Her nerves were on fire and she felt like she might get sick at any moment. The boxing gloves on her hands felt foreign and the head gear was suffocating. Neither of these things were new to Kate Wise—she had been training for about two months now, but this was her first time sparring with an actual partner. While she was aware that it was all in good fun and just part of the workout regimen, it was still making her nervous. She’d be throwing actual punches at someone’s body and that was not something she had ever taken lightly. She looked across the ring at her sparring partner, a younger woman whom she was trying her best not to view as an opponent. She was another member of the small gym who had been undergoing the boxing program. The woman’s name was Margo Dunn and she was taking the course for the same reason as Kate; it was a great full body exercise that, at its core, didn’t involve too much running or weightlifting. Margo grinned at Kate as her trainer slipped in her mouth guard. Kate nodded back in response as her trainer slid hers in as well. When it fell in perfectly around her teeth, Kate felt as if a switch had been flipped. She was in boxing mode now. Yes, the nerves were still there and she was uneasy with the whole situation, but it was time to go. It was time to work. There was only an audience of seven— made up of trainers and two other gym members who were just curious.
By the side of the ring, someone rang the little bell to signify the start of the fight. Kate walked out to the middle of the ring, where she met with Margo. They tapped gloves and took two respectful steps back. And then it was on. Kate circled a bit, finding the rhythm with her feet she had been taught to remember as if she were dancing. She stepped forward and threw her first jab. Margo blocked it easily, but it was good to just get warmed up. Kate jabbed again, a little rabbit punch with her left hand. Margo blocked this one and then countered with a left that caught Kate right along the side of the head. The punch was soft by design—this was, after all, just a sparring match—and fell right along the cushion of the head gear.
But still, it was enough to rock Kate a bit. You’re fifty-six, she thought to herself. What the hell were you thinking? She considered the question as Margo threw a right-handed hook. Kate sidestepped it. Dodging it so easily gave her more confidence. When she also managed to effortlessly block the jab Margo followed with, it stirred up the need to excel. You know why you’re doing this, she thought. Nine weeks in and you’ve lost eighteen pounds and have the best muscle tone you’ve had in your life. You feel about twenty years younger and let’s be real…have you ever felt this strong? No, she hadn’t. And while she was nowhere near mastering the art of boxing, she knew that she had the basic skills down.
With this mentality locked in place, she stepped forward in a near-strafing position, faked a left jab, and then delivered a right hook. When the hook landed right along Margo’s chin, Kate sent out the left jab…and then another. Both landed true, rocking Margo a bit. A light of surprise shone in her eyes as she staggered back against the ropes. She grinned, though. Like Kate, she knew this was more or less just practice and she had just learned a lesson: be on the lookout for hard fakes at all times. Margo responded with two jabs to the body, one that connected with Kate’s ribs. The wind went rushing out of her for a moment and by the time she had caught it again, she saw the heavy right hook coming from her left. She tried moving but hadn’t caught it in time. It slammed into the side of her padded head and shook her backward.
She was dizzy for a moment. Her vision blurred and her knees felt a little weak. She thought about falling, just to catch a break. Yeah…too old for this. But then the counter to that was: You know any other women over fifty who could take this punch and remain standing? Kate responded with two jabs and then a blow to the body. Only one of the jabs landed but the body blow struck its target. Margo went back into the ropes, staggering a bit. She then came back off of the ropes and threw an impatient uppercut. It was not designed to land. It was just meant to cause Kate to bring her arms up to block it so Margo could then deliver jabs to her exposed core.
But Kate saw the slight hesitation in the delivery, knowing the purpose behind it. Instead of blocking the punch, she stepped hard to the right, waited for the full delivery to swing through, and then threw a hard right-handed jab that connected with the side of Margo’s head. Margo went down right away. She fell on her stomach and rolled over quickly. She slid back to her corner and popped out her mouth guard. She smiled at Kate and shook her head in disbelief. “I’m sorry,” Kate said, kneeling down in front of Margo. “Don’t be,” Margo said. “It honestly makes no sense how you manage to be that fast. I feel like I need to apologize.
Because of your age, I assumed you’d be…slower.” Kate’s trainer—a grizzled sixty-something man with a long white beard—climbed between the ropes, chuckling. “I made that same mistake,” he said. “Had a black eye for about a week because of it. Caught the exact same punch that just knocked you down.” “Don’t feel so apologetic,” Kate said. “That one to my head was huge. It almost got me.” “It should have gotten you,” the trainer said. “Honestly, it was a little harder than I like to see in these simple sparring matches.
” He then looked to Margo. “Up to you. You want to keep going?” Margo nodded and pulled herself up. Again, her trainer put her mouthpiece in. Both women returned to their respective corners and waited for the bell. But it was not the bell that Kate heard. Instead, she heard the ringing of her phone. And it was the assigned ringer she used for all calls that came from the bureau. She pushed her mouthpiece out of her mouth and held her gloved hands out to her trainer. “Sorry,” she said.
“I have to take that.” Her trainer knew about her part-time job as a special agent. He thought it was hard-ass (his word, not hers) that she refused to entirely retire from such a job. So when he untied her gloves for her, he did so as quickly as possible. Kate slid between the ropes and ran to her gym bag, which was sitting by the wall. She always kept it out and not in the locker room just in case she got such a call. She grabbed the phone and her heart surged with excitement and despair all at once when she saw Deputy Director Duran’s name on the display. “This is Agent Wise,” she said. “Wise, it’s Duran. You got a second?” “I do,” she said, glancing back at the ring with longing.
Margo’s trainer was working with her on how to avoid fake-outs. “What can I do for you?” “I was hoping you could come in on a case. It’s effective immediately, and I’d need you and DeMarco to fly out tonight.” “I don’t know,” she said. And that was the truth. It was very sudden and she had spoken to Melissa, her daughter, several times in the last few weeks about not being so readily available for the last-minute jobs. She had been spending much more time with Melissa and Michelle, her granddaughter, over the last month or so and they finally had a good thing going—something like a routine. Something like a family. “I appreciate you thinking of me,” Kate said. “But I don’t know if I can come in for this one.
It’s very last minute. And flying out…that makes it seem like it’s pretty far away. I don’t know that I’m prepared for a long trip. Where is it, anyway?” “New York. Kate…I’m pretty sure it has ties to the Nobilini case.” The name sent a chill through her. Her head started ringing, and it wasn’t from the blow Margo had delivered moments ago. Flashes of a case from nearly eight years ago cascaded through her head —leering, taunting. “Kate?” “I’m here,” she said. She then looked back to the ring.
Margo was stretching and lightly jogging in place, ready for their next bout. It was a shame she wouldn’t get it. Because as soon as Kate heard the name, she knew she’d take the case. She had to. The Nobilini case had gotten away from her eight years ago—one of the true defeats she’d ever had in her career. This was her chance to close it—to bolt shut the one case that had truly bested her. “When’s the flight?” she asked Duran. “Dulles to JFK, leaves in four hours.” She thought of Melissa and Michelle, her heart sinking. Melissa wouldn’t understand, but Kate could not turn this opportunity down.
“I’ll be on it,” she said. CHAPTER TWO Kate managed to pack and make it out of Richmond in less than an hour and a half. When she met her partner, Kristen DeMarco, outside of one of the many Starbucks in Dulles International Airport, they had only ten minutes remaining before takeoff; most of the plane’s passengers had already boarded. As DeMarco started power-walking toward Kate with her coffee in hand, she smiled and shook her head. “If you’d just go ahead and move to DC, you wouldn’t be rushing and borderline late all the time.” “No can do,” Kate said as they joined together and starting hurrying for the gate. “It’s enough that this so-called part-time job is keeping me away from my family more than I’d like. If it was a requirement that I live in DC, I wouldn’t be doing it at all.” “How are Melissa and little Michelle?” DeMarco asked. “They’re doing well.
I spoke with Melissa on my way here. She said she understood and wished me luck. And for the first time, I think she actually meant it.” “Good. I told you she’d come around. I assume it would be cool as hell to have a bad-ass for a mother.” “I’m far from a bad-ass,” Kate said as they reached the gate. Still, she thought of what she had been doing when she received the call and thought it might be okay to accept that moniker…at least a little. “Last I heard,” Kate said, “you were working a triple murder case out in Maine.” “Yeah, I was.
We wrapped it about a week ago—about six agents in all on that thing. When I got the call from Duran about this case, he told me he planned to send you out and asked if I wanted to partner with you. I, of course, jumped at the chance. I told him I’d like to be partnered with you whenever possible in the future.” “Thanks,” Kate said. She left it at that, though. It actually meant a lot to her but she didn’t want to get sappy on DeMarco. They boarded the plane together and took their seats, right beside one another. When they were settled, DeMarco reached into her carry-on and pulled out a thick folder crammed with papers and documents. “This is everything on the Nobilini file,” she said.
“Based on your history with it, I assume you know it inside and out?” “Probably,” Kate said. “It’s a pretty quick flight,” DeMarco pointed out. “I’d much rather hear it from you instead of notes and files.” Kate would have felt the same way. What surprised her was how eager she was to share the details of the case with DeMarco. The case had been like a nagging itch at the back of her mind over the years but she had always managed to push it away, not wanting to focus on the one true failure of her career. So as the plane started to position itself toward the runway, Kate started to go back over the specifics of the case. As she did, stopping for the annoyance of the pre-flight announcements, she realized that it all felt new now. Maybe it was all the time that had passed since she had last truly dwelt on it, or the almost-retirement (or both), but the case now felt alive and active. She told DeMarco the details of the case in a high-end suburb just out of New York City.
Just one body, but the case had been pushed by someone in Congress, as the victim was closely linked. No prints, no clues. The body, one Frank Nobilini, was found in an alley in the Midtown district. The best guess was that he had been headed for work, walking the single block from the parking garage to his office. Just a single gunshot wound to the back of the head. Execution style. “How could it be execution style if someone clearly abducted him and dragged him into the alleyway?” DeMarco asked. “That’s another unanswered question to the case. It was assumed that Nobilini was roughed up a bit, forced to his knees, and then shot in the back of the head. Blood and bits of skull were all over the side of the wall of the building beside the body.
His BMW keys were still in his hand.” DeMarco nodded and allowed Kate to continue. “The victim was from a small town, a well-to-do little suburb called Ashton,” Kate said. “It’s the sort of town that draws in visitors for its pretentious antique stores, overpriced dining, and immaculate real estate.” “And that’s the thing I don’t get about it,” DeMarco said. “A place like that, people tend to gossip, right? You’d think someone would have known something or heard rumors about who the killer was. But there’s nothing in these files.” She said this last bit as she thumped her fingers against the folder. “That always unnerved me,” Kate said. “Ashton is an upscale place.
But outside of that, it’s also a very tight community. Everyone knows each other. For the most part, everyone was polite to one another. Neighbors helping neighbors, big turn-outs for school bake sales, the whole nine yards. The place is squeaky clean.” “No motives for the killer?” DeMarco asked. “None that I ever knew about. Ashton has a population of just over three thousand. And sure, while it does attract its fair amount of people from New York City and other outlying areas, it has an incredibly small crime rate. So even though the murder didn’t actually occur in Ashton, it’s why the Nobilini murder was such a big deal eight years ago.
” “And there were never any other murders like this one?” “Nope. Not until today, apparently. My theory is that the killer noted the FBI presence and got spooked. In a town that size, it would be easy to notice the presence of the FBI.” Kate paused here and took the file folder from DeMarco. “How much did Duran tell you?” “Not much. He said we were in a rush and asked that I read over the case files.” “Did you see what sort of gun was used for the murder?” Kate asked. “I did. A Ruger Hunter Mark IV.
Seemed weird. Seemed professional. That’s an expensive gun for some random murder with no apparent motive.” “I agree. The bullet and the casing we found made it an easy one to recognize. And despite the expensive and very nice gun that was used, the fact that it was used at all told us all we needed to know: it was someone that knew jack shit about killing people.” “How’s that?” “Anyone that knew what they were doing would know that the Ruger Hunter Mark IV would leave behind a casing. Which makes it a terrible choice.” “I assume this latest man was killed by a similar weapon?” DeMarco asked. “According to Duran, it’s the exact same weapon.
” “So this killer decided to do it again eight years later. Weird.” “Well, we’ll have to wait and see about that,” Kate said. “All Duran told me was that the victim looked as if he had been set up like a prop. And that the weapon used to kill him was the same kind that killed Frank Nobilini.” “Yeah, and this one is in Midtown in New York City. I wonder if this latest victim is also connected to Ashton.” Kate only shrugged as the plane experienced a bit of turbulence. It had done her a great deal of good to go through the case details. It had essentially knocked the cobwebs off of the case and made it feel new again.
And maybe, Kate figured, eight years of space between her and the original case might allow her to look at it with fresh eyes. *** It had been a while since Kate had been to New York. She and Michael, her late husband, had come here for a weekend getaway not long before he died. The congestion and absolute busyness of the place never ceased to awe her. It made the gridlock of Washington, DC, seem trivial by comparison. The fact that it was nearing nine o’clock on a Friday night was not helping matters. They arrived at the scene of the crime at 8:42 p.m. Kate parked their rental car as close to the crime scene tape as she could. The scene was in a back alley located on 43rd Street, the hustle and bustle of Grand Central Station a few blocks over.
There were two police cars parked nose to nose in front of the alley, not blocking the yellow crime scene tape or the alley itself, but making it known to anyone who wanted a peek at what was going on that there would be repercussions for their curiosity. As Kate and DeMarco reached the alleyway, a bulky policeman stopped them at the crime scene tape. But when Kate showed her badge, he shrugged his shoulders and lifted the tape for them. She noted that he made no real attempt to check out DeMarco when she bent down to go under the tape. She wondered idly if DeMarco, an openly homosexual woman, took offense when a man checked her out or if she considered it a compliment. “Feds,” the officer said with a huff. “I heard they called you in. Seems a bit much to me. Pretty open and shut case from the looks of it.” “Just checking on something,” Kate said as she and DeMarco walked into the dark alley.
The police cars at the mouth of the alley had been parked at a light angle to allow the headlights to shine into the darkness. Kate’s and DeMarco’s elongated shadows added an air of eeriness to the scene. At the back of the alleyway—which dead-ended along a brick wall—there were two policemen and a plainclothes detective standing in a small semicircle. There was a slight lump against the wall in front of them. The victim, Kate presumed. She approached the three men and introduced herself and DeMarco as they again showed their ID. “Nice to meet you,” one of the officers said. “But if I’m being honest, I don’t quite know why the FBI was so insistent on getting someone out here.” “Ah, Jesus,” the plainclothes detective said. He looked to be in his forties and a bit grungy.
Long dark hair, five o’clock shadow, and a pair of glasses that reminded Kate of every picture she’d ever seen of Buddy Holly. “We’ve been through this,” the detective said. He looked at Kate, rolled his eyes, and said: “If it’s a crime that’s older than a week or so, NYPD doesn’t want to touch it. It blows their minds that anyone would want to dig back up an unsolved murder case from eight years ago. I was actually the one that called the bureau. I know they were hot and heavy on the Nobilini case when it was active. Some sort of friendship with someone in Congress, right?” “That’s right,” Kate said. “And I was the lead agent on that case.” “Oh. Good to meet you.
I’m Detective Luke Pritchard. I sort of have an obsession with cold cases. This one pinged my interest because of the weapon that seems to have been used as well as the fact that it was carried out execution style. If you look closely, you can see scuff marks on the forehead where the killer apparently had him lean against the brick wall right here.” He placed his hand on the side of the building to their right where there was dried blood splattered everywhere. “May we?” Kate asked. The two policemen shrugged and stepped back. “By all means,” one said. “With a detective and the bureau on this, we’ll happily leave you to it.” “Have fun,” the other cop said as they turned away and headed back to the mouth of the alleyway.
Kate and DeMarco crowded in around the body. Pritchard stepped back to allow them some extra room, but kept close. “Well,” DeMarco said, “I’d say the immediate cause of death is pretty clear.” This was true. There was a single bullet hole in the back of the man’s head, the hole rather clean but the rim of it charred and gory—just like Frank Nobilini’s. It was a man, in his late thirties or early forties if Kate had to venture a guess. He was wearing high-end athletic wear, a thin zip-up hoodie, and nice jogging pants. The laces of his expensive running shoes were tied perfectly and the Apple ear buds he had been listening to sat neatly to his side, as if placed there intentionally. “We have an ID yet?” Kate asked. “Yeah,” Pritchard said.
“Jack Tucker. The ID in his wallet places his residence in the town of Ashton. Which, to me, was an even stronger connection to the Nobilini case.” “Are you familiar with Ashton, Detective?” Kate asked. “Not very. Been through there a few times, but it’s not my kind of place. Too perfect, too quaint and sickeningly sweet.” She knew what he meant. She couldn’t help but wonder what he was going to feel like, having to return to Ashton. “When was the body discovered?” DeMarco asked.
“Four thirty this afternoon. I arrived on the scene at a quarter after five and made all those connections. I had to beg them not to move the body until you guys got here. I figure you’d need to see the scene, body and all.” “I bet that made you popular,” Kate commented. “Oh, I’m used to it. I wish I was joking when I tell you that a lot of the cops around here call me Cold Case Pritchard.” “Well, I think on this one, you made the right call,” Kate said. “Even if it turns out not to be connected, there’s still someone out there that shot this man—someone that we need to find just in case this isn’t an isolated incident.” “Yeah, no clue on my end,” Pritchard said.
“I have a few voice memos with my observations if you’d like to check them out.” “That could be helpful. I assume forensics has already snapped pictures?” “Yeah. The digitals are probably already available.” With that, Kate got to her feet, her eyes still on Jack Tucker’s body. His head was tilted to the right, as if he were staring longingly at the earbuds that had been so carefully placed by his side. “Has the family been notified?” DeMarco asked. “No. And I fear that because I asked the PD to hold off on moving the body and getting the case moved along, they’re going to task me with it.” “If it’s all the same, I’d prefer to do it,” Kate said.
“The fewer channels the details are being processed through, the better.” “If that’s what you want.” Kate finally looked away from the body of Jack Tucker and then to the mouth of the alley where the two cops were congregating with the cop who had lifted the tape. She had delivered such devastating news more times than she cared to count and it was never easy. In fact, somehow, it seemed to get harder and harder. But she had also learned that strangely enough, it was in the sharp and agonizing throes of grief that those suffering loss seemed to be able to remember the most minute of details. Kate hoped it would hold true in this case. And if so, maybe an unsuspecting new widow could help her close a case that had haunted her for nearly a decade.