Blackout by David Rosenfelt is a stand-alone thriller featuring police officer Doug Brock whose life gets turned upside down when a killer he's been chasing for years kills someone close to him, and he becomes obsessed with solving the case (Available January 5, 2016).
New Jersey state police officer Doug Brock has been after infamous criminal Nicholas Bennett for years. When Bennett kills someone close to Doug, however, Doug's investigation―and his life―start spiraling out of control. He's placed on indefinite suspension from the police force and breaks things off with his fiancé, but he can't let the case go, and he continues an off-the-books investigation on his own. When Doug's former partner on the force, Nate Alvarez, receives a call from Doug saying he's discovered something big, something terrifying, something they need to call in the FBI to handle, Nate is furious that Doug has still been working the case.
But when the call ends abruptly, and shortly afterward Doug is found in a hotel room, shot and in critical condition, Nate’s anger turns to fear. When Doug finally awakens from his coma, however, he has no memory of the case, or even the last several years of his life. But the pull of what he might have discovered is too strong, and he finds himself immersed in a desperate search for truth once again, regardless of the danger.
NATE ALVAREZ WANTED TO SCREEN THE CALL.
Actually, he wanted to throw the phone on the ground and stomp on it until it stopped ringing permanently. There were times in his life that he would have done exactly that, but Nate was thirty-seven years old, and in recent months there had been faint signs that he was starting to mature.
Caller ID told him that it was his partner and friend, Doug Brock, who was trying to reach him. They hadn’t talked for the past two days, and Nate had been hoping that Doug had seen the light and curtailed his actions. The ringing phone was a likely indication that the lack of communication was just a short break in an otherwise rapid descent.
Before the two-day pause, each conversation had been the same, and Nate had grown tired of it. Doug would tell him that he was making progress, that he was close to wrapping up the investigation triumphantly. He wouldn’t give details, just would say that Nate would be blown away by what Doug was unearthing. Nate would respond that Doug should not be investigating at all, and that he was jeopardizing what was left of his career, after having pretty much destroyed his personal life. That message had absolutely no chance of getting through.
But Doug wasn’t just Nate’s partner, he was also his best friend, and Nate knew that he was the only person who could calm him down during the frequent times that Doug’s frustration started to peak. More importantly, he was the only person with any chance to keep Doug from doing something he would regret for the rest of his life.
Doug was a loose cannon, always had been. Sometimes it helped him on the job, and sometimes it didn’t. What it did was thrust Nate, his partner, into the role of seasoned, level-headed veteran. It was not a role that Nate was particularly well suited for.
So the answering machine kicked into action, but then Nate relented and picked up the phone himself, because that’s what partners and friends do. The delay had the unintended effect of causing the remainder of the call to be recorded. “Hey, Doug. What’s going on?”
“I got him, Nate. This time I got him. You…”
Nate could hear the elevated stress level in Doug’s voice. He had become used to it, but this time it was more severe than usual. Once again he would have to talk him down off a ledge that was becoming higher and more precarious. He interrupted with, “Doug, come on, you can’t keep doing this.”
“Shut up, Nate, and listen. You’ve got to get down here with backup, and you need to notify the FBI.”
“FBI?” This was a new twist, and an unwelcome one. “Why?”
“It’s much bigger than we ever thought, Nate. And I’ve got it all.”
There was probably nothing Doug could have said that would have been more surprising. “Where the hell are you?”
“Find Congers and—”
“Hey!” was the next word that Nate heard through the phone, but it wasn’t Doug’s voice. After that there was a rattling, as if the phone were dropped, and then the unmistakable sound of two gunshots … then a few seconds later, two more.
And then the only sound Nate could hear was his own voice, screaming into a dead phone.
EVERY CELL PHONE HAS A GPS BUILT INTO IT.
The phone company, and therefore any government entity with subpoena power, can learn where a phone is at all times, including retroactively. That ability is used in police work with great frequency.
So the first thing that Nate did after screaming in vain for Doug to answer him was call headquarters and ask to speak to Jessie Allen.
“Jess, it’s me.”
“Hey, Nate, I thought you were off today?”
“Yeah. Jess, we need to trace Doug’s cell phone. It’s urgent.”
“What did he do now?” she asked, her voice turning considerably colder.
Nate didn’t even want to take the time to answer the question. “Urgent … please … just do it as fast as you can.”
Even expedited, it would take at least an hour to get the information, and Nate was fairly sure that by the time they got it, they would no longer need it. He wanted to get up, to go drive somewhere and do something, but he had no place to go. So he paced, and he worried, and he waited.
He knew the proper thing to do was to call Captain Bradley, but for the moment he resisted. There was nothing more that Bradley could do right now, and if by some wild chance Doug should be okay, the call would put him in even more trouble within the department than he was already in. Nate didn’t want that, of course. So that loyalty, which he understood was probably misplaced, is what prevented Nate from making the call.
He also had no idea what to tell the FBI, or Dan Congers; Doug never got to tell him why they needed to be involved. Congers was the NJ State Police liaison to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, so bringing in the FBI and Congers simultaneously was at least consistent.
So for the time being, he would wait.
He didn’t have to wait long. Twenty minutes later the phone rang, and it was Jessie. But she wasn’t calling with GPS information. “He’s been shot, Nate,” she said, her voice breaking. “The call just came in.”
“Is he alive?”
“I don’t know; the person who found him didn’t know. If he was moving, or talking, they would know, and they would have said so.”
“Where is he?”
“The Peter Pan. It’s a motel—”
He interrupted her. “I know where it is. I’m on my way.”
“So am I,” she said, and she hung up the phone.
He knew she shouldn’t be there, professionally or emotionally, and he knew just as surely that there was no way he was going to stop her. So instead he got in his car and headed for the Peter Pan Motel on Route 4 in Teaneck, New Jersey, just fifteen minutes from his house in Elmwood Park.
By the time Nate got there, it seemed as if the motel was hosting a police convention, and all the attendees had arrived at once. There had to be twenty-five cars, most with flashing lights, filling the small parking lot and surrounding area. Nothing draws the police faster and in greater numbers than when one of their own is down.
The Teaneck Police Department was out in force, but they had already been relegated to a secondary position. This was a state cop that had been shot, and the state cops were not about to have anything less than total control. So the locals were the ones manning the perimeter, and they were the ones who stepped aside to let Nate through when he showed his badge. Of course, showing the badge wasn’t really necessary, since at six foot four, 290 pounds, Nate was well known and very recognizable.
Based on the concentration of officers, Nate immediately realized that the center of the action was in the rear of the two-story motel, so that’s where he went. He scanned the scene for Captain Jeremy Bradley, and found him on the second floor, outside near the railing.
Nate also saw the vehicle he was hoping not to see, the coroner’s van. It felt like a punch in the gut; they didn’t just wander onto crime scenes, they had to be summoned. And they weren’t summoned unless they were needed.
Nate took the stairs two at a time, not easy for a man his size, and then started walking toward Captain Bradley. Bradley was talking to two other detectives, but moved away from them and toward Nate when he saw him coming.
“Captain…,” was all Nate could say as he braced for the news.
“He’s alive, Nate. On the way to the hospital.”
The relief Nate felt was palpable, but there was much more to learn, and to dread. “How bad is it?”
Bradley shrugged. “No way to know. He took a bullet in the shoulder, and one in the leg; neither seemed too bad. But he either fell or jumped from this railing, and sustained head injuries. He was unconscious.”
Nate pointed to the coroner’s van. “Why are they here?”
“Two fatalities,” Bradley said. “A couple in their forties; they were guests and staying in the room almost directly below where Doug went over the rail.”
“Were they involved?”
Bradley shook his head. “Doesn’t appear so, but that could change. Most likely wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Do we know how it went down?”
Bradley shrugged. “Just speculation. It’s possible that Doug was in that room over here; the lock was broken. Maybe the shooters walked in on him, and he got by them and tried to get away. But there’s no way to know for sure.” Then, “You got any idea what Doug was doing here?”
Nate nodded. “In a way I do,” he said, and he proceeded to describe the call.
Bradley listened without interrupting, and when Nate was finished, he asked, “Did he mention Bennett by name?”
“I don’t think so. I think he said, ‘I got him.’ But there’s no doubt who he meant.” Then he realized the chain of events, and he said, “You know, I probably have a tape of the call, because I was screening it, and picked up when I heard his voice.”
“Good, let’s get that as soon as possible. But why would he want you to bring in the FBI?” It was a logical question; local cops, even state cops, have a natural resentment for the Feds, who are prone to pushing the locals out of the way. Doug’s antipathy for them was common knowledge, but in any event, Bennett’s alleged criminal activities were not federal. There had to be something new that Doug believed he had uncovered.
“I didn’t get to ask him, and he didn’t get to tell me,” Nate said. “I assume he wanted me to find Congers for the same reason.”
“I’ll ask Congers if he knows anything about it.”
Standing against the upper railing, they both saw Jessie down below, working her way through the milling officers. “You’d better get down there and talk to her,” Bradley said.
“Yeah. She’s going to have a tough time with this.”
“Hey,” Bradley said, “after what Doug did to her, if you hadn’t told me about that phone call, she’d be a suspect.”
“I'M GOING TO THE HOSPITAL,” JESSIE SAID, ONCE NATE
updated her on the situation.
“I can’t imagine they’ll let you in to see him,” Nate pointed out.
“I don’t want to see him, but I want to be there.”
Nate nodded his understanding, and then went back to confirm that he wasn’t needed at the scene, and that he could go with Jessie to the hospital. “Okay,” Bradley said. “Call me and let me know his condition; especially if he’s alert and talking.”
Nate arranged for one of the officers to take Jessie’s car home, and then he drove her to Hackensack Hospital, where there was already a heavy police presence on the scene. The cops had not been assigned there, and had no real purpose, other than the fact that they wanted to be around for their injured brother. It was a show of solidarity, though it certainly wasn’t done for show.
Nate and Jessie entered the hospital and found out that Doug was in surgery on the fifth floor. At the nurses’ station they were not able to learn anything about his condition, other than the fact that a neurosurgeon named Dr. James Carmody was performing the operation, and that the affected area was the brain.
They didn’t realize it, but they took different things from hearing that news. For Nate it was a major negative: brain surgery was a terribly serious thing that conjured up thoughts in his mind of a lifetime that might forever be horribly impaired. Doug was not someone who dealt with limiting physical problems well; a few years earlier when he’d broken his ankle badly and was bedridden for two weeks, he made everyone he knew contemplate suicide.
Jessie’s reaction was very different than Nate’s: to her it meant one thing above all else, that Doug was alive.
So they took up a vigil in the waiting room, having been promised that the doctor would come out and discuss the situation with them at the conclusion of the “procedure.” They sat for at least forty-five minutes without saying a word. Nate was very worried, but he couldn’t even imagine what was going through Jessie’s mind.
Jessie had joined the force four years ago, but it was almost exactly a year to the day since she and Doug had gotten engaged. They seemed to be the perfect couple, if there could ever be such a thing. She had gotten Doug to calm down, even to act the part of an adult on occasion, and Nate was among those amazed at her accomplishments.
But six months ago, Doug had suffered a personal tragedy that shook him to his core. He had volunteered for a few years as the baseball coach for a local Babe Ruth League team and had gotten close to one of his players, a fourteen-year-old named Johnnie Arroyo. Doug had become a father/mentor figure for him, and would take him out to things like ball games and movies.
Johnnie was an orphan in foster care, and his foster family no longer wanted him. Doug was anxious to adopt him, and Jessie gave the idea her blessing. She cared for Johnnie as well, and wanted him to have a real family and loving atmosphere, which she was sure that she and Doug could provide.
Then came the night that Doug and Johnnie were walking from the local diner to Doug’s car. A car pulled up alongside them, the window opened, and someone inside opened fire. Doug saw it coming and leaped to protect Johnnie, but two bullets wound up hitting the young man. One wound was inconsequential, but the other pierced his heart, killing him instantly. Doug was not hit, though he was certain that the killers had been after him, and that he knew who had sent them.
The tragedy and subsequent guilt sent Doug into a tailspin. Professionally, his unsuccessful actions to avenge the killing resulted in his suspension from the force, a suspension that had begun six weeks ago, and was said to be indefinite. Personally, he withdrew from friends and family, and the person who bore the greatest brunt of it was Jessie. Nate and Jessie became helpless allies, reduced to watching as Doug continued his descent.
Jessie was devastated by Johnnie’s death as well, but rather than band together with her in their shared grief, Doug withdrew. He simply could not accept anything that might help him deal with the pain and guilt, and he shut himself off from everyone around him. Three weeks ago he had broken off his engagement to Jessie, telling her that he no longer loved her. The truth was he hated himself.
Her response, no surprise, was intense hurt and anger, which she threw at him in that final conversation. She had not seen or spoken to him since, a distance made easier by the fact that he was suspended and not coming in to work. Now there was a chance that they would never see or talk to each other again.
“You want something to eat?” Nate asked finally. “There’s a cafeteria downstairs.” The tension was making him hungry; pretty much everything made him hungry.
“No, thanks. I want to be here in case the doctor comes out.”
“I could bring you something.”
“Not hungry, Nate. But you go ahead.”
He shook his head. “I’m on a diet … I’m three weeks in.”
“How much have you lost?”
“I didn’t weigh myself this morning, but as of yesterday I was down eight ounces.”
She smiled; the first time since hearing about Doug. “I can see it; you’re looking good.”
Nate sat back down, but a few minutes later wandered over to nearby vending machines. He came back with a diet soda, a package of cookies, and two bags of pretzels.
He held up the cookies and pretzels. “These are no sugar added, and these are nonfat. You want some?”
Before she had a chance to decline, she saw a doctor come through the door and walk to the nurses’ station. Something told her that this was the surgeon, and she stood up just as he turned and walked toward her. Neither she nor Nate could read the expression on his face.
“I’m Dr. Carmody. Are you Mrs. Brock?”
The question was momentarily jarring to her. “No,” she said. “I…”
Nate reached them and interrupted. “We work with Doug; he’s my partner. How is he?”
“At this point it’s too soon to say. He came through the surgery very well.”
“So he’s going to be okay?” Jessie asked.
“He’s suffered a severe traumatic injury to his brain. There was a great deal of swelling, and we surgically relieved the pressure that it caused. At this point he is in an induced coma.”
“What does that mean?” Nate asked.
“We are giving him drugs to keep him in a comatose state. The goal is to reduce the amount of energy and activity in his brain, giving it the time and space to heal. We want his brain to rest.”
“Will it heal?” Jessie asked, cringing in anticipation of the answer.
“There’s really only one way to answer that,” Dr. Carmody said. “We’ll know when we know. But getting through the surgery this way is a huge step.”
“So you’re hopeful?” Jessie asked, desperate to extract something positive from this conversation.
Dr. Carmody smiled. “I’m always hopeful,” he said, and then walked away.
Since there was no prospect of Doug waking up from a coma that was induced, Nate and Jessie left the hospital. He dropped her off at her house, promising to call if he got any updates, and then drove on to his house.
It was just a few minutes later that he saw the e-mail.
Copyright © 2016 David Rosenfelt.
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David Rosenfelt is the Edgar and Shamus Award-nominated author of six previous stand-alones and twelve Andy Carpenter novels, most recently Who Let the Dog Out?. After years living in California, he and his wife moved to Maine with twenty-five golden retrievers that they’ve rescued. Rosenfelt's hilarious account of this cross-country move, Dogtripping, and his moving memoir of the dog that inspired his love affair with dogs, Lessons from Tara, are published by St. Martin’s Press.