Hell & high water, p.24
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       Hell & High Water, p.24

         Part #1 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
 
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  SLOANE FOUND himself tapping his fingers against his steering wheel in rhythm to some cheesy pop song on the drive home. He hadn’t even realized he’d been doing it. What the hell was he listening to anyway? At the red light, he checked the station, wondering how it had gotten on Retro Radio. That ass. Sloane couldn’t help but chuckle. Dex must have switched the station before getting out of the car that morning, because they certainly hadn’t listened to it on the way to work. He reached to switch it off but decided to leave it. God help him, he must be losing his mind, but he felt oddly comforted by it.

  He pulled up to a space across from his apartment building, smiling. There was also a strange fluttering in his stomach at the thought of getting to spend the night with Dex in bed. He knew he shouldn’t get used to it, but if Dex was willing—and offering—to fool around without the strings attached or drama, why should Sloane refuse? Especially knowing how much he wanted it, how good it felt to be with someone who made him feel happy again. As he crossed the street, he wondered how Dex felt about the whole thing. There had been plenty of instances that could have been awkward, where everything could have turned into a disaster, but Dex had diffused any possible explosive situation with a warm smile and a tender understanding that always left Sloane breathless.

  “Hey.”

  Sloane stopped cold at the familiar voice. “Isaac?”

  Isaac stood from where he’d been seated on the ledge beside Sloane’s apartment building’s steps, an apologetic smile on his face. “I hope you don’t mind. I wanted to talk to you about something.”

  “You didn’t have to wait out here. You could have called.”

  “I thought after everything, you might tell me to get lost, and I wouldn’t blame you. I’ve been a real prick. I brought you a peace offering.” Isaac waved a brown and pink paper bag at him.

  “Is that…?”

  “Roasted plantain empanadas from Dos Caminos.”

  “Wow.” Sloane took the bag from Isaac, his mouth watering at the thought. It had been ages since he’d had these. In fact, he hadn’t been to the restaurant since he’d last been there with Gabe and Isaac, in one of Gabe’s many kindhearted attempts to get them to tolerate each other.

  “Didn’t think I remembered?”

  More like he didn’t believe the guy cared enough to pay attention. “Thanks.” He wasn’t sure what to make of Isaac and his peace offering. There was no lost love between them, but this case had Sloane feeling upside down and inside out.

  Isaac pointed up to the High Line. “How about a walk? You eat, I’ll talk. There’s a can of Coke in there too.”

  “Okay.” Sloane led the way to the glass elevator, pressing the floor for the High Line. At this time of night in November, there weren’t a lot of people strolling about. He made sure to stay alert as he followed Isaac and dug into the first empanada. He loved empanadas. They were a guilty pleasure of his. “I forgot how good these were,” he moaned. Roasted plantains, black beans, peppers, cheese, and spices. He still couldn’t get over the fact Isaac was here. Whatever the reason, Sloane was sure it had something to do with Gabe so he should at least hear the guy out.

  They walked down the High Line, the vegetation and trees bare and dry now that it was nearly winter, but still oddly beautiful in a melancholic way. “I’m sorry I can’t stay long, I’m supposed to be meeting someone,” Sloane said, finishing off his last empanada.

  “Dex?”

  Sloane swallowed and cleared his throat. “Yeah. We were going to hang out a while. Unwind.”

  Isaac headed to the rail’s edge overlooking West Fourteenth Street. “He’s the reason I’m here, to be honest.”

  Sloane came to stand beside Isaac, the chilly breeze blowing Sloane’s hair into his face. He brushed it behind his ears, reminding himself he needed a cut before Maddock started his routine threat of taking a pair of scissors to it. “How’s that?”

  “Dex is a really good guy. We didn’t get to talk much at the Sixth while he was there, but then I didn’t talk much at all at the time. But I’d seen the way he was with everyone, the way they loved him. Well, until the mess with his partner. He cares, where most would tell you to get on with it. He’s a little weird,” Isaac said with a chuckle, “but in a good way.”

  Sloane found himself smiling again. “Yeah.”

  “Anyway, when you guys came by today, I had a chat with him, and he really got me thinking.” Isaac turned to him, his expression sympathetic. “This whole feud between us…. What’s the point? We hurt Gabe a lot while he was alive and if he’s up there somewhere….” Isaac turned his face up to the night sky. “He’d be royally pissed with me.”

  Sloane didn’t say anything, mostly because he didn’t know what to say. Was it too little too late? Isaac seemed sincere. Maybe he really did want to put the past behind him. Sloane leaned against the rail, frowning.

  “You okay?” Isaac’s hand went to Sloane’s shoulder. “You’re looking a little pale.”

  “Hm? Yeah, sorry. It’s been a long day.” Long week, long month, long year, long life….

  “Want to sit down?”

  Sloane’s vision got blurry, and he grabbed onto the railings to steady himself as a wave of dizziness and nausea washed over him. What the hell? He was sweating, a cold chill running through his body.

  “I came because I was worried about Dex. Talking to him today, I could see it happening.”

  “I’m sorry?” Sloane blinked and tried to shake himself out of whatever the hell was happening. Was he coming down with something? It was that time of year, and there were a few agents in their department who’d come down with the flu, but he’d never had blurry vision because of it. He leaned heavier on the rail.

  “He likes you. Defends you. I tried to warn him about you, but you’ve worked that Brodie magic on him.” Isaac stepped up to him, a hand patting Sloane’s cheek, and the world seemed to tilt on its axis. Sloane’s legs gave out from under him, and he slid down against the rail, his blood running cold. His limbs felt heavy, his movements sluggish. Oh, God.

  “What did you do to me?”

  Isaac crouched down beside him, the sound of an elevator pinged somewhere behind him. “I added an extra ingredient to your empanadas. All those Mexican spices work wonders covering up my special little serum.”

  Two large figures clad in black approached them, and Sloane grabbed Isaac’s sleeve, his muscles seizing up. His chest constricted, and he was finding it hard to breathe. “Please, Isaac. Don’t do this.”

  “Maybe I couldn’t save my brother from you, but I’ll save Dex. I’ll make him see.” Isaac stood, his words sounding fuzzy and far away.

  “Looks like my friend’s had a little too much to drink. Help me take him home, will you?”

  Sloane tried to reach for his sleeve in the hopes of getting to his communicator underneath, but his body refused to cooperate. He was dragged to his feet, a terrifying darkness encroaching in on him. Shutting his eyes tight, his last thought before the darkness swallowed him up was of his failure. First he’d failed Gabe, now he’d failed Dex.

  Dex….

  Please forgive me.

  Chapter 13

  DEX SAT in front of his TV, his stocking feet up on the coffee table as he popped another Cheesy Doodle in his mouth. Where the hell was Sloane? Had he actually gone home to pick up some clothes or knit some new ones? He looked at his watch for the umpteenth time. The beers had all but soaked through the cardboard coasters. Had Sloane changed his mind? Dex bolted upright. Crap, what if Sloane wasn’t coming? What if he’d changed his mind about everything, about Dex, about whatever was going on between them? He’d suspected it wouldn’t last, but he hadn’t thought it would happen so soon.

  “Stop being such a prom queen.” Dex pulled out his cell phone and called Sloane up. After several rings, it went to voice mail. He was not going to freak out about this. “You knew the score, Dex.” He tossed his phone onto the couch cushion beside him and sulked. He’d really though
t they might have had a shot at something. “Over before it’s begun,” he murmured. With a groan, he let his head fall into his hands. His life was officially a bad eighties movie. Without the parachute pants. Checking his watch again, he decided to cut his losses and go to bed. It was already past midnight anyway.

  He headed for the stairs when his phone went off. Crap! He’d left it on the couch. Like a teenage girl, he sped across the floor to get it, leaping over the back of the couch, landing with a bounce on the cushions and snatching it up. He hadn’t even checked the caller ID.

  “Hello?”

  “Hey, Dex, sorry to be calling this late.”

  Dex tried not to feel too disappointed at hearing Calvin’s voice instead of Sloane’s. He sat back, an arm wrapped around his drawn up knee, suppressing a sigh. For fuck’s sake, he really was turning into some giddy teenager. “It’s okay. What’s up?”

  “We found Ford Wallace.”

  Dex perked up. At least there was some good news tonight. “Where?”

  “In some shithole apartment building in Brownsville.”

  “Hold on.” Dex jumped off the couch and ran to the kitchen to grab a notepad and pen. “What’s the address? I want to ask the bastard a few questions.”

  “Unless you’re gonna do it using a Ouija board, that’s gonna be kind of tough.”

  Dex froze. “He’s dead?”

  “Ripped to shreds. It’s like something out of a slasher movie. Blood and guts everywhere, more of that black sand mixed with some other white powdery stuff. Actually, it’s more a silvery powder.”

  “Wait. Do you have specifics on the powder?” Dex’s heart lodged itself in his throat. It couldn’t be. It was probably some dirt, or other debris, and he was getting worked up over nothing. “Can I talk to Hudson?”

  “What can I do for you, Dex?”

  “Hudson, the powder you found, can you tell what it is?”

  “One moment.”

  Dex heard Hudson moving around, clanking things together before he came back on the line.

  “I can’t tell you the exact elements without getting it back to the lab, but I can confirm it’s some form of alloy. Steel perhaps.”

  “Oh fuck. It’s him.” Dex walked over to the couch and slowly sank into it, unable to believe it. The guy had fooled them all, leading them on a wild goose chase. No wonder everything kept going back to Gabe. Who was more obsessed with Gabe’s murder than Isaac Pearce?

  “What? Who?”

  “Pearce,” Dex replied, as he tried to make sense of everything. Pearce had alibis, he had evidence, he wasn’t even the right species as their perp, but somehow, Dex knew in his gut. “He said the guy in the surveillance video was Tory Murphy, but I’m willing to bet it was our Eagles cap guy. Ford Wallace. Something must have happened after Pearce paid him to warn me off. He went after Wallace, and when we started getting close, he killed him.”

  “But I thought Isaac Pearce wasn’t a suspect.”

  “I don’t know what’s going on, but I know Pearce is our guy. I can feel it in my gut. That silver dust was all over his workshop. Tell Sarge to get the team geared up and come pick me up. It’ll be faster. And bring my gear!” He hung up and started pacing the room. Shit, Sloane! He dialed Sloane’s number again, a sick feeling washing over him.

  “Come on, pal. Pick up. Please, pick up.” He didn’t care what Sloane was doing. After the fifth try, he left a message. “Sloane, buddy, you gotta ring me ASAP. Pearce is our guy.” He hung up and called Ash. The phone rang and Ash’s pleasant growl came on the line.

  “What do you want?”

  “Is Sloane with you?”

  “Cael said you two were having a slumber party or some shit.”

  “I’m too worried right now to tell you to fuck off so some other time. Oh God.” Dex tried his hardest to calm down. Ash must have sensed something was wrong because when he spoke, his voice was filled with concern.

  “Please tell me Sloane is with you.”

  Dex swallowed hard, a surreal feeling enveloping him. It couldn’t be.

  “Dex!”

  “Ash, I think Pearce has Sloane.”

  TWENTY MINUTES later, a convoy of black Suburbans with flashing blue lights and three BearCats, including Destructive Delta’s, infiltrated Sunnyside, Queens. They blocked both ends of the street. Dex climbed out of the BearCat with the rest of his team, waiting for Tony’s instructions. He refused to give into the sick, foreboding feeling in his gut. They’d find Sloane, and he’d be napping or drunk off his face somewhere safe and sound, and then Dex would tear him a new one, they’d have makeup sex, and the world would be as it should.

  Pearce’s house was a narrow brick building with concrete pathways on each side that led to the building’s backyard. The pathway was closed off by a chain link gate with a cinderblock on the ground propped up against it. The top floor of the building had a fire escape on the front windows, but only the right ones. Defense agents quickly got to work surrounding the building while snipers made their way to the rooftops of the apartment buildings across from the residential neighborhood. Tony’s voice came over Dex’s earpiece.

  “Destructive Delta, Beta Pride and Beta Ambush have scouted the perimeter. The ground floor windows are all secured with burglar bars, as is the rear entrance. From what they can see and hear, it doesn’t seem like our perp is home. You’re clear to go in. Use caution. We have no idea what we’re going to find in there.” Tony’s voice was grave, his final sentence sending a chill up his spine. Dex exchanged glances with his brother. They were thinking the same thing. Please don’t let us find Sloane dead in there.

  Dex grabbed the breaching gun, and he carefully, but quickly, crept up to the door, the rest of his team in formation behind him with rifles at the ready. The front door had burglar bars, but only over the glass. Dex stuck the barrel of the large gun up to the lock and after taking a deep breath, pulled the trigger. A flurry of activity followed the loud “bang” as he dashed out of the way, allowing his team access to the house. He handed the breaching gun to a fellow Defense agent before removing the safety on his rifle and going in after his team. They moved from room to room, making sure everything was clear, covering each other’s backs and looking out for any movement. The house was average-sized, two bedrooms, living room, small foyer, kitchen, dining room, bathroom, and office. It looked like any other home.

  “Clear!” Ash declared over his earpiece.

  Now that there was no immediate threat, the Recon agents flooded the place. They’d turn this place inside out, search every nook and cranny, under every piece of furniture, in every available space, all in search of evidence, and any hint their teammate was in danger. Dex made his way through the living room, spotting all the framed photographs of Pearce and Gabe from when they were kids up until Gabe joined the THIRDS. He stepped up to a photo of a smiling Gabe. He’d been about Dex’s age, handsome, a bright light shining in his eyes. Dex felt his heart squeeze. It was stupid, but he glanced around him, found there was no one within hearing distance and picked up the frame.

  “I know you can’t hear me, and I might be losing it, but please, help me find him. I need to find him.” He swallowed hard, fighting back the fear threatening to grip him tight, statistics and facts hammering away at his heart. “I can see why you fell in love with him, and why you’d want him back. He’s a good guy. But maybe… maybe you can let me look after him for a while?”

  Something shattered behind him and he gave a start. In the kitchen, Cael stared down at something on the floor in pieces. He looked up at Dex and shrugged. “Sorry. I must have knocked it over when I turned around.”

  Shaking his head at his own silliness, Dex returned the frame to the mantle and joined his brother who was picking up pieces of what he’d broken. It was an “I heart coffee” ceramic mug that wasn’t going to be hearting any coffee any time soon. He was about to head back into the living room when he saw a small shard belonging to the mug over by the fridge. Walking over, h
e saw it was a small red heart. He reached down and plucked it from the floor when a breeze hit his cheek. Turning his face toward it, he saw a groove running up along the wall behind the fridge.

  “Cael, get over here.”

  “What?” Cael stood beside him, and Dex pointed to the fridge.

  “Help me move this. I think there’s something behind it.” They each took one side and shifted the heavy two-door refrigerator out of the way. “Fuck me, it’s a door.” He tapped his earpiece. “Destructive Delta, I found something in the kitchen.” His team was there in seconds, standing behind him and Cael, staring at the door. There was no door handle. He put a gloved hand to the painted wood, testing it, and pushed it in. The door popped out.

  Dex quickly took a step back along with the rest of the team. Motioning for them to move out of the way, he flattened against the wall to the left of the door and gradually opened it. “Hobbs,” Dex whispered, motioning to the dark entryway. If there were anything fishy, any explosives, Hobbs would sniff them out. The large agent approached the door, rifle in hand. He checked the doorway before disappearing inside. A few seconds later, Hobbs came back out and nodded. Coast was clear. Dex went in first, making his way down the wooden steps to what appeared to be a basement. Why would Pearce block off his basement? It was clearly in use, seeing as how Dex spotted the small high window across the stairs that had been left slightly open. At first it looked like any other basement with stacked boxes, washing machine, dryer, shelving units, filing cabinets, old exercise equipment, a dust covered Christmas tree box, but when he turned the corner, it became anything but.

  Making a beeline for the wall behind the stairs, Dex came to an abrupt halt in front of it, his chest constricting and a lump forming in his throat at the eight-by-ten photograph pinned to the huge corkboard. “Oh my God ….” Slowly he stepped up to it, doing his best to keep his hand steady as he plucked it from the board. He stared down at the haunting scene captured through a madman’s lens. Beautiful blue skies, rich green hues on manicured lawns with blooming flowers in pinks, reds, and yellows. In the center, Sloane dressed in ceremonial uniform was helping the rest of his team carry the coffin of his fallen lover and partner. The grief and despair in his face was so acute, it tore at Dex’s heart.

  He forced his gaze up, swallowing hard at all the photographs of Gabe’s funeral. Each and every one had Sloane in them. Corkboards filled with photos of Sloane lined the entire wall.

  “What the hell?” Ash stood stunned. He reached up and snatched another photo off the wall. His eyes became glassy and he shoved the photo at Dex. “What kind of sick fuck would do this?”

  The photo in Ash’s hand was yet another of Sloane, and it was even more heartbreaking than the last. Dex wouldn’t be able to get the image out of his mind for a long time. No man should have his anguish displayed for the world to see. Sloane was crouched down in front of Gabe’s tombstone, a hand to his mouth as he cried. There were several more like it. An intimate moment that should have been respected, had been violated by a man who took pleasure in another’s despair.

  A call came into Dex’s earpiece and he tapped it. “Daley.”

  “Have you found my little treasure trove?”

  “Pearce.” Dex did his best to control his voice. He wanted to lose his shit, to beat the ever-living hell out of Isaac Pearce and show him what real pain was, to make him suffer the way he’d made Sloane suffer. Instead, he took a steady breath. “Where’s my partner?”

  “Sloane and I are reminiscing about the good old days. You’re welcome to join us, but your friends will have to stay behind. If I see them, the next you’ll see of you partner is a viral video of him bleeding to death after I slit his throat.”

  Dex refused to play into Pearce’s game. He replied calmly. “Where?”

  “The only love I have left. See you soon.”

  The line went dead, and Dex tapped his earpiece then remembered Pearce had called him on there. Shit. He pulled out his cell phone and called his dad. “Sarge, I got a call from Pearce.”

  “I know. We all heard it. Our line’s been compromised. Get your team out here.”

  Dex hung up and slipped his phone back into his pocket to address his team. “Let’s go. Sarge wants us outside.” They left and reported their find to the Recon agents who took off toward the basement to collect all the evidence. Outside, Tony waited by the BearCat. He climbed in when they approached and they followed.

  “Dex, do you know where he is?” Tony asked, manning the surveillance console.

  “Yeah, he’s at his workshop in Brooklyn. The place is a minefield.” He tapped the address into the system and a 3-D street map popped up. Dex pointed to the right of the building. “There. It’s filled with self-storage units and a garden supply center. It’s completely visible from the fourth floor windows, which are the only side windows of the building.”

  “Ash,” Tony prompted.

  Ash stepped up to the 3-D map, dragging and turning it on screen as he studied it. “We can get snipers on the shipping department across the street. It’ll be easy access, since all the roofs connect. The workshop building is another story. We can park the BearCat here next to the kitchen stone tile company. It leads to the Indoor Lumber Yard parking lot, but the scaffolding all around that area will conceal us. There’s scaffolding here next to the building where they’re working on the girders, we could put some guys—”

  Dex shook his head. “No guys across the street or girders. If Pearce gets wind there’s anyone remotely near him who isn’t me, he’ll kill Sloane.”

  Ash rubbed a hand over his face, and Dex could feel the guy’s frustration. “You know he’s going to try and kill him anyway. He’s always blamed Sloane for Gabe’s death.”

  “I know.” Dex was determined to do whatever it took to get Sloane back in one piece. “But I also know he wants to talk. He’s been trying to get me on his side from the beginning. If I can make him believe I’m coming around to his way of
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