KAY MALLOY sat hunched down in the driver’s seat of her old Buick, back aching, eyes strained. Outside, the winter sun was shining and birds were chirping and little black boys in single digits waited sharp-eyed to erupt in Baltimore city’s common call of warning—“Po-lice, Po-lice”—the word stretched out to fill a sentence. Kay had turned the engine off after rolling slowly into the back alley across from the subject’s house, and February leaked in through the windows. She shivered but she didn’t button up her coat, nor the suit jacket beneath it, and uncomfortable as it was to sit motionless with a .40-caliber Glock on her hip, she didn’t move that, either.
“Your car can become your coffin,” they had told her at the Academy. Better cold than dead.
On the seat next to her she had set the subject’s picture, although she didn’t need to look at it anymore. Months on the case had imprinted his face into her memory like an old lover—light-skinned and dead-eyed, a furrowed brow and lips that didn’t smile. James Rashid Williams, age twenty-two. Where Kay had grown up, twenty-two was the cusp of adulthood, a college diploma beneath your belt and the world open and bright ahead of you. Here on the east side of Baltimore, twenty-two years was enough to make you a drug dealer, a corrupter of
children, a parasite and a killer. Twenty-two years was enough to earn you an FBI file a half inch thick, enough to get a squad of federal Agents to hunt you down and stick you in a cell.
Kay had spent the last two weeks doing just that, following Williams across the city, trying to figure out his daily routine, who he met with and where he slept. Two weeks of lukewarm coffee and stale bagels; two weeks trailing one of Baltimore’s most dangerous criminals across the length and breadth of the fading urban metropolis. They’d be moving on him soon, the end result of a case the Bureau had spent the better part of a year building.
Outside, the sun dimmed and the temperature dropped. Inside, Kay stayed motionless or nearly so, binoculars trained on the front door. It hadn’t been easy to find a spot that offered her a decent view of the subject’s house without marking her out to everyone else on the block. A white woman sitting alone in her car for hours on end, in this neighborhood? You didn’t need to have graduated Quantico to figure out that she didn’t belong there. Although it was only her training that helped her stay focused for long hours on surveillance, bleary-eyed and bored beyond reason. And still, when the door finally opened, she felt herself somehow unprepared; had an absurd moment of . . . well, not quite fright, exactly—Kay was an FBI Agent, trained not to feel those sorts of things—but perhaps some distant cousin to it.
There was something about Williams in person that didn’t quite carry through in the picture, a sense of menace like a foul smell. Even in her few short years with the FBI, she had met hundreds of boys and young men overlaid with a facade of toughness, a lifetime of pop culture criminality to live up to. Most of them folded quickly enough once you got them alone in an interview room and set them to staring at a few dozen years in prison. But Williams was the real deal; she could have told that even if she hadn’t had a thick dossier detailing the usual
list of crimes: drug dealing and money laundering and the not-at-all-infrequent murder so as to continue on with the first two; could have told that from the way he sauntered out into the late-afternoon light like he owned the block and the neighborhood and the city out beyond that.
His gang of lurking children greeted him respectfully, even reverently, but he didn’t answer, didn’t seem even to acknowledge them, just trained his eyes slowly back and forth across the streetscape, searching for anything out of place. You didn’t make it to where Williams was by being careless, not with half the city looking to put him in the ground, take his place as neighborhood kingpin. A man like Williams had spent years of his life dodging rival dealers and law enforcement; caution was second nature.
Kay found herself reaching instinctively down towards her service weapon, had to fight to bring her hand back up to the steering wheel. The rest of the Agents assigned to the case were all veterans, and going after Williams was just another day at the office. But Kay had only been in the Bureau two years, and as much as she tried to feign the casual hardness of her colleagues, the truth was that something about Williams had gotten to her. Watching the gang of children vie for his attention, eyes bright with hero worship, left a bitter taste in her mouth and her Glock weighing heavy on her hip. For weeks now she had been putting in extra time on the case, hoping her diligence would earn a spot on the entry team. The thought of coming through the door with a dozen other Agents, wiping that grim line off Williams’s face, frog-marching him to a lifetime behind bars—it was something that Kay had seized on, the reward for a job that promised long hours and hard work and not a great deal in the way of pay.
But that would never happen if she slipped up at this last moment, gave Williams a hint they were on to him. Kay sank lower into her seat. There was no way he could see her from where
he was, but all the same Kay found herself turning the engine on and removing the safety brake. Williams continued his slow, silent gaze, staring out over his domain. After a long moment he leaped down off his stoop and cantered down the block, ready to begin the night’s ugly business.
She gave it a little while, then shifted into drive and nosed slowly back out onto the street. “You to yours,” Kay found herself thinking grimly, “and me to mine.”