Hell & high water, p.25
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       Hell & High Water, p.25
 

         Part #1 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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  seeing things, I might be able to distract him long enough to take him down, or at the very least, get Sloane out of there.”

  “He’s a cop, Dex. He’s not stupid,” Ash argued. “The second you walk in there, he’s going to disarm you. Then we’ve got two hostages.”

  Dex turned to his dad. “I don’t need to be armed to take him down. I can do this.”

  Ash shook his head. “You can’t send in a rookie to take down Pearce. Best case scenario, he gets himself caught. Worst, he gets himself and Sloane killed.”

  “I can do this,” Dex repeated adamantly, meeting his dad’s gaze. “You know I can.”

  Tony leaned an elbow on the chair’s armrest, his gaze on Dex as he mulled it over. “Okay, you’re going in, but we’re going to be close by. Cael, I want you to set up a second line of communication and hide the signal. Keep the first line open to the rest of Unit Alpha’s Defense agents stationed on Tenth and Second. Hobbs, get us over there.”

  The ride over took mere minutes, though it seemed like a lifetime to Dex. As soon as the BearCat pulled up to the Indoor Lumber Yard parking lot, Tony stood and put a hand to Dex’s shoulder. “You get yourself killed, and I will find a way to bring you back so I can kick your ass. You understand me?”

  Dex swallowed hard and threw his arms around his dad, talking in his ear. “I’ll be careful.” Tony gave him a squeeze before releasing him.

  “Get going.”

  With good luck wishes from his team, Dex climbed out of the truck when Ash stepped in his way.

  Seriously? They were going to do this now? The guy really needed to learn when to give it a rest. “What is it Ash? I’m kind of in the middle of something.”

  Ash loomed over him, his expression guarded and his face set in grim lines. He poked Dex in the vest. “You bring him back alive, Rookie. You got me?” His brows drew together, and he avoided Dex’s gaze. “And don’t get dead.”

  Dex stood speechless. Was Ash actually worried about him? He opened his mouth but before he could utter a word, Ash stormed off, disappearing inside the BearCat. Shaking himself out of it, Dex ran through the parking lot onto a narrow road that ran along the back of Pearce’s workshop. Two lefts, and he was there. He tried to peek inside the front window, but besides all the grime, dirt, and rust, most of the window was boarded up on the inside. At least he knew Pearce was the only tenant in the building. Still, he was going in blind. His worst nightmare. Opening the front door, he held his rifle up with one hand as he made his way through the foyer when Pearce called out.

  “In here.”

  Slowly, Dex entered the workshop, biting down on his tongue to keep quiet. Sloane stood in the middle of the workshop, arms high above his head, a couple of thick chains hanging from the ceiling binding his wrists, another around his neck to keep him from shifting to his Therian form. If he shifted, he’d end up breaking his neck. His ankles were bound by duct tape, and he was bare-chested, his black T-shirt on the floor. There were cuts and lacerations spread over his torso and arms, along with small burn marks. That son of a bitch had tortured him. Dex couldn’t tell if Sloane was breathing. His head hung low, his black hair falling in disarray.

  “Sloane?”

  On hearing his name, Sloane’s head came up, his eyes widening. He shook his head, his muscles straining and pushing as he tugged against the chains holding him. Dex took a step forward when Pearce stepped out from behind one of the pillars, a steel poker with glowing tip in his hand.

  “Hello, Dex. Thank you for coming.”

  “Pearce.” Dex managed to say the name without spitting it out. Normally he could be objective with his feelings when it came to a case. That’s where his sense of humor came in, keeping him from falling into the ugliness that was the world around them sometimes. But now? Right now, he hated Isaac Pearce, and the worst part was that he had to act as if he didn’t. “I’m here, like you asked. Can we talk? I’d like to understand what all this is about.”

  “All right, because you asked so nicely. But first, you can put your equipment over on the couch. That includes weapons, vest, gloves, everything in your pockets, and your earpiece—make sure you turn it off first. And don’t try anything or….” He put the tip of the fiery poker near Sloane’s skin, causing his partner to cry out, his eyes shut tight. The muffled scream shook Dex down to his very core. “At this temperature, this will go through his body like butter.”

  “I understand.” Dex released his rifle, letting it hang from its straps, and put his hands up. He walked to the couch and started removing all his equipment including his earpiece. He’d have to find another way to communicate with his team. Pearce’s eyes watched his every move.

  “You’re going to ask me why. This is about doing what we do best, Dex. Seeking justice.”

  “For Gabe’s death.” Dex unfastened the straps to his vest and laid it down on the cushions, followed by his thigh rig. He needed an opportunity to get closer to Pearce. From what he gathered, the guy wasn’t carrying any firearms, though this place was filled with tools that could easily be fashioned into a weapon, which was exactly what Dex had hoped. Finished with taking off his gear, he turned with hands held up, and Pearce motioned him over to where he’d stood previously.

  “Exactly! See, you do understand. I knew you would. He has to pay for what he did to my brother. It’s his fault Gabe’s dead.”

  Dex did his best to sound sympathetic. “Isaac. It’s not Sloane’s fault Gabe was there that night. We talked about that, remember?”

  “You’re right. It wasn’t his fault Gabe was there,” Pearce replied through his teeth, his hard gaze on Dex. “But it was his fault I was.”

  What? “You were there when Gabe got killed?” Dex recalled the conversation they’d had at the pub when it dawned on him. Pearce hadn’t been blaming himself…

  “We argued that night, said things we didn’t mean. Next thing I know… he’s dead. If I’d walked away… I think it’s the guilt eating away at me. If I’d left him alone, maybe he’d still be alive.”

  He’d been confessing.

  Pearce nodded, his eyes glazed. Suddenly he let out an anguished cry. “I never wanted to hurt him. I loved him!” Tears sprang in his eyes, his face red, and contorted with anger and pain. “I was trying to keep him safe, talk some sense in to him. I thought if I kept trying, he would eventually come around, but instead he became angrier and more frustrated. The night he went to meet his informant behind The Styx was supposed to be his last night before he took off on his vacation, so I went to warn him, to tell him he deserved better than some Therian piece of shit. He told me he’d had enough. That I had to choose. Can you believe it? He told me, me, his own brother that I had to either accept his relationship, or he’d walk out of my life for good.” Pearce grabbed Sloane’s jaw, squeezing until Dex saw Sloane wince. Dex had to do something quick before things got out of hand.

  As if they weren’t already.

  “That must have hurt you,” Dex said carefully, moving so he could be in Pearce’s field of vision. “What happened then, Pearce? What did you say to Gabe?”

  Pearce turned his attention back to Dex, the hand carrying the poker dropping to his side. “Well I sure as hell wasn’t going to accept it. My baby brother with a Therian? No. No way. So we argued, and the more we argued, the more he defended this bastard. I was livid. Gabe was choosing him over his own family. He shoved me, so I shoved back.” Pearce wiped the tears from his cheeks. “It was only when he was lying on the ground with his neck broken, that I realized what I’d done. When that Therian punk showed up, I knew what I had to do. Afterward, I watched the chaos. Front-page news, “THIRDS Human agent killed by Therian informant.” The worse the news stories became, the more I saw how little it would take to start a war in this city.” Pearce’s lips lifted in a truly sinister smile. “It’s already begun.”

  “So you had those HumaniTherians killed?”

  “I didn’t have anyone killed,” Pearce stated proudly. He wa
ited, watching Dex intently, until realization dawned on Dex. He took in the shop around him. All the materials, the tools, the means, everything was there before his very eyes.

  “You did it yourself?” Dex asked, stunned.

  “See,” Pearce wagged a finger at him, smiling broadly, “I knew you were one of the smart ones. The moment I saw you, I knew there was something special about you.” He walked over to the large furnace, the one not in use, and stuck his hand inside, reaching high. When he removed it, he had a long metal box in his grip. He placed it on the table, carefully opened it, and slipped his hand inside. When he removed it, Dex couldn’t help his sharp intake of breath.

  “It’s a work of art, isn’t it?” Pearce held up the contraption of iron bands and rings measured to fit Pearce’s right arm with complete precision. It almost resembled a mechanical arm, but with Pearce’s flesh and bone inside instead of wires and electronics. The ends of the metal fingers contained four large metal claws, curved and sharp. “You see these? Each one is the exact same size, shape, and width of a jaguar Therian claw. Four exact replicas, except made of beautiful iron. I figured if I was going to pass the killings off as having come from a Therian, I would need to be inspired.” He walked over to Sloane, placing a claw under his chin. “Guess who my inspiration was?”

  Dex discreetly shifted to his left, in front of the drafting table. “Why those HumaniTherians?”

  Pearce removed the horrid contraption and placed it back in its box, returning it to the furnace, the poker remaining in his hand. “Because they set Gabe up on the road to ruin. Bennett was the one who started Gabe on that HumaniTherians bullshit in college, encouraging him to take courses, spreading his LiberTherian lies. He got his claws into Gabe real good. And then that bitch gives him a job, starts introducing him to all these Therians, dragging him under. When Gabe asked me to help him get into the HPF, I thought he was leaving it all behind, but it was just so he could work his way up to the THIRDS.”

  “And Ortiz?”

  “The first two were personal, but it was time to take things to the next level. Think big. Sadly, it all had to end a little sooner than I’d planned. I allowed my emotions to get the better of me. On your last day, after I dropped you off at your car, knowing you were going to be his partner… it was difficult. I got sloppy, went after Ortiz the same day after visiting The Styx instead of waiting. When you showed up on my door, I knew the time had come.”

  “For what?”

  Pearce’s grin sent an icy chill up Dex’s spine. The guy was unstable. His grief over the loss of his brother, coupled with who knew what else, had done something to him.

  “For war, Dex. The weak Humans will get picked off, but the strong Humans like me and you? We’ll survive. Then the government will have no choice but to send in the military and eliminate the Therian threat. Those who aren’t destroyed will be locked away in cages like the animals they are.”

  Dex’s eyes went wide. The guy couldn’t be serious. “You’re talking about genocide, the murder of innocent Therians.”

  Rage flashed through Pearce’s eyes, and he grabbed a fistful of Sloane’s hair, his snarling face inches away from Sloane’s. “Therians aren’t innocent. They’re abominations! Someone slipped Mother Nature a roofie, and a few months later, out they popped. Look at him. A filthy mutated creature underneath the beautiful façade of a Human, but his eyes, oh they give him away. If you stare at them long enough, you can see the embers of hell itself in there.”

  Dex reached behind him, his fingers curling around a heavy set of iron tongs. Carefully, he slid them off the table, opening them and hooking one clamp through one of the thick heavy belt loops of his tac pants. Letting his arms hang at his sides, Dex took a step forward, and Pearce spun toward him, the poker held out in front of him.

  “Easy there, Dex.”

  “I’m sorry.” Dex held his hands up. “I’m just worried about you. What’s going to happen now? You think they’ll just let you get away with what you’ve done? You said it yourself. It’s about justice. The families of those you hurt will want justice.”

  “Sometimes sacrifices must be made for the greater good. That’s why I called you here. In fact, that’s why I helped you that day in the parking garage. I wanted you to see you could trust me. Something big is about to happen to this city, Dex, and I sure would love to have you on the winning team. You’re a smart guy with a good heart. A little naïve, perhaps, but we can fix that.”

  “We?”

  “My associates.”

  “The ones who lied for you?”

  Pearce smiled. “You call it lying, I call it supporting. They believe the same as me. Now we need to get this little show on the road. How about it? Will you join your race? Or will you die with him?”

  “What about my brother?”

  “Yes, I see how you would have been taught to have affection for him.” Pearce shrugged. “Well, I’m sure we could make an exception. We’ll say he’s your pet.”

  Motherfucker. It took everything Dex had not to go for the guy right now. Instead, Dex pretended to mull it over.

  “Join me, Dex, and we will set the world to rights.”

  “What do I have to do?”

  Pearce’s gaze went to Sloane, and Dex unhooked the iron tongs from his belt. “First things first.” Pearce pulled back the poker, and Dex swung the tongs with all his strength, hurling them across the room and catching Pearce on his kneecap. With a howl, Pearce dropped the poker, clutching onto his knee as he hit the floor. Dex raced across the room, launching at Pearce as the guy pushed to his feet. They crashed to the floor, Dex landing on Pearce and throwing a fierce right hook, only to have Pearce block and catch Dex on his ribs with a left jab. They rolled on the floor, thrashing, and kicking, each one trying to get the upper hand, punches flying, hoping to make contact.

  Most movie fight scenes were bullshit. In a real fight, there was no choreography. Your opponent wasn’t going to be some martial arts expert. He wasn’t going to give you the space to pull some fancy moves. He wasn’t going to pause, or hesitate. He was going to fight hard and dirty. It was about striking wherever you could when you could. Absorb the strike and use it to hit back. Dex rolled and jumped to his feet, his fists held up in front of him. He studied Pearce, tried to anticipate his movements.

  Pearce came at him with hooks from every angle, and Dex held his arms close to his body, shielding himself, using the opportunity when Pearce pulled back to get in his own punches. He grabbed Pearce’s arm, spun on his heels so he was beside Pearce and threw his elbow back, landing a blow on the side of Pearce’s head, followed by a harsh swipe to his leg sending Pearce sprawling face first. Before Dex had a chance to strike, Pearce kicked out, catching Dex on the side of his knee and sending him falling. He rolled onto his back, his shirt caught in Pearce’s grip as he pulled back a fist. Dex caught it, smacking it away and brought a knee up between Pearce’s legs. As a trained officer, Pearce could fight through the pain in his family jewels for roughly five seconds max. Dex seized Pearce’s wrists and swiped a leg from under him. Pearce smacked the concrete floor hard, sucking in a sharp breath and coughing when he got a mouthful of dust and dirt. He held onto himself, his teeth gritted.

  Dex scrambled to his feet, making a run for his rifle. It was just out of arm’s reach. Something solid struck him in the back, and he gasped for air, the blow propelling him forward. Motherfuck! That hurt. He lay on the floor on his stomach, and the iron tongs he’d used to catch Pearce off guard lay on the floor mere feet away. He stretched his arm out when Pearce grabbed a fistful of his hair with one hand and threw his other arm around his neck, squeezing. Pearce leaned in, his voice raspy in Dex’s ear.

  “I’m sorry, Dex. This is for your own good. I can’t leave you in his hands. He destroyed my brother. I won’t let him do the same to you. I’d rather kill you myself.”

  Dex bit down on Pearce’s arm until he tasted blood, and Pearce screamed, jerking his arm away and sitting back, gi
ving Dex the chance he needed to roll onto his back under Pearce who, in his rage, threw a punch as Dex had expected. He caught Pearce’s wrist, jerked him toward him, and remembering the move Sloane had pulled on him the first day they sparred together, he threw his arm around Pearce’s neck, and gave his wrist a yank, sending Pearce rolling off him.

  Pearce scrambled to his feet, snatching up Dex’s thigh rig, but forgetting the safety mechanism. He let out a yelp when Dex tackled him into the couch, snatching up his rifle as they tumbled to the floor, but not before Dex snapped up his earpiece. Dex tossed the strap around Pearce’s neck and gave it a yank. His legs tried to pin down Pearce’s as he flailed and clawed at Dex. He switched on his earpiece, calling out.

  “Backup! I need backup!”

  Pearce managed to release the Glock from the rig, and Dex was forced to let go of his earpiece along with the strap to grab the gun in Pearce’s hand, but the safety was off by then. They continued to struggle, Dex wrapping around Pearce, his fingers digging into Pearce’s hands as they fought with the gun. A shot went off, ricocheting off the wall and hitting the chain above Sloane’s head with a spark.

  Damn it! Jaw clenched, Dex spotted the tactical knife on his thigh rig. Keeping his right hand on the Glock, he threw his left out and grabbed the rig, releasing the knife. The moment Pearce saw it, he threw a fist back, catching Dex in the nose, before he rolled off Dex and made a run for it, despite the limp he now had from where Dex had caught him with the tongs. With a curse, Dex rolled onto his side, spitting out blood-filled saliva. He aimed his Glock when Pearce ran past a row of gas tanks. Fuck, if he hit those, they were all toast. He got to his feet as Pearce ran out the door into the hall.

  “Dex!”

  Hearing his name, he scrambled for his earpiece and put it on. “I’m here. I’m going after Isaac. I need you to—” An explosion rocked the workshop and he froze. It had come from down the street. He tried not to panic as he called out into his earpiece. “Sarge?”

  “Son of a bitch must have planted explosives ahead of time. He blew the Kitchen Supply store. Fucking sink fell on the truck. It’s a goddamn mess. I hear you, Dex. Agents are on the way, but there’s shit blocking the road.”

  Dex wasn’t about to wait for backup and chance Pearce getting away. He grabbed his vest, slipping into it as he ran over to Sloane, who shook his head and motioned toward the door.

  “Okay. I’ll take that bastard down, I swear.”

  Sloane nodded and Dex bolted after Pearce, fastening the straps of his vest before reaching the hall. He carefully peeked out and with the coast clear, he swiftly made his way to the staircase as the sound of heavy footsteps pounded against the wooden stairs two floors up. Dex wasted no time, using his training to keep his boots from making noise as he followed. He controlled his breathing, his Glock raised and close to him as he hurried. His adrenaline pumped through his veins, his heart raced, and his stomach felt queasy. He had to stop this bastard.

  A door slammed somewhere high above him, and Dex ran the rest of the way up, coming to a stop on the landing under the fourth floor. He could see the closed door Pearce had gone through moments ago. Scanning his surroundings, he swiftly crept along the back of the stairway and along the wall until he was flattened against the wall beside the chipped blue door. There was only the one door on the floor. Dex remembered windows, no fire escape. He had to be extra vigilant. Isaac Pearce had fooled them all. Fooled him. By now Tony would be devising a strategy. At least Pearce was away from Sloane.

  Carefully, he stretched his arm across the door and tested the doorknob. It was open. Fuck. That couldn’t be good. He pushed it open with his boot, remaining on the side of the door, gun aimed and ready to shoot anything that moved. There was nothing and no one. The room was empty with only the four windows. There was no way Pearce could have gone out the window without making a sound. Carefully, he entered the room, turning to cover all his angles. There was nothing but a bunch of exposed pipes running around the room vertically and horizontally, stretching up to the ceiling.

  As he turned, he was knocked to the ground, but he kept his grip on his gun, swinging his arm to aim only to have it seized. Pearce straddled him as they struggled. Where the hell had the asshole come from, the ceiling? Dex twisted his body, using what momentum he could to deliver a left hook into Pearce’s ribs, a painful growl escaping him when his fist made contact with something hard. Bastard was wearing protection.

  “This is your last chance, Dex! Join me or I’ll put a bullet in you. Then I’ll put a bullet in that animal downstairs.”

  “Fuck you.” Dex snapped his head forward, slamming his forehead into Pearce’s nose. A fierce cry filled the air as Pearce’s head jolted back. Dex aimed at Pearce’s chest and fired. Pearce flew off Dex, onto his back. He rolled over, gurgling and gasping as he held onto his chest, blood pouring out of his nose, and down over his mouth. Dex pushed to his feet, ready to unload his magazine into the asshole, but his plan went awry when Isaac pulled something from inside his vest. Dex lunged to one side as a steel knife plunged into the wall behind him. He had to end this. Dex scrambled to his feet just as Pearce collided with him, sending them crashing through a glass pane. Dex used his arm to shield his face, the sting of the many shards slicing and cutting not nearly as painful as the thought of what lay below. As Pearce’s body sent them hurdling out the shattered and splintered window, Dex braced himself.

  He’d survive this.

  He had to.

  Chapter 14

  THEIR BODIES hit the aluminum storage container below, knocking the air out of Dex’s lungs. He lay on his back, gasping and shaking, his blurred gaze on the blackness of the girders above him. His chest felt as if it was in a vise, his body burning from the inside out. In the distance he could hear the wailing of sirens and chaos. The air around him was foggy and thick. Beside him, Pearce groaned and rolled over. Dex slapped a hand out looking for his gun. Who the hell knew where it landed. He carefully shifted, his limbs protested, but he didn’t think anything was broken, just rattled around. Looking up at the window they’d fallen through, he could see it was high, but with the height of the container, not enough to put them out of commission. He should have known Pearce would have a plan.

  Dex rolled onto his side, sucking in a sharp breath, before breathing heavily through his nose. With a growl, he pushed to his knees, watching as Pearce rolled off the container. Dex crawled to the edge, cursing under his breath as Pearce crawled his way through the mound of cardboard boxes. Well wasn’t that fucking convenient.

  “Fucking bastard.” Dex pushed off the side of the container and landed on the pile of cardboard. With a wince, he kicked and pushed the boxes out of his way as he crawled to the floor and forced himself to his feet. His right ankle burned and protested, but he pushed through the pain, running off after Pearce when another explosion went off, this one lifting him off his feet and flinging him against the storage unit he’d rolled off of. He hit the floor in a painful heap. Instinct kicked in and he rolled into a ball, covering his head as burning debris rained down around him. There was a smaller explosion to his left, and he forced himself to his feet. In the distance, he could hear familiar shouts. His team was close by. Regardless, he had to get Sloane out.

  Heat and fire sprang up from containers where explosions had peeled back the aluminum like the lids of tuna fish cans. More containers went up in black smoke, and Dex scolded himself.

  “Move your ass, Daley.” The explosions were getting closer, containers bursting in a fiery mess of black smoke and burning metal. Even if his team was close, Dex knew the score. They had their priorities where loss of life was
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