Roger Smalley stood on the shore of Lake Phalen, looking out across the calm, unruffled water. As far as he could see in each direction, north and south, there was no sign of life. The strollers and boaters would not appear until later in the morning, and by then he would be gone, his business finished.
He turned his back on the water to face the five persons arrayed before him. To his left, Jack Fawcett stood close beside a nervous-looking Courtney Gilman. On the right, hulking Vince Cella kept a tight grip and wary eye on his two female captives.
"We don't have much time," Smalley said, breaking the silence. "Let's get this over with."
In one smooth motion, he drew the snub-nosed .38 revolver from under his jacket and took two quick steps toward Fawcett and his prisoner. Before the detective could grasp what was happening, Smalley raised his weapon and fired a single shot into Courtney Gilman's scrawny chest. The dying boy sprawled on the grass, twitching briefly, and then lay still.
Jack Fawcett was visibly stunned. His jaw worked silently for an instant before he found his voice.
"What the hell?" It was the best he could manage.
"It's simple," the commissioner told him. "You finally got a hot tip on that sex killer you've been tracking, and you rushed right over to make the collar. Unfortunately, you were too late to save his latest victims, but you were able to settle the score."
Smalley smiled coldly at Fawcett's vacant expression.
"You're a hero, Lieutenant," he finished happily.
The detective shook his head as if to clear it, forcing his words out one at a time.
"This is crazy... I mean, you can't get away with something like this."
Smalley kept the frozen smile in place.
"I'm not even here, Jack. And I assure you, we will get away with it. We have to."
Fawcett looked from his superior to the female captives and back again, the full import of Smalley's words finally coining through to him.
"You mean to kill them, too," he said numbly. It didn't sound like a question.
"What would you suggest, Jack?" Smalley asked, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "Perhaps a press conference, for them to tell their story nationwide?"
Fawcett looked bewildered, thinking fast but coming up empty.
"There has to be another way."
Smalley lost his smile then, and his answering voice cracked across the intervening distance like a whiplash.
"Let's hear it, Lieutenant," he snapped. "You've got thirty seconds."
Jack Fawcett looked angry and confused. Roger Smalley could almost see the gears turning behind his eyes, and he knew from the man's expression that he had no alternative suggestions.
The lieutenant glanced down at the dead boy beside him and finally turned away, shaking his head disgustedly.
"I want no part of this," he said, his voice almost a whisper.
Smalley's brusque laughter was a bitter rebuke.
"Too late to weasel out, Jack," he sneered. "But don't worry, you won't have to dirty your hands."
The commissioner turned toward Vince Cella and the women, his gun held steady on a level with his waist. When next he spoke, he was addressing himself to the leering gunman.
"What we need here is a crime of passion," he said simply. "Are you up to it?"
Vince Cella grinned wickedly, glancing from one of his prisoners to the other.
"Mister," he drawled, "I'm always up."
Toni and Fran chose that moment to make their break in opposite directions, but the hardman held them easily in place. Making a split-second decision, he cut Toni's legs from under her with one sweep of his ankle, cuffing her hard across the back of the head as she fell. She hit the ground and lay still, barely conscious.
Vince Cella turned his full attention toward the lady cop, releasing his grip on her arm to tangle his fingers in her hair, pulling her close to him. With her arms pinned securely, she could only twist and kick out ineffectually at his shins. The big man easily avoided the blows, his free hand pawing at the front of her blouse.
"C'mon, momma," he leered, "it's party time."
Roger Smalley looked on dispassionately, loosely covering all three of them with the .38 in his hand. A smile very much like a grimace was locked onto his face.