Hell & high water, p.15
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       Hell & High Water, p.15

         Part #1 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
 
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  bastard was going to dislocate something.

  “Damn it!” Using his knees to balance his shield, he pulled one of the tranqs from his vest and stabbed it into the wolf Therian’s neck. It shrieked and jumped back, flailing and craning its neck in an attempt to remove the impaled object. The wolf pushing against his shield scurried off, clearly unwilling to get shanked. Pushing to his feet, Dex hurried to Hobbs and grabbed Calvin’s vest on the other side, helping Hobbs drag their teammate into the abandoned building behind them.

  “Dex!” Letty’s worried cry came over his earpiece.

  Dex dragged Calvin up to the cinderblock wall, sitting him up before checking his pulse. He was okay. He tapped his earpiece, his breath coming out heavy.

  “We’re okay. Calvin’s out, but he’s breathing. Hobbs is with us.”

  “Any sign of Everton?”

  Dex activated the lights on his shield, scanning the area around them. “Negative.” Not that he expected to find Everton. At the moment, he was more concerned with what else might be in here with them.

  “Okay, we’re coming to get you—holy shit.”

  “Letty?”

  Dex edged up to the end of the wall and took a quick peek. “Oh fuck.” They were all coming out of the woodwork. What the hell was he supposed to do now? He looked over at the roof of the building across where Rosa and Letty were shooting at everything that moved. At Dex’s feet, Calvin was out. Ahead of him in the darkness, he heard movement. Hobbs growled, and Dex aimed his rifle, until the growls of other Therians echoed around them. They were surrounded. What the hell had he signed up for? He needed to call Sloane, Cael, hell, even Ash.

  Around them, dozens of glowing eyes became visible, and Dex swallowed hard. “Oh my God.” Even with Hobbs, they wouldn’t be able to take on this many Therians. What the hell had made him think he was cut out for this? He was a detective, not Special Forces. They were surrounded, like tiny insects in a roach motel. Hobbs hissed and Dex turned his head, watching him nudge Calvin’s cheek with his nose. A huff escaped and a loud purring sound started rumbling out of him. Seriously? They were about to be turned into kibble and Hobbs was purring? Dex reached out only to have Hobbs hiss at him, his snarl revealing those razor sharp fangs. He snatched his hand back and held it up at his side.

  “Sorry, sorry.”

  With a groan, Hobbs nudged Calvin’s head again until they heard a faint groan, this time coming from Calvin.

  “Calvin?” Dex crouched down next to him, gently shaking his shoulder. “Come on, buddy, I really need you to wake up.”

  Another nudge from Hobbs to the temple and a lick to his cheek, had Calvin letting out a chuckle. He groggily stirred and opened his eyes to swat at Hobbs who returned the favor with an added tiger kiss to the cheek. Despite the circumstances, Dex couldn’t help his dopey grin, especially when Calvin grabbed hold of Hobbs’s ears and tugged his head down so they could rest their heads together.

  “I’m okay, buddy. I promise,” Calvin assured his partner quietly.

  Suddenly Hobbs’s ears perked up and he pulled back, his gaze landing on Dex at the same time Calvin’s did.

  Dex’s grin widened. “You two are so adorable.”

  “I won’t let Hobbs turn you into kitty chow for saying that because you saved my ass.”

  “That’s okay, because I don’t think he’ll have the time.” Dex helped Calvin to his feet. He knew things were rough, and he wasn’t too proud to admit he was a little scared, but he could do this. His family believed in him enough to want him on their team. He wasn’t about to let them down, no matter what. He’d go down fighting.

  “Thanks.” Calvin smiled weakly, his eyes widening when he saw Dex’s jaw. “Shit, are you okay?”

  “Yeah, just a scratch. Don’t worry about it.”

  “I’m sorry,” Calvin replied with a wretched expression.

  Dex cursed under his breath. Screw this. He grabbed Calvin’s arm and put it around his neck before tapping his earpiece again. “Sarge?”

  “I’m on my way. Had to shake a few off the truck. Be ready to make a run for it.”

  “Copy that. Letty, Rosa, I need one of you to clear the way for me.”

  Letty’s breathy voice came over the earpiece. “I’ll cover you.”

  Dex grabbed another one of his flash-bangs and readied himself. He took a deep breath and looked down at Calvin. “Ready?”

  Calvin nodded.

  Tony’s gruff voice shouted at him. “BearCat’s in position. Go, go, go!”

  Dex pulled the pin on his flash-bang and hurled it into the darkness, leaving behind a cacophony of roars and pained cries. He swiped up his shield with his free hand and moved as quickly as he could while taking most of Calvin’s weight. Lucky for him, Calvin was slightly smaller and less heavy. If he’d had to move Sloane or Ash, he would have been royally screwed. He was definitely going to take his bench presses more seriously from here on out. They ran out into the middle of the road where the BearCat was parked, the machine gun on the roof firing warning rounds all around them. Letty covered Dex’s back as he helped Calvin to the back of the truck.

  Rosa and Letty soon flanked him, and Rosa banged the back doors. They opened automatically, and Rosa helped Dex lift Calvin up. “Hurry up, Dex!” Letty insisted, jumping up into the back of the truck and pulling Calvin in the rest of the way. She motioned behind him and he cursed under his breath. In the distance, Sloane, Ash, and Cael were heading right for them. Among them, they had Everton corralled, and he wasn’t happy about it, snapping at their teammates’ paws and necks as he ran.

  Dex helped Rosa up into the truck before climbing in along with Hobbs. They all hurried to the front of the truck, and Rosa banged against the steel door of the front cabin. “Get the cage ready, Sarge!”

  “I’m on it.”

  The cage wall closest to them rose from the truck’s base with a series of clangs and finally a booming sound, followed by a click—and not too soon. Everton leapt in with a roar, hitting the steel bars and throwing a paw out between them, his sharp claws ineptly trying to reach them. The remaining walls of the cage rose, the loud bang resonating through the truck. This time when Everton tried to claw at the bars, he received an electric shock that sent him reeling back. His ears flattened and he hissed, but he sat his ass down in the middle of the cage and stopped trying to get out.

  Sloane, Ash, and Cael were already inside the truck, and again Rosa banged the steel door. On her signal, Tony closed the back doors and revved the engine. They each grabbed hold of one of the ceiling straps as the truck hightailed it out of Greenpoint. Everyone remained on high alert, their eyes on Everton as the truck made its way back to HQ. Once there, Dex knew the truck would drive through the tunnel at the rear of the building, but instead of making a right toward the parking garage, it would make a left, heading toward the underground detention center where further backup would be available with the press of one button. It was also where the holding cells were, as well as areas for Post Shift Trauma Care.

  When the truck came to a stop, Tony opened the back doors. Across from them was a series of curtained off areas for shifting. Sloane, Ash, Cael, and Hobbs jumped down from the truck, each making their way into a curtained room. Shifting was an intimate, vulnerable process and not something most Therians took lightly. Rosa, Letty, Calvin, and Dex, exited the truck, their PSTC kits in hand while Tony stayed with the secured Everton.

  They each took their post outside their respective partner’s curtain and waited. When Dex heard his name called gruffly, he removed Sloane’s disposable clothes from the kit and handed them back through the curtain. They were immediately swiped up. A few minutes later, his name was grunted again. Dex slipped through the curtain, unsurprised to find Sloane sitting on the edge of a cot, his head in his hands. It would take a few minutes before the dizziness cleared. Dex reached into the backpack and pulled out a large bottle of Gatorade. Silently, he handed it to Sloane, who took it with a trembling hand. It s
lipped from his fingers and Dex caught it.

  “It’s okay, buddy. Let me help you.”

  Sloane let out an unintelligible slur of words, his brows drawn together in obvious displeasure as Dex put his hand to the back of his head.

  “Come on, lean back.” When Sloane resisted, Dex crouched down in front of him, cupping his face. “I know, you’re the big bad alpha, but I’m your partner. I’m here to help you, okay? You did your job, now let me do mine.” He hoped the sincerity in his voice would prove to Sloane he meant every word. It was his first time providing Post Shift Trauma Care to his partner, and he wanted to make sure Sloane had everything he needed to recover properly.

  With a grunt, Sloane nodded slowly. Trying again, Dex gently cupped the back of Sloane’s head, waiting for his partner to lean back. After a moment of hesitation, Sloane did, and Dex carefully put the uncapped bottle of Gatorade to Sloane’s lips, administering small sips at a time until the whole bottle was gone. He waited for Sloane to lean forward again before releasing his head then he chucked the bottle into the nearby trashcan. From inside the kit, he fetched a couple of hefty, high carb, high protein energy bars. He tore the foil off both and handed them to Sloane.

  Finished eating, Sloane pushed to his feet. He faltered and Dex threw an arm around his waist to steady him. “Whoa, easy there, big guy.” He flattened his hand against Sloane’s stomach, pretending he wasn’t affected when Sloane’s hand clamped down over it, his other arm wrapping around Dex and pulling him up against his side, squeezing him weakly. Sloane closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, releasing his breath slowly as he waited for the dizziness washing over him to pass. It wouldn’t be too long before Sloane was back to his usual grumpy self.

  “Thanks,” Sloane said with a small smile, releasing Dex. His smile suddenly vanished, and he grabbed Dex’s face with both hands. His right thumb gently brushed Dex’s cheek, sending a chill down his spine. “What happened to your face?”

  “Nothing, just a scratch,” Dex murmured.

  “You broke formation, didn’t you?”

  Dex pressed his lips together as Sloane cursed under his breath, releasing him. Sloane ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. “What the hell did you think you were doing?”

  “My job,” Dex replied calmly, walking out from behind the curtained off area. Sloane caught up to him, gripped his arm, and turned him. “We talked about this, remember?”

  “Yeah, I remember you promising you were going to be careful. Goddamn it, Dex, you had specific orders. I told you to stick to the rest of the team, to remain in formation! You almost got your fucking face torn off!”

  “Sloane.”

  Sloane turned to Calvin and snapped. “What?”

  Calvin rounded his shoulders and met Sloane’s gaze. “Dex broke formation to save my ass. I was the one who broke formation first.”

  “What?” Sloane stared at Calvin before he looked to the rest of their team. No one said a word, but their silence was confirmation enough.

  “Hobbs was in trouble….”

  Sloane marched up to Calvin and grabbed him by the vest. “What the fuck were you thinking? You abandoned a rookie member of your team. He could have been killed!”

  “I fucked up, I know, but—”

  “Damn right you fucked up.” Sloane gave him a shove toward Hobbs, ignoring Hobbs’s deep frown. “I want to see you two upstairs in Maddock’s office after this.”

  Calvin murmured his acknowledgement while Hobbs simply nodded. They stepped aside as Sloane snatched his tac vest from Letty and slipped into it, fastening the straps as he thundered to the BearCat, calling out over his shoulder. “Rosa, sort his face out.” As soon as he was inside the truck, Calvin stepped up to Dex, the guilt on his face making it difficult for Dex to be pissed off at him.

  “I’m so sorry, Dex. I really fucked up.”

  “You did.” Dex watched Calvin hang his head in defeat. With a smile, Dex put his hand to Calvin’s cheek and gave it a pat. “But I understand. He’s your partner. I can’t say that I wouldn’t have done the same had I been in your shoes, but next time, we go in as a team, okay?” Calvin nodded, giving him a thankful smile before he headed toward the truck with Hobbs in tow. Dex turned to Rosa who was removing a first aid kit from her backpack. “Mind if we do it in the truck? I’d like to hear what Mr. Everton has to say.”

  “Sure thing.”

  As he walked beside her, he lowered his voice. “This isn’t the first time it’s happened.” The way the team had busied itself looking elsewhere, and not at Sloane, had told Dex all he needed to know. They were worried, but refused to rat out their teammates.

  Rosa shook her head, stopping to pull Dex to one side as the rest of the team made their way to the truck. She handed him the first aid kit, opened it, and tore one of the industrial-sized Therian disinfecting pads open. They had a few minutes while the team got Everton to shift, and administered Post Shift Trauma Care. With a nod, he braced himself as she put the pad to his face.

  “Sweet Jesus, that stings.” Dex ignored her chuckle as she proceeded to clean the scrapes. Her gaze darted to the truck before she continued.

  “I know what you’re thinking, but they’re not normally that reckless. Hobbs was off his game. No one ever gets the drop on him. I don’t know what’s going on but things have been tense between them lately. Calvin’s not usually this quiet. And Hobbs, well, he’s always been quiet, but he’s usually more playful. They’ve not been acting like themselves. Sloane hasn’t noticed because he’s been busy with you.” Rosa arched an eyebrow at him, her lips spreading into a sly smile. “Word is you’re keeping him on his toes.”

  “I don’t like to brag,” Dex replied with a wink. “You think we need to worry about them?”

  “Not after Sloane tears them a new one.” She sounded certain, which helped ease Dex’s mind a little. He still wasn’t sure what was going on with Calvin and Hobbs, but at least he wasn’t the only one to have noticed. He’d have to keep an eye on them. The last thing they needed was a repeat performance of today.

  Sloane’s growl interrupted his thoughts. “Rosa, you done?”

  “Yep.” She took the kit from Dex and snapped it shut before returning it to her backpack.

  “Good. Both of you get over here.”

  “Coming.” Dex thanked Rosa and accompanied her to the truck. They climbed in and took their seats on the bench. Everton was sitting in Maddock’s seat wearing one of the many disposable sets of clothes from the truck’s small supply closet. He had a blanket around his shoulders and there were empty energy bar wrappers on the floor. Despite no longer being in the cage, he was surrounded. Sloane stood in front of the trembling Therian, his arms folded over his broad chest, his stance imposing.

  Lloyd Everton looked like any other guy. He was tall, somewhat on the lanky side, with a scruffy beard, and dark hair in disarray. He was in his mid to late forties, but his weary expression, the hard lines of his face, and the gray strands interspersed in his hair made him look much older. He was hunched over, his legs crossed at the ankles, and his expression that of a guy who was exhausted but resolute. More resolute however, was the THIRDS agent before him.

  Dex watched his partner carefully, curious how he was going to get Everton to cooperate. Right now, the two were glaring, sizing each other up. Everton hadn’t made it this far as an Unregistered without being a tough SOB. Every Unregistered Therian had his or her own reasons for not registering, everything from a belief Therians were superior to Humans and therefore above Human law, to believing it was all a government conspiracy hiding a far more sinister plot. At this moment however, whatever Lloyd Everton’s reason, being Unregistered was the least of his problems.

  Chapter 9

  “MR. EVERTON, I’m Agent Sloane Brodie, and I promise you, I only want to talk.”

  Sloane relaxed his stance, his assessment of the Therian before him completed. He didn’t believe Everton posed a threat, but he wouldn’t take any chances
with his team in the truck. At the first hint of trouble, Sloane would take Everton down.

  “You have a lot of guns for someone who only wants to talk,” Everton replied somberly, his gaze never leaving Sloane’s.

  “Those are a precaution.”

  “Right. And the cage?”

  “An unfortunate necessity.”

  Everton cocked his head to one side, his fallen expression unexpected. “You put your own kind in a cage.”

  Sloane had those words thrown at him countless times in various degrees of animosity. Yet Everton’s soft words stung more than any hostile accusation. He schooled his reaction, something he’d learned to do when he’d first been recruited. Being anything other than a THIRDS agent was something he couldn’t afford. It was his job to remain neutral, to seek justice and keep the peace within his species. “I have to protect my team, Mr. Everton. They’re my family. Wouldn’t you do what you had to do to protect your family?”

  There was a moment of quiet before Everton released a sigh. “Okay. Well, this clearly isn’t a routine registration issue, so what is it?”

  “Come on, Mr. Everton. Let’s be honest with each other here. It’ll make this a lot easier for both of us.” Sloane took the tablet Cael handed to him and showed it to Everton. “Mr. Ortiz. You were at his house for a charity brunch with Ms. Thalia’s catering company the day he was murdered, correct?” He studied Everton who merely glanced at the image of a once living Hector Ortiz and nodded.

  “That’s right.”

  “Did you approach Mr. Ortiz at any time?” He handed the tablet back to Cael. Rosa would be recording everything for review later.

  “No. I was busy working.”

  “Tell me about the waiter who approached you. What did he say to you?”

  Everton shifted in his seat. “That he knew what I was. How dare I pretend to be a civilized member of society? If I didn’t vacate the premises, he would phone the authorities.”

  Sloan pursed his lips. That sounded awfully polite for the waiter who’d all but spat in their faces. “Are you paraphrasing?”

  “Yes. I’m not comfortable with the language he used,” Everton replied, once again fidgeting awkwardly in his seat.

  “Please, Lloyd. It’s important you tell me what he said, exactly as you remember it.”

  “Okay. He said, ‘I know what you are, you Unregistered piece of shit. If you don’t get the fuck out of this house right now, I’m going to report your cocksucking ass and have them lock you up in a cage like the motherfucking animal you are.’”

  Sloane cleared his throat. Well, that certainly sounded more like it. At times, he wondered who the real animals were. “And despite his threat, you continued to work? Why?”

  “I needed the money. Work is hard to find when you’re Unregistered. They try to rip you off, not pay you after the job is done because there’s nothing you can do about it. Ms. Thalia didn’t do that. She always paid and on time.” He gave a sniff, lowering his gaze to his fingers. “I have a wife and kids to feed.”

  Sloane crouched down in front of Everton, his voice gentle and sympathetic. “Then why not register. For them?”

  Everton met his gaze, anger flashing through his amber eyes, eyes that reminded Sloane of what could have been. It was like looking into a warped mirror, one that showed Sloane what his life would have been like without the good fortune of having a family such as Everton had. If he would have even made it to Everton’s age. Quickly he pushed those thoughts aside and concentrated on the task at hand.

  When Everton next spoke, his voice was low. “I won’t let the government mark me like I’m some criminal. They say we’re citizens like everyone else, but they keep us under surveillance, watch our every move and treat us like animals. Our existence makes us guilty until proven otherwise. My grandfather had been marked once, back in Germany. I won’t let them do that to me or my family.”

  “It’s not the same thing, Lloyd,” Sloane said gently.

  Everton pulled back, his eyes filled with sadness. “It’s all got to start somewhere, Agent Brodie.”

  There was no point in arguing with Everton. He clearly wasn’t going to budge on the matter, and who was Sloane to try to change his mind? The guy felt strongly about what he was doing, enough so that he was prepared to face the consequences of his decisions. Sloane stood with a sigh and continued with his interview. “Okay. What time did you leave?”

  “Around noon. I put it off as long as I could. I was at my station from eight a.m. serving vodka and orange juice and didn’t move from there until I left. Guests can confirm that.”

  “Did you see anything or anyone suspicious? Anyone who maybe shouldn’t have been there? Did you hear anything?” When Everton looked up at him, Sloane knew they were back to square one. How was it possible for a Therian to murder a Human with so many other Therians under the same roof and have them not sense anything?

  “I’m really sorry, Agent Brodie, I was only there to work. I wasn’t paying much attention to anything else.”

  “Why were you hiding?”

  Everton stared at him as if the answer was obvious. “I saw the news. The moment they said they were looking for an Unregistered Felid, I knew what was going on. Even if I was innocent, I couldn’t show up here and say so. Not that it made a difference in the end.”

  “Why Greenpoint?”

  “I live there,” Everton replied, his head hanging in shame.

  “With your family?” Sloane asked, not surprised that a family would be living in a hostile place like Greenpoint, but that Everton would have his there. The guy was already risking so much for them. The thought saddened him. Everton was simply another Therian child the world had never wanted, discarded, and forced to fend for himself whatever way he knew how while he tried to understand what he could possibly have done wrong to deserve such a fate.

  “God no.” Everton shook his head, looking horrified by the suggestion.
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