Heights. Damn it, why does it have to be heights?
Diego Escobar scanned the steel beams of the unfinished skyscraper against a gray morning sky, and acid seared his stomach.
Heights had never bothered him until two years ago, when five meth-heads had hung him over the penthouse balcony of a thirty-story hotel and threatened to drop him. His partner, Jobe, a damn good cop, had put his weapon on the balcony floor and raised his hands to save Diego’s life. The men had pulled Diego to safety and then casually shot them both. Diego had survived; Jobe hadn’t.
Diego’s rage and grief had manifested into an obsessive fear of heights. Now, going up even three floors in a glass elevator could give him cold sweats.
“Way the hell up there?” he asked Rogers, the uniform cop.
“Hooper’s pretty sure it’s not human,” Rogers said. “He says it moves too fast, jumps too far. But he hasn’t got a visual yet.”
Not human meant Shifter. This was getting better and better. “Hooper’s up there alone?”
“Jemez is with him. They think they have the Shifter cornered on the fifty-first level.”
The fifty-first level? “Tell me you’re f**king kidding me.”
“No, sir. There’s an elevator. We got the electric company to turn on the power.”
Diego looked at the rusty doors Rogers indicated, then up, up, and up through the grid of beams into empty space. He could see nothing but the gray dawn sky between the crisscross of girders. His mouth went dry.
This cluster of buildings in the middle of nowhere—which was to have been an apartment complex, hotel, office tower, and shopping center—had been under construction for years. The project had started to great fanfare, designed to draw tourists and locals away from the heavily trafficked Strip. But construction slowed, and so many investors pulled out that building had ground to a halt. Now the unfinished skyscraper sat like a rusting blot on the empty desert.
Tracking Shifters wasn’t Diego’s department. Diego was a detective in vice. He’d responded to the call for help with a trespasser because he’d been heading to work and his route took him right by the construction site. Diego figured he’d help Rogers chase down the miscreant and drive on in.
Now Rogers wanted Diego to jaunt to the fifty-first level, where there weren’t any floors, for crying out loud, and chase a suspect who might be a Shifter. Shifters were dangerous—people who could become animals. Or, maybe animals who became people. The jury was still out. In any case, they’d been classified as too dangerous to live with humans, rounded up into Shiftertowns, and made to wear Collars that regulated their violent tendencies.
Diego had heard that regular guns didn’t always bring them down, Shifters having amazing metabolisms. Shifter Division used tranquilizers when they needed to shoot a Shifter, but Diego was fresh out of those. Rogers, rotund and near retirement, watched Diego with a bland expression, making it clear he had no intention of going up after the Shifter himself.
A high-pitched scream rang down from on high. It was a woman’s scream—Maria Jemez—followed by a man’s bellow of surprise and pain. Then, silence.
“Damn it.” Diego ran for the elevator. “Stay down here, call Shifter Division, and get more backup. Tell them to bring tranqs.” He got into the lift and shut the doors, blocking out Rogers’ “Yes, sir.”
The lift clanked its way up through the few completed finished floors, then onto floors that were nothing but beams and catwalks. The elevator was an open cage, so Diego got to watch the ground and Rogers recede, far too rapidly.
Fifty-first level. Damn.
Diego had been chasing criminals through towering hotels for years without thinking a thing about it. He and the sheriff’s department even had followed one idiot high up onto a cable tower two hundred feet above Hoover Dam five years ago, and Diego hadn’t flinched.
A bunch of cop-hating meth dealers hang him over a balcony, and he goes to pieces.
It stops now. This is where I get my own back.
Diego rolled back the gate on the fifty-first level. The sun was rising, the mountains west of town bathed in pink and orange splendor. The Las Vegas valley was a beautiful place, its stark white desert contrasting with the mountains that rose in a knifelike wall on the horizon. Visitors down in the city kept their eyes on the gaming tables and slot machines, uncaring of what went on outside the casinos, but the beauty of the valley always tugged at Diego.
Diego drew his Sig and stepped off the lift into eerie silence. Something flitted in his peripheral vision, something that moved too lightly to be Hooper, who was a big, muscular guy who liked big, muscular guns. Diego aimed, but the movement vanished.
He stepped softly across the board catwalk, moving into the deeper shadow of a beam. The catwalk groaned under his feet. There were no lights up here, just the faint flush of morning and the glow from the work lights down on the ground that the power company had turned on.
Diego saw the movement again to his left, and then, damned if he didn’t see a similar flit to his right.
Son of a bitch—two of them?
A sound like the cross between a pop and a kiss came from down the catwalk the instant before something pinged above Diego’s head. Diego hit the floor instinctively, trying not to panic as his feet slid over the catwalk’s edge.
His heart pounded triple-time, his throat so dry it closed up tight.
What the hell was he doing? He should have confessed his secret fear of heights, gone to psychiatric evaluation, stayed behind a desk. But no, he’d been too determined to keep his job, too determined to beat it himself, too embarrassed to admit the weakness. Now he was endangering others because of his stupid fear.
Shut up and think.
Whatever had pinged hadn’t been a bullet. Too soft. Diego got his feet back onto the catwalk and crawled to find what had fallen to the boards. A dart, he saw, the kind shot by a tranquilizer gun.
Uniforms didn’t carry tranqs, and Shifter Division hadn’t showed up yet. That meant that one of the Shifters he was chasing up here had a tranquilizer gun. Perfect. Put the nice cop to sleep, and then do anything you want with him, including pushing his body over the edge.
Diego moved in a crouch across the catwalk to the next set of shadows. The sun streaked across the valley to Mount Charleston in the west, light radiant on its snow-covered crown. More snow was predicted up there for the weekend. Diego had contemplated driving up on Saturday night to sip hot toddies in a snowbound cabin, maybe with something warm and female by his side.