Angling to the far-left lane of the 75 overpass, Detective Angel Johnson admired the dramatic skyline of Dallas. Sleek lines of brick and glass cut deeply into the brilliant azure sky, slicing the lavender clouds in half. She loved this spot. Up here, away from the endless parade of dead bodies and remorseless killers, it was possible to believe that the city lived up to the perfection presented in a view that could be a postcard.
She took a deep breath to stifle the morning’s frustration. She had gone with her partner to interview a woman who had witnessed a drive-by shooting, but the woman had nothing helpful to tell them. No description. No nothing. Angel wasn’t sure if it was because the woman didn’t want to help or if she honestly had not seen enough to help. It was always hard to tell in those neighborhoods terrorized by gangs.
The sharp command jerked Angel’s attention to Sarah Kingsly who was looking out the passenger window.
“Now? Right in the middle of the freeway?” Angel asked.
“We’ve got a jumper!”
Glancing to her right, Angel saw a young man with one foot over the railing. It didn’t look like he was there to share her delight in the view. She edged the car off the lane until the faint scrape of metal on concrete told her she had gone as far as she could. Before the car came to a complete halt, Sarah pushed the door open and stepped out.
Screaming tires marked her passage across four lanes of traffic. Thankful that it wasn’t rush hour, Angel hastily punched numbers on her cell phone. With any amount of luck, her partner might actually be able to dodge the cars and arrive at the other side intact.
Physically, that is.
Mentally, Angel wasn’t sure how intact the other woman was. Six months of partnership-on-paper hadn’t moved them more than an inch toward partnership-in-reality. And these stunts. Shit! She’s going to get us both killed.
Angel quickly briefed the dispatcher, slammed the phone closed, then scrabbled across the seat to exit through the passenger side. When she stepped out, the stench of exhaust gagged her, but at least she didn’t have to worry about being hit. The traffic crawled across the overpass as gawkers leaned out of car windows to catch a glimpse of the drama unfolding at the side of the road.
Cautious, so she wouldn’t alarm the young man perched precariously on the guard rail, Angel sidled up to her partner. Sarah seemed oblivious to everything but the pathetic guy who didn’t seem to have anything to live for, if appearances were any indication. A tattered sweatshirt offered his only protection against a cutting January wind, and jeans that weren’t distressed for style encased legs no thicker than the rail they straddled. Wild, frantic eyes were buried in a mane of hair that flowed into a scraggly beard.
The eyes could see, but they didn’t communicate.
Angel was mesmerized by the soft, soothing voice of her partner gentling the man the way she’d once heard her brother do a horse. “It’s okay . . . I’m not going to hurt you . . .” As Sarah spoke, she moved slowly toward the man, gliding as if the concrete had turned to ice. Angel held her breath while the moment stretched to eternity.
“Stay away!” The man’s harsh shout jangled the airwaves like a stone disturbs a still pond.
Angel watched Sarah freeze for one moment, then move forward again, letting her voice ease the coming. “Shhh . . . Take it easy . . . We can just talk a . . .”
As Sarah moved closer to the man, Angel could no longer distinguish words in the soothing wash of sound. Could she rush him while Sarah had him distracted?
No. She was still too far away.
Turning her head slightly, Angel caught the faint wail of a siren growing stronger. The man gave no sign of hearing it, but he would soon. Would it provide the impetus to push him into the flow of traffic on the concrete river a hundred feet below?
A sudden rush of adrenaline sent her heart on an erratic trip through her chest as Angel watched the next few seconds play out in excruciating slow motion . . .
The man turned his head toward the scream of the sirens.
Sarah lunged forward.
The two of them tangled in a macabre embrace, teetering on the edge.
The man fought to pull away.
Sarah clung to his ragged shirt.
“If you go, I go, too.” Sarah’s words were oddly calm in the frenzy of emotion. “And killing a cop is a death-penalty offense.”
Angel found the pronouncement absurd. What was that Honky bitch thinking? If this guy even cared about the future they wouldn’t all be here.
Willing her feet to cross the distance in time, Angel broke the slow motion lock.
She grabbed Sarah’s bright, red jacket, and a sudden weight threatened to pull her arms out of their sockets as first the man, then Sarah, went over the side. Angel could feel the momentum pulling her toward the edge. Her Reeboks slid across the loose dirt and gravel like skis, slamming Angel against the rail with a bone-crushing thud. “Sarah! Let him go. I can’t hold you both.”
“He doesn’t really want to do this.”
Angel risked a glance over the edge. Her partner was stretched between a grasp on a steel support beam and a fistful of fabric. It was the only thing holding the man from certain death.
“Could have fooled me.” Angel flexed her knees to lower her center of gravity and tried to ignore the sear of pain in her arms. She couldn’t hear the sirens any more. Did that mean some Uniforms would rescue her at any moment? She fervently hoped so. She didn’t know how much longer she could hang on. And she didn’t know if she was willing to go over the edge with her partner.
The alternative wasn’t even worth consideration.
A momentary flare of anger distracted her. Why didn’t one of the bloody gawkers stop and help? This wasn’t some reality TV show.
The burning pain in her muscles gave way to numbness, and Angel felt the fabric of Sarah’s jacket start to slip through her fingers. She willed her grip to hold. “I’m losing you!”
“You’re not dying today. You got that!” As Sarah’s words drifted up to Angel, it took a moment to realize they were directed at the man.
“Let him go, Sarah! You’re not going to talk him out of this.”
“The hell I’m not! The deal hasn’t changed. You go, we all go.”
Sarah’s comments didn’t make sense, even when Angel realized the last two were spoken to the man again. She fought an urge to let go, to punish Sarah for being so obtuse as to think some sappy appeal might work.
Suddenly, the balance of weight shifted, easing the burden on Angel’s trembling muscles. Had her partner lost her grip on the man? Angel took another look over the railing. Sarah’s face bore a triumphant grin. Then Angel saw the man clinging to the support beam next to her partner.
A car braked to a sharp stop behind her, and Angel turned to see two patrol officers throw the doors open and run toward her. They reached over and helped haul Sarah and the man back to the roadway. Her partner didn’t let go of the guy until he was handcuffed and in the grasp of the officers who walked him in an ungainly puppet-dance to the car.
Now that the man was safe in the back seat of the cruiser, the sharp edge of tension eased, but anger smothered Angel’s relief. Sarah’s face still wore that goofy grin, and she shrugged before starting across the street. Angel reached out and pulled the other woman around.
“Don’t you ever do anything like that again.”
“Hey. We saved a life. You should feel good.”
“Pardon me if I don’t cheer. I came too close to dying to be happy.”
“You need to lighten up, girl.” Sarah pushed at straggles of blond hair the wind kept tossing in her face. “It’s all part of the job.”
“No.” Angel poked a finger at the other woman’s chest. “What you do can no way be considered normal.”
“If we were normal, we wouldn’t be cops.”
“Forget it.” Angel threw up her hands, checked for a break in traffic and stomped back to the car.
“You want me to drive?” Sarah called, her footsteps padding softly behind Angel.
“I don’t think I trust you right now.”