On a sweltering summer afternoon, Sophie Barrett walks into a nightmare. A sniper has opened fire on a college campus. When the carnage is over, three people—plus the shooter—are dead and dozens more are injured. Sophie escapes virtually unscathed. Yet as details emerge from the investigation, she becomes convinced that this wasn’t the random, senseless act it appeared to be. No one wants to believe her—not the cops, not her colleagues at the Delphi Center crime lab, and definitely not Jonah Macon, the homicide detective who’s already saved her life once.
Jonah has all kinds of reasons for hoping Sophie is mistaken. Involving himself with a key witness could derail an already messy investigation, not to mention jeopardize his career. But Sophie is as determined and fearless as she is sexy. If he can’t resist her, he can at least swear to protect her. Because if Sophie is right, she’s made herself the target of a killer without a conscience. And the real terror is only just beginning. . . .
Parking on campus was a bitch and so was Sophie. Or at least, she was in a bitchy mood. She was hot, hungry, and doomed to spend the better part of her lunch hour waiting in line at the registrar’s office.
But then she spotted it—a gleaming, perfect, gorgeously empty parking space not fifty feet in front of her. The green flag indicating time still left on the parking meter was the cherry on top of her lunchtime sundae.
“Thank you,” she sighed as she rolled past the spot, shifted into reverse and flipped her turn indicator. She had just started to ease back when an old-model VW zipped up behind her.
“Hey!” Sophie pounded her horn as the Bug driver whipped into her spot while pretending not to see her. She might as well have been invisible. “Unbelievable!” Sophie jabbed at the window button and leaned out to yell at him. “Yo, Fahrvergnugen! That’s my spot!”
A horn blared behind her and she glanced around. Now she was holding up traffic. She shifted into drive and muttered curses as she scoured the busy streets for another scrap of real estate large enough to accommodate her Tahoe. Of course there wasn’t one. She glanced at her watch. Damn it, she was going to be late getting back to work, and she’d long since used up her tardy passes. With a final curse, she pulled into an overpriced parking garage three blocks downhill from her destination. After squeezing into a spot, she jumped out and dashed for the exit, pressing numbers on her cell phone as she went.
“Mia? Hey, it’s me.” She stepped onto the sidewalk and blinked up at the blindingly bright sunlight.
“What’s up, Soph? I’ve got my hands full.”
“Shoot, forget it then.”
“I’m at the university,” Sophie said. “I was going to ask you to cover the phones for a few minutes if I’m not back by one.”
“I’ll get down there if I can, but—”
“Don’t worry, I’ll get Diane to do it.” Diane was the assistant evidence clerk at the Delphi Center where Sophie worked, but she wasn’t exactly known for her cheery disposition. “She owes me a favor anyway. We’re still on for margaritas with Kelsey, right? Six o’clock?”
“El Patio,” Mia confirmed. “See you there.”
Sophie dropped the phone in her bag and continued uphill. The sun blazed down. Her blouse grew damp. Her tortured feet were a testament to the folly of buying Victoria’s Secret sandals on clearance. After waiting for a break in traffic, she darted across the street and felt the heat coming up off the asphalt in waves. Jeez, it was hot. Thank goodness she was signing up for a night course.
At last she reached the grassy quadrangle and enjoyed a few patches of shade as she neared the registrar’s office. Students streamed up and down the sidewalks, talking with friends and reading text messages. Sophie gazed wistfully at their cut-off shorts and tank tops. Once upon a time she, too, had lived in grunge wear. She didn’t miss the clothes so much as that time in her life, when she’d had nothing more to do than go to keg parties on weekends and cut class to hang out with her boyfriend. Now both those pursuits seemed worse than trivial—they seemed wasteful. How could a few short years make such a difference in her outlook?
She marveled at the irony—here she was plunking down her hard-earned money to attend a class she would have happily ditched just a few years ago. The perfect revenge for her I-told-you-so parents, only they’d never get the chance to say that because she had no intention of telling them she was back in school. This was her private mission, and if she failed to accomplish it, no one would ever have to know she’d tried.
Sophie navigated the busy sidewalks, longing for a pair of Birkenstocks instead of heels. She glanced again at her watch and knew, without a doubt, she was going to be late.
She halted in her tracks.
People shrieked behind her, and she whirled around. Her gaze landed on someone sprawled across the sidewalk. A man. Sophie stared in shock at the jacket, the tie, and the bloody pulp that should have been his head.
Someone’s shooting! The words screamed through her brain as she scanned her surroundings. She was in an open field. She was a clear target.
More shrieks as she bolted for the trees. A staccato of bullets. Clumps of grass burst up at her and she fell back, landing hard on her butt. Before her eyes, a woman collapsed to the ground, clutching her throat. A child in pigtails howled. Crab-walking backward, Sophie glanced around frantically. What was happening? Where was it coming from? Screams echoed around her as people ducked and dove for cover.
She rolled to her knees and lunged for the nearest solid object—a cement block at the base of a statue. She crouched behind it, gasping for breath, every nerve in her body zinging with terror.
Where is he?
More gunfire. More screaming. Sophie cupped her hands over her head and tried to make herself small.
“She lent it to you? That’s the best you got?” San Marcos Police Detective Allison Doyle scowled down at the pimply-faced perpetrator and waited. It didn’t take long.
“She didn’t say that exactly.”
“What did she say, exactly?”
“Well, it was more like understood, you know?” The kid slouched against the door to his dorm room. “Like I could use it long as I wanted, so long as I returned it.”
“I see.” Allison nodded over his shoulder, at the array of loot spread out on his single bed: four iPods, two BlackBerries, and an iPad not even out of the box—which constituted the reason for her little visit to this room that smelled like gym socks and God knew what else.
“What about the iPods?” Allison asked. “You borrow them, too?”
A girl burst into the hallway. “Someone’s shooting! Oh my God, people are dead!”
Allison yanked out her Glock and rushed down the hall. “Who’s shooting? Where?”
“The quad! Someone’s killing people!”
“Go into your rooms and lock your doors. Now! Stay away from the windows.”
Allison raced across the lobby and out the glass door. It was like stepping into an oven. She took an instant to orient herself, then took off for the university quadrangle just as her radio crackled to life.
“Attention all units! Active shooter on campus! South quadrangle!” The usually calm dispatcher sounded shrill, and Allison felt the first twinge of panic. “Reports of casualties. All units respond!”
Allison jerked the radio from her belt. “Doyle responding.” Jesus Christ. “Where is the shooter? Over.”
For a moment, silence. Then a distant wail of sirens on the other side of town. Allison sprinted across University Avenue and did a double take. Cars were stopped in the middle of the road, doors flung open. The engines were running, but the cars were empty. “Shooter’s location is unknown,” the dispatcher said. “I repeat, unknown.”
Jonah Macon stared at the dilapidated house where absolutely nothing had happened for the past seven hours. He hated surveillance work, and not just the boredom of it. His six-foot-four-inch frame wasn’t designed to be crammed into the back of a van for days on end.
“If I drink another cup of this coffee, my piss is gonna turn black.”
Jonah shot Sean Byrne a look of disgust but didn’t respond.
“Nice image,” Jonah’s partner Ric quipped, tossing his Styrofoam cup into an empty Krispy Kreme box. Ric Santos had volunteered to bring breakfast this morning, and the doughnut shop was just around the corner from his girlfriend’s place.
So here they all were—bored, caffeinated, and jacked up on sugar that needed to be burned off. Jonah leaned back in his seat and popped his knuckles as he stared at the video monitor.
“Seriously, how late can he sleep?” Sean asked. “I’m about to bust in there and drag his skinny ass out here myself.”
“Movement at the door,” Jonah said, and everyone snapped to attention.
A man stepped onto the porch, finally breaking the monotony. Jonah’s team had been in the van since before dawn, waiting for their subject to kiss his girlfriend goodbye and lead them to the crib where they were ninety-nine percent sure their murder suspect was holed up. Sure enough, they watched onscreen as their subject got some goodbye tongue action before tromping down the rickety front porch steps.
“Think he’s stepping out for a paper?” Sean asked sarcastically.
“I’m not sure he can read.” Ric eased out of the bucket seat in back and slid behind the wheel while Jonah reached for his radio to give the guys in the car down the block a head’s up.
The phone at Jonah’s hip buzzed. Then Ric’s phone buzzed. Then a snippet of rap music emanated from Sean’s pocket.
Everyone exchanged a grim looks as they took out their phones. Jonah answered first.
“Get to campus, ASAP! Where’s the SWAT van?”
“Perkin has it,” Jonah told his lieutenant. “He’s up in Austin at a training op—” “Someone’s shooting people all over the quad! Get over there and suit up. Grab everyone you can.”
Jonah braced himself against the side of the van as Ric peeled away from the curb. From the look on his partner’s face, Jonah knew he was getting similar instructions.
“What’s your setup?” Lieutenant Reynolds demanded.
Jonah was already leaning over the backseat to do a quick inventory of the cargo space. “Two shotguns, a rifle, and a couple of flash bangs.” His pulse started to pound. “How many shooters?”
“We don’t know.”
“What kind of weapon?”
“We don’t know that either. We don’t know shit! All I got is a bunch of hysterical 911 calls, someone’s gunning down people on the lawn. Some kid just got shot off his bike. ETA?”
Jonah glanced through the tinted windows as a blur of storefronts raced past. “Two minutes, tops.”
“Okay, then you’re it, Macon. I’m fifteen minutes out. You guys got any Kevlar?”
“Three vests and a flak jacket.”
“Take all of it. And call me when you get there.”
Crack. Another burst of cement on the nearby sidewalk. Sophie huddled tighter and looked back at the howling little girl.
“Get down!” Sophie shouted.
From the pavement, an arm reached up and tugged weakly at the girl’s shorts. The arm was attached to a hugely pregnant woman who was lying in an ever-expanding pool of her own blood.
Dear Lord. Someone had to get them out of here, but there was no one. The campus that had been crawling with students just moments ago was now a ghost town. Sophie darted her gaze around. Where was the shooter? She eased up slowly and peered around the base of the bronze statue.
An agonized scream behind her. Sophie recoiled. She peeked beneath her quivering elbow and saw a man hunched at the base of a flagpole, clutching his bloody ankle. Sophie’s gaze was drawn to the headless corpse behind her, now baking on the sidewalk. At the edge of the grass, another man lay sprawled across the ground, a backpack beside him. A student. Sophie’s heart jackhammered against her rib cage as she watched the flies already buzzing around him.
This can’t be happening.
The crying intensified. Sophie glanced again at the child, who was hunched over her mother, sobbing uncontrollably. She had to be only two, maybe three years old. The woman twisted onto her side, probably trying to shield the girl with her body. They were behind a large oak tree, thank goodness. But if the child moved too much—
Glass shattered on a building nearby.
Crack. Crack. Crack. One by one, the second-story windows exploded. She thought of those shooting games at carnivals where the targets were little yellow ducks.
Sirens grew louder as Sophie scoured the rooflines for any sort of movement or muzzle flash. She went from building to building all around the quadrangle, searching the red tile roofs and the highest row of windows.
Her gaze came to rest on the white limestone monolith that sat atop the hill, overlooking the entire campus like a giant Sphinx. And suddenly she knew. The gunman was on top of the library.
And from there he could see everything.
Bo McCoy sprinted up the steps to his fraternity house and shoved through the front door. A couple of guys playing Ping-Pong shouted at him, but he couldn’t hear them over the music blaring from someone’s stereo. He took the stairs two at a time, then tore down the hallway. He slipped on a puddle outside the bathroom, but scrambled to his feet and kept going, not stopping until he was standing in front of his closet and staring up at the long plastic case. He yanked it down, then grabbed a box of bullets from the top shelf and shoved it in the back pocket of his jeans. The fluorescent orange hunting cap on the shelf caught his eye.
It was a hundred degrees out, but he grabbed it anyway just for luck and stuffed it down the front of his pants. He raced out of his room and down the stairs.
“Hey, McCoy, where’s the fire?” one his brothers called from the doorway as Bo leaped down the porch steps and sprinted across the lawn.
Bo ignored him and raced toward the quad.
The hastily designated command post was the lobby of the psychology building on the south side of the quadrangle. The east facade was made of glass, unfortunately. But as an advantage, it had a clear view of the entire quad, plus protected accessibility through an underground maintenance tunnel that connected it to several other buildings. Jonah stood in the lobby now juggling calls from two different bosses—Reynolds, his police lieutenant, and Cosgrove, his SWAT commander. Cosgrove and most of Jonah’s SWAT teammates were at this very moment hauling ass down here from Austin.
“We’ve got officers setting up barricades at all entrances to campus,” Reynolds was telling him over his cell phone. “Campus security evacuated the buildings facing the quad and the rest are in lockdown. Still no confirmation on our guy’s location.”
“We got a location on the shooter?” Jonah yelled across the room at Ric, who was on his radio.
“Dispatch just took a 911 call,” Ric shouted back.
“From a woman pinned down at the base of a statue. She says the shooter’s on top of the library.”
Jonah rushed to the window and looked out. “Shit! He’s got the high ground.”
Jonah hoped to hell the caller was mistaken, but he doubted it. The library was the highest point for miles. If Jonah had wanted to set up a position, he’d have picked the exact same spot.
A cold ball formed in the pit of his stomach. Who were they dealing with here?
Jonah got back on with his SWAT chief. “An eyewitness says he’s shooting from the library roof. That’s six stories high.”
“Set up an inner perimeter. How many men you got?”
Jonah glanced around the lobby. He had one SWAT guy from the sheriff’s department who’d just happened to be at the campus health center when the all-call came through. Brian was in plainclothes and armed only with a Sig. His wife—a nurse—was busy treating a student who’d hobbled into the lobby with a bloody foot.
“We got two SWAT including me,” Jonah said. “Plus I’ve got two SMPD detectives—”
“Make that three.”
Jonah turned to see Allison Doyle coming out of a stairwell. Her cheeks were flushed as though she’d run all the way here.
“When was the last shot?” Cosgrove asked.
“Eight minutes ago,” Jonah said. Was he finished? Had he offed himself?
“I’m twenty minutes away,” Cosgrove said. “We got a police chopper coming down from Austin, but they’re not off the ground yet.”
Jonah stepped closer to the window and surveyed the situation. On the other side of the quad, a line of students crouched behind a concrete planter. An injured girl was slumped against a brick water fountain, hidden from view of the library and holding a bleeding arm. Farther south, a pair of legs poked out from behind a bike rack. Jonah couldn’t tell whether the person was alive or dead.
“Macon? What’s the status?”
Everyone turned at once to look out the window.
“We can’t wait,” Jonah said. “We need to take him down now.”
His commander hesitated. It would be less risky to hold off until they had everyone assembled and could do this by the book. But by then how many more kids might die?
“I’d rather have this guy shooting at us than picking off innocent people,” Jonah said.
“Okay, do it.”
Jonah got off the phone, took a deep breath, and turned to face the four cops awaiting his orders.
“Ric and Brian, you’re on entry with me.” He nodded at Sean, who was the best marksman of the bunch, besides himself. “Sean, give Brian your vest. I need you at the top of that building with the rifle.” He pointed at the highest building besides the library, which was just across the quad. “Use the underground tunnel to get there.”
Allison stepped forward. She swiped a lock of dark hair from her face and gave him a look that dared him to blow her off. Allison worked property crimes. She was green as grass, but she had a badge.
He handed her some binoculars. “See the big ugly building just north of here?”
“The architecture building.”
“Whatever. Get to the top of it and get on your radio,” he said. “We’re going to need some eyes.”
The elevator doors parted and Allison rushed out, nearly crashing into a kid in an orange hunting cap.
“Hey!” She grabbed him by the shirt when she spotted the gun case. “Where you going with that?”
“The balcony,” he squeaked. “On the corner of the
Allison took a moment to decide. This could be their shooter, for all she knew. But her gut told her it was just some kid looking to be a hero. She jerked the gun case away from him and released his arm. “Show me.”
He led her briskly down a corridor to a large conference room with a balcony facing north. Prime view of the library.
They weren’t the first to notice it, either. A man was set up there already, peering through a rifle scope. He was seated in a plastic office chair with the barrel of his gun resting atop a beanbag on the balcony wall.
Allison rushed outside.
“SMPD. I’m going to have to confiscate your weapon.”
He turned and squinted at her from beneath the brim of his camo baseball cap. He wore jeans, a faded T-shirt, and worn shit-kickers. He turned and spat tobacco juice on the concrete.
“Reckon you’re gonna have to shoot me first.” He turned and leaned back over his gun.
Shit. She hadn’t counted on the vigilante element. This town was full of gun owners.
Allison’s heart thudded as she wrestled with what to do. She’d spent most of her career busting petty thieves and drug addicts. But what she did today mattered. A lot. And she didn’t know if she was ready for it.
She made a snap decision. If they couldn’t take out the shooter, maybe they could at least distract him and buy everyone some time.
Her gaze moved to the library. “You got a good look?”
“Just waiting for my shot.”
Allison set the gun case on the ground and popped the latches. Inside was a Remington 700, like the one she’d been trained on, only newer.
She glanced over her shoulder at the boy. “What’s your name?”
“I take it you’ve been hunting, Bo?”
“That’s good.” She unhooked the binoculars from around her neck and shoved them at him. “I need you to be my spotter.”
Their footsteps sounded like rolling thunder as they pounded through the tunnel. In contrast to the fierce heat outside, the air beneath the campus was cool and damp. Fluorescent light fixtures dotted the walls, but visibility
was poor and Jonah had to pay attention to keep from bumping his head on the low-hanging pipes.
A campus security guard led the way through the maze. As Jonah jogged through the bowels of the university, he sorted through what little information he had and tried to come up with a plan. First and foremost, he needed intel. He desperately hoped his team’s eyes were in place by the time the entry group reached the library.
They rounded a corner and the guard trotted over to an elevator bank.
“Hold up. We need info.” Jonah glanced around and knew he’d never get a good signal down here.
“Up,” Ric said, and headed for the door to a stairwell. They took the steps two at a time. At the top, a sign on the closed door said MAIN LEVEL, and Ric and Jonah exchanged looks.
“Cover me,” Jonah said, then took the lead as they went in low, guns drawn, using the rhythm they’d developed through years of working together. He swept his gaze left, right, front, back. Jonah had braced himself for blood and carnage, but all he saw was a vacated library.
The place was eerily silent—no hushed voices, no clacking keyboards, no scrape of chairs on the white marble floor. Books lay open. Laptops and backpacks sat abandoned. Jonah stood still for a moment, trying to think over the ringing in his ears—the faint buzzing noise that had started during that very first phone call.
You’re it, Macon.
He hustled to the window and did some quick recon. The library sat on high ground. Even from this first-floor vantage point, the campus was spread out before him like a picnic. The surreal part was the stillness. Not a flutter of movement as everyone remained hidden behind whatever cover they’d managed to find. The six people sprawled across the lawn were either dead or
pretending to be, and Jonah’s gut tightened with fury at the sight.
He radioed his lieutenant on the secure frequency they’d established.
“Macon here. We’re in the library, ground level. What you got?”
“He’s still on the roof. Sean spotted him.”
“He get a shot off?”
“Missed. Doyle got hold of a rifle. She’s trying to get a bead on him, too, but he’s keeping out of sight.”
“How many gunmen?”
“By all accounts, one, but that’s unconfirmed.”
Jonah ran his hand over his face and it came away wet. Jesus, he was soaked.
Ric nudged him and handed over some binoculars.
“Bronze statue,” he whispered, nodding his head toward the window.
Jonah jerked the binoculars to his face and scoured the scene. One of the bodies on the quad shifted, and Jonah’s pulse jumped. Kid was alive, though how much longer he could stay that way was anybody’s guess. He swept his gaze south down the grass until he spied the bronze statue where the 911 caller had been. She was still there. Heeled sandals, bare legs, skirt. Jonah saw a flash
of blond hair as she peeked around the concrete base and lifted her gaze upward.
“Holy God,” Jonah muttered.
Everyone looked up at the ceiling.
“He’s starting up again, Macon. I’m going to call off our sniper fire. Your team’s clear to move.”
Sophie pressed her forehead against the searing-hot concrete and tucked her knees in tighter. She turned her head and cast another worried look at the woman behind the tree. She was dead now—Sophie was almost sure of it. Her fingertips were tinged blue, and she hadn’t moved in the past fifteen minutes. The little girl was tucked beside her in the fetal position, sucking her thumb and staring blankly across the grass.
Where was the ambulance? Even the sirens had stopped. All she heard now were fire alarms from the direction of the dorms and the distant sound of bullhorns shouting commands. Sweat trickled down Sophie’s neck and arms. She licked her chapped lips and tried not to think about her parched throat.
Or the flies hovering over the bodies behind her.
The little girl sat up and started glancing around. Don’t look, Sophie wanted to say, but the girl kept looking. Her gaze came to rest on her mother. Sophie
heard a hiccup.
“Sweetie, lay down.” Sophie motioned for her to put her head down. “Lie still next to Mommy.”
The girl turned and stared at her. Her pigtails were askew and her eyes looked glassy.
A snippet of music rang out. Sophie grabbed her phone off the ground and checked the screen.
“Oh my God, where are you?”
“Help’s coming,” he said. “I need you to stay put.”
“We need a paramedic here! I’m on the south quadrangle. There’s a woman—” Sophie glanced at the girl and lowered her voice. “Jonah, she’s not moving anymore. We need an ambulance!”
“They’re coming. Just don’t move, whatever you do.”
“Can’t someone do something? He’s on top of the library!” Sophie sucked in a breath as the little girl clambered to her feet. She was still behind the tree, but one step in either direction, and she’d be a target. “Get down!” Sophie motioned frantically, but the girl wasn’t looking.
“Sophie, are you listening? Stay behind that statue. Do not move, do you hear me?”
The girl looked down at her mother and started to cry. She took a step backward. Then another.
“No!” Sophie scrambled to her feet and lunged.
Jonah’s heart skipped a beat.
“Macon, heads up!”
Jonah glanced up from his phone as Ric stopped on the landing above him. His stern expression yanked Jonah back to the mission.
They’d hit a locked door marked EMPLOYEES ONLY. Jonah stuffed the phone in his pocket and raced up to enter the four-digit pass code that had been given to him by the security guard downstairs. The guard hadn’t offered to come up here without a vest, and no one had twisted his arm.
Jonah made eye contact with Ric and Brian before punching the code’s last digit. They nodded. A faint snick and Jonah turned the knob. Slowly, he pulled back the heavy metal door. One by one, they slipped inside and eased the door shut behind them.
In contrast to the clean, bright stairwell they’d come from, this one was dim and dirty. Jonah had expected a barricade, maybe a booby trap. But the stairs were clear and the three men climbed them swiftly and soundlessly, Jonah in the lead. His pulse was racing. He pictured Sophie hunched behind that statue, and it raced even faster. He pictured her gleaming yellow hair and wondered if
the motherfucker on the roof had used it for a target. Jonah pushed the thought away. He focused on the mission. Two more half-flights, eight steps each, and then he’d round the corner. He counted off each step, knowing
the next time he passed through here, he might be in a body bag.
He reached the landing. He signaled his teammates. He readied his shotgun and turned the corner.
The last half-flight was empty. The stairs were bathed in sunlight from a rectangular window that looked out on the roof. Jonah reached the top step and signaled his team. He nodded at the brick that had been used to prop
open the door a few inches. Jonah had the pass code for this door, too, but he didn’t need it because of that brick. It sat there like an invitation, beckoning him outside.
And in that moment, Jonah knew this guy’s plan was suicide by cop. Really, he’d known it all along. This guy wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. The only question was, how many people would he take with him?
The ringing was back in his ears, only louder now. The world seemed brighter, sharper than it ever had. His body tingled. His shotgun felt weightless in his hands.
You’re it, Macon.
By their predetermined plan, Brian reached around and rested a palm on the door. They exchanged looks. Three, two, one—
The door swung open and Jonah burst into the white-hot sunlight.
Copyright © 2011 Laura Griffin
New York Times bestselling author Laura Griffin started her career in journalism before venturing into the world of romantic suspense. Snapped is her fourth thrilling Tracers novel and features Sophie Barrett and Jonah Macon from Unforgivable.