This post picks up at the beginning of chapter 4, or about 10,377 words. This is a complete but short chapter.
Remember, this is a Draft 0, unedited, simply writing as quickly as the story comes to me and making myself accountable by putting the words here.
It was still early morning when Ash arrived back at her apartment. She worked with Tom, filing their reports and organizing the leads. She was exhausted but also felt like she was finally progressing.
She needed a shower and some sleep before returning to the office later that morning.
Ash hung her jacket on the entry closet hook and went to her bedroom. She crosses her living room, and looked out the window over her patio. Her apartment was the second highest floor in her building and had a panoramic view of the Puget Sound. The sun was just beginning to peek over the Cascade Mountains, casting a pink and orange glow across the rippling water and bathing the Olympic mountains in soft soft orange and red shades. Fog was light this morning, a rarity.
She got her pick of bureaus when she passed the detective exams but Assistant Chief Gomez made sure to put her on the second shift. But she didn't mind, the night suited her. She was able to do her own thing, come and go as she pleased without having to answer to any of the top brass. She rarely saw them. It was peaceful, for the most part, except for the murder.
She expected this would become her normal. Picking up leads from the day shift and following up if there was any possibility at night, and filing reports. It was a lonely existence, but she was used to being alone.
And now this morning view. She always rose early but never paid attention to the beauty that was right outside her window. She made a mental note to take more time to appreciate it. She decided this would be a part of her end-of-day, or night, ritual. A way to disconnect and decompress from her late nights.
Ash turned from the window and walked into her bedroom, taking off her shirt, tossing it on the bed, and unbuttoning her pants. She went to her bathroom and turned on the shower.
The bathroom was large and luxurious, with marble floors and walls. There was an oversized, free-standing bathtub in the center of the floor-to-ceiling window and a shower with multiple heads.
Ash pressed a button on the wall, and the glass window immediately turned opaque. She walked back to her bedroom and stripped the rest of her clothes off, gathering them up and placing them in the laundry basket in her large walk-in closet.
She walked back to her bathroom and to the shower. Stepping under the hot water, letting it wash away the fatigue of the past few days, the spray felt good on her tired muscles. She let out a long sigh as she surrendered to its heat. After a few minutes of soaking in the steam, she washed quickly and turned off the water.
She knew that she would be waking up in a handful of hours to go back to work and needed to get some sleep.
She dried off and pulled on a clean pair of pajamas, and ran her hair dryer through her damp hair, leaving it loose around her shoulders. She lay in her king-size bed and fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.
She woke up a few hours later when her phone rang. She looked at the caller ID and saw that it was Kyle Malecki, a contact she had at the hospital. She answer and said, "Hey, Kyle, what's up?"
"I just found this out myself, so don't get mad, but about an hour ago, a prisoner was brought into the hospital," Kyle said. Ash's face went pale. She knew of only one prisoner who would be of interest to her and didn't want to hear his name.
"Who is it?" she asked, already knowing the answer.
"Keith Lancaster." He paused. He knew Ash recognized the name; he knew she probably had a folder on the guy but continued anyway; "the man who was convicted of robbing the bank that your..." Kyle didn't finish.
Ash felt her heart drop into her stomach. This was the man whose crew botched the bank robbery that killed her brother. It had been eight years since he went to jail, claiming innocence and that his boss shot her brother. He was charged with second-degree murder. He wasn't given a life sentence and was coming up on his parole hearing, but that wasn't for another two years.
Keith went into that bank with five others intent on taking bags of cash out and had taken everything from her instead. He was the one who ruined her life.
"How is he?" Ash said, more out of hope that he was in pain.
"Not good. but it's weird." Kyle said. "He's asking for you."
"Is he awake?" she asked.
"He's drifting in and out; you'd better hurry," Kyle said
"I'm on my way," she said and hung up the phone. She quickly dressed in a clean pair of clothes and grabbed her jacket. She walked out of her apartment and rode the elevator to the garage. She sprinted to her car and sped out, the parking spot, her tires echoing a squeal as she drove out of the garage.
She drove to the hospital as fast as she could, breaking multiple traffic laws. When she arrived, she parked her car and ran into the hospital. She went to the floor where Kyle worked and told her Keith's room number.
She walked as fast as she could to the room and turned the corner to the hall. She saw his room and started jogging. Halfway down the hallway, a nurse stepped out in front of her.
"Whoa, you can't be here," the nurse said, holding her hand out. "This is a secure hall, how did you get up here?"
"I'm a detective; I need to talk to him," Ash said, trying to push past the nurse.
"I don't care who you are; you need to be authorized to be in this hall." The nurse said, "Show me your badge."
Ash stepped back, frustrated, and pulled out her badge. She showed her badge to the nurse and looked over her shoulder.
"That man has information in one of my investigations; I was called just now to come down and ask him about his injuries in the Prison." Ash began to lie.
A short man in a white coat and blue scrubs, a medical mask covering his face, walked across the hall and entered Keith's room. Ash pushed past the nurse and began to run.
The nurse grabbed Ash's arm and yelled for security.
A second later, the man came out of Keith's room and saw Ash running toward him. The nurse yelled. "Hey, who are you?"
The man turned and ran through the nurse's station knocking over a stack of papers and pushing over a cart of equipment. The nurse ran after the man, still yelling for security.
Ash ran into Keith's room and paused, checking the room before running to his bed. Keith was awake but breathing rapidly.
"Ash!" Keith was gasping.
Ash started checking the man's sensors and readouts; they didn't show any alerts. "Do you know who that was? Ash asked.
"No," Keith said, "but he was here to kill me. He injected something." He said, pointing to the I.V. bag hanging by his bed.
Ash yelled for the nurse, but nobody came. An alarm was sounding out in the corridor and voices were getting louder.
"Ash!" Keith croaked.
Ash turned back to him. "There's not much time." Keith said, "I'm sorry. I've always wanted to say I'm sorry."
"That's it!?" Ash exclaimed. "You wanted me to come down here for some cheap absolution?"
"No!" He said, "You need to know the truth. The reason they're trying to kill me."
Ash just looked at him and waited. Keith was getting weaker, his voice becoming strained. The alarm was still going off.
"Your brother was never supposed to leave that bank alive," Keith said, "It was a hired job, but not for the cash."
"What do you mean?" Ash asked.
"We were hired..." Keith began to cough and a nurse came in, yelling at her to get out. The equipment around Keith began to sound alarms and a couple of doctors ran into the room.
Ash yelled at the nurse to back down, taking out her badge again and shoving it in her face. She place her hand on her weapon and the nurse stepped back her eyes widening.
The doctors continued to work to silence the alarms, callout out to the nurse to get various drugs and equipment.
Ash darted back to the man's bed, pushing a doctor aside, the doctor simply stepped back to Keith's bedside.
"Keith!" Ash said, her voice strained and pitched high. "Who hired you!?"
Keith's eyes were glassy, but he managed to focus on her. "I don't know," he said, "I never met them. It was old school, with no digital footprint. I tried to find out but John, my boss., threatened me."
Keith's words started to slur and his eyes closed.
"Keith!" Ash yelled again, "stay with me!"
The doctors were still working and started telling Ash they needed her to leave.
She just ignored them and continued trying to get information from Keith.
"I'm sorry." Keith said, his voice barely a whisper now. "I didn't want to kill him. I swear. It wasn't me."
"Who hired you?" Ash asked, nearly crying now. "Anything! Give me anything!"
Keith's eyes opened and he whispered, "I wasn't supposed to be there, but I saw John, through a crack in the door, getting a payment from a person in a suite."
"Ok!" Ash said, "what else?"
She was grabbing his hand, rubbing it trying to comfort him.
The alarms were continuing to blare and the doctors ordered the nurse to bring in the crash unit. Keith was slipping away.
"Cufflinks..." Keith said. "Three diamonds..."
"Diamond cufflinks?" Ash cried.
"On a blue...background" Keith said.
With that, Keith's eyes closed and the machines around him began to beep in a steady rhythm. The doctors pushed ash back. They applied the AED to his chest and he jolted, his chest heaving above the bed.
Everything slowed down. Ash walked backward, watching the slow motion of the room. The doctors and nurses were muffled and slowly repeating their efforts to device Keith.
Ash backed into the wall and slowly sunk to the floor. It was over, Keith was gone. After a moment she stood up on rubbery legs and walked out of the room.
In the corridor, hospital security and cops were everywhere, uniforms and plain clothes mixed as Ash walked through the crowds. Her world had collapsed once again. Everything she had believed for the past eight years had changed.
Ash saw Tom walking towards her.
"What happened?" He asked.
"He's dead." Ash whispered.
"Who's he?" Tom asked.
"Keith Lancaster." She replied. "The man who...."
Ash broke off, tears flowing down her cheeks. She wasn't sobbing, she wasn't even whimpering, but tears were flowing down her cheeks. For the last eight years, she had chased a new dream. A dream to reinvent herself after she experienced trauma from the loss of her brother. She believed it was an accident.
She blamed herself.
"The man who killed your brother." Tom finished. He gently put his hand on Ash's back and said, "Let's go over here," He pointed to a pair of chairs in a small waiting area away from the commotion.
"Sit down, I'll go get you some coffee," Tom said.
Ash nodded and walked over to the chairs. She sat down, her mind racing. Keith had been dead for less than five minutes and already everything was different. She had been so sure that it was an accident, that her brother's death wasn't murder.
"Cufflinks. Three diamonds, Blue background," Ash began repeating the phrase like a mantra.
Tom returned with two cups of coffee and handed one to Ash.
"What did he say?" Tom asked, hearing Ash mumbling.
Ash related the conversation she had with Keith before he died, hesitating to give Tom the details of the cufflinks. When she finished, Tom sat back and stared at her for a minute.
"That's big." He asked. "That's all he said?"
"That's all I could get out of him before he died," Ash replied.
Tom nodded and leaned forward, elbows on his knees.
"I'm sorry," He said. "This must be really hard for you."
Ash just nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She took a sip of coffee and tried to steady her hand.
"What do you think the cufflinks mean?" Tom asked.
"I don't know," Ash replied. "A single pair of cufflinks in a city of nearly a million?"
Tom nodded and stood up.
"I'm going to see if they've got any information on who killed him" He said, "You hang tight." And then turned and walked down the hall.
Ash sat in the chair, numb. It didn't seem real. Keith was dead and her world was turned upside down once again. She felt like she was going to be sick. Ash put her head between her legs and took deep breaths.
Tom returned a few minutes later, shaking his head.
"No luck," He said. "The guy disappeared, but their still reviewing the cameras."
"I though it was my fault," Ash said, staring out the window. "I hated going to the bank and meeting with the managers." Ash paused and Tom waited for her to continue.
"That day, I was supposed to go meet with them, rearrange the terms, but we had just gotten a massive infusion of cash from our first contract." She said. "And, I had so much work to do to get the system ready."
Ash folded her arms, continuing to look out the window.
"I complained that I didn't have time," She continued, "and Steven...my brother, was excited that we just got such a large deposit. Our first real contract." Ash smiled slightly, her lips quivering.
"He said he'd go to the bank and make the payment and negotiate the details." Ash looked down.
"I thought that it was my fault." Ash stuttered. "But Steven was targeted. They meant to kill him... to get to me."
"Why, would they..." Tom began but stopped.
"I was under such pressure to sell. We were building something incredible and so may defense contractors wanted to buy us." Ash said looking at him. "I wouldn't sell."
Ash looked back out the window. "I had visions of so much more. Not just our tech, but money. So much money. I wanted to be the Female CEO of a billion-dollar defense tech startup"
She was mad, but also relieved. Relieved that her brother's murder wasn't her fault but mad because her wounds were opened up and she knew the story she'd been telling herself was a lie.
"But now, I knew the truth," Ash said, more to herself than to Tom. "Tom was murdered to get me to sell. And when that didn't work, my fiancé disappeared. And when that didn't work, I sold it off for parts."
"You going to be ok?" Tom asked. Looking at her, becoming a little nervous. He'd known Ash for only a few months and had been her official partner for less than a week. He didn't really know what to expect.
"Not right now, but I'll get there," Ash said, wiping her eyes a final time and looking at him.
"I know the truth, and I have a clue. That's something." She said.