The explosion shook the crowded dance club. The plush booth where I was seated
rose and fell as though there had been an earthquake. As a pillar of thick black smoke erupted
from the basement stairway, people began rushing frantically toward the exits.
Sergeant Joe Stone of the Denver Police had been saying something to me—I never
did find out what—when the blast halted him in mid-sentence. He jumped to his feet and began
waving his leather badge case in the air. Over the din of the dozens of terrified patrons who,
moments before, had been boisterously celebrating New Year's Eve, he shouted, "I'm a police
officer. Everyone stay calm!"
Another undercover cop joined in, and they made a futile effort to calm the panicky
crowd. If I hadn't been so furious at Stone, I might have admired his presence of mind. But I was
too angry for that. Thanks to his pigheadedness, my months of planning had, quite literally, gone
up in smoke.
Across the table, my legal assistant, Maurice White, just sat there, shaking his head in
"This is unbelievable," he called in his hoarse baritone over the chaos that was
swirling around us. "You've done it again!"
I just shrugged. We'd had this conversation before. Maurice claimed that I attracted
disaster like the Earth's gravity attracts falling objects.
Water was raining down on us from the overhead sprinklers. A quick glance at my
watch told me it was nine-sixteen. I gestured toward the front door, where dozens of people were
pushing and shoving, trying to escape from the pandemonium.
Over the shrilling of the fire alarm, I shouted, "The building seems intact, and I don't
see any more smoke coming from the basement. I think we're better off just staying where we
are. Even getting drenched."
He nodded. "No sense getting trampled, too."
He leaned back against the booth and reached for his drink. I did the same. I knew
this wasn't a terrorist attack, so there was no reason to expect a second explosion. This was a
And we both knew who the victim was.
For the past nine weeks, Maurice and I had been spending most of our evenings at
The Bootleggers, one of Denver's new "theme" singles bars, located at Seventeenth and Blake in
the heart of LoDo, passing ourselves off as two older-than-average customers with nothing better
to do than go out partying every night. Our progress had been painstakingly slow, and it was
wreaking havoc on my relationship with Jana Deacon, my significant whatever-she-is, but we
were finally getting close to what we needed.
Until Stone screwed it up.
* * * *
At about seven-thirty, Maurice and I had been escorted by the hostess to our
customary booth in the rear of the main dance room. We'd specifically reserved our spot in
advance, since we knew the place would be filled to capacity. We also knew that something we
had been waiting for was finally going to happen that night.
We were nursing our second round of drinks, half-listening to the thumping beat of
some hip-hop song the DJ was playing. When I felt a rough hand on my shoulder, I turned to see
who it was. I found myself confronted by a big-boned man wearing blue jeans and a dark sweater
under a black sport jacket. He didn't look happy.
It took me a few seconds to realize it was Stone. I'd seen him out of uniform before—
usually in an ill-fitting suit and tie—but never in casual civilian clothing. He was the Achilles heel
of the Denver Police, the worst of the "shoot first and ask questions later" cops. All brawn and
not nearly enough brains.
And he happened to harbor a fervent distaste for Maurice and me.
Meaning mostly me.
Stone's prominent jaw jutted out aggressively as he said in a low, loathing tone,
"Adam Larsen! What the hell are you doing here?"
I deliberately took my time before responding. "This is a public place," I finally said,
"and I'm over twenty-one, Officer. So there's—".
"Shut up!" he hissed urgently. "I'm under cover."
I studied him for a