Read an Excerpt of The Black Widow
The annual Patriots' Day marathon had started four hours ago in Boston.
"I bet you a kiss that the second group of runners show within five minutes," Jack yelled to Catherine over the noise of the crowd.
The streets were full of day-trippers and residents talking excitedly while they waited to welcome the runners. The sun was doing its best despite the chilly wind, so it felt warmer than fifty-two degrees when the wind died down for a little while.
Catherine smiled sweetly at him. "Okay, I'll give you a kiss if they appear within five minutes. But if you're wrong then you'll have to kiss me instead."
Jack looked at her and smiled. Glad she was with him. He'd known Catherine for just a month now, but in his heart, it felt he'd known her all his life. The pair had been through a lot together. Their dreadful adventures near the Cedar Grove Cemetery still brought shivers down his spine.
He stroked the soft hair that hung loose around Catherine's shoulders in playful waves, the way he liked it most. He embraced her and together they checked his watch. Six minutes elapsed before the runners appeared.
"You've lost!" she shouted and grinned at him with her bright green eyes.
"Okay," he surrendered and rewarded her with a kiss. She closed her eyes and he did the same. This was a bet he didn't mind losing. Around him, the crowd cheered. Clearly, a new runner had appeared. He didn't care. All he cared for was this woman in his arms, the love of his life. Nothing could go wrong today. All the doubts and worries of last month slipped off his shoulders. He wanted them to enjoy each other without thinking about the next day. His substitute Tony took care of his tasks at the ATU, the Anti-Terrorism Unit. Catherine's aunt Sybil had nothing to report; she wanted them to have a nice day.
He enjoyed the warmth of Catherine's lips. It had been a long time since he'd felt so good with a woman. After his divorce from Dorothy, he hadn't expected to fall in love again.
He felt filled with love when he was with Catherine. She made him complete and there was still so much to discover. Jack toyed with the idea of taking a week off to explore the West Coast with her.
A loud explosion shredded his daydreams. Alarmed, he let her go and looked around. A second explosion followed. Instinctively he dropped to the ground and pulled her with him. He covered her body with his to protect her against the glass shards and flying debris. He used his hands to protect her face. His gut twisted and he wanted only one thing—keep her safe!
When he no longer felt debris raining down on him, he lifted his hands and anxiously inspected her face. To his relief, he only discovered a few scratches on her. Nothing serious—thank God.
He saw the fear in her eyes and wanted say something to reassure her. He wanted to tell her that there's no need to worry but he couldn't hear his own voice. Everything around him sounded dull against the ringing in his ears.
"Stay calm," he shouted. He didn't know if she heard him. Jack stood up, while Catherine didn't move, and pulled the gun he always carried, even during a day off, with him. A police officer ran toward him and aimed his gun at Jack's chest. The cop shouted something. Jack, still suffering from tinnitus, couldn't make it out. The cop came closer while Jack carefully raised his left hand to get his ATU badge. The cop nodded when he saw Jack's badge—since the dreadful killings in the cemetery last month that also costs the life of two cops, everyone at the Boston Police Department knew about the ATU—and put his gun in his holster. Again, he said something and Jack made with a small gesture clear that he could not hear so well. The cop nodded, gestured around him and walked away.
Worried he looked at Catherine, who hadn't moved. He bent to help her onto her feet, putting his arm around her shoulder. Feeling something wet on his neck, he touched his spot and then looked at his fingers. Blood!
1 -- Chaos
* April 15--2:49pm *
Jack walked unsteadily to a first-aid station, followed closely by Catherine who didn't say a word. He sat down in a folding chair. A nurse looked him over and prepared to close the gash on the back of his neck, even though everything still sounded dull, he could hear well enough to use his cell phone. He grimaced at the first stitch and called Tony.
"Hi Tony, it's me. I was nearby the finish line and suddenly there were two explosions. Do you know what the hell is going on?"
Tony took a deep breath and exhaled. "An attack. Terrorists placed bombs along the route of the marathon. Two other bombs are diffused. I asked Vanessa to analyze the videos. She hopes to report the results within half an hour."
Vanessa was a computer wizard at the ATU. Jack had hired her as a data analyst two years ago and never regretted his decision because she'd proven herself a valued team member.
Jack closed his eyes for a second and wondered if he should stay here or head to the office. Someone's scream made the decision for him. He gritted his teeth. "I'll see if I can offer my help around here, otherwise I'll come to the office."
He hung up and turned to Catherine with sadness in his eyes. "Duty calls."
"I know," Catherine said. Her eyes were moist and he wished that he could comfort her. She bent over and gave him a kiss. After the nurse was done stitching, he stood, keeping his eyes on Catherine. She worried him. He put his arms around her. "Do I need to take you to the hotel?"
"Jack, I know that you want to see if you can help. I'll go back to Aunt's Sybil's hotel by myself. I think that this attack has to be handled by the ATU rather than by Nightbird."
Jack knew she was right. Still he didn't want to let her go—not now with all the bombing and terrorists out there. Suppose that something terrible happened to her. He would never forgive himself; she meant the world to him. His world would collapse if he lost her. The thought proved that even though he'd gone through many life-threatening situations, it didn't mean that his heart was bulletproof.
Instinctively, he wanted to protect her but he knew that she was an active member of Nightbird and she proved herself last month when they'd fought all kind of hell beasties and yet, terrorism had nothing to do with the paranormal activities that Nightbird looked into. Finding terrorists and bringing them to justice was his department. Not hers! He wanted to take her to the office to keep her safe but he knew that she would only be in the way. He balled up a fist in a powerless gesture.
A deep sigh escaped from his mouth. "I guess you're right. But I hope to see you soon."
"No worries, I won't walk away," she said. She smiled bravely but by the look in her eyes, he knew she didn't want to go—dammit!
A hoarse voice pulled Jack's attention from Catherine, and he looked over his shoulder. The nurse was taking care of someone who stared at his feet and wondered aloud who would set off bombs in the middle of the marathon. Jack felt the same way. At least he had the chance to do something about it; he swore that he would get the offenders who had done this. Let the law take care of them. He knew that the death penalty was declared unconstitutional in Massachusetts. If it was up to him, the terrorists deserved the death penalty.
A little calmer, he smiled at Catherine. He gently rubbed her cheeks and caught a teardrop. She said, "Promise me that you'll be careful."
"Like always," he answered with a gut-wrenching feeling. She gave him a kiss and went. He watched her go, and said a brief "Thanks" to the nurse who was too busy to hear his words.
He walked to Boylston Street, staring at the havoc the bombs caused. People ran across the street, disorientated. To the left he saw a couple of people running in panic and to the right, people running toward wounded runners and bystanders. He followed them while his inner voice cursed the terrorists. He glared at the blood on the street. His heartbeat quickened and he wished that the terrorists were in front of him so he could release his anger on them—fucking bastards!
He cracked his knuckles and closed his eyes for a second. Staying angry was no good, he realized. It would cloud his judgment. Jack's hands trembled and he took a deep breath, trying to calm down. He wetted his lips and listened to the sound of a siren, the cries of people in pain and the panic.
His gaze went from left to right, and he spotted an injured woman lying partly hidden under some debris. A thin layer of smoke circled above her. Was she still alive?
Worried, he stooped and pulled off the debris. He worked quickly and soon she was free. He put his fingers against her neck and exhaled in relief when he felt a faint heartbeat—she's alive, thank God!
She needed medical attention immediately. Quickly, he inspected her body for visible injuries. It was something he'd learned in the military when he served in Afghanistan and later in Iraq. When he saw that her foot rested in an unnatural angle, with a deep cut and covered in blood, he feared she might lose it. His breath sped up as he untied his tie and wrapped it tightly around her ankle to stop the bleeding.
Carefully he lifted her up. Something snapped. Sickened he looked at her foot. Just as he feared, it had almost come off—shit! There was no way to support it; he had his hands full as he carried the poor woman. A cry for help didn't get anyone's attention. In the center of chaos, nobody noticed him. Then he thought he saw an ambulance through the smoke that covered the street. Ground zero. The thought flashed through his mind and he forced himself to stay calm. He hurried toward the ambulance with nothing to help him but hope. She was still unconscious. Perhaps it's for the best.
He relaxed a little when he reached the ambulance. Two medics were trying to resuscitate a victim. Jack shouted for help and one of them looked up. Seeing the woman in Jack's arms, he gestured to his partner and got up. Jack waited for him while he took a stretcher from the ambulance. Together they put her carefully onto the stretcher. The paramedic sighed. "Shit, what a mess." He glanced at Jack. "Who would do things like this?"
"I don't know. I wish I knew."
The paramedic carefully opened the woman's eyes. "She'll make it," he predicted. "Can you give me a hand?"
Jack nodded and climbed into the ambulance to guide the stretcher in. Inside he saw another bombing victim. This man had lost both his legs. Jack bit his lower lip and balled his fist.
The medic gestured for him to get out. Both victims needed medical care in the nearest hospital. It rode away with blaring sirens.
Jack watched the ambulance go and noticed the paramedic who stayed in place and was now helping another victim.
When he turned, he saw people pushing a wheelchair, carrying a wounded man. Everything around him reminded him of the days he was in Iraq where he almost hadn't survived a suicide attack.
His cell rang and he saw that it was Tony.
"Jack, we have a possible suspect."
"Good. Send me the intel."
After he hung up, he studied the picture of the suspect. Tony had informed him that the man, Kamal Ben Quarish, was wounded during the bombings and was in a nearby hospital. He ran to his car, turned on the police lights, and pulled into traffic with squealing tires.
At the hospital, he asked a nurse for Kamal Ben Quarish.
She looked suspicious. "Are you a relative?"
He replied by flashing his ATU badge. She frowned. Jack sighed impatiently. Then she looked at him. Without a word, she brought him to a man whose head was bandaged.
Jack nodded to the nurse and took a seat near the patient's bed.
"Are you Kamal Ben Quarish?"
The man looked at him. "Yes."
"I'm Jack Hunter, and I am investigating the marathon bombings." He showed his badge.
The man tried to sit up straight. "Am I a suspect now?" He demanded in a hoarse voice. "Only because I'm Arab?"
Jack studied the man's face and didn't answer his question. If he's involved in any way, then . . .
The nurse interrupted his thoughts. "Don't you see that this man is hurt?" Her eyes narrowed and she put her hands around her hips.
"I don't know if you're aware of this, but we're under a terrorist threat," Jack said sharply. "It's my job to prevent worse, and I need to know if Mr. Quarish has anything to do with the bombings."
The nurse let her hands fall from her hips and her eyes widened. "I-I thought the explosions was caused by a kitchen accident. B-but please lower your voice. Mr. Quarish has a slight concussion."
"If you let me do my job and give us some privacy then I'll be out of here before you know it."
The nurse nodded and looked at her patient. She shook her head in disbelief, looked at Jack, and closed the curtains around the bed. "I can't give you more privacy than this," she said.
Finally, Jack could focus his attention on the suspect. He smiled faintly and read the intel Tony had sent to his phone. Jack was well aware that he was stalling. If the suspect was anxious and unprepared for an interview, he'd be more likely to betray himself. He glanced at Mr. Quarish. He wasn't prepared at all!
His suspect moistened his lips.
"Please be patient, Mr. Quarish. I'm just reading some background information about you."
Kamal Quarish was a middle-aged shop owner. He migrated from Iran in 1981 and sold fruit and vegetables. He had a son, and his wife passed away last year. It was not the profile of a terrorist, but it could be a cover up.
He turned off his phone and looked at Mr. Quarish. He looked upset—perhaps because he felt wrongly accused or just maybe he had something to hide. Jack decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. "I just want to ask a few questions. It will only take a few minutes."
"Well, there's not much to tell, mister. I was nearby the finish line and BANG!" He coughed.
Jack handed him the cup of water from the nightstand next to the bed.
"Thanks," he murmured.
"You're welcome. Now what happened after the explosion?"
"I don't know. I just woke up in here. My head hurts." He frowned as he touched the bandage.
Jack nodded. "Was there, before the explosion took place, something out of the ordinary that drew your attention? Even if it was only for a second?"
Mr. Quarish looked up at the ceiling for a moment. "No, sorry. Nothing that I can recall. I was watching the runners the whole time. Last year I was with my wife. Being at the marathon gave me the feeling she was with me. I know it sounds crazy, but—"
"No, I get it," Jack said holding up his hands. He thought of his daughter, whom he hadn't seen for almost two years. There were times he had the feeling she was with him. In his gut, he knew this man was an innocent.
"Thank you for your time," Jack said and stood up. "If you do recall something notable, please give me a call." Jack gave him his card and left.
Outside the hospital, Jack pulled out his phone and dialed. "Hi Tony, it's me. I interviewed Mr. Quarish and he has nothing to do with it. Is Vanessa done with the video analysis?"
"Not yet. It's a lot to go through," Tony said.
"Okay. Well. I can't do much around here. I'm heading to the office."
Jack climbed into his car and exhaled loudly. "Well that was a wild goose chase," he mumbled, turned on the siren, and gripped the wheel. He accelerated to a high speed even though the light at the intersection turned red. He was in a hurry and with a wailing siren and flashing lights, no one could miss him. In his rearview mirror, he saw a car stop just in time as he crossed the intersection.
He tuned in on the police frequency on his scanner. "Dispatch to all units near–" He turned it off because it didn't tell him anything new and looked at the people running down the sidewalk. He parked the car at the ATU building in downtown Boston.