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Chief Brian Thomas sat in his office with his right foot propped on his desk and an ice pack on his swollen knee. He'd ditched the contacts and scruffy jacket. Phone card clipped to his pocket, he toyed with his 'prize' while his mentor's affable voice filled his ear.
"Tell me again why I shouldn't have my men out looking for this thief?" Thomas asked.
"Because you're doing me a favor," Albertson said. "The item she stole is of no consequence. What'd she look like?"
"The ghost of Christmas future."
Thomas moved, then gritted his teeth when his knee complained. "All black. Head to toe. With a cape." He didn't even know her hair color and her eyes had been shadowed as well. Of course she could've disguised her features as he had.
"Ah, yes. The proverbial Bat Girl."
Thomas laughed. "Maybe. The evidence crew lost a man during the response. My men will want to see justice done."
"I'm sorry to hear that. But she won't get away with it."
Thomas caught himself caressing the necklace he'd hastily removed from the display. It took more effort than it should have to lay it down. When he did, his hands felt empty, his chest hollow.
"Yeah, sorry. I'm tired."
"I understand. These are odd hours you're keeping on my behalf. If the media should find this story, let them know you think the crime is of a personal bent."
"So you've got yourself a stalker." Thomas gave a low wolf whistle. "Sure you don't want a team on you?"
Thomas blinked, startled by the vehement reply. "Too bad. She looked professional."
"But what sort of profession?"
Thomas fought back an instinctive defense of the thief, but Albertson's hearty belly laugh sounded first. When he caught his breath the judge said, "She can't touch me."
"If you say so," Thomas replied. His hands were back on the cool gold surrounding the fiery opal of the antique necklace. The filigreed heart-shaped setting would've drawn much attention to the cleavage of the young lady wearing it. "Anything else?"
"No. You've done well and I thank you."
The judge disconnected before Thomas could ask anything else. It seemed he'd have to wait for more answers about the threat this burglar posed. Not unusual, but still irritating.
His desktop monitor lit up with an incoming call. Then another. The primary questions of both callers filled the text fields while pictures of impatient reporters popped up above the words.
The media had found the story all right. With a reluctant touch, he slid the necklace into the lockbox in his desk, and then prepared to enter the gauntlet of question and answer.
The burly man storming into his office stopped him.
"Chuck, have a seat."
"I'll stand." He tossed his silver shield at Thomas. "I won't spend another minute in the hell-hole you've got here."
Deliberate, precise motions moved the ice pack and brought Thomas to his feet. "You'll control yourself and follow orders."
"I won't take orders from a man who'd sacrifice his own."
"You've crossed a line here, Loomis."
"That's the pot callin' the kettle black, I'd say."
Thomas shook his head and then recalled the antiquated saying. "What's set you off?"
Chuck tapped a thick index finger on the desk. "Tonight's little exercise crossed the line, Chief." He sneered at the title. "Wait'll the boys hear Larry died in the name of a lousy test run. Neither you or the city'll survive the Blue Flu."
"Test run? Flu?" Baffled, Thomas dropped back into his chair. "Start over. And use English this time."
"I saw the Michaels woman." Chuck bit out each word. "She's tested response times and codes and the like before."
And suddenly it clicked. The mystery thief was 'the Michaels woman'. Jaden Michaels, a security specialist with a tendency to favor the underdog. She had some sort of girl-power school in town and did some freelance with the police force occasionally, but they'd never met in person.
"Chuck," he applied his calm buddy tone. "We weren't running tests tonight. If you got a call–it was real."
He glared at Thomas. "So real the museum says nothin's gone."
Thomas sat up straight, ignoring the jab of pain climbing his leg when his foot hit the floor. "Nothing?"
"Nope. They just spewed nonsense about false alarms and sent me on my merry way." He swiped that beefy hand over his face and cleared his throat. Twice. "After they took away...the body...I looked around for the laser gun. It wasn't on her, but I'll be damned if I know where she ditched it. Larry'd been trying to link a call we were tracing with the museum break in. When the laser flashed I dodged but it caught the tire. Now how'd she get a hold of that except from someone skimmin' from us?"
Thomas understood every layer of Chuck's agony. "I'll look into it. Personally." Won't have to look far. "I've already seen the video. Larry bounced out of the seat. He just wasn't buttoned down when the vehicle rolled. An unfortunate accident, that's all."
"Bull." Chuck upended an evidence bag and a charred buckle and webbing clattered onto the desk. The bitter smell of burnt flesh and fried circuits hung in the air between them.
Thomas pressed his fingers to his temples in an attempt to stop the relentless pounding. He didn't need to deal with equipment failure, even if it would soothe his conscience.
"Go home. Get some rest. And keep the badge." Chuck nodded, and then just stared down at him like a lost puppy. "Take tomorrow off, Chuck. I'll handle Michaels."
"Yessir." At the door, Chuck paused. "Check the tapes. Larry's last entries should lead you right to her."
"Got it," Thomas said and dismissed the grieving officer.
What the hell was going on?
He had a judge who didn't care about a display he'd personally funded, a museum denying all trouble, a good cop dead, a security specialist posing as a thief, a chat room buzzing with reporters, a bum knee and the devil's own headache.
"Lord love a duck," he groaned and washed a couple of painkillers down with a hefty gulp of antacid.
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Genre – Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy
Rating – PG-13