Weather the Storm

Security Specialists International, Book 3

Monette Michaels

 

Chapter 1

Friday, December 2nd, 10 P.M.(EST), Lauringer Library, Georgetown University campus

“Elana?”

Elana turned toward the other “lucky” librarian who’d gotten stuck working the late shift on a Friday night. “Yes, Betsy?”

“I think I can handle the hordes of knowledge-hungry students if you’d like to check the study carrels for AWOL reference materials.”

Elana laughed and looked around the mostly unoccupied third floor which, unlike most buildings, was the main floor of the modernistic library. “Yeah, only the die-hard students come out on a night like this.” Fridays were always slow, but tonight also had the draw of a big basketball match-up, Georgetown versus Purdue.

Betsy nodded toward the guard station. “Harry has the game on and has been shouting the score every ten minutes or so. I stopped shushing him after the third time since there really aren’t many students to complain and the ones who are here keep asking him for a score update.”

“We’re up by ten with ten minutes left in the half.” The guard, an ex-D.C. police officer, didn’t even turn around. His eyes were glued to the small television he’d brought to work.

“Thus my point is proven.” Betsy laughed.

Elana smiled. “I won’t be long.” She picked up her walkie-talkie; all librarians carried them at night. While violence on the campus, and in the library in particular, was low, it was better to be safe than sorry. One push of the button and Harry would be alerted. “I’ve already checked all the carrels on this floor and the fifth, so I’ll make a pass on the fourth. That should take care of us until Monday when the students start hiding and hoarding materials again.”

“Yeah, some things never change.” Betsy shooed her on. “Go. When you get back, we can take turns going on break.”

“You’ve got a deal.”

Elana skirted the edge of the circulation desk and took the main stairs to the fourth floor. No need to take the elevator since there were a couple of carts already on four.

As she climbed the stairs, she slid her hand along the metal railing and stopped to plié every other step. The muscles in her legs ached in a good way at her impromptu practice. Years ago, if someone had told her she’d be living in the U.S. and working as a librarian, she would’ve laughed. Until the age of sixteen, she’d trained to be a prima ballerina just like her mother. Then a madman had entered her life, destroying her family and her dreams.

A frisson of remembered fear swept over her, making her shiver.

Stop it. That’s all in the past. You’re safe. Demidas is not here.

Yes, she was safe. She enjoyed her job and the new friends she had made. She had her dance classes to keep her in shape and because she loved to dance, plus she’d added some self-defense classes, just in case. All in all, her life was good—what little family she had left had sacrificed enormously to make it so. After all the trouble and effort she and others had gone through, including changing her name from Fabrizzio to Cruz, to protect her from Sergei Demidas, she planned to live the new life created out of the ashes of tragedy to the fullest. The past was past and would remain so.

But is it really? Are you living life to the fullest?

She mentally bitch-slapped the nagging little voice. No good ever came of dwelling on the past. This was her life now—and it was a blessedly secure one.

Coward.

Whatever. She had the right to live however in the heck she wanted. If that meant being a technical services librarian in the United States, so be it.

Elana ruthlessly shoved the past into a dark, hidden corner of her mind. She had a job to do; one of her jobs was to make sure all reference materials were available equally to all students. Unfortunately, some students weren’t the least bit concerned about fairness in access. Since finals were right around the corner, the problem was worse than usual.

Boring job. Boring life.

The damn mental voice, her conscience or whatever it was, had been loud of late, forcing her to examine her life’s choices more and more. The voice had become pushier after she’d obtained her doctorate in computer sciences, her concentration in statistical analysis. She had begun to think she should be doing more to hunt and stop evil men like the sadistic bastard who’d ravaged her life twelve years ago.

What kind of idiot would leave the sheltered, sane world of the library to find a job seeking monsters?

You’re afraid Demidas will find you.

Yes, absolutely. She’d managed to survive Demidas’s cruel abuse once; she wasn’t sure she could do so again and remain sane.

The voice, for once, had no response. Because no matter how snarky her inner voice got about hiding in the library job, her subconscious was bone-deep scared of their nemesis too.

Elana pushed open the door to the fourth floor. She stopped and blinked, allowing her eyes to adjust from the bright neon lighting of the stairwell to the dimness of the fourth floor. While cost-effective and green, the low-level lighting created lots of shadows. Tonight, those shadows seemed ominous. She damned the niggling voice in her head for throwing her back in time and bringing images of her personal bogeyman to mind.

The preternatural silence of the huge room was suddenly suffocating. She forced herself to take two slow, deep breaths. They didn’t help. Her skin crawled and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She rejected the urge to turn on all the overhead lights or, as an alternative, run back down the stairs.

“Stop being a wuss, Ellie,” she muttered to herself; her voice sounded loud in the still room, “and get to work. You’re in a library. It’s safe. You’ve done this dozens of times.” She touched the walkie-talkie clipped to her waistband for reassurance. Harry was only one floor away.

Selecting one of the empty carts, she kept to the aisle along the outside wall where the graduate private study rooms were located. Using her master key, she opened one darkened room after another, checked the sign-out cards on the reference materials, and retrieved those that were overdue. She left the neglectful students a preprinted note to come see her as soon as possible. Their sign-out privileges would be suspended until they did. They all knew the rules: Forty-eight hours and back to the reference desk.

The mundane routine should’ve calmed her frazzled nerves, but it didn’t. Every minute or so, she’d check over her shoulder and search the plentiful shadows.

“Just stop it,” she whispered as she moved briskly toward the next study room. “You’re being pathetic.”

After five unoccupied study rooms, the next one had a light on. She let out a sigh of relief. Human contact and conversation would be good right about now. She knocked and heard, “Come in.” She opened the door and entered.

The student inside looked up and smiled. “Oh, hey, Elana. Didn’t see you downstairs when I came in earlier.”

Libby Hays was a graduate student in Political Science and very pregnant with her first child.

“That must’ve been when I was on five rounding up my strays.” She winked and then did a slow scan over Libby’s huge baby bump. “You look as if you’ll have the baby any day.”

“The doctor says it’ll be two more weeks. But I don’t believe her.” Libby gestured at the laptop. “Which is why I’m burning the midnight oil. I’m almost done with my last term paper.” The girl picked up a stack of manila folders next to her. “You can have these back. I’m done with them.”

Elana reached for the material from the library’s vertical files. “Thanks. Saves me from taking out my thumbscrews and using them on you.”

Libby chuckled. “Bad this year, huh?”

“Oh hell yeah. The students get worse each year. The whole ‘it’s all about me’ thing.” She turned to leave, but then paused. “Do e-mail me when the baby’s born. I want to know all the details.”

Libby laughed and scrunched her nose. “I’m hoping to forget everything but the end result.”

“I’ve heard that’s the best idea.” A fleeting pang of envy swept through Elana. As a teenager she’d often dreamed of getting married to a wonderful man who would adore her, someone like her father who’d worshiped her mother, and having lots of babies. But witnessing her parents’ murders and being raped by their killer had a way of keeping her from all but the most superficial intimate relationships with men.

Not all men are him.

Elana knew that, but still…it was hard to trust them. She sighed. Maybe someday she’d find the perfect man, one who was both strong and gentle and capable of dealing with her demons.

Of course, she’d been telling herself that for several years. So far she’d struck out. Most of her dates never made it to second base, and those few men who managed to get into bed with her eventually told her she was too much work. It had reached the point where she stopped dating to save herself and the men who’d approached her a lot of frustration.

“Elana?” Libby’s questioning—and concerned—voice brought her back to the present. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” Elana gave Libby a forced smile, “just planning out the rest of my evening. Good night.” With a wave, she left Libby to her term paper.

She finished the row of grad study rooms and then began the seek-and-find foray through the Quiet Study Area. After pushing the filled cart to the area near the elevator, she retrieved another empty cart and headed for the Lounge, a favorite place for students to stash research materials. Some students taped materials in baggies to the undersides of tables with duct tape; she’d often found some of the one-of-a-kind documents hidden in that manner. With that in mind, Elana began the onerous task of crawling under tables.

She was under a table in the farthest, darkest corner of the large room when she thought she heard the outer door open. She listened carefully for several seconds and tried to convince herself she’d misheard. But her gut and that damn tickle on the back of her neck told her differently. Honestly, Ellie, don’t be a wimp. She started to crawl out to check the room and the door opened. This time the sound was unmistakable.

Everything in her froze and she stayed where she was. Why hadn’t the lights come on? Students entering would turn on the overhead lights. Betsy or Harry or even Libby would’ve seen her cart outside and called out. Whoever was in the room had wanted darkness. But for what purpose?

A man spoke in a deep, raspy voice. His tone was low, but it seemed loud to Elana. “You know I don’t like meeting like this, Crocker. Hiring mercs isn’t something I do in public.”

The anger in the speaker’s voice chilled her to the bone. Then it registered what he’d said. Mercs? Feeling very much like prey, Elana held very, very still and breathed shallowly. If she didn’t move, didn’t make a noise, maybe they wouldn’t find her.

Another male—the merc, Crocker?—replied, “Good to know, boss” ─the man drawled the word, turning it into an insult─ “but I only take jobs on face-to-face meets. You should’ve learned that about me when you spoke to our mutual friend. I don’t risk my ass or those of my men until I’ve read a man’s eyes.”

Crocker’s voice was gravelly and mean-sounding. So much so, it was all she could do not to whimper. She clenched her teeth and worked hard to keep her breathing quiet. No easy task since her heart threatened to pound its way out of her chest.

“Fuck that…there’s always risk in wet work,” the Boss snarled. Something thudded and a chair scraped across the floor and hit a wall.

She clapped a hand over her mouth so her shocked gasp would go unheard. These men did not like one another. Was she going to be a witness to a murder?

The Boss continued and the sound of his voice rose and lowered as he paced the room. “You just want to know who to blackmail if things go tits up.”

Crocker laughed, a sinister sound. The atmosphere in the room filled with the electricity of their mutual animosity. “Got that right. At least you aren’t too stupid. Who am I gonna kill and how much is it worth to you?”

Elana pressed her hand tighter over her mouth and swallowed past the giant lump of fear lodged in her throat. A cold sweat broke out over her body and she trembled so much she was afraid the men could hear her bones rattling. She prayed for all she was worth the two men wouldn’t search the room and find her.

The urge to call for Security was great. But she mustn’t. The walkie-talkie wasn’t set to silent mode. If she sent an emergency signal, Harry would try to reach her. Any noise would guarantee her death.

She could do nothing to extricate herself from the situation, but she could listen. Maybe she could hear enough details to help prevent the cold-blooded murder they planned. When she’d thought about using her skills to track bad guys, she hadn’t actually planned on doing so in person.

Be careful what you wish for.

Over the sound of her blood pounding in her ears, she strained to catch every word.

“Your primary target is Keely Walsh-Maddox,” the Boss spoke as if he were ordering a Big Mac. “And if you can take out Ren Maddox and any of the SSI operatives while you do her—all the better. I’ll pay one million dollars.”

Oh my God! Elana knew Dr. Walsh…well, sort of. The woman had lectured at Georgetown on statistical analysis systems and their use in information retrieval to hunt terrorists, sex traffickers, money launderers, and other criminals.

Her brow creased. She took a breath and forced herself to listen and use her head. If she didn’t, Dr. Walsh could die. She couldn’t let that happen. I’ve trained for this─I can do it.

But what did Dr. Walsh have to do with this SSI? And why was SSI so dangerous the Boss wanted Crocker to kill anyone he could?

“Not enough. Big job. Deadly job,” Crocker rasped out.

His vocal cords sounded damaged. This was one clue which might help identify him. She’d bet his real name was not Crocker.

“Those fuckers at SSI are well-trained, most of them former Special Forces,” Crocker said. “Your last attempts to take them out were fucked to hell and back. It’s gonna cost you big money, ’cause I’ll need to take on men who are crazy, suicidal or both.”

“Are you trying to extort me?” The Boss’s words were low and snarly.

“Yeah.” Crocker chuckled. “I’m the only merc left willing to take your jobs. So, my price is the going price.”

“How much?” The Boss sounded as if he spoke through clenched teeth. “If you get the job done, I’ll have a lot more wet work for you.”

The Boss was or had been in intelligence. “Wet work” was what spies, most often the CIA kind, called killing strategic human targets.

Now, you’re thinking like an analyst, Ellie.

“Five million dollars for me and my men, plus you cover all my out-of-pocket costs. Half up front for hiring bonuses and securing weapons and such.”

Crocker had just revealed his antecedents. He came from the South or had spent his formative years there. His accent was subtle, but his syntax showed his origins.

“Done. Where do you want the deposit sent?”

Five million dollars plus costs. No negotiations at all. The Boss must really need Dr. Walsh and the others out of the way. But why? Keely Walsh was a professor at MIT—or at least she had been the last Elana heard.

“Here’s the number for my offshore account.” A rustling of cloth indicated Crocker had pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket.

“I want it done fast.” The Boss’s words were short and clipped, a sure sign of rising anger. His accent had a tinge of East Coast, not New York or New Jersey, but definitely northeastern United States. “SSI is hurting my cash flow.”

And then it hit her where she’d heard the accent before. Boston. The Boss was originally from Boston and had almost succeeded in eliminating the slurred, nasal vowels of a true Bostonian.

“My job. My timeline. I’m not rushing onto SSI turf without adequate intel.” Crocker’s tone said this was non-negotiable. “I’ll start preparations after the deposit hits my account. I’ll let you know when we’re going in.”

“My money. My timetable…bottom line, I need it done before the end of the year.” The Boss’s anger had iced over into cold fury and his voice said “don’t mess with me.”

“I didn’t know traitors had bottom lines. I just thought y’all were bottom feeders.” Crocker’s Southern drawl was even more evident as he insulted the man who’d shown he was willing to pay a lot of money to eliminate problems. Either Crocker had balls of steel or he wasn’t as smart as he should be.

“You have a problem working for me, Crocker?”

Elana shuddered. If anyone had aimed that ominous tone of voice at her, she was sure she’d whimper and run away.

“Yeah—” Crocker’s tone was matter of fact. The merc’s lack of fear made Crocker all the scarier. “—but as long as your money’s good, I’ll do the job. I don’t give fuck all about the political games you’re playing. Don’t fuck me over. I make a bad enemy.”

Another clue. Whoever or whatever the Boss was, he had to be in politics or close to politicians in some way. But that could be said of a lot of men in D.C. Still, every piece of the puzzle was one piece closer to the full picture.

“So do I, Crocker. So do I.”

And the two men had reached detente.

Crocker snorted. “At least we understand each other. No more face-to-face meetings will be necessary.”

“Good. We done? I need to get back to the arena before my friends miss me.”

And another fact. The Boss had attended the game tonight. There were cameras at the arena. In fact, there were security cameras all over campus including the library. Video of men coming and going from the arena and the library could be searched for duplicates using facial recognition. Elana smiled. She knew how to find these men, even if she couldn’t get a look at them now.

You won’t be allowed to help.

She’d offer anyway. Or maybe she could work with Dr. Walsh? This was the professor’s area of expertise.

“Yeah, we’re done,” Crocker replied.

“Go on. I’ll follow in a minute. I don’t want to be seen with you,” the Boss muttered, again his words sounded more like an insult than a statement of fact. “In my day we’d have done this with a drop.”

“Fuck you, cocksucker,” Crocker spat out the words in his buzz-saw voice. “In your day, drops were routinely intercepted. People are nosy. NSA hears and sees all. You should know that. You’ve been sitting behind a desk too long. The world’s different than when you did wet work. Face-to-face is safer, especially since my guy is fucking up the security cameras all over campus.”

Elana mentally swore. No cameras meant no easy ID. Maybe she could catch a glimpse of the Boss after he left. Unfortunately Crocker would be long gone. But the mercenary world was a lot smaller than the world of D.C. politicians and their hangers on, and she had his “merc” name to start with.

The outer door closed.

The Boss swore vilely under his breath, “Cock-sucking, mother-fucking, pecker-headed son of a bitch.”

His words were far cruder than those he’d used with Crocker. With the merc he’d been condescending in tone, but his language had been that of a man with education and authority. Yet, now he cursed like a soldier, another clue to his background.

The Boss went silent. Elana listened hard for any sound from him, any hint he might be searching the room. She barely breathed and prayed he was too lazy to make the effort. After what seemed like an hour, but was more like a minute, she heard the snick of the room door closing; it sounded like a gunshot in the empty space and she jerked.

Slowly, she counted to ten before she shimmied out from under the table and stood. She trembled from head to toe, a combination of fear and the chilly dampness from her sweat. She couldn’t afford to collapse on one of the room’s sofas and congratulate herself on a narrow escape. She had to follow the Boss in an attempt to catch a glimpse of him. If the police nabbed him, then Crocker, in all probability, wouldn’t go through with the job. She also had no doubt the Boss would “out” the man in order to lighten his sentence.

Setting her walkie-talkie to silent mode, she sent an emergency alarm to Harry. After double-checking to make sure the device was set on vibrate for incoming calls, she then opened the door a crack and peeked around it. She let out a long slow breath as she caught the sight of the back of the man who had to be the Boss. She saw no one else.

The Boss headed for the main stairwell at a steady pace, not too fast, not too slow. He could take the stairs down to the bottom level and leave the building through the parking garage without passing by Harry or Betsy on the main floor.

Assured the Boss was well away from her position, she left the safety of the lounge and tip-toed a path across the carpeted floor, parallel to his. The tall book-filled stacks hid her movements. The carpet muffled her steps. In her mind, she pictured Harry, unable to raise her, running to her last known position, gun out, and Betsy calling the campus cops. They had a good chance of catching the Boss before he even left the library.

Then a door creaked. The sound echoed off the stacks in the night-silent room. The noise had come from the vicinity of the graduate study rooms.

Libby!

The grad student must’ve decided to take a break—or even go home. The Boss would pass right by her room. He’d see her. If Libby saw him, he’d kill her. Elana knew this as well as she knew right now her insides had turned to jelly and her heart beat as if she’d run a marathon.

Libby would be helpless against the cold-blooded killer.

Silent mode was out the window now. Elana raised the walkie-talkie to her lips. She needed Harry and his gun here faster.

Before she could make the call, the sound of a door crashing into a wall was followed by a shrill scream.

Fear held her hostage and every animal instinct coupled with horrible memories from her past urged Elana to flee. But she couldn’t. No one had moved to help her when Demidas had shot her parents and kidnapped her off a busy Russian street. She refused to be a coward and leave Libby alone with a killer. She refused to bury her head in the sand.

Elana ran as quickly and quietly as she could. Harry was on his way. The campus police would be en route also. Could she distract and delay the Boss? Make him chase her?

God, what in the hell was she thinking? But could she live with herself if she didn’t do something to help Libby?

She unclenched her jaw and then screamed, “I heard you and Crocker. I’ve called security. Campus police are on their way.”

“Fuck you, bitch,” the Boss roared. “Goddamn fucking snooping piece of ass.” From the sound of his voice, he was on the hunt, approaching her position. She moved in the opposite direction, keeping bookshelves between them.

There was still no sound from Libby. Was she hiding? Or was she hurt and scared?

“I saw you.” Elana circled back around to approach the graduate study rooms. “I heard what you told Crocker to do. You’ll be caught.”

“You’re dead, bitch.” The Boss’s tone was cold and calm in its certainty.

Elana peered through the stacks. And then she actually did see him.

The Boss was tall, maybe six-foot-two or so when compared to the height of the stacks. He had dark, close-cropped, military-style hair. He was dressed in a navy pullover sweater, a pale blue dress shirt sticking out at the collar, and what looked like designer jeans. The type of clothing any Georgetown fan might wear to a basketball game on a mild night in early December. He had the military bearing to go with the haircut—and she’d bet her 401(k) he was either currently military or former.

He’d gone silent—stalking her like an animal—and held a matte black gun as if he knew exactly how to use it. He was in the aisle parallel to hers. He’d find her soon.

Where the hell was Harry? God, she hoped he hadn’t been patrolling the parking garage when she’d sent the emergency signal. It would take him twice as long to get to her and Libby.

Keep moving, Ellie.

Elana, all her senses hyper-aware, headed toward Libby’s position after she saw the Boss’s head move toward the other end of the room, toward the back stairs.

When she spotted Libby’s motionless body on the floor in front of her study room, memories of her mother lying on a cold Moscow street―dying―overwhelmed her…“You fucking bastard!” she screamed, her cry echoing around the room. “You hurt Libby.”

Elana raced along the parallel aisle toward the back of the room. Toward the Boss. When she heard him coming, she stopped. With a strength fueled by rage and fear, she dug in her heels and shoved at a section of bookshelves. The stack fell over and landed with a booming crash.

“What the fuck?” His shout was furious. Her heart sank. She’d missed.

Elana ducked behind a section of couch seating at the juncture of aisles.

He let off a couple of wild shots. Pfft. Pfft. One of the shots tore a hole in a couch next to her. She gasped and then clamped her mouth shut. Keeping low, she duck-walked until she was behind another section of bookshelves.

“I’m coming for you, bitch.”

Elana looked around for anything she could use as a weapon. There was nothing. And she wasn’t sure she could shove another section of shelving at him. She’d lost that element of surprise.

She couldn’t win a battle against a man with a gun, but Harry could. She needed Harry or at least the threat of Harry here…now. She brought the walkie-talkie to her lips and flipped off silent mode, a loud squawk filled the air and Harry’s voice shouted, “Elana! Elana! Answer me. What the fuck is happening? Are you still on four? The cameras are all fucked up! What the…”

The Boss fired a few more shots in her direction, and she dove for the floor and belly-crawled back toward Libby, back toward the Boss and his gun. Was she stupid? Smart people ran away from gunshots.

“Those were shots. Elana talk to me.” Harry sounded exactly like the D.C. cop he used to be. “I’m almost there. I need a situation report. Campus police are less than a minute away.”

“Fucking cunt.” The sound of pounding feet running away from her and then the explosive clang of the main stairwell door had Elana sighing with relief. He was gone.

“Elana!” Harry yelled. “Answer me, dammit.”

“I’m fine. The man missed me. He hurt Libby.” She took a breath and continued, “Bad guy is going down the main stairs. He has a gun.”

“Roger that. Hold on. EMTs are coming.”

Elana sat up and spotted Harry coming down the central aisle of the fourth floor from the direction of the back stairs. He had been making rounds when the emergency signal had gone out, or he would’ve come up the main stairwell from the third floor. He spotted her and made to head her way.

“I’m fine,” she shouted. “Get him.”

Harry nodded and entered the main stairwell, leading with his gun.

Elana prayed he’d catch the Boss—prayed he’d stay safe. Then she turned. Libby hadn’t moved. She lay curled into a protective position, a lax hand on her stomach.

Dropping to her knees, Elana checked for breathing and couldn’t feel Libby’s breath. She checked for a pulse at the woman’s neck and found none. Ohmygod, ohmygod.

There were red marks on Libby’s neck, right over her carotid. “Sweet Jesus.” The bastard had cut off her blood supply.

Elana’s job was to get Libby’s blood pumping, which meant getting her heart started. She began compression-only-CPR. As taught, she mentally hummed the Bee Gees’ song “Stayin’ Alive” to set the proper rhythm for the compressions. Thank God, the university had all personnel stay current on basic life-saving techniques.

Where were the paramedics?

Patience, Ellie. Harry called them. Less time has passed than you think.

As Elana hunched over her unconscious friend, Libby’s distended abdomen moved. The baby was kicking. Thank you, Jesus.

The sound of running feet approached. Instinctively, Elana covered the injured woman with her body. No one else would hurt this woman and her unborn child tonight if she could help it.

“Elana! Paramedics and police are on their way.” Betsy’s words were breathy as she ran to Elana’s side.

“God, tell them to hurry. I’m not sure this is helping.” She began the rhythmic compressions once again. “He cut off the blood supply to her brain. She needs real medical care, not me.”

Betsy looked at Libby and then at her, then dropped to her knees. “She’s not breathing?”

“No.” Elana continued with her CPR, in increasing despair. Libby’s skin was pale and tinged blue-gray. She wasn’t getting any oxygen. Elana was losing her…or had been fighting a losing battle all along. “Take over the compressions.”

Betsy nodded and began the pumping motion.

Elana angled Libby’s head back for mouth to mouth. “We’ll go old school CPR. Coordinate with me.” She began puffing breaths into Libby’s mouth. Then stopped and let Betsy do chest compressions.

Anger speared through Elana, giving her the strength to keep on breathing for Libby until help came. The Boss would pay. She knew what he looked like. Libby would get the justice Elana never had.

Even though she was lightheaded and in danger of crashing from a post-adrenaline high, Elana kept puffing breaths into Libby’s slack mouth. Silently she urged the woman’s heart to beat. Betsy continued to time the compressions, tears streaming down her face.

But it was obvious they were losing the race against time.

God, where were the blessed paramedics?

Then she heard—“Get out of the way, ma’am. We’ve got her.”

Strong but gentle hands moved her to the side and another set placed an oxygen mask over Libby’s nose and mouth almost before Elana was out of the way. Betsy moved to her side and helped her to stand; they stood, holding onto each other, as the paramedics worked.

The grim faces and soft curses of the medical team told her Libby wasn’t responding. But the paramedics didn’t give up. They shocked her heart. And, finally, after what seemed like hours, they managed to get a heart rate. With Libby stabilized for the moment, the men readied her for transport.

“Are you taking her to Georgetown?” Elana asked the paramedic nearest her. It was the closest ER, but that didn’t mean it was where they’d take Libby.

“Yes, ma’am.”

She breathed a sigh of relief. Georgetown was the best. Libby and her baby might have a chance. She’d go there after she made her statement to the authorities.

A uniformed D.C. police officer approached them. “Ladies, we need to ask some questions.”

“Yes…uh, yes…” She turned toward the middle-aged black patrol officer. His face faded in and out and all of a sudden her legs felt like limp noodles. “May we sit down somewhere? I need to get something to drink. I’m sort of dizzy…”

Betsy held onto her on one side and the officer grabbed her other arm. “Are you hurt?” he asked. “Campus Security reported there were shots fired.”

“No. Just a reaction to all the stress, I think…” She looked at Betsy. “How long were we helping Libby?”

“Ten minutes or so. Seemed like forever.”

The officer said, “Traffic held emergency response up. Game just let out.” He paused as if he were aware the excuse sounded lame in the grand scheme of things. “Uh, where should we go?”

Betsy took charge. “Employee lounge on three behind the main desk.”

The three walked to the elevator. As they got on, Elana asked, “Did Harry manage to stop the man?”

The police officer’s expression turned to stone.

Elana’s heart began racing again, and she reminded herself to breathe. “Is Harry okay?” The patrol officer looked fierce, and his eyes filled with anger. “Oh my God, did he…”

“The security guard…Harry…is dead. He was shot in the library garage.”

Betsy gasped. Elana moaned and braced a hand on the side of the elevator. Her stomach churned with guilt. She swallowed hard and prayed she wouldn’t throw up. “I should’ve told him to be careful. I was worried about getting to Libby.”

“Ma’am, you told Harry enough. We heard what you told him over the line he’d opened to us. He knew the bastard had a gun and had hurt the lady. He was fully aware—we all were—of what he was heading into.” The officer took her arm and supported her as the door opened onto three. “Let’s get you something to drink with some sugar in it. You’re in shock. You’ll need to be alert in order to tell the homicide detective what happened. You’re the only person who can describe the killer.”

“I thought you…no, it’s murder now, so of course Homicide would…I’ll do whatever I can to help. I did see the killer. Very clearly.” His face would populate her nightmares right next to Demidas’s.

He squeezed her arm gently. “We’ll get him, ma’am. We lucked out this time, we have an eye witness. It’s always easier to solve crimes with a witness.”

Not always. She had firsthand experience on that topic.