Mighty Oaks, Little Acorns

Authors can never be lonely; when we have no one to keep us company, we create someone.

CHANGING PARTNERS -- From The Gallagher Files

Chapter 1

 

She looked at the gun resting in her palm then slowly raised her gaze to look him in the eye. “It’s untraceable?”

JJ nodded. “That’s what was ordered.” He dug in his pocket. “This is the silencer. It just screws into the end of the barrel.”

“The others...?”

“Have I ever let you down?”

“I know you never will.” 

JJ held out his hand. A bag of powder was placed in it. “Sweet!”

“Don’t spend it all in one place.”

 

#

 

Pete raced down the stairs from the bedroom, his brow furrowed, his step determined. As he rounded the corner to the dining room, he stopped, his eyes narrowing. “What are you doing here?”

“Good morning.”

He took two steps closer to the table. “What do you want?”

“From you? Absolutely nothing.” 

One muffled shot sounded. Pete crumpled to the floor.

“Nothing, that is, other than for you to mind your own fucking business.”


Chapter 2

 

“Jesus, do I really want to go back to the damned job?” Detective Chris Gallagher stood in his shower allowing the hot water to massage his tense muscles. “Do I need that crap? Everyone will be staring at me when I’m not looking at them, whispering behind my back, afraid to make eye contact, not sure of what to say – a bunch of cats on eggshells, afraid of what might upset me. I’m the damned senior officer there, and I need all of them to have their heads in the game! We have a murder to investigate – the murder of another cop, for Christ sake. That has to be our priority. Vince is dead. His case is closed, so it’s time to move on.”

Not wanting to think of his partner anymore, he shut off the water and grabbed a towel, continuing his soliloquy. “I should stay here to help Becky. God knows she still can’t do a damned thing for herself. If she could have, Vince would never have been killed.” He considered the option for a moment, knowing it was a non-starter. “Richard would probably rubberstamp my leave pass for another couple weeks, despite the fact they’ve called me in early, but I can’t hide here forever. Besides, every time I look at Becky, I see Vince lying in that damned pool of blood.” He sighed, leaned closer to the mirror and began to shave. The thing is, I really like Becky. I don’t want to see her leave. She deserves a break – she has no place to go, she’s lost everything... I can’t very well turn her out, can I? If I did, I know Vince’s ghost would haunt me. He died trying to save her. I owe it to him to finish that assignment. 

He shut off his razor and dropped it on the counter. The towel landed in a heap on the floor. Naked, he strode to his closet and grabbed some slacks from a hanger. “Crap! Get your shit together, Gallagher! There’s a murder to deal with. Richard expects me to lead the investigation. The guys will have to get over the fact that Vince won’t be working this case with us, or any other case.” He sat on the edge of the bed, swallowing back the lump in his throat. “I’m not supposed to be going back like this. This was absolutely not how it was to happen. It’s been a long time since I worked alone. Shit, Vince is gone.” He strolled across the room then slammed his fist against the dresser. “God damn it, he wasn’t supposed to go, and I don’t want to do this.”

 

#

 

The uniformed police officer lifted the yellow tape, allowing Chris into the crime scene. He ducked under then straightened. Before moving any closer, he paused, taking a deep breath. I don’t want to go in here. I really don’t want to. Images of Pete Barnigan flooded his memory – sturdy, boisterous, dedicated; the goofy grin on Pete’s face when he announced to everyone that he was going to be a dad now haunted Chris. He climbed the stairs. It’s another body, another vic… nothing more. He took a second deep breath, pursed his lips and held his eyes shut tight for a moment, his hand resting on the doorknob. Sweet Jesus, I don’t want to do this.

As he walked through the door of the house, he pulled his dark glasses from his face. He hated the stereotypical expectations of cops in movies, however the morning sun was bright and his eyes were tired from a restless night. The glasses provided the added benefit of allowing him to observe while not alerting the person in his sights of his interest. His badge was clipped to his belt, but it was hardly necessary. The uniforms nodded him through without looking at it. 

A young, slender police officer at the door met him with a stony, determined expression. “He’s in the dining room, Chris.”

Chris nodded. “Is Richard here yet?”

“He just radioed. He should be here any minute now; likewise with Colleen and Doctor Throckmorton. I also heard that Wentz and Niles Cooper are on the way.” The uniform looked down at his shoes as he talked.

“What about the kid who found the body?”



Ten year old boy, lives across the road, comes over to cut the grass whenever it needs to be done. I guess Rachel must have set it up when she started having problems with the pregnancy, especially because of Pete’s hours. The kid is back home with his folks. There’s a uniform over there with him in case he says anything you need to know about.”

“They got dogs out there already?” Chris looked through the window as he asked, but saw nothing.

“Yeah, plus the uniforms are already canvassing for you, and road blocks are set up, but…” He shrugged.

Chris nodded again. “Okay. Thanks.” He walked into the living room. The unmistakable stench of blood and decay, smells of death that were a significant factor of his job, assaulted his senses. Already he was looking for any sign of what might have happened in the house – a home in which Chris had enjoyed many a beer and a laugh. He stopped then returned to the door. “Hey, Frank, his service revolver and badge?”

The uniform turned back toward Chris. “We didn’t touch anything. We did notice, though, that his sidearm is still holstered. We left that for you to log into evidence. This is one of those files that we really don’t want to screw around with, you know?”

Chris smiled. “Yeah, I know.”

“Chris,” the uniform called out again as Chris reached the living room for the second time. “I just wanted to say, well, you know, I’m sorry…”

Chris raised his hand and pushed off the gesture of sympathy. “Yeah, I know.”

There appeared to be nothing disturbed in the living room. To anyone arriving at the front door, there would be no reason to suspect anything at all had happened in the quiet, quaint home. His gloved finger traced along the back of the couch. Pete was so damned proud when we moved this furniture in for him and Rachel. He fussed around like some old lady whenever we came here to watch a game, always worried about the glasses leaving rings on the damned table. It all came from Ikea, for god’s sake, but he treated it like it was Chippendale.

Chris walked around the corner to the dining room, the typical dated L-shaped living arrangement of so many homes in the neighborhood. He stopped short, his eyes locked on the body sprawled on the floor, and the crimson pool of blood dotted with shards of broken glass that surrounded it. It seemed straightforward enough. Pete had been standing in the dining room. A shot through the window hit him, blasting tissue from his body as it pierced, killing him almost instantly. The mahogany table and chairs separated victim from window. In the Rorschach spray of blood and brain matter that covered the wall, Chris easily spotted the evidence of a second shot that had been fired through the window. He made a mental note to point it out to Colleen when she came to work the scene.

Careful to touch nothing that might harbor a fingerprint or destroy evidence, Chris knelt beside the body. Constable Pete Barnigan was face down on the carpet, his cheek pressed into the once cream-colored fibres. His left eye, vacant and brown, was still open. His mouth was twisted as if he was mid-sentence when he was shot. That could be nerves, panic or fear as he lay dying. The position of his feet, the fact that the bullet had entered his head through his face… he was looking toward the window when he was shot. There’s no sign anyone was in the house with him – no knocked-over furniture, no footprints, no sign of struggle at all.

“Well?”

Chris shook his head then stood to face his supervisor. “Right now, I would suggest the bullet came from outside the window. There’s nothing in here to indicate anyone came in the house, and we have a spray pattern and broken glass.”

Richard Nichols quietly examined the scene himself. Chris was always impressed by the man. He looked like he had just walked off the set of a network soap opera, his thick, silver hair professionally coiffed, his long face still free of wrinkles and in perfect proportion, and the package finished off with an Armani suit, Gucci shoes and a silver silk tie, even those times when he had been called in at five in the morning. “He was shot through the window. Anything outside?”

Chris turned, his eyes still examining every item, every detail of the room. “Haven’t gotten there yet, but they have a dog working the area now. Colleen is on her way, and some uniforms are already canvassing.”

“What about Rachel? Where is she?” Richard asked.

Chris turned once more to face the supervisor of the SCU, and was caught off guard by the second figure behind Richard, examining the room. With effort, he turned his full attention to Richard. “I’m not sure where she is, but it’s going to be hell for her. We’ll make sure she has some support here, and considering her condition, I’ll arrange for someone to take her to see her doctor as soon as we locate her.”

Richard frowned. “Why the hell did this have to happen? What went wrong?”

“I guess it’s just part and parcel with the job, especially when you work drugs.” Chris was still having a hard time ignoring the dark-haired, dark-eyed man who continued to hover in the background, but based on Richard’s indifference, he talked openly to his superior. “I’ll get Bert to go through Pete’s files and contacts, see what he was working on, although I have no doubt the list will be massive. While he does that, I’ll have Jimmy work the scene here with Colleen, and I’ll talk to the boy then track down Glen Gilletto to see what light he can shed on this situation.”

“Niles Cooper is on his way to deal with the media, making sure that no one says anything about Pete being on the job, but just his presence here will be enough of a warning flag that something more is going on with the case.” Richard pushed his hair back with his fingers as he spoke. “For now, you might just want to tell him it’s too early to speculate about anything. I don’t want to release any details at all about Pete or the undercover work he was doing. When you brief him, you might strongly suggest that we need to think about the other guys on the squad who could be impacted if Pete’s cover is blown. We also need to take care of Rachel and protect her as much as possible from the media attention that’s sure to come from this.” Richard looked out the window. “Chief Wentz is going to want a full briefing as well. He was planning on coming over here, but I told him we had it covered and you would be by to see him at your first opportunity. You can expect him to be shadowing you constantly on this one. Two dead plainclothes officers in one month is more than enough reason for him to be concerned. He’ll be demanding answers quickly.”

Chris stared at his mentor, close friend and surrogate father. “Please tell me you don’t really believe there’s any possible connection between this and what happened…?”

Richard shook his head. “Absolutely not. We know there’s no connection at all, but public perception might not see it that way, despite what we say. They’ll be scared. They’ll want answers. Two dead cops is two dead cops, and the fact that both were shot in cop’s homes doesn’t help matters at all. This will be a media nightmare for all of us.”

“Yeah, well the public better not find out about the second dead cop, at least not for a little while, because that would certainly jeopardize the whole unit. I’ll get to Wentz when I can. I have other pressing business to take care of, like processing this scene and tracking down Pete’s partner.” 

The stranger in the room was examining the carpet at the base of the wall then stood as his eyes followed the spatter pattern up the drywall. As he focused on the bullet hole, he pressed his face close, almost touching the paint. He had said nothing. The red flashing lights outside bounced off the badge clipped to his belt.

Chris could contain himself no longer. “Hey, get the hell away from that. This is a crime scene, asshole, and you have no business in here.” He turned to Richard. “I don’t know who the hell this guy thinks he is, but I don’t need him contaminating this scene. We just had someone shot here, and if there’s a problem, it’s my ass in the sling.”

Richard’s left eyebrow lifted and his eyes widened. “Yeah, well, I don’t think you need to worry about him, because...” Before he could finish, two more men made their way into the dining area of the little house.



Shit. I kept saying on the way over here that there was no way in hell this could happen to Pete. Jesus.” Jimmy Estabrook groaned as he looked at the floor. 

Chris noted again that at any hour, Jimmy Estabrook looked like a GQ model. Feeling suddenly out of place, he tugged on his sleeves and ran his hand through his hair, straightening it. 

Lyle ‘Bert’ Burton, Jimmy’s perpetual partner, the two of them working together like the gears in Big Ben, stood beside Richard. “Where do you need us, Chris?”

“You can hang around till Colleen gets done in here then see what you can find for paperwork or anything else Pete left that might help us. Then you can get your keyboard out and see what you can dig up from whatever sources you need to use.” Chris emphasized the ‘whatever sources’ – a clear indication that Bert was to push, bend or twist the rules as much as he needed to get the information.

Bert nodded, pulled out a camera and began to snap photos of every aspect of the scene. Colleen would also have her forensics people doing the same thing, but Bert knew that Chris liked some to be downloaded into the computer right away for their own reference.

“Jimmy, you can come outside with me. We need to find where the shooter was and see if he left us any presents. Then you can see what the uniforms came up with. They may have found some people you can talk to. Also, check out what’s happening with the tracking dog and the roadblocks then go back to the office and start going through Pete’s files.” Chris continued to focus his attention on the scene around him while he spoke, looking up only briefly as he issued his instructions.

“Sure thing, Chris,” Jimmy said while he scratched some notes He then slipped the pen and paper back into his pocket and turned to go.

“James,” Richard quietly called out. “Perhaps you can give Bert a hand in here instead.”

Jimmy spun around, but not as quickly as Chris. He was not used to his orders being overruled, even by Richard. At times Richard Nichols would make a suggestion or offer an opinion, but never had he so blatantly interfered with one of Chris’ investigations. This was neither the time nor the place for him to start. There was absolute silence in the room, all eyes, save for one set, intent on Richard. 

The stranger who had arrived with Richard was now kneeling beside Pete. With his pen and, using extreme care, he eased the victim’s shirt open to look down along the body. Pete’s gun was still in its shoulder holster, where under normal conditions it was hidden from sight. He appeared totally oblivious to what the other men in the room were saying or to the electric atmosphere that had developed since his unannounced arrival.

“I told you to get the hell out of here before I pick you up and throw you out myself,” Chris hollered at the man, his anger and confusion at Richard’s interference manifesting itself in the only outlet available. He could feel his world spinning out of control as already this investigation was being hampered and tampered with. He owed it to his fallen friend to ensure that everything was done properly. There would be no mistakes.

With painstaking slowness, the kneeling figure swiveled his head around to look at Chris, his face still frozen, but there was a sparkle in his dark eyes. When he stood up and approached Chris, it was clear that neither would be easily intimidated. This man was equal to Chris in height, but his thick neck, chiseled face and well-muscled chest were clear indicators that he was no flyweight. His face continued to show no emotion.

“There are an awful lot of people who would probably appreciate seeing me tossed from a room.” His voice was smooth, his words delivered with quiet control. “I rather doubt that you would be the man to do it. It might be entertaining to see you try, but I think you have enough here to keep you busy for the next couple minutes, without adding a trip to the hospital to the list of things you need to get done.” A slight smile twisted his lips as he pressed his face close to Gallagher’s.

Teeth clenched in anger, nails digging into his palms as he fisted his hand, Chris glared back, welcoming the challenge. “Clearly you underestimate me. I would have to guess that all those steroids you pop don’t help build every muscle.” Gallagher reached out and tapped the stranger on his head.

The smile remained in place, as did the sparkle, but only for a moment longer. With no warning at all, Chris found himself pinned to a wall, a large and strong rubber-gloved hand around his throat holding him in place. “Excuse me, Sir,” the stranger addressed Richard, “but I believe you wanted to say something to Detective Gallagher here, and I think probably right now you could have his undivided attention.”

Richard rolled his eyes upwards in a practiced plea for help from above. He took a breath then sauntered over to where the two men were now standing. “Okay, Dave, let him go and the two of you make nice. It’s time for you both to learn to play.”



Why is that?” Chris growled from the corner of his mouth, the hand still holding him tight to the wall.

The stranger answered, a wide and wicked smile cutting across his face. “I think he wants us to learn to get along because they already have two dead cops and that seems to be enough for now. Also, it will make his life a whole lot more simple in the long run, Partner.”

“Good morning, Detective Purvis.” The approaching male voice was conversational and very relaxed, indifferent to the fact that Purvis’ hand was still wrapped around Chris Gallagher’s throat. 

Purvis smiled at the older and much shorter man. “Good morning, Doctor Throckmorton.”

“Good morning, Detective Gallagher,” the diminutive Medical Examiner greeted the other investigator as he made his way through the room. He seemed befuddled, preoccupied and scattered, but the men knew such was never the case with Norton Throckmorton.


Norton,” Chris acknowledged perfunctorily. 

After a quick visual examination of the scene, the doctor turned to Richard. “Good morning, Richard. This shouldn’t take me too long; then your boys can have the place.” He used a quick movement of his head to indicate the two men, who still had not moved. “You still think this is a match made in heaven, do you?”

Richard chuckled as he gave the two the same look an exasperated mother might give her children when they are trying her patience. “Yeah, I must be nuts, but yes, I do.”

Throckmorton shrugged. “So do I.” His head dropped down and he examined the floor as he made his way further into the dining room. “Detective Purvis, put the nice policeman down. It’s time to quit playing and get to work.”

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