Hell & high water, p.20
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       Hell & High Water, p.20
 

         Part #1 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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  “Sloane?” Maddock’s frown deepened as he turned his attention to Sloane. “What the hell’s any of this got to do with you?”

  “I don’t know. We’re thinking whoever warned Dex off knows him or who he is. And for some reason, doesn’t want Dex involved.” Sloane heard Dex gasp.

  “Isaac Pearce.”

  “Hold up.” Maddock threw a hand up. “Gabe’s brother? What’s going on, Dex?”

  Sloane knew Dex wouldn’t out him—so to speak—but any time Gabe came up, Sloane feared the truth would come out. Nothing could stay buried forever, and often he felt as though he was biding his time until all his secrets escaped.

  “Now I could be wrong, and the guy seems decent enough, but I feel I should run this past you. See what your take is. When I got jumped in the garage, out of all the garages close to the courthouse, of all the HPF officers, why was he the one to show up? I don’t think he had anything to do with the attack, but what if he’d been watching me? What if he was trying to earn my trust?” Dex’s brow creased with worry, and Sloane was glad to see his partner was on the same page as him. He listened intently as Dex went on. “At the time, he asked me if I wanted to grab a coffee, I said sure. The guy saved my ass. A few weeks later, he calls up. We meet up for a beer, and here I’m thinking he wants to shoot the shit, you know? Instead he starts asking me if I’ve seen Sloane’s file.”

  Maddock and Sloane replied simultaneously. “What?”

  Dex glanced from one to the other. “That was creepy.”

  “Just get on with it,” Maddock said.

  “Right. So he starts telling me that uh….” Dex trailed off, smoothing his blanket, clearly uncertain of how he was going to proceed.

  “Dex,” Sloane warned quietly, leaning his arms on the bed to meet his partner’s concerned gaze. “If there’s a possibility Isaac Pearce has something to do with what happened to you on the docks, or God forbid, this case, we need to know about it.”

  “You’re right,” Dex sighed. “He said he’s seen your file.”

  “How?”

  “I don’t know. He said he pulled in a favor. He was kind of nervous, like he wasn’t sure whether he should be talking to me about it. Anyway, he kept going on about how there was nothing in there about you from before the THIRDS.”

  Sloane straightened, doing his best to keep his anger in check. “He told you I couldn’t be trusted. That’s why you asked me if there was something about my past you should know about. And why you mentioned the part about my being a First Gen. He put the idea in your head. Let me guess, he started going on about spending years looking into my file, how he couldn’t come up with anything, how I was trying to hide something, how the THIRDS was trying to hide something.”

  Dex’s jaw dropped. “How did you know?”

  “Because he said the same thing to Gabe.” Sloane balled his hand into a fist and wished he could punch something.

  “Take it easy, son.” Maddock eyed him intently.

  Sloane nodded, taking a deep breath. He concentrated on controlling his breathing. It really wouldn’t do anyone any good for him to lose his shit right now. “Sorry, Sarge. I’m good.” That son of a bitch. The guy couldn’t stop meddling in his life even with Gabe gone.

  Maddock appeared to be considering everything carefully. “So he helps you out, tries to gain your trust in order to get you to distrust your partner, and maybe put some distance between you two, but when that doesn’t work, he pays some punks to work you over, to see if this time you’ll back off? I still don’t get what Sloane has to do with the HumaniTherians case. And if we’re considering Pearce is somehow involved with the murders, there’s nothing to back it up. Our suspect is a Therian, and there’s absolutely no evidence suggesting he’s working with an accomplice, much less a Human one.”

  Sloane took a seat, shaking his head. “Look, I know the guy’s an asshole, and no one dislikes him more than me, but he’s still Gabe’s brother and a cop. I’ve known him for years. I can’t imagine him doing something like this.” He couldn’t believe he was defending Isaac Pearce after the hell the guy had put him through. Isaac had always resented Sloane dating his brother. The two argued constantly over it. But being a Grade A asshole did not a murderer make.

  “We need to tread really carefully on this,” Maddock stated, walking around Dex’s bed to sit beside Sloane. “If Isaac is involved, we can’t do anything to send him underground, and if he’s not our guy, we need to make sure we don’t fuck it up. If the HPF gets wind we’re accusing one of their respected detectives, a guy whose brother we lost on our watch, and he’s innocent, they will rain a shitstorm down upon us the likes of which we’ve never seen. And with this case still unsolved, the Chief of Therian Defense will have all our nuts mounted on his wall.”

  “So what’s our next move?” Dex asked.

  Maddock and Sloane looked up at the same time. Sloane did his best not to smile, not if he didn’t want to get his ass kicked by both Maddock and Dex. He was so glad he wasn’t about to be on the receiving end of whatever was about to come out of Dex’s mouth.

  “Our?” Maddock rose to his feet, his stance imposing. Oh boy. This was going to be good. “My next move is to tactfully look into Isaac Pearce’s whereabouts during the murders, and either bring him in, or rule him out as a suspect. I’ll also be getting the rest of the team to bring in that bastard who assaulted you. Your next move is to go home until you can get yourself to the toilet without losing a spleen.”

  Sloane braced himself.

  “What? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” Dex squawked. “You’re going to bench me? Right in the middle of the fucking game? You can’t do that!” He tried to sit up and winced. “Ow.” Gritting his teeth, he glared at his dad.

  “You bet your ass I’m benching you, Daley. Your body got used for batting practice. You need to recuperate.”

  Dex let out a loud frustrated groan. “Fuck me in the aaaass!”

  “Keep your sex life out of this.”

  Sloane tried his damn hardest not to laugh. At times, he wondered if Dex really was adopted because the two were so alike, it was scary. Well, Maddock was a lot grumpier than Dex, and his delivery was always deadpan, but watching them together was something else.

  “Ha, ha.” Dex frowned. “See this?” Dex pointed to his face. “This is my not amused face. Actually, this is my I can’t believe my own dad is benching me face! You… you….”

  Maddock lifted a brow. “If you think you’re too old for me to give you a good butt-whooping, I will be more than happy to remind you that’s not the case.”

  “Argh! Forget it. Fine.” Dex pouted like a petulant child. “This freakin’ sucks.”

  “Sloane’s going to stay with you.”

  Oh crap.

  “You’re giving me a nanny?” Dex turned his glare on Sloane.

  “Boy, please. Who do you think you’re talking to? I raised you.” Maddock faced Sloane, his face grim. “You know how many times I caught him climbing out his window when he was a kid?”

  Nope, but Sloane was pretty sure he was about to find out.

  “Enough times for me to get burglar bars installed on his and his brother’s bedroom windows. You keep an eye on him, you hear me. He is one slippery little bastard. The minute your back is turned, he will be halfway across town or ass up in your neighbor’s rosebushes.”

  “Oh my God, one time and you’re branded for life,” Dex moaned, letting his head fall back against the pillow. “Ow.”

  “I don’t want to hear another word about it.”

  “Fine,” Dex grumbled. “How long?”

  “Until I say so.

  Dex held up a finger. “I have a request.”

  “Denied.”

  “You don’t know what it is. Hear me out. It hurts.” Dex sat up again, his pout in full effect, and his shoulders slumped. He tilted his head to one side, eyes slightly wide. Oh he was good. Sloane would give him that. Not even Maddock was immune to that face.
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  “Lord, give me strength. Fine. What is it?”

  “I’d like Sloane to wear one of those sexy male nurses’ uniforms, the white latex ones with the assless chaps.”

  “Sweet little baby Jesus.” Maddock turned to Sloane and cringed, most likely due to the terrified look on Sloane’s face. “I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you, I promise. I’ll get you some extra vacation time or something.”

  “I don’t think there are enough days in the year,” Sloane muttered, ignoring Dex’s wide grin.

  “The doctor should be along shortly to release him. If you need anything, give us a ring. I’ll make sure you’re kept up to speed. I’m also going to put a couple of agents outside the house, just in case. I don’t care if you need to zip tie him to the bed, you make sure he takes it easy.” Maddock headed for the door, calling out over his shoulder. “Dex, you behave yourself or I’m docking your pay.”

  “You can’t do that!” Dex looked to Sloane. “Can he do that?”

  When the door closed, Dex let out a sigh of relief. “Don’t worry, I’ll tell him you’re doing a great job. He’ll never know.”

  With a sly smile, Sloane made himself comfortable on the two-seater. “Nope. I’m going to take you home and make you something to eat, and you’re going to lie down, take painkillers, sleep, and then eat some more. And so help me you’re going to let me take care of you and like it.”

  “Let me guess, or you’ll kick my ass?”

  Sloane shrugged. “Seeing as how that’s already happened, I’m going to go with annoy the living bejesus out of you.” If he had to suffer through this, so did Dex. Just because he’d agreed to take care of his partner, didn’t mean he was going to allow Dex to wrap him around his little finger with those pouty lips and big blue eyes.

  “Like you’re doing now?”

  “I learned from the best.”

  Dex narrowed his eyes. “The force is strong with this one.”

  Sloane laughed. “All right there, Yoda.”

  “Please,” Dex scoffed. “We both know I’d be Han. You can be Luke.”

  “Okay, Han.”

  “Ash would be Vader. Ew, Ash would be your dad.” Dex chortled at his own joke then sucked in another sharp breath. “Ow.”

  Oh God. Sloane let his head fall back against the love seat. Why did he get the feeling he was going to be the one in pain?

  Chapter 11

  SLOANE DIDN’T know who was going to end up in traction by the end of this, him or Dex. The doctor had all but kicked Dex out of the hospital after he’d attempted to instruct Dex on how best to recuperate only to have Dex interrupt every other word with a question about whether doing or not doing whatever random thing popped into his mind, would impede the healing process. That included playing video games, going to the toilet, showering, sleeping, sleeping on his side, on his back, on his stomach, going up stairs, going down stairs, driving, sitting, drinking alcohol, doing laundry, taking off his shoes, getting dressed, fooling around, having sex. And that had been within five minutes of the doctor’s arrival. Giving up, the doctor addressed Sloane. Silly man attempted to ignore Dex. Dex was not one to be ignored.

  In the end, Sloane told Dex to get some rest or in other words, shut up, and asked the doctor to step with him outside. The look of pure relief on the man’s face had made Sloane chuckle. He understood the feeling. The doctor gave Sloane instructions for Dex’s painkillers, including the maximum amount Sloane could give him. After a sympathetic smile, the doctor released Dex into Sloane’s care. It took him three hours to get Dex home. Mostly because the second he’d turned his back, Dex was maneuvering his wheelchair down the hospital corridor nearly causing a pileup. Maddock was going to owe him a hell of a lot more than vacation time for this.

  Finally, he had Dex settled on his couch with plenty of pillows and blankets from the hall closet. Sloane didn’t know what he’d expected Dex’s place to look like, maybe something resembling an M.C. Escher piece, but certainly not the sleek, modern, sophisticated décor he found around him. To the left of the entry hall was the living room, dark wood floors with white walls and furniture in chocolate hues. Across from the long brown couch was a white fireplace with a large flat screen TV positioned above it. To each side of the fireplace, the walls were set back and lined with wood shelves filled with movies, books, games, and CDs. There were side tables with lamps and framed photos of him and his family, including him with his biological parents.

  “Nice place,” Sloane said, looking around.

  “Should have seen it after Lou moved out. Looked like I’d been robbed. I didn’t realize how much shit was his until he’d taken it with him.” Dex shrugged. “I unpacked a load of stuff I’d stored in the basement and went on a massive online shopping spree. They assigned me my own UPS guy and everything.”

  Sloane couldn’t tell if Dex was making up that last part. With his partner, anything was possible. He wouldn’t be surprised if the guy had charmed his way to getting his personal delivery man.

  The kitchen was behind the living room, sectioned off by a large marble counter. It was all black, with white marble countertops, including the large island counter in the center. Across from the kitchen to one side was the dining room, and to the right of that, the stairs, leading to, he assumed, the bedrooms.

  “This sucks,” Dex complained for the hundredth time.

  Sloane went back to tending to Dex, removing Dex’s shoes and placing them behind the couch this time so he wouldn’t trip over them. “The sooner you get better, the sooner Maddock will bring you back in, so suck it up. Do you have enough pillows?”

  “Yes.”

  “Blankets?”

  “Yes.”

  “Painkillers?”

  “Yep.”

  “Hungry?”

  “Oh my God!”

  “I’m sorry.” Sloane held his hands up. “I’m trying to help.”

  Dex lolled his head toward Sloane, his eyes narrowed. “Don’t do that. Don’t do the face thing.”

  “What face thing?” Painkillers should be kicking in soon. Of course, Sloane had no idea if that was a good thing or not. He took a seat on the hardwood coffee table beside Dex.

  “That pouty bottom lip thing,” Dex replied, reaching his arm out and poking a finger at Sloane’s bottom lip. On instinct, Sloane smacked his hand away, and Dex let out a painful yelp.

  “Shit, I’m so sorry!” Sloane crouched down beside him. He attempted to take hold of Dex’s arm, but his partner shrank away from him, his arm cradled against his chest. Dex’s whole face had gone red and Sloane cringed.

  “What the fuck, man? You’re a horrible nurse!”

  “I forgot. I’m sorry. It was a reflex. You gotta stop sticking your finger in my face. You grew up around a Felid. If you wave shit in our faces, it’s bound to get swatted. What can I do to make it up to you?” He knew he was asking for trouble, but he really did feel bad about hitting Dex. “You sure you have enough painkillers?”

  “Not nearly enough.”

  Sloane’s phone rang, and he silently thanked God. Getting to his feet, he was actually happy to hear from Maddock.

  “Hey. Any news?”

  “We did some quiet reconnaissance on Isaac Pearce’s whereabouts. He’s not our guy. Apparently, when he’s not in his workshop in Brooklyn, he’s with his church group. Several members confirm Isaac was with them during the time of the murders. There are also a couple of café owners who confirm Isaac was in their shop during our windows of opportunity. There are receipts to back this up. I ran him through Themis as well and got nothing. Good news, we should be getting the lab results back on Ortiz any day now.”

  “Okay. Thanks. Keep us posted.”

  “Will do. How’s the patient?”

  Sloane cast a glance at Dex who was glowering at him. “Not feeling very patient.”

  “I’ll let you get back to it, then.”

  “Thanks,” Sloane grumbled. He put away his phone and informed Dex about Isaac. Hi
s partner’s expression remained unmoved. Sloane smiled at Dex. “So, what will it take to get you to stop looking at me like that?”

  Dex perked up. “Can you plug my iPod in?”

  Sloane eyed him warily. “That depends. What hellish sounds are you going to violate my ears with?”

  Dex wrinkled his nose and gave a haughty sniff. “I find your lack of melodic finesse disturbing.”

  “Yeah?” Sloane plugged the iPod into the dock on the mantel and pressed play. Another electro-pop, disco-sounding melody started thumping through the speaker system. He turned, arching an eyebrow at Dex. “ABBA?”

  “What kind of gay man are you?” Dex thrust a finger toward the door. “Out of my house. Your kind isn’t welcome here.”

  Sloane chuckled and took a seat on the armchair, propping his sock-covered feet on the coffee table. “Okay, fine. ABBA’s acceptable. I’ll give you that.”

  “No, ABBA is awesome.” Dex subtly moved his shoulders to the beat, the only movement he could get away with without wincing before he broke off into a husky version of “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!”

  “No singing,” Sloane groaned.

  “You seem to be forgetting where you are. You’re in Casa de Dex, and in Casa de Dex, there is much singing.” Dex continued to sing, and Sloane let his head fall back, his eyes closed. In truth, he didn’t mind Dex singing. He had a rather nice singing voice. It was more the principle of the thing. He didn’t like Dex getting his way. He liked Dex being right even less.

  Once Dex’s medication started doing its thing, Sloane was pleasantly surprised to find his partner became more subdued. Not being able to get up and wreak havoc was painful for Dex, which in turn became painful for Sloane, but with his meds, and his annoying pop music, Dex spent a good deal of his time napping and zoning out. This allowed Sloane to catch up on his paperwork on his tablet connected to Themis. He even did some reading and managed to catch a nap himself. Maddock had authorized him to have the time off providing nothing urgent came up. Sloane could do most of his work from his tablet and if he needed to check in at the office in person, Cael or one of their other teammates would stay with Dex. Sloane glanced over at his slumbering partner. Dex was still a rookie. He’d only had a taste of what it was like to be a THIRDS agent. Sloane had been part of the THIRDS since he was sixteen, though he’d been with the government longer. After all these years with the THIRDS, a guy got to enjoy his downtime whenever he could.

  “What’re you thinking about?”

  Dex’s voice was quiet, his drowsy gaze on Sloane as he sat back against a garrison of fluffy pillows. He’d been asleep for the last four hours and looked sweeter than Sloane wanted to admit. His hair was sticking up in all directions, his blanket was wrapped around one leg, a sock had somehow come off while he slept, and he had a hand clutching onto the corner of the blanket over his chest. He really was such a man-child. Sloane cleared his throat and turned his attention back to his tablet.

  “Just thinking about how long I’ve been doing this.”

  “How long?”

  “Twenty-one years.”

  “Wow. You love it that much?”

  Sloane shrugged. “Not so much love it as never done anything else. It’s what I was trained to do. As far as government organizations, if I had to choose, I’d still go with the THIRDS.”

  “Why?” Dex watched him intently, and Sloane mulled over his answer. He didn’t want to get into his history with the organization, but Dex was his partner, and he deserved as much of the truth as Sloane could bring himself to part with.

  “Because I promised myself a long time ago that I would do what I could to help those like me. It’s not about catching the bad guys. It’s about helping Therians who are scared and lost, who’ve made mistakes or haven’t had anyone to guide them and giving them the chance to find a better path, showing them they have the chance to lead better lives.”

  Dex was quiet for a moment, his pale blue gaze turning sympathetic. “It must have been rough.”

  “Yeah.” Sloane instinctively scratched along long-healed wrist scars, only realizing too late what he’d done. Dex’s eyes went wide, tears pooling in them.

  “I’m sorry,” he said with a humorless laugh. “I’m such an idiot.”

  “Hey, no.” Sloane got up and gently nudged Dex so he could sit on the large couch beside him. “What’s this?” he asked, his thumb gently wiping away the wetness under Dex’s left eye.

  “Nothing,” Dex replied, closing his eyes and letting out a shuddering breath. “It’s the meds.”

  “Dex,” Sloane prompted, receiving a sigh.

  “You said you didn’t want to talk about it.”

 
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