Seeking the Truth
Her investigation could prove fatal…
In this exciting True Blue K-9 Unit installment
By secretly investigating the New York City K-9 Command Unit chief’s murder, reporter Rachelle Clark puts a bull’s-eye on her back. Single dad and K-9 unit officer Carter Jameson thought Rachelle was reporting on police-field-dog trials—not his brother’s death. Though he’s not happy about her true purpose, the danger is real…and he and his trusty German shepherd must save her.
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The smell of sweaty bodies, garbage from some unseen refuse container and the musty odor of grease from the subway rails lay heavy in the stale August air. Noise bounced off the ceramic tiled walls covered with a dinosaur motif, unique to the 81st Street and Museum of Natural History subway station on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
The place was crowded due to the Central Park Walkathon. People of all ages and ethnicity mingled on the side platforms. Most wore the green shirts of the walkathon, but there were many other obvious tourists, what with it being late summer, along with local subway passengers.
Officer Carter Jameson kept vigilant for any sort of trouble as he and his K-9 partner, Frosty, an all-white German shepherd, moved from the uptown platform to the downtown platform and back again.
A family of three stepped into his path. The father held an adorable curly-haired toddler in his arms.
“We need to get to the South Street Seaport. Is this the right train?” the mother asked.
“Doggy!” the little girl squealed, her arms reaching out for Frosty. She nearly tumbled out of her father’s arms to reach the dog.
The father stepped back, securing his hold on the child. “The dog is working. We can’t pet him.”
Carter appreciated the father’s words. “We are working, but we can take a short break if she’d like to pet him.”
He looked down at Frosty and gave the hand gesture to sit, which Frosty immediately obeyed.. “Play nice,” Carter said, giving the dog the verbal signal that at this moment he was off duty.
Part of Carter’s role as a NYC K-9 Command Unit officer assigned to the transit authority was public relations. To let the citizens know they were there to protect and to serve.
“You sure he won’t bite?” the man asked, a wary expression on his face.
“Frosty is used to my six-year-old,” Carter assured him. “She uses him as a horse.”
“That’s a cute name for a cute fellow.” The mother held out her hand for Frosty to sniff. Frosty sniffed, then licked her hand, his tail thumping on the hard concrete platform.
“Doggy!” the girl cried again. The father kept her in his arms but squatted down for the child to rub Frosty’s coat.
From the pocket of his uniform, Carter withdrew a sticker with the NYPD gold shield and squatted down next to Frosty. Holding out the sticker, he asked the girl, “Would you like to be deputized?”
She clapped her hands.
Peeling the back off the sticker, Carter placed the gold shield on her shoulder. “Now you are one of us.”
“Thank you for taking the time with my daughter,” the father said as he rose.
The words warmed Carter’s heart. He worked hard to uphold not only the code of the NYPD to protect and serve, but also his faith. Not that he and Frosty wouldn’t take the bad guys down in a heartbeat, but he’d do so with humility and as much kindness as possible.
Frosty’s attention jerked to something behind Carter. The dog didn’t alert, but his eyes were fixated on whatever had drawn his focus. Carter could feel a presence hovering.
He glanced over his shoulder. His gaze snagged on a pair of red pumps below well-shaped calves, disappearing into a gray pencil skirt.
Two hours ago, his brother Noah, the interim chief of the NYC K-9 Command Unit, had called to warn Carter a reporter wanted to interview him regarding the upcoming national police dog field trials and certification competition, which would be held in two weeks. Carter and Frosty were favored to place high in the public demonstration competition.
A burn of anger simmered in Carter’s gut. The way the press had hounded his family the past five months after the unsolved murder of his oldest brother, Jordan, bothered Carter. He had no patience for pushy journalists.
Turning back to the family, he said, “This is the uptown train. The downtown tracks are beneath us. You’ll want to get off at Fulton Street. And then walk toward the water. It’s easy to find.”
“Thank you, Officer,” the woman said.
The father held out his hand, which Carter took. “We appreciate your help.”
The family turned and walked away.
Carter took a moment for a steadying breath. To Frosty, he murmured, “Work.”
The dog’s ear perked up, indicating he knew he was back on duty.
“Officer Carter Jameson?”
The honeyed voice, with just a hint of an accent, tripped down his spine.
Unnerved by the visceral reaction, he arranged his features into a neutral expression and turned around. “Yes. May I help you?”
The beautiful woman facing him was tall with long brown hair that floated about her cream-colored, silk-clad shoulders. Brown eyes framed by long lashes stared at him, and her full lips were spread into a tentative smile.
His gaze swept over her. She was dressed to impress, in her fancy blouse and gray pencil skirt. The red pumps were impractical. Though she had on a sturdy-looking cross-body type purse, not so impractical. The flowery notebook and pink pen in her manicured hand would have delighted his daughter, Ellie.
She tucked her pen behind her ear before holding out her hand while gesturing with the notebook to the newsstand that sat in the middle of the platform. “I’m Rachelle Clark with NYC Weekly.”
He grasped her hand, noting the softness of her skin and the crazy frisson of sensation racing up his arm. “I can’t say that I’ve ever read that particular one.”
There were so many local NYC-centric newspapers and magazines keeping those living in the five boroughs up-to-date on the happenings, Carter couldn’t possible read them all.
She extracted her hand. “You don’t want to know what’s going on in your own community?”
Tucking in his chin, Carter said. “I didn’t say that.” He narrowed his gaze. “I believe my brother told you I was working.”
She had the good grace to grimace. “True.” Her smile reappeared. “However, he did tell me where to find you, so I took that to mean he wasn’t opposed to me asking you some questions.”
“Did he now?” Carter would have to chew Noah out for throwing him to the wolves, or wolf, in this case.
“How about this?” Rachelle said. “I can follow you around the rest of your shift. Just observe. I won’t ask any questions.” Her accent deepened into a definite Southern drawl. “I won’t say anything. Just think of me as a little shadow.”
Yeah, right. An attractive shadow. Like having her dogging his steps wouldn’t break his concentration. He looked down at Frosty, who looked up at him with his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth.
“We’ll take a break right now,” he said. “You have five minutes.”
“No, no, no. It would do my article so much good if I could see you in action. Even if it’s just for a little bit. Then when you’re off duty, I can interview you.”
Carter rubbed at the tension in the back of his neck. “Like I said, five minutes.”
Her gaze darted to his partner then back to him. “He’s a handsome dog.”
“He knows it,” Carter told her.
She laughed slightly but didn’t reach out to touch Frosty. Carter wondered if she was afraid or being respectful.
He strode away toward a locked closet built into the staircase, fully aware of his “shadow” following. He tried to ignore the hint of lavender wafting off the woman as he brought out water for Frosty, who lapped it up thirstily. He grabbed his own thermos and drank deeply, his eyes on the reporter watching him.
She glanced around. “Was there a race today?”
“For a reporter, you’re not very well-informed.” He barely suppressed his amusement when surprise and a bit of annoyance flashed in her chocolate-colored eyes.
She recovered quickly and said through smiling lips, “I don’t cover sports.”
He couldn’t contain the grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. “A walkathon for diabetes. Hardly a sport.”
Her eyes narrowed slightly. “Are you expecting trouble?”
Only the kind tall brunettes posed. He shook his head, dislodging that thought. “No. We’re just patrolling as a precaution.”
“Right.” She made a note in that flowery book of hers. “I suppose the walkathon could be a target like last month’s Fourth of July celebration.”
She was correct, but he didn’t comment. No need to give her any more fodder on that score. Two of his fellow K-9 Unit members and their dogs were there when a bomb detonated in a park on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Thankfully no one was hurt.
“Did that bombing have anything to do with your eldest brother’s murder?”
Carter glanced to her sharply. “Your five minutes is up.”
“No, it’s not,” she countered. She tapped the gold watch on her slender wrist. “I have two more minutes. How close are you to solving your brother’s murder case?”
“I thought you wanted to talk about the field trials?”
Her nostrils flared slightly but her smile didn’t slip. “I do. Are you and Frosty competing?”
“Yes, we are.”
“How many events will you participate in?”
“All of them.”
Her dark eyebrows drew together. “Which are…?”
“Obedience and agility. Articles and Boxes, which are timed. Apprehension with gun and without gun.”
She wrote furiously in her notebook. “Could you elaborate on those?”
“Not now.” He tapped her watch. “Time’s up. You can attend the public demonstration.”
A new flood of people rushed down the stairs toward the train platform. Carter carefully watched the throng and Frosty for any signs of an alert as the dog inhaled the air in short little bursts and sniffed at each person as they walked past him.
It was time to take his focus off the reporter.
Carter put their stash away and closed the closet. “Back to work.” He let Frosty lead, his nose twitching in the air.
Awareness shimmied down Carter’s spine with every step. He stopped abruptly and turned to face the woman on his heels. Her pumps skidded on the concrete floor, barely halting her in time to keep from bumping into him.
“What are you doing?” he demanded.
Her smile turned saccharine sweet. “There’s no law against sharing the same space as you.”
Barely refraining from snorting, he blew out a frustrated breath and stalked away.
Rachelle hurried after the handsome police officer and his dog. She’d seen him from a distance at Griffin’s diner, a neighborhood eatery near where she lived in Queens and close to the NYC K-9 Command Unit headquarters, but had never talked to him. Up close the man was downright gorgeous with his dark hair and blue eyes. And fit. She couldn’t imagine wearing all the gear attached to his body on a daily basis, let alone in the dank and stuffy subway.
She was glad to see he was thoughtful of his partner to make sure the dog stayed hydrated. She made a note in her journal. She’d always liked dogs from a distance. Her parents had never allowed pets. Which made writing about the K-9 duo that much more fascinating.
It had taken some fancy talking to get her boss to allow her to write an article about the police dog competition because she’d already been assigned to cover an upcoming celebrity ball, which thankfully had some redeeming value as a fund-raiser for autism awareness.
Her hope with the article about the police dog field trials was to gain some insider information on the K-9 Unit and the unsolved murder of NYC K-9 Command Unit Chief Jordan Jameson.
Five months ago when Chief Jameson had failed to appear for a K-9 graduation, the department had known something was wrong. Their chief wouldn’t disappear without a word. Then a few days later, Jordan had been found dead in what was made to look like a suicide, but evidence had proven Jordan’s untimely death was in fact murder. Someone had killed the man in cold blood and remained at large.
A mystery she wanted to solve in order to be taken seriously as a journalist. If she could shed light on why Chief Jameson was killed, or better yet, solve the case by doing her own investigation…
Her work would be noticed and hopefully picked up by more prestigious media outlets.
She hustled to keep close to Carter and Frosty so she could hear and see what he and the dog were doing as they weaved and bobbed through the swarm waiting for the train. Bodies pressed in around her, the smells of the subway assaulted her senses. Odors she’d yet to get used to, having only been in the city for a year. Her skin itched with the need for fresh air and blue sky. Sweat dampened her blouse, no doubt ruining the fabric. Someone pushed against her, sending her stumbling sideways.
“Hey!” she cried out.
Carter whipped around, his blue eyes meeting hers. She regained her balance, gave him a reassuring nod and headed toward him, dodging a couple of teenagers who were jostling each other.
From the dark tunnel came the roaring sound of the train. People surged forward in anticipation of boarding, each hoping to make it through the doors, in case the train was already full.
Jostled by the crowd, Rachelle swam against the current, but the tide of humanity pushed her toward the yellow safety boundary painted on the platform floor. Frowning, she held on tight to her purse and tried to shimmy her way through the crowd.
The flat of a hand on her back startled her and she jerked just as she was shoved hard, causing her to misstep and propelling her to the very edge of the platform. She lost her balance, her arms windmilling.
Terror ripped a desperate scream from her as she plummeted off the platform and onto the tracks.
A woman’s scream punctuated the air, loud gasps from the surrounding crowd following. Horror stole Carter’s breath as Rachelle disappeared over the edge of the platform onto the subway tracks.
His heart jumped into his throat, galvanizing him into action. He pushed through the terrified crowd as he called into Dispatch asking for backup and for the incoming train to be notified there was a civilian on the tracks. He prayed the message would be relayed to the conductor in time to stop the train short.
Pedestrians yelled and urged Rachelle to get up. She appeared dazed as she pushed to her knees. Smears of grease and dirt marred her skirt and blouse. Shoving back her loose hair, she lifted her frightened gaze as if looking for help.
Frosty’s frantic barking echoed off the tile and cement. Agitated, the dog paced the edge of the platform. Carter held tight to his lead, afraid the dog would jump onto the tracks to help save Rachelle.
The train wasn’t far down the track, he could hear the strident squeal of the rails echoing down the tunnel. There wasn’t time for her to climb back onto the platform.
He didn’t think there was even time for her to run to the other end of the platform where there was a four-step ladder.
Only one option provided a hope of survival.
He knelt down and cupped his mouth to shout, “Lie down between the rails.”
For a heartbeat, she blinked up at him as if trying to discern his words.
A gust of wind tore down the tunnel, whipping her hair in front of her face and plastering her skirt to her legs. The approaching train would arrive any second. “Hurry! Lie down. Cover your head!”
In a flurry of movement, Rachelle scrambled to do as directed. She lay prone between the inside tracks, her face tucked into the crook of her elbow.
Even if the train didn’t hit her, there was no guarantee the equipment hanging down from the undercarriage wouldn’t cause injury.
Nausea roiled through his gut as he pushed to his feet and lifted a prayer for this woman’s safety. “Please, God.”
Rachelle squeezed her eyes tight. Her heart hammered in her chest. She covered her head with her purse, thankful it hadn’t flown off her body in the fall, and fought to lie as still and flat as possible.
If she survived this…
No! She would survive this—she’d be headline news. And could write about the fast-thinking officer who helped her stay alive.
The loud squeal of the rails shuddered through her. Her body tensed.
“Please, Lord. Please, Lord.” She repeated the refrain over and over.
The sight of the incoming train filled Carter with terror. He waved his arms over his head, hoping to grab the train engineer’s attention. Others joined in.
The sound of people crying mixed with the screech of the brakes as the train decelerated and came to a jerking halt within inches of Rachelle’s feet.
A cheer broke out.
Sweat soaked Carter’s back beneath his uniform and flak vest. “Thank you, Jesus.”
To Frosty, he commanded, “Stay.”
He dropped the dog’s lead and then jumped down onto the tracks, careful to avoid the third rail which supplied live electrical power for the subway to run efficiently. It was exposed and extremely dangerous. He hurried to gather Rachelle into his arms and lifted her off the ground. Her arms encircled his neck and she buried her face in his shoulder. Her body trembled. Shock, no doubt.
“You’re okay,” he assured her.
He carried her to the end of the platform. Several people rushed to help her up the stairs.
“My notebook and pen!”
Carter rolled his eyes at her priorities but quickly grabbed her items before climbing up the ladder behind her.
Rachelle’s pretty brown eyes were wide, the pupils dilated. She wobbled on her pumps and gripped his arm. “Thank you. That was really close.”
Tell me about it. “You’re going to be okay.”
He slid an arm around her waist and led her to the bench against the wall. He squatted down beside her, setting her notebook and pen on the bench.
Frosty put his chin on her knee. She stroked the dog behind the ears with one hand and placed her other hand protectively over her notebook.
“What happened?” Carter asked.
Her lips trembled. “Someone pushed me.”
Shock reverberated through him. The platform was now a crime scene. He radioed in this new development.
“That’s right. I saw the whole thing.” An older gentleman stepped forward. “Guy wore a gray T-shirt, baseball hat and sunglasses. He had brown hair, medium height.”
Carter rose and searched the pressing crowd. “Can you point him out?”
“As soon as he pushed her, the guy ran up the stairs,” the older man told him. “I heard him say, ‘You’re getting too close.’”
“I heard him say that, too.” A young woman wearing a walkathon T-shirt stepped forward. “I saw him put his hand on her back and push.”
Carter’s gaze snapped back to Rachelle. “Why would someone want to hurt you?”
She tucked in her chin. “You think I was targeted?” Something flashed in her eyes, some thought that made her frown, but then she shook her head. “No. It was crowded. He probably got claustrophobic. It had to have been a random act.”
Carter wasn’t sure what to think. He didn’t have time to question her further as other police officers and paramedics flooded the platform. He greeted the officers, explained the situation and let them interview the witnesses. Carter would write up his statement when he returned to his home station in Queens.
The medical personnel fussed over Rachelle. She waved them away. “I’m fine. Nothing is broken. Nothing’s twisted. I’ll have some bruises, but you can’t help with that.”
Carter touched her shoulder. He’d already noted the scrapes on her hands and the smudges on her knees. She’d dropped four feet onto hard concrete. “Let them do their jobs.”
She huffed out a sigh and tucked her notebook and pen into her purse. “I’ve taken worse falls. My parents have a grand oak that rises a hundred feet in the air. I’ve fallen out of it more times than I can count. This was barely a tumble.”
Her words were saying one thing, but her body was shaking beneath his hand. “Humor me.”
Her lips pressed together, and she nodded. The EMTs checked her vitals, assessed her limbs for injury. They declared her okay but told her to rest and put ice on her knees.
When the paramedics retreated, she rose from the bench, straightened her dirt-smudged skirt and squared her shoulders. Looking him in the eye, she said, “What I would like to do is interview those witnesses, then get on with our interview.”
She had gumption, he’d give her that. He admired that she wasn’t rushing out of the subway system scared as a rabbit. Most people would be anxious to escape the area after experiencing something as traumatic as being pushed into the path of a subway train.
Who had pushed her? And why?
Random? Or a targeted attempt on her life?
Terri Reed’s romance and romantic suspense novels have appeared on Publisher’s Weekly top twenty-five, Nielsen’s Bookscan top hundred, Amazon Bestseller and featured in USA Today. Her books have been finalists in Romance Writers of America RITA contest, National Readers’ Choice Award, Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award and finalists three times in American Christian Fiction Writers The Carol Award contest. Contact Terri @ P.O. Box 19555 Portland, OR 97224