"You don't want to do this." Detective Kit Kenyon stared past the barrel of the gun and fixed her eyes on the man before her.
The forty-four-year-old blinked against the sweat dripping into his hazy green eyes. A thick tongue swept out against dry lips, and his gaze darted from her to the door to his wife, who sat on the floor under the window weeping softly.
Melanie, his twelve-year-old daughter, winced at the harsh hand ensnaring her long brown ponytail and never took her terrified gaze from Kit.
"Virgil?" Kit pushed gently. "Right now you haven't hurt anyone. In fact, you've cooperated nicely." Except for the part where she'd asked him to end this peacefully. But they were getting there.
"I've got a clean shot." The voice whispered in her earpiece.
She tapped her fingers once against her leg. A signal that said, "Not yet." She didn't want anyone dying today if they didn't have to. Virgil Mann's eyes were clear. No drugs in his system.
And he was listening to her.
She'd been talking to him for over three hours, and it had to be at least a hundred-plus degrees in the cramped single-wide trailer. Breakfast was six hours ago and her stomach growled. Kit ignored it and the humid heat and focused on Virgil. She'd maneuvered the man into such a position where the sniper could see the two of them.
Much talk along with a lot of give-and-take had resulted in the release of the two youngest children: two-year-old Jessie and four-year-old Nathan. Now she just had to get him to let Melanie and his wife, Anne, walk out of the musty-smelling, breath-stealing metal box.
"She told me she was leaving me." The words came out on a sob. Two fat tears trickled down his grizzled cheeks, and Kit felt an unwanted pang of compassion. He looked like a mad fouryear-old who didn't get his way. The gun in his hand squelched the sympathy.
Shock blanched Melanie's tearstained features as she processed her father's words and she cut her gaze to her mother. Finally. For three hours, he'd ranted, raved, listed everything he'd done for his unappreciative family, but hadn't said a word about what sparked his rage. Now they were getting to the heart of the matter. "Aw, Virgil, I'm sorry. You don't deserve that, do you?"
Of course he did. Kit was glad the woman had gotten up the courage to do something. She just wished she'd left first and talked later.
The gun wavered. "No, I don't. I do my best to provide for this family. She told me I needed professional help. Wanted to go to some marriage counselor. Stupid woman trying to tell me what to do. Thinks she knows best." His lip curled in disgust.
At this, Melanie's eyes glittered with anger. The girl opened her mouth to say something and Kit quickly intervened. "She shouldn't have treated you like that. She's the one who needs help, right?"
"You got it." Another swipe of the tongue. His grip loosened on Melanie's hair and the girl shifted away from him a fraction.
"What if we got her the help she needs, Virgil?"
He blinked. "What do you mean?"
"Just what I said. What if you and I get her some help? You'd be doing what any good husband would do. You'd be the man she fell in love with once again."
Virgil blinked the sweat from his eyes and squinted. Kit looked at Melanie. The girl shifted again, her anger dissipated, weeping softly now. Then her father brought the gun back down to aim it at his wife, fury returning once more. "What if I just shoot her and be done with it? Always trying to tell me what to do."
Melanie whimpered. Kit took a deep breath. Tapped her fingers Again --- this time with two quick snaps against her chin.
Shoot on my signal. If she curled her hand into a fist --- and she would if Virgil's finger even twitched on the trigger --- her guy would place a bullet between Virgil's eyes.
In her ear, Chad, her second, fed her information. "Virgil's sister is here. Said her brother has the need to be in control. Hates authority or anyone feeling they're better than he is."
Yeah, she'd already figured that out.
Chad continued, "Said his wife and kids have been going to the little church up the street. Ever since they started going, she's been getting ‘uppity,' pushing him for marriage counseling, telling him they needed to get right with God."
"Hey Virgil." She had his attention back on her although the gun stayed on his wife. "Hey, you make the decisions around here, right?"
His breath stuttered out and he looked confused at the change in subject. "You bet I do. I have the final say-so in this family."
Kit nodded, making sure her outward appearance said she was thinking about his words. Inside, she weighed her options. Every word she said counted, might mean the difference between life and death. His death, his wife's. Hers. But she was good at reading people and she was 99.9 percent sure how to handle this man. Unfortunately, it went against negotiation protocol. Rule number something: Never remind the shooter he wants to shoot. Did she dare chance it? Did she dare not? Still keeping her body relaxed, her posture nonthreatening, she asked, "So, you want to shoot her? Okay, let's say you do it."
Surprise rocketed his eyebrows and his jaw sagged. "What?"
A harsh breath whistled in her ear. "Kit..."
But she had Virgil's number now. She urged, "You say you want to shoot her. Or you think you do, but have you thought out your future after the bullet does its job?"
More lip licking. "Wha-what do you mean?"
"Just think about it for a minute. Do you love your children?"
"Course I do." He looked outraged at her question.
"So what's going to happen to them after Anne's dead and you're in jail?"
Or dead. "Because if you kill her, there's no turning back after that. No second chances. No way to right that wrong." She paused and looked at Melanie. "And your little girl will hate you forever. So just think about those facts for a few minutes before you decide what to do."
His Adam's apple bobbed, his eyes flickered to his daughter whom he still had in his hard grip. Her gaze sought his. Her brief moment of anger had faded back into fear. "Daddy, please don't kill my mama."
While the plea wrenched at Kit's heart, bringing unwanted memories to the surface, she could see it also had the desired effect on Melanie's father. The man's countenance softened for a heartbeat.
Kit pressed it. "Come on, Virgil, you still have a way out. You can still be the husband your wife needs, the daddy your children need. And they do need you. They look up to you to show them the way to go in life, to make sure they're safe at night. Who's going to do that if it's not you?" The gun lowered. She had him.
Quiet weeping from the corner echoed in the small room. Virgil shifted and sighed. "If I give in, though, I'm going to jail, aren't I?"
What to say? Lie or tell the truth? His eyes probed hers. She hedged. "Possibly. But you've never done anything like this before, right?"
"Then maybe you'll just get a slap on the wrist and probation."
"That's a big maybe." He looked skeptical.
"True." No way was she telling him he'd serve time. But she wasn't going to outright lie to him, either. He was thinking. He knew he'd have consequences. If she said he wouldn't, she'd lose him immediately.
Watching the indecision cross his face, she waited, forcing herself not to push him any further. Briefly, she allowed herself to think about Noah, her partner of three weeks. Three weeks to get to know a man and be willing to put her life on the line for him.
He was a good cop with good instincts, and she wished he could have come with her. She could use someone else watching the big picture outside while she dealt with everything else from the inside.
Unfortunately, she didn't expect him anytime soon. As she'd hurried into the situation in which she now found herself, she'd left him in the middle of a messy murder scene.