CHAPTER ONE

That Friday afternoon in March was, at the same time, the most terrifying and exhilarating day in Molly Sanderson's life. Admittedly, it had not, as yet, been a very long life - she was nineteen and living with her boyfriend in New York…well, actually that wasn't really true anymore. In fact, the harsh reality of just how much her life had changed within the last twenty four hours was suddenly very, very apparent as she sat alone, opposite the empty desk of Detective John Clark in the 15th precinct. Ah, Detective Clark - one of the fundamental reasons for the sudden changes in her little life.

It had all started the previous afternoon, as Molly had been sitting innocently painting murals on the wall of the slightly dilapidated townhouse that she shared with her mobster boyfiend. Well, mobster was maybe a bit of an overstatement. Ricky's father and brother had both been pretty high up in the mafia, but when they'd both been killed before he was twenty-five, he'd quickly removed himself from the whole organisation. Or at least that's what he'd told Molly. The fact was, that when three masked men had come suddenly crashing through the front door, guns blazing, to find her sitting cross-legged, paintbrush in hand, at the base of the living room wall, she'd had very definite doubts that Ricky was as uninvolved as he claimed. They'd been looking for him - that she was pretty damn sure of - but his absence hadn't stopped them from pinning her against the wall, tying her up, putting a gun to her head, and yelling demands for information in her ears. She couldn't tell them anything - she didn't know anything. She never knew where Ricky was, and, though she'd grown up in LA and could hold her own like very few girls her age, she knew not to ask. He'd never beaten her up - if he had, like so many other guys, she would've been out the door in a moment, no matter what the cost - but there'd been arguments, and every so often she'd had a job convincing herself that he hadn't been so close to crossing the line. In any case, these three guys hadn't restrained themselves for a second. As soon as she didn't give them the answers they wanted, they had proceeded to beat her black and blue, until every kick or blow that made her double over in pain revealed a bigger pool of dark blood spreading over the bare floorboards beneath her. Last thing she remembered, one of the guys - the one with the strongest Sicilian accent - struck her over the head with the butt of his gun, then everything went dark.

She couldn't have been out for very long - ten minutes or so maybe - because when she came around it was to the sounds of cop cars pulling up outside, of their occupants thundering into the house, and with the left side of her face submerged in the wet puddle of blood in which it had landed. The neighbours must have called them, and Molly's desperate attempts to make a lot of noise while she was being beaten to a pulp must, she gratefully acknowledged as she opened her eyes, have been pretty effective. It was a good thing too, considering she had some pretty severe internal bleeding, a broken rib, and mild concussion.

Maybe it was because he was the first person she saw rushing into the room and towards her when the cops arrived, hunched over with his gun drawn, cautious and alert, looking for a bad guy. He had stopped when he saw her, dazedly pushing herself up from the floor in utter agony, as though she was the last thing he had expected to see. Slowly he lowered his gun, keeping his eyes fixed on her as the expert, primed look in his eyes was replaced with one of surprise, forgetting his training for a moment until his partner, Detective Sipowicz, and four other cops came flooding into the room behind him. Three of them scattered into the surrounding rooms, while another waved in the two waiting paramedics as Clark and Sipowicz replaced their guns and crouched down beside her. Though she was hardly the first beaten case he'd seen, there was something about the way the drying blood covering half of her pretty face seemed so out of place, the way that her enormous, dark eyes seemed to follow his every movement, the way that he could tell their usual world-weary look had been so sadly replaced with this vulnerable expression.

"I'm Detective Clark -" he'd said, professional and automatic, as he reached over and loosened the rope that was tied around her wrists before being unceremoniously shoved out of the way by the two paramedics. At first she hadn't minded - the morphine they quickly injected into her system was a welcome relief - but after a second or two she started to wish that he'd stay close by, and that he wouldn't notice that her whole body was shaking violently. They lay her back down on the hard floor and started to check her over, eliciting an unavoidable wince every so often as Detective Sipowicz lowered himself down onto the floor as well and introduced himself.

"Miss Sanderson?" he asked "Molly Sanderson?" she nodded.

"You're very lucky to be alive -" one of the paramedics interjected "Now just breathe slowly - take a deep breath in for me, Molly -"

Then Sipowicz again, now holding a notebook

"Can you tell me who did this to you, Miss Sanderson? What they were wearing, were they black, white, asian?"

Then the paramedics -

"Ok Molly, you're doing really well - now take another deep breath for me…"

Then Sipowicz

"Do you remember anything, Miss Sanderson? Because anything you can tell us is going to help us out - did they say anything, ask you any questions?"

"Ok, Molly, we're going to try to reinflate your lung, so you need to take another really deep breath -"

Sipowicz opened his mouth again to speak, but Clark quickly laid a hand on his arm and said under his breath

"Boss - leave her for a second, she's had a hard time."

Sipowicz, realising he'd gone into automatic cop-mode, sat back and nodded in slow agreement. Even he could see this girl wasn't used to vulnerability, and it wasn't like she was going anywhere. Clark watched as one of the paramedics started to thread a tube into Molly's chest, enducing another wince and a stifled groan, then put her into a neck brace and moved her onto a guerney. Everything seemed to happen so fast, and all she could think about was the blinding pain that now accompanied every movement and every breath. Before she had been able to sort her head out properly, the guerney was being lifted into the ambulance, and all she could hear was a shrill bleeping blended with the voices of Clark and Sipowicz, who were standing on the sidewalk.

"Neighbour says the boyfriends mafia." Sipowicz was saying. "I'll go ask her some questions until the tyre guys get here. You ride along and get whatever you can from her when she's fit for talking." there was a tinge of irony in his voice as he said the last part, as if to say 'you do it, if you're such a good judge', though it was combined with his usual good humour. Clark nodded and climbed into the ambulance, glancing down at Molly to find that she was looking up at him, and struck by the way that she managed to smile. He smiled back, trying not to feel involved or make any sweeping judgements about this girl, though it was impossibly difficult not to. He was starting to understand how she had arrived in this situation. She was the kind of delicately built, appealing girl that had probably grown up knowing pretty well how to handle herself, but at the same time always retaining her appeal because she never came off tough or cheap. And that smile - that smile which managed to show uncertainty, self-assuredness and amiability all at once, that made the rest of her face light up despite the way it was visibly hindered by her pain - girls who smiled like that didn't usually have much trouble charming their way into people's lives. She looked pretty young, but then it never took girls like that long to get mixed up in something -

He stopped himself. He didn't actually know anything about her. He'd known a lot of girls like her, but that didn't mean anything - and besides, he'd already been thinking about it for too long.

Locking his fingers together and leaning forward, he watched as the paramedic in the back of the rig worked to stabilise her vitals then started to remove the tube, looking over his shoulder and nodding consent for John to question her while he worked. He nodded back in thanks and slid along the bench so that he was close enough to be heard, and for her to see him.

"Miss Sanderson - would it be alright if I asked you some questions?"

He said the words the way all cops said routine phrases - automatically, as though there was no longer meaning in the words. Wincing again just a little, Molly swallowed down the previous surge of pain and smiled again.

"Sure. Detective Clark, was it?"

Though the words were a little laboured, he couldn't help but be impressed that she retained what was obviously a natural magnetism. He smiled and nodded.

"Ok," she paused, taking in a sharp breath to stifle a pang that shot through her without warning, then died away into the low throbbing ache she was starting to get used to. "There were three guys, all in black, with ski masks. They were all Sicilian, one was much older than the other two with one green eye and one blue, and they were looking for my boyfriend Ricky because he owes the Lucciottis thirty thousand. Two of the guys were using Beretta 8000's, and the older guy had a 'Skyph' - you know, an MP-448." she paused, still in pain, and thought for a moment. "I didn't tell them where he was because I don't know - but if he's still involved in all this he's probably in the basement of Il Mulino on seventh." she stopped again, this time involuntarily, and let out a long moan, the smile disappearing from her face as the colour drained from it all over again. The paramedic was already reaching for the intubation tray when a jolt shocked through Molly's body then left her unconscious and white, while the prolonged beep of the EKG filled the inside of the ambulance. John was shoved out of the way - for the second time that day by a paramedic - and left in stunned admiration of Molly's memory and somewhat alarming knowledge of firearms, especially generally uncommon Russian ones.