Gabriel awakes to blood and horror—and to a total blank of who he is, what has happened and how he got there. He finds himself charged with horrific multiple murders. Unless he can regain his memory, how can he prove he’s not guilty? Protective custody soon assumes new aspects as Jax and Gabriel develop a strange friendship that wants to blossom into much more. Can someone be guilty by innocence?
Jax is a cop by choice and to honor his father who was killed in the line of duty. His allegiance to his fellow officers and the code of ethics he lives by are the ruling factors of his life. When he finds an unconscious young man at a hideous crime scene with a bloody machete in his hand, Jax confronts a quandary. He can hardly believe this beautiful youth could have committed this atrocity but if not, who did?
El Paso, TX
Cold. Pain. Floating and yet so heavy. Sensory details flooded his mind, but they only confused him.
Where am I? What's happened?
He realized then that odors were the most insistent cue. Hot, metallic--the raw, thick scents of fresh blood and terror.
Holy Mother, what's happened?
Sticky moisture seemed to coat his skin, growing crustier by the minute. The fingers of his right hand clenched around something hard, solid. His hand hurt, but he could not let go. He clutched it with unremitting urgency. Next, he heard a low, anguished moan followed by the building scream of sirens.
Then the scariest question of all entered his mind: Who am I?
He could not come up with a name or even a single trace of an identity. Before utter terror overcame him, he let the dark weight of silence close over him like water.
A Few Minutes Later
Jackson Byrne "Jax" McDermott pulled his unmarked car to the curb, cut the ignition and stepped out. 3150 Rincon Street was ablaze with lights and starting to swarm with action. The first responders had begun to arrive. He watched four EMTs led by their sergeant, Delia Maldonado, unload from their ambulance, which had pulled in behind his car.
Before they went to work, he needed to view the scene. From the sound of the call, they'd probably just be picking up pieces anyway. Two uniforms were already stretching yellow crime scene tape around the simple, boxy, typical tract house on the sprawling city's northeast side. Jax stepped across one tape band and headed for the open front door, which hung off a single hinge.
Micky Finnegan, one of the newest rookies on the EPPD, came charging out. He skidded to a stop and then puked into the arbor vitae to the left of the cement stoop.
Jax looked at the young cop with a trace of sympathy. He'd been there once. "Bad, huh?"
Micky coughed and gagged before he replied. "Yeah. Real bad."
Edging past the green-faced rookie, Jax went inside the house. With ten years as a cop behind him--six on the street and four as a detective--broken by a tour in the Middle East with the National Guard, there wasn't much he hadn't seen. He'd deal with it. He stopped two steps inside, blinked and began to breathe in shallow pants through his mouth. You could cut the stench with a knife--blood, puke, piss, fear and death. There might have been a place somewhere when he'd seen that much blood, but he couldn't recall it. The whole room seemed to have been painted red. He counted six bodies.
Delia came up behind him. He held out a hand, halting her for a moment. "They look like coroner cases," he said. "Give me a minute and then you can do your thing."
He did a quick mental count--an older man against the far wall, a middle-aged woman two steps to the man's right, a young woman with her arms extended toward a kid, apparently a boy maybe four or five. Gaping throats slashed open, still-seeping gashes on limbs and torsos. They all must have struggled, resisting to no avail. An infant, just beyond the boy. Whoa. Unbelievably, the kid moved and made a faint mew like an injured kitten.
Delia shoved past him. He let her. He managed to draw a fast sketch of the scene in his notebook to show the small form's spot on the sticky floor as the EMTs worked. When his gaze skidded to the last body, he went dead still. From the blood-crusted face of an apparent corpse, two eyes stared at him, eyes holding a clear and unmistakable shine of life and awareness. No gashed throat on that one, either. He was definitely still alive. The eyes blinked shut, as if the man knew he'd been made. Jax grabbed his camera and snapped a couple of fast shots.
Delia and her team bundled up the infant to evacuate it. As she started past him, following one of her crew with the baby, Jax halted her.
"Del, that one's alive, too." He pointed.
She stopped. Her glance whipped around to the last body, apparently a young man.
Sixth victim? But wait, in one blood-painted hand, he clenched the rough wooden handle of a two-foot long machete, the wide blade streaked black with blood.
"You can take him as soon as I mark the placement of the body, but tell the ER crew he doesn't go anywhere until they hear from me. He could be the perp, and I'm not taking any chances. Save his clothes, too, and anything else you or the ER staff find on him. I'll get hold of Nat at the ME's office and see if she can meet you at the hospital to get blood samples and anything else she can while it's fresh."
Del nodded. She knew the drill. These days, crime scene pickups were a regular part of her team's routine. El Paso had become a war zone. Like Jax and a number of others on the force and in the first responders, she'd been in the military in the Middle East. None of them had seen anything worse while they were over there.
It only took a couple of minutes before the EMTs were back with a gurney. Eight careful hands lifted the young man's body from the floor. If he was still conscious, he played possum like a champ, but the slow rise and fall of the bloody, tattered T-shirt across his chest proved he still lived.
Once the ambulance shrieked away, Jax took out his camera once more and began to snap pictures. There wasn't much in the way of physical evidence to collect--except for the savaged bodies and blood. There was plenty of that. Jax knew two crime lab techs would be there any minute to go to work on the wet evidence.
When he finished at the house, Jax drove over to St. Martin's Hospital. Not that he didn't trust both Delia and Nat to do their jobs, but he'd learned better than to leave anything to chance. Over the years, he'd seen too many guilty fucking bastards get off on technicalities and sloppy police work. He'd be damned if one would skate because of his failures.