t about who was youngest or oldest. It was about who was best.
And Vin was confident that was him.
Vincent was damn good at his job. It was why he’d had been assigned a trainee during Jill’s leave of absence despite the fact that his lack of people skills was as legendary as his ability to sniff out even the most clever of murderers.
In truth, Vincent had been dreading his three months with the near-rookie, but it had been less painful than expected. Dansen was a good cop. A little green, but when Dansen was assigned his new partner tomorrow, Vin had no doubts that the guy would be able to handle whatever came his way.
And then Vincent’s life would finally get back to normal.
Not that these three months without Jill had been abnormal, precisely.
He still worked the same backbreaking schedule. Still saw death more days than not.
Still went to breakfast with his family after Mass every Sunday, and argued with his brothers and occasionally with his sister during said breakfast.
He still watched baseball most evenings, still worked out most mornings.
So really, his life wasn’t different without Jill at all.
Except that it was. Wildly, horribly different.
He glanced at his watch. Two hours until her plane landed. Three hours, maybe four until he’d see her again[CE1] .
Not that he was counting.
“So you’re good from here?” Vincent asked. “If you need anything, I’ll be…”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll call ya. You never did tell me where you were going.”
“Probably because it’s none of your Goddamn business.”
Dansen put a hand to his chest. “I’ve come to love these heart-to-hearts of ours. The way we count on each other. Confide in each other—”
“My cue to leave,” Vincent grumbled.
He started to get in the car, when Dansen called his name again.
Vin shot him an impatient look and was surprised when the usually confident Dansen looked away briefly before meeting his eyes.
“Hey, I just wanted to say…” Dansen cleared his throat from across the hood of the car, and Vin tensed, knowing what was coming.
God he hated shit like this.
“You can drop the detective,” Vincent said roughly. “Just call me Moretti. Or Vin. Whatever.”
Dansen’s smile flashed white across his dark face. “Do you know how many cops dream of the day when they’re given permission to call one of the members of the royal family by their first name?”
“Oh Jesus. Don’t start that again.”
For the most part, Dansen had done a remarkable job of not irritating Vincent to the extreme over the past three months. But Dansen’s ridiculous hero worship of Vincent’s last name grated on his nerves[MT2] . Yet another reason he couldn’t wait for Jill to get back.
Jill, who’d never cared that Vincent’s father was the recently retired police commissioner. Or that his older brother was a captain. Or that his younger brother was the NYPD’s most famous officer.
Or that his grandfather had been a cop and his mother had been a police dispatcher…
Okay, so maybe Vincent could sort of understand where Dansen was coming from. The Morettis were kind of NYPD royalty.
And Vincent was proud to be a part of it. Proud to carry on the legacy.
He just got damn tired of the ass kissing.
“Seriously though, thanks,” Dansen said. “Couldn’t have asked for a better detective to show me the ropes. A nicer one, sure. A better-looking one, definitely. And you can be a real—”
“Asshole, I know,” Vincent said.
Dansen held up a finger. “Not what I was going to say. I think that’s the first time you’ve tried to finish my sentence and gotten it wrong.”
“I’m never wrong,” Vin said out of habit.
“Fine.” Dansen rolled his eyes. “You’re an asshole. Happy?”
Vin didn’t bother responding, just lifted his hand in a final farewell to Dansen before the younger man could say whatever it was he’d wanted to say, and lowered himself into the car[CE3] .
Vincent slid on his aviator sunglasses as he fastened his seat belt.
Vin kept his face perfectly blank until he’d pulled away from the curb and merged into traffic.
Only then, only out of sight of prying eyes, did he let a smile overtake his face. A smile that quickly became a grin as he headed toward his longtime barber for a very overdue haircut.
He told himself that his decision to get his hair cut after weeks of putting it off had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he’d be seeing Jill in a few short hours.
Vincent had never really given two thoughts to what Jill Henley thought of his looks.
But then, he and Jill had never spent three months apart. He’d never had a chance to realize just how much he’d…missed her.
Not that he’d be telling her that.