"McKinley, we have your guy in holding," Detective Gruber said, stopping by his partner's desk and looking down at the small, serious, dark-haired woman. She was poring over an open file, her elbow on the desk and her body slumped slightly in the chair as though she had been reading for some time.
When she focused her golden brown eyes on him, he said with a shake of his head, "I hope you know what you're doing. He's one mean son of a b***h, and now you're about to be on his radar. It's one thing to bring in the minions, but the Boss himself. You're asking for trouble, woman."
Gruber whistled for emphasis.
Jane McKinley pushed her chair back and looked up at the other officer. The fatigue of reading endless business papers that, so far as she could tell, betrayed no hint of fraud or money laundering, began to fade. Gruber could have been a poster boy for aged cops, broad, shaved head, tired looking with a cynical edge. They were pretty much exact opposites. She grinned and patted his beefy arm affectionately.
"You know me, Grubs. This badass b***h can handle herself." She pushed away from her desk and stood next to him. "How long has he been here?"
"About ten minutes."
"Well damn, that's not nearly long enough." She grabbed her coat from the back of her chair and reached into a desk drawer for her wallet. "Let's get some coffee, it's on me this time."
Gruber shook his head at her tactic. Never one to pass up a free snack though, he reached for his coat from the desk opposite hers. "It's your funeral partner."
She smiled absently and flipped the file shut. "Not if I can pin Dennis Yankovich on him. I would be well into my retirement before he saw the light of day again. There's a special place in solitary with his name on it. Or even better, some rival gang members who'd love to get a piece of him while he's in the pen."
"Down, killer," Gruber laughed as they left the department and headed out the back door of the police station. "You know better than anyone that Yankovich was scum. The world is a better place without him in it."
She nodded her agreement. Dennis Yankovich had really been a piece of work, and not in a good way. "Yeah, but character assessment isn't our job, murder is."
"Sure," Gruber snorted. "I'm just saying, the guy had enemies. This vendetta you got against the Russian ain't healthy for either of us. Maybe you should think about cutting him loose and looking elsewhere. Guy's got a long reach, from what I've heard. And you're pretty short, partner."
She stared up at Gruber, skepticism etched in her expression. "He's just a guy, like any other. You have to stop treating him like some kind of underworld rock star. He's a bad guy. Period. We can nail him, I know it."
"I think the question is, should we," Gruber said under his breath, holding the door open for her.
McKinley paid for the coffee at the local police haunt and, handing her partner the black one, picked up the coffee with two creams, one sugar. They sat at their usual table in the corner, moving the chairs so they could both see the door and the other customers in the shop. The cop precaution of never having one's back to the door was automatic.
"Sitnikov isn't going to go down quietly," Gruber said, taking up his argument again. "Nobody pisses off the Boss and walks away breathing. I heard stories about the things that man will do with his own two hands."
She despised the way her partner said the Boss like some kind of hero-worshipping groupie. She'd always hated bullies, and as far as she was concerned, Vladimir Sitnikov was the biggest one of all. He and his like were the reason she was a cop. She hated that Sitnikov ran this city, her city. She wanted him in jail where he belonged.
"I hope he's pissed Grubs, I really do. Maybe he'll slip up this time and I can do what no other detective's been able to, come up with solid evidence on that slippery son-of-a-bitch."
Gruber snorted. "The guy never slips, he's cold as ice. That's why nothing's ever been pinned on him."
McKinley tossed back her coffee, enjoying the simple pleasure, a caffeine junkie getting a much needed hit. "Do you have to sound so damn admiring of the bastard? The guy's a common thug and a brutal murderer. You know that better than anyone, you've helped me put this case together. Why the cold feet all of a sudden? It's like you didn't think we'd get this far in the case, and now that we have you're ready to cut him loose?"
She tried hitting her partner where it hurt, right in the pride. It had to bother him that his 5'3" female partner had more guts to go after this particular bad guy than he did. Nothing doing, he wasn't taking the bait. Apparently he preferred alive and cowardly over dead and morally superior.
Gruber shook his head. "I'd rather my feet stay attached to my body, cold or not. Sure, the evidence is pointing straight at Sitnikov, but we both know it'll slide off him. Just like everything else the department's tried to pin on the guy."
"Not this time, partner," she murmured huskily, finishing her coffee and staring out the dirty window into the busy city street beyond. She carelessly shoved long bangs off her face and behind an ear. "The department never had me before. This time he's mine."
After a further ten minutes of bantering they finally pushed away from the table and headed back to the station to face the baddest bad guy to ever grace their offices. Vladimir Sitnikov was royalty among the city's underworld, and he was stewing in their dingy interrogation room thanks to the dogged persistence of Officer Jane McKinley.
Jane stared intently through the one-way mirror at the man sitting behind a metal table in the windowless room beyond. Despite waiting for nearly an hour, he looked completely unfazed. He was sitting back in the cheap plastic chair, his legs spread at the knees beneath the table, arms crossed over his chest. His head was tilted back, eyes closed. She would have thought he was asleep except for the tension that tightened his muscles almost imperceptibly.
She looked down at the file she had compiled of her suspect. His passport picture did not do the man justice. It couldn't even begin to capture the power that emanated from the man's very pores. Even in repose, he looked as though he could control everything and everyone around him.
Not me, Jane thought defiantly.
His license stated his height as 6'2", almost a foot taller than her. This didn't bother Jane though, she was used to interrogating criminals and had a power all her own that made up for her lack of height. His rich dark brown hair, interspersed with gray, was cut close against his head, displaying a jagged scar that ran across the left side of his scalp. Another scar bit deep into the side of his jaw and thinned out as it ran down his neck marred an otherwise good-looking face. His slightly crooked nose and thin, cruel lips dominated a terrifyingly beautiful face. He could have been a handsome man if it weren't for the leashed violence that seemed to exude from his very being.
He wore a suit that fit him to perfection. Very expensive. Probably worth more than six month's salary to her. He was muscular, but lean too. She could see the muscles straining against his expensive shirt where he had rolled the sleeves up his arms and flexed them in front of him. Tattoos banded those arms, covering his wrists and fingers as well. From her vantage point she could see the tattoos that crawled up his neck. One of them was sliced in half by his scar. He had been badly cut after getting inked.
A shiver raced down Jane's spine before she could call it back. Vladimir Sitnikov was every nightmarish fantasy she might have had of what a mob boss looked like.
She was pulling herself together and mentally preparing for what could only become a grueling interview, when his eyes snapped up and bored through the glass right into her. Thick eyebrows slashed over dark, emotionless eyes. The soulless black orbs pierced her and she feared, in that moment, that he knew his accuser stood on the other side of the glass. He nailed her to the spot, like a butterfly being inspected right before a pin was shoved through her vulnerable body. Her heart slammed against her ribcage and she stumbled back a step, clutching the file tightly in her hands. She could feel the heat of his gaze searing her.
Gruber came up behind her. "Ready for your funeral?" he asked.
Jane snorted in annoyance, shrugging off a sudden chill, and tossed him a glare. "Let's go talk to our suspect." She stressed the word and, tightening her knuckles on the file, reached for the door to the interrogation room
One hour later, Jane had nothing. Absolutely nothing.
As her frustration mounted, she suspected Sitnikov was getting far more from her than she was getting from him. He had spoken once, his deeply accented voice a lazy drawl, "Am I under arrest?"
When she'd indicated he was not under arrest, he'd refused to speak one more single word. No matter what she and Gruber said or asked, he simply sat silently. And stared. At her.
His dark eyes never left her face, not even when Gruber spoke. It felt as though he was memorizing every detail. Jane would meet his eyes defiantly, but then have to drop hers in discomfort as the chilling gaze refused to leave her. She felt violated. Worse, she felt hunted. Which was an unacceptable feeling for a detective who was used to doing the hunting.
"Where were you on the night of August 12th?"
"Were you with Dennis Yankovich?"
"Did you order the murder of Dennis Yankovich?"
"Can you corroborate your whereabouts for the night of August 12th?"
"You were seen walking away from the building at Lexington and Faithful on the evening of August the 12th. Were you in Dennis Yankovich's apartment?"
Nothing. Not even a twitch.
This was her interrogation, dammit! It infuriated her that the more she spoke the more her discomfort level rose. He simply stared at her, his dark eyes boring into her as though etching each feature into his brain so he could examine them later at his leisure. The intensity of his perusal made her feel as though they were the only two people in the room, locked in a battle of wills. He seemed intent on disturbing her, making her feel somehow small and vulnerable. Jane was determined to get some kind of response out of him.
After an hour of speaking to a man that did nothing more than shift slightly in his seat for comfort and watch her every move with the intensity of a stalking predator, McKinley and Gruber decided to give up and cut their suspect loose. They had agreed prior to bringing him in that he wasn't a flight risk, despite his impressive bank account. His business was in this town. He wouldn't leave his empire behind.
Finally, Jane stood and met his stare head on. "You're free to go Mr. Sitnikov. For now, please notify us if you have to leave town for any reason."
Slowly he put his hands on the table and spread his fingers wide. The heavy, masculine ring he wore on the middle finger of his right hand caught her gaze. It was a thick band with words etched into the silver. She couldn't see the letters without getting closer. The finger on which the ring sat was crooked at both knuckles, as though it had been broken in two places. He pushed himself to his feet and, in one smooth motion that tore a gasp from the normally unflappable officer's throat he was in front of her. Gruber looked like he was about to intercede, but Sitnikov did nothing more than he had done for the past few hours. He stared at her, but this time from a much greater height.
"What is your name?" he finally said, his voice deep and accented. It was less of a question and more of a demand.
She cleared her suddenly dry throat and said, "I'm Detective McKinley and this is Detective Gruber, if you can think of anything pertinent to our investigation, please give us a call." She handed him her card, her fingers shaking slightly.
Sitnikov reached out to take it and captured her hand in a hard grip instead. He squeezed for a second before pulling back with her card. His hand was warm and dry. As though he never for a second worried about being interrogated by two homicide detectives. Jane dropped her hand quickly and squeezed it into a ball at her side so he wouldn't notice that he had shaken her.
"What is your given name?" he demanded, his voice hard and crisp.
Jane's lips curled in a cold smile. She gave him a dose of what she'd endured for a good portion of the morning. She refused to speak. Instead she turned on her heel and walked out the door, attempting to ignore the eyes that she knew followed her every movement.
That was how Jane McKinley came to the notice of the most ruthless mob boss her city had ever known.