Rack & ruin, p.15
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       Rack & Ruin, p.15
 

         Part #3 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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  “Doesn’t matter if it does. If the Coalition shows up at the church, they won’t find Reyes.”

  Dex gave him a puzzled frown. “Reyes wasn’t sighted at the church?”

  “Reyes does attend the Baptist church on Hertz Street,” Sloane replied before giving his partner a sly smile. “Just not the Baptist church on Hertz Street Maddock gave out.”

  “You’ve got a plan, don’t you?”

  “Maddock and I talked it over, and he agreed if we give out Reyes’s location, the Coalition is bound to get there before we do. This way, we’ll get there first. If we need backup, the teams will be just down the street.”

  “What about Ash?”

  “Don’t worry about Ash. I’ve got that covered.”

  Once everyone was geared up and in their trucks, Maddock instructed Hobbs to hang back and let Beta Pride and Beta Ambush take the lead. Destructive Delta took up the rear. Everyone was quiet as they rode toward Hertz Street, the anticipation palpable. They all knew how important the success of this mission was. The moment they drove onto Hertz Street, Sloane checked his watch. In four… three… two….

  A delivery truck should be cutting them off and stopping in front of them with hazard lights flashing in….

  One.

  Calvin called out from the front cabin. “Sarge, we’ve got a problem.”

  Maddock told Hobbs to back up and go around before tapping his earpiece. “Agent Stone, Agent Taylor, we’re going to have to go around. Some jackass delivery van blocked our route.”

  Sloane heard a “copy that” from both Team Leaders, and shortly after, Sloane’s phone rang. He held back a smile as he answered. “Good job Austen, but I’m still not going out on a date with you.” He chuckled at Austen’s whine before the young Therian cursed under his breath and told Sloane that Agent Zachary was a card shark. Sloane hung up and turned to give Dex a wink. It was time to put the ball back in their court.

  Hobbs parked a few doors down from the Peoples Baptist Church on Riverdale Avenue just off Hertz Street. Sloane knew for a fact Reyes wasn’t at church. He was in the sub-basement of the boarded up, supposed-to-be-abandoned apartment building across the street. Destructive Delta climbed out of the BearCat with Cael staying behind with Maddock to manage surveillance on the area. Sloane signaled to his team, and they all fell into formation behind him. They quietly made for the back of the apartment building, rifles at the ready. Sloane reached behind him and signaled Dex. His partner removed his backpack and produced a set of bolt cutters. In seconds, Dex was cutting the thick chain securing the gate of the white iron fence. He returned the cutters to his backpack before tapping Sloane on the flank.

  Sloane entered first, moving through the yard of the building. It was nothing but cracked concrete slabs, weeds, and dry leaves. He held out three fingers, and Ash appeared beside him.

  “I thought we were going to pick up, Reyes?”

  “We are. Find us a way in.”

  Ash quickly surveyed the area before pointing up to the second floor. “Fire escape. Sliding-glass doors. No bars.” Sloane gave him a curt nod and motioned for Hobbs to come over. He pointed to the fire escape’s ladder.

  “Grab that will you?”

  Hobbs reached up without any effort and carefully pulled down the ladder. With thanks, Sloane gave the signal, and Dex went up to breach. He kept an eye on his partner along with the surrounding area for any signs of movement. The neighborhood was quiet at this time of day. Dex leaned over the rail and held a thumb up. He’d gotten through the lock. Sloane went up next to watch his partner’s back. Seconds later, his team was inside the empty room. The boarded up sliding-glass door was closed behind them. Sloane gathered his team close.

  “Calvin and Hobbs, you’re team one. Rosa and Letty, you’re team two. Ash and Dex, you’re with me. According to our SSA, there are only a few members of the Order left here since Reyes has been moving everything to a new location. If anyone calls asking about Reyes or our location, you tell them we’re working on it and will get back to them. I want to be notified of everyone who mentions his name. Watch your backs.”

  The three teams split up with Ash and Dex, sticking close to Sloane. Once the rest of the team had left the room, Sloane turned to Ash. “I want your com off. Leave only the emergency line open.” If Ash turned it back on, Sloane would know.

  Ash arched an eyebrow at him. “So much for the benefit of the doubt.”

  “Sorry, buddy, but I can’t take any chances on this.”

  With a nod, Ash tapped his earpiece, and the tiny blue light turned amber. With a pat on Ash’s shoulder, Sloane resumed his formation with Dex at his back and Ash bringing up the rear. They checked the hall before making their way down through the three-story building, leaving the rooms to the rest of the team. Sloane wanted the sub-basement. They found the stairwell down without any trouble and in minutes were at a large steel door. Dex stepped around Sloane and took hold of the handle, pulling slowly. The door was unlocked. His partner pulled the door open and assessed the area. He held a hand up, signaling the stairs were clear. Sloane once again took the lead, and they made their way down the grimy, stone staircase. At the bottom, they faced a set of double steel doors. Sloane turned to Ash. “Ready?” They both knew what he was implying.

  Ash put his hand on Sloane’s shoulder, his amber gaze unwavering. “I know I’ve disappointed you, but believe me when I say I’ll always have your back.”

  “That’s all I need to know.” Sloane grabbed the back of Ash’s collar and they bumped their heads together. “Let’s do this.” He took position to the left of the doors while Ash took the right. Sloane gave Dex a nod, and his partner took hold of one of the door handles. He opened it slowly and just enough to sneak a quick glance. With a nod, he opened it wider and went in, his rifle aimed ahead of him. Sloane and Ash were at his back ready to neutralize any and all threats. Rosa’s voice came in over Sloane’s earpiece.

  “We’re heading your way. The first, second, and third floors are clear. Negative on the suspects.”

  “Copy that.” Sloane signaled forward, and they continued down the wide concrete corridor. It was empty except for the Order propaganda posters littering the walls and a few empty tin drums lined up against one side. They followed the thick cables attached to the walls, which appeared to supply the place with lighting and possibly electricity. It smelled of damp and dirt. Ahead of them was a set of doors with small windows. Sloane held a hand up behind him, bringing them to a stop. He turned to Dex and drew a square in the air. With a nod, Dex crouched low and approached the doors with caution. He carefully rose and glanced through one of the windows. Dropping back down, he held his hand up, his thumb holding down his middle finger. Eight perps. A handgun sign followed.

  Sloane’s earpiece beeped, and once again Rosa’s voice came over the line. “Sloane, we see you. We’re coming in behind you.”

  “Copy that. We’re going in. Eight armed Humans.”

  “Copy that.”

  Sloane and Ash approached the doors, making sure to stay away from the windows. On his signal, Dex swung open one of the doors, and Destructive Delta charged in.

  “Hands in the air!” Sloane demanded. “Put down your weapons, or we will open fire!”

  Three of the men immediately dropped their guns while the others scrambled. Ash and Hobbs moved in, and Calvin shot a tranq into one man stupid enough to raise his gun at Calvin. The guy fell to the floor instantly. The team rounded everyone up, pushing them to the ground and securing them with Therian grade zip ties just in case. A half a dozen steel tables laid out with firearms and lethal weapons along with materials for explosives lined the room. Sloane was about to notify Maddock when a door slammed open at the far side of the room.

  “What the fuck is going—” Reyes took one look at them and bolted. Sloane gave chase through the door and down another corridor. Either Reyes wasn’t as smart as he thought he was, or he hadn’t expected an infiltration. He ran right into a room
with no windows, doors, or way out. As if realizing he was trapped, Reyes whipped out his sidearm and spun, pointing it at Sloane. Ash and Dex were soon at his side, their rifles aimed at the tattooed man.

  “Put it down, Reyes,” Sloane advised him. He needed Reyes alive, but Reyes didn’t know that. “You might get one shot off, but there are three of us. Think carefully.”

  Reyes gritted his teeth. His dark eyes filled with hate and anger. He spit at Sloane’s feet, muttering something about Sloane being nothing but a filthy animal. Then he slowly lowered his gun and placed it on the floor. Sloane moved in and forced him onto the concrete. He held Reyes’s arms behind his back while Dex drew a zip tie over his wrists.

  “Sergeant, we’ve got him. As soon as we get him in the BearCat, have Beta Pride and Beta Ambush pick up the others.” Sloane dragged Reyes to his feet and pulled him along, Dex and Ash following. On the way out, Sloane instructed the rest of his team to stay with their suspects. They quickly got Reyes into the back of the BearCat where Maddock and Ash cuffed Reyes’s wrists and legs with chains and secured them to the iron hook in the floor. Seconds later, Beta Ambush and Beta Pride rolled up. The two Team Leaders came running, both looking mighty pissed off.

  Taylor reached Sloane first. “What the fuck happened?”

  “There was a miscommunication in the location,” Sloane replied. “When we took the detour, we came up on this church. We didn’t know there were two Baptist churches on the same street.”

  “A miscommunication?” Taylor craned his neck to peer around Sloane, his eyes going wide when he saw the chained up perp. “Is that Reyes?”

  “Yes.” Sloane could see Taylor bristle.

  “A miscommunication, and then you happened to find Reyes? That’s pretty fucking convenient, Brodie.”

  Sloane narrowed his eyes. “Is there a problem, Agent Taylor?”

  “Yeah, I like knowing when someone’s trying to make an asshole out of me,” Taylor snarled.

  “Like I said. Miscommunication. My team has eight suspects detained in the sub-basement of the building behind us. Your teams can transport them back to HQ. Get them processed and ready for questioning.”

  Levi gave him a stern nod and walked off. Taylor hesitated. He started to turn, stopped, and met Sloane’s gaze. “This is bullshit, and you know it.” He thundered off toward his team, ordering them to move in.

  Dex appeared beside Sloane. “I think he took it rather well.”

  “Yeah” was all Sloane said. As soon as the rest of Destructive Delta returned and climbed into the BearCat, they headed back to HQ. There was something bugging Sloane, he just couldn’t figure out what.

  It wasn’t long before Sloane sat in the padded interrogation room across from Reyes. The guy was once again cuffed and chained to the floor, but he was lounging in his chair as if he didn’t give a shit. He was cocky, a borderline sociopath, and fearless. Well, they’d see about the last one. Sloane had every intention of putting the fear in him.

  Finished with his assessment of Reyes, Sloane laced his fingers on the table in front of him, his gaze never leaving that of the Human before him. “We believe members of the Order are being murdered by the Coalition and made to look like casualties of war. They’ve got a shit list and guess what? You’re on it.”

  Reyes let out a snort. “What can I say? I’m a popular guy.”

  “A charmer like you? How can you not be? You seem to be able to get away with anything. Even murder.”

  Reyes leaned forward, his eyes narrowed. “I don’t think I like what you’re implying.”

  “Let me rephrase that. You got away with murder, and now you have to answer for what you did. There are no corrupt judges to bail you out of this one. The evidence isn’t going to magically disappear. Did you really think it wouldn’t catch up to you? That you wouldn’t have to answer for what you did?” He watched Reyes. The guy was guilty as sin, but he felt no remorse for the crimes he’d committed because in his eyes, they weren’t crimes, they were good deeds. He was answering the call of higher power. Now he was about to answer to a different power.

  “You can’t pin that on me. You’ve got nothing.”

  “Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think you were with the HPF? This is the THIRDS. Things work a little differently here. You’re going to tell me where the remaining branches of the Order are located and list the names of every member you know.”

  Reyes sneered at him. “And why the hell would I do that?”

  “Because if not, I’m going to let you walk out that door.”

  Reyes frowned at him. “How’s that make any fucking sense?”

  With a grin, Sloane tapped the desk’s surface. Photos of Martin—or what was left of him—from the crime scene, along with those taken of the guy at the morgue, spread out across the screen.

  “Jesus.” Reyes swallowed visibly, his eyes darting from image to image.

  “Remember your old pal Craig Martin? Of course you do. He was on that shit list too. This is what’s left of him.” Sloane tapped the screen again, and photos of Alberto Cristo joined Martin’s. “And that’s your friend Alberto Cristo. Also on the list. You walk out that door, and you’ll be lucky if all you get is a bullet to the head. It might take them a week, a month, maybe a year. But they’ll hunt you down.”

  “But it’s your job to catch these animals!”

  “Really, Angel?”

  Reyes sat back, fidgeting in his seat. “I mean, it’s your job to stop them, isn’t it?”

  “It is. It’s also our job to stop the Order. Then there are all the other crimes going on at this very moment. Come on. You know what it’s like out there. We’re government funded. How many agents do you think we have? We can’t be everywhere at once. What if we’re in the middle of a call when the Coalition tracks you down? Did you know they have members in their Therian form hunting alongside them at all times? You ever faced a jaguar Therian in his Therian form, Angel?”

  Reyes shook his head. With a smile, Sloane turned his neck so Reyes could see his mark. The man’s eyes widened.

  “Do you know what my bite can do? It can pierce your skull in one motion. I can hunt at night, and you’ll never see me coming. I can climb and swim better than you. My claws can rip your throat out in one swipe. Now, imagine the Coalition. A group of Therians. Let’s say lions, tigers, cougars, and jaguars all looking for you. You think they won’t find you? Would you like to meet a tiger Therian up close?” Before Reyes could answer, Sloane tapped his earpiece. “Cael, could you come in here. And bring Seb with you.”

  Seconds later, and the door opened. Cael walked in, and Reyes let out a bark of laughter. “That’s your fierce tiger Therian?”

  “Don’t be rude, Angel. This is Agent Maddock. He’s a cheetah Therian. Don’t let his size fool you. His job is to chase you down and trip you up. He can go zero to sixty in three seconds. Once he catches you, he’ll bite down on your throat until Agent Sebastian Hobbs gets there.”

  Seb padded into the room, his striped coat shifting and moving against his powerful muscles as he came to sit beside the table, his tail thumping heavily against the carpeted floor.

  “This is Agent Sebastian Hobbs. Seb, meet Mr. Reyes.”

  Seb let out a fierce roar that made Reyes scramble to his feet so fast, his chair toppled behind him. He tried to move away, but the chains kept him from getting far.

  Sloane turned his attention to Cael, who stood by the door. “Would you bring in Hobbs and Ash?”

  Cael returned shortly after with Hobbs and an agent who was a lion Therian but not Ash. While Seb continued to scare the pants off Reyes, Sloane approached Cael. The concerned look on the young agent’s face was worrisome. “Where’s Ash?”

  “I don’t know. I haven’t seen him since we left the BearCat. He returned his equipment to the armory, but he wasn’t in there when we arrived, so he must have gone ahead. This is Agent Ford from Beta Ambush.”

  Damn it. This wasn’t looking good. Sloane prayed Ash wasn’t d
oing what he thought he was. He had to hurry this along. He thanked Cael and resumed his seat. He smiled at Reyes who crawled onto the table when Hobbs and Ford joined Seb. Ford’s roar had Reyes frantically clawing the table in his attempt to get away.

  “Okay, Angel. Here we have two tiger Therians, a lion Therian and,” he pointed to himself, “a jaguar Therian. Now, imagine we’re hunting you with the intent of not letting you live.” Seb, Hobbs, and Ford crowded Reyes who looked like he was about to shit a brick. Ford roared and Seb hissed. They both pawed at the table. Hobbs jumped up onto the table with ease, and Reyes let out a shriek. With a snarl, Hobbs lay down and simply stared at Reyes.

  “This is intimidation,” Reyes whispered hoarsely, sweat dripping down his face.

  “No, this is a glimpse at your near and not so distant future. Except when that happens, you won’t stay alive as long. The Coalition wants justice for what you did, Angel, and they’re going to do everything they can to get it. There is nowhere you can hide.” Sloane sat back and scratched his nose. On his signal, Hobbs rose. He lowered his head slightly, his tail swinging, and his pupils going wide.

  “Oh, looks like he’s going to pounce. I think he wants to play.”

  Reyes whimpered and curled up on himself. It was obvious when the guy decided to take over the Order he hadn’t known what he was getting into. Sloane had no doubt Reyes intended on sitting in his cushy digs giving orders. It was all very well to start a war when you never planned on joining your men on the frontlines. “All right! I’ll do it! Just get them to back the fuck off. Please!”

  Sloane nodded, and the door opened. Hobbs jumped off the table and hurried out of the room. Seb and Ford followed. Once the door closed, Reyes gingerly slipped off the table. A few taps later, and Sloane brought up the documentation necessary for Reyes’s statement along with a clean document. He handed Reyes a stylus.

  “Take your time. We want to make sure you don’t leave anyone out.”

  Reyes cast him a daggered look but swiped the stylus from him. He put his chair to rights, sat down, and started writing. As Sloane watched Reyes give up his organization, he told himself this was just the beginning. With the Order permanently disbanded, the Coalition would be next.

  The moment Reyes had finished scribbling the final name, Sloane swiped the list, took a look at it, and sent it to Lieutenant Sparks and Sergeant Maddock. Almost as soon as he’d sent it, the table flashed red, and a band scrolled across the top with an APB for each member on the list. Sloane thanked Reyes and told him to hang tight before slipping out of the room. Maddock was waiting for him outside.

  “Good job, son.”

  “Thank you. I’m concerned about where we should hold him. I’m certain the Coalition knows we have him in custody.” And if they didn’t, something told him they’d know soon enough.

  “You’re right. Keep him in the interrogation room until I can speak to Lieutenant Sparks. Right now, she’s holding an emergency briefing.” Maddock met Sloane’s gaze. “Whatever it is. It’s not good.”

  DEX SAT at the conference table in the briefing room facing the front where his dad and Lieutenant Sparks stood talking quietly. The large screen on the wall behind them flickered to life but remained blank. Whatever was going on, it couldn’t be good. If the lieutenant was holding the briefing, it was usually serious business, and her grave expression didn’t bode well. Tony looked momentarily stunned by something the lieutenant said, and Dex knew it was bad. Sparks took the podium and held a hand up. The room immediately plunged into silence.

  “What I’m about to show you will be difficult for you, but I ask that you remain calm until I’ve explained the situation.”

  An image flickered to life on the screen, and the room erupted into gasps and murmurs. Dex stared at the bound-and-gagged agent in disbelief. Sloane was on his feet instantly and in front of Dex, Cael gasped, “Oh my God. Ash.”

  “What the hell is this?” Sloane demanded.

  Lieutenant Sparks patiently addressed Sloane. “I will explain, Agent Brodie. Please, have a seat.”

  Dex couldn’t tear his gaze away from the screen where he saw Ash bound and gagged. The most unsettling part was how they had beaten the shit out of the fierce Therian agent. His face was swollen, his lip split, a cut trickled blood from his nose. He was bruised and covered in blood and sweat. His head hung low, and he looked as if he was out cold.

  “Agent Keeler is a member of the Coalition.”

  Something about the statement and the matter-of-fact way the lieutenant said it struck Dex as odd. The room once again erupted into murmurs.

  “Ash is the mole?” Cael asked, his voice barely rising above those around him but loud enough for the lieutenant to hear.

  “Not the one we’ve been looking for,” Sparks replied. “Agent Keeler is the mole we planted. He’s been working undercover. The objective was to send an agent to infiltrate the Coalition, discover the mole from the inside out. Keeler’s combat skills, field experience, and brash character made him the perfect candidate for the assignment. We knew the Coalition would jump at the chance to recruit him if they believed he could be swayed to fight for their cause.

  “I instructed Keeler to play sympathetic to the Coalition’s purpose. It didn’t take long for our mole to make contact. Keeler received an anonymous text giving him a date, time, and place. He showed, spoke to someone who wasn’t the mole but had contact with him or her. Keeler negotiated the terms. He would join their ranks and provide intel so long as Coalition members kept their distance from THIRDS agents, specifically his team. To maintain the illusion he’d gone rogue, it was necessary for Destructive Delta to be kept in the dark. I then fed Keeler inside information to pass along.”

  All this time, Ash had been working undercover? Everything suddenly started to make sense. The absences, the attitude, the constant justification of the Coalition’s actions. The way he pushed Cael away. Dex had gotten it all wrong. Damn it. He should have trusted his gut. Ash had never been a traitor. In fact he was the complete opposite. He knew what this kind of assignment would entail. How it would affect his relationship with those he cared about. But he’d gone out and done his job anyway because that’s what a THIRDS agent who believed in what he was doing did. He put the safety of the city’s citizens before all else.

  “It was imperative Agent Keeler maintain his cover until the identity of our mole was discovered. Unfortunately, it looks like his position has been compromised. I received a digital ransom note from the Coalition twenty minutes ago. They want to do a trade. Agent Keeler for Mr. Reyes.”

  Agent Taylor shook his head. “How do we know they won’t kill Ash anyway?”

 
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