EXCERPT: Behind the Mask

With my latest release, Behind the Mask, out in five days (!!!), here’s another excerpt to Behind the Maskwhet your appetite. Be warned, though: this chapter contains spoilers from Behind the Badge.

Enjoy!

There had been a time when Daniel Richards envisioned himself going to the Bishop L. Robinson Sr. Police Administrative Building — or The Bishop, as just about everyone in the department called it — every day. A career that once seemed to have him staring at a future in the department’s upper administration had stalled at the captaincy of the Seventh Precinct, and Richards found himself making weekly trips to this building that were for nothing more than tedious meetings. Arrest rates, case closure percentages, and other statistics that made his eyes glaze over… that was what The Bishop meant to Richards.

But even as he ascended the stone steps leading to the Bishop on this sunny morning, Richards knew this meeting was going to be different. There was nothing concrete to this feeling, but the phone call earlier that morning from Commissioner Saunders left an unsettled feeling in the pit of the captain’s stomach. It was, in all honesty, a call Richards had expected in the last couple weeks. A moment of reckoning was at hand, and this morning was apparently the time. Truth be told, he had expected it to come much sooner.

Working his way past the reception area, with the woman behind the desk ignoring him, Richards took the spiral staircase leading to the second floor. From there, Richards was greeted by a narrow hallway illuminated by nothing more than the morning sun pouring through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Several fresh-faced interns wandered the halls, clutching overstuffed manila folders and hoping the bags under their eyes weren’t too obvious. Richards remembered being that young, and even in the uncertainty of the moment, he allowed himself a lopsided grin.

But that grin disappeared as soon as Richards came to wooden double doors to his right. They led to the only conference room on the floor, the room he had been summoned to just minutes after getting to his office and pouring his first coffee of the day. If this meeting went as expected, Richards would need something stronger than coffee later in the day.

Opening both doors to push his way into the conference room, Richards saw one table along the far wall with five impeccably dressed individuals sitting on the other side. Commissioner Saunders, decked out in a uniform that more closely resembled that of a military general, sat at the center of the table with the American and Maryland flags flanking him over each shoulder. Janet Baldwin, the deputy commissioner, sat to Saunders’ right, and to his left was Jeff Downs, the colonel whose help in the Devin Buckner case had eventually led to this mess. Men the captain didn’t recognize sat on the ends of the table, and their suits looked like they cost more than Richards made in a month.

Of the five, Baldwin was the only one who wasn’t a white male. It was a sight Richards had dealt with throughout his entire career.

Each of the five had a full glass of water in front of them. Saunders grabbed his glass and took a long first sip; when he set the glass back on the table, his fingerprints were visible against the morning sun peering through the windows. Richards swallowed, the tick of the second hand on the clock behind him the only sound in the room for what felt like minutes.

“Sit,” the commissioner ordered, pointing to a solitary wooden chair across from the table.

Reluctantly, Richards did just that. His hand went to the service piece on his hip; he took it with him every time he left the office. He felt more comfortable with the weight of it on his hip, and if this meeting went the way he feared it would, he would at least be saved another trip before turning in the weapon. But the captain kept his expression neutral, deciding to get a feel for how this was going to unfold. The tension was thick enough to slice through with a knife, and Richards could feel the collective stares burrowing into him.

For the most part, Richards had always been friendly with the people at the table over the years. Seldom did his disputes with downtown, annoying as they often were, ever erupt into anything major. He had a feeling that was about to change.

Saunders waited until Richards was seated before clearing his throat and adjusting the thin black microphone in front of him. “Where’s the vigilante?”

And there it was. This was the meeting Richards had expected for the past few weeks. Why did it take so long for the BPD to take him to task over this? Were they too busy trying to ensure there wasn’t any egg on their own faces before turning to the all-too-predictable witch hunt? The captain fought the urge to sigh and roll his eyes, instead crossing one leg over the other and running his fingers over his thick black mustache.

“I don’t know.”

It was actually the truth; despite Richards’ best efforts, he’d had no contact since Jill had turned in her badge. He had watched her televised confession with the same slack-jawed surprise that he figured many in the city had, and all of his attempts at communication in the days and weeks since had been for naught. Wherever Jill was, she was in no position to contact anyone who was in her corner — or maybe she had no way of knowing who was in her corner anymore, so she was better off cutting off contact with everyone.

Baldwin squinted. “I don’t believe you.”

“Well, that’s tough shit.” Richards was still upset at Baldwin for the way she had acted during the Buckner case, popping up at the Seventh Precinct and roundabout threatening one of his detectives for trying to do her job. Jill had been in line to take the Sergeant’s exam, but Baldwin had made it clear that Jill would lose that shot if she kept poking around the four cops who killed Devin Buckner. It reminded Richards of his earlier days on the force, and it was something he had let himself believe no longer happened. Clearly, he had been naive. “I haven’t talked to Jill since she turned in her badge.”

Downs, who at one point had been the most sympathetic of the five at the table, shook his head. “How long have you known Detective Andersen was actually Bounty?”

Richards opened his mouth, a lie on the tip of his tongue. It was instinct; what was the surest way to protect Jill? How could he make sure she was okay, even if he had no way of getting in touch with her? Lying was certainly an option, but so was telling the truth. And if Richards was being honest with himself, he wasn’t sure if he cared enough to hide the truth. They were likely going to try forcing him out regardless of the answer, because it was now abundantly clear where the department’s priorities were.

“Do you honestly expect me to help you in this witch hunt?” the captain asked instead.

Downs shook his head. “Detective Andersen has been breaking the law.”

“And so did the four cops who killed that boy!” Richards sat up straighter and grabbed the arms of the chair. “Yet I remember some in this room standing in my detectives’ way when they were trying to do their jobs!”

The bespectacled man on the far right cleared his throat. “No one was telling them how to do their jo –”

“Bullshit!” Richards sprung from his chair and jabbed his finger at Baldwin. “She came to my precinct and explicitly told my detective that her shot at a promotion was on the line if she didn’t stop pursuing our suspects!”

“Your suspects were Baltimore police officers,” Baldwin argued. “They were entitled to decency and respect.”

“Decency and respect,” Richards repeated with a shake of his head. “For the four fuckers who tortured a kid, but not for the woman who devoted almost four years to this force, and then tried to go beyond even that to make this city better.”

“Captain,” the commissioner interjected, “sit down.”

Richards did not sit; instead, he began pacing back and forth in front of the table, glaring at each of the five administrators who were clearly pursuing an agenda. He had half a mind to toss his gun and badge at them and be done with it, but that was probably what they wanted. And Daniel Richards was damned if he would give these people the satisfaction of running him out.

“The truth is,” Saunders continued, “we’ve been concerned about your precinct for a while now, Captain.”

Richards frowned, his hands balling into fists. “My precinct has the highest case closure rate in the city.”

“Your precinct also has a record of suspects being attacked in interrogation,” Downs rattled off, reading from an open manila folder in front of him. “Suspects in Holding either escaping or dying, detectives running off without alerting their partners, your own absence several months back when one of your detectives was injured on duty… what, exactly, is going on at the Seventh, Daniel?”

Richards clenched his jaw. “We’re doing our jobs.”

“And aiding and abetting a vigilante,” Saunders added.

“You wanna fire me? Fire me.” Richards approached the table, flattening his palms on the surface and getting in the commissioner’s face. Saunders had a close-cropped cut, his features chiseled and screaming every bit the military career he had before transitioning to law enforcement. “But you will not run me out, you will not touch my people, and you damn sure will not be bringing Jill in while I’m around.”

“No one here’s looking for a firing,” Saunders said, his right eye twitching. “We just want to know where the vigilante is.”

“Well, you won’t be getting that from me.” Richards stood upright again. “And no one from my unit will be helping, either. Now, if we’re done here, I’ve got a precinct to run.”

Turning on the balls of his feet, the captain stormed out of the conference room before anyone at the table could respond. He let the heavy doors slam shut behind him, and as he marched toward the staircase, Richards pulled a gray flip phone from his back pocket. It hadn’t worked yet in the weeks following Jill’s resignation, but after this meeting, he had to at least send her a warning. Even if she didn’t get it, or ignored it, Richards couldn’t let this slide without at least sending up the flare.

Bishop asking about you – be careful

Pocketing the phone and descending the staircase, Richards sucked in a deep breath. He had survived the first blow, but something told him the fight was just starting.

Behind the Mask will be available in paperback and several ebook formats on Dec. 4, 2017. Kindle pre-orders are currently live, as are pre-orders at these digital retailers.

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