Against the grain, p.17
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       Against The Grain, p.17
 

         Part #5 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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  believe after all this time, Cael was here in his arms. “I love you.”

  “I love you too,” Cael said softly.

  As they floated toward sleep, a thought occurred to Ash. “Cael?”

  “Hm?

  He felt his face burn up, but he asked anyway. “One of these days, will you, um, show me how you uh… you know….”

  “Fuck myself with the dildo?” Cael asked nonchalantly.

  “Yes. That. Thank you.”

  “You bet.”

  “Great.” God, he felt like such an idiot. How was it he was the one feeling like some inexperienced virgin while Cael was throwing around words like… dildo? What a fucking horrible word. Then again a lot of words associated with sex sounded unappealing to him, though he was sure the act—especially if it involved Cael—would be anything but.

  The steady rise and fall of Cael’s chest beneath his hand told him Cael had fallen asleep. Ash lay awake as long as he could to enjoy the feel of Cael’s naked body against his. Soon they’d be back on call, facing threats and Therians out to do them harm. Instinctively, his arms tightened around Cael. He buried his face in Cael’s hair and inhaled deeply. It was fine. Everything would be fine. They’d been to hell and back. At least now he had Cael waiting for him on the other side.

  Chapter 10

  CAEL WAS stirred awake by a strange yet familiar sound. With a groan, he rolled over and snuggled closer to Ash, who was muttering incoherently and cursing whatever noise was determined to wake them up. The annoying sound was persistent, like an alarm. Cael rubbed his drowsy eyes in an attempt to wake up.

  “Shit.” He crawled away from Ash, rousing him from sleep.

  “What? What is it?” Ash asked, sitting up.

  “Do you hear that? It’s an emergency call.” They both scrambled off the bed looking for their phones, and Cael remembered they’d dropped their pants on the stairs. The alarm they were hearing was reserved for Sparks and used only in an emergency. Cael had heard it on very few occasions during his time at the THIRDS. He found his phone in his discarded jeans pocket and tapped the security screen, the reader accepting his fingerprint before flashing blue, then red. Sparks’s message cut through the silence.

  All members of Destructive Delta, Beta Ambush, and Theta Destructive are to report to the address enclosed at the end of this message immediately. Arrive in your BearCats with full tactical equipment, and be prepared for a threat level red transport. You’ll receive full instructions upon your arrival. Discretion is imperative.

  Ash’s words mirrored Cael’s sentiments. “What the fuck?”

  “I don’t know, but we better move.”

  They jumped to it, getting dressed as quickly as they could before running out of the apartment. Cael checked the address on his phone. It was a parking garage on West Thirty-Third Street. Why would Sparks want them to meet in a parking garage?

  When they arrived at HQ, the rest of their team was there in the armory getting dressed and gearing up. Cael pulled his extra uniform from his weapons locker, noticing how everyone seemed to be lost in their own thoughts. They were probably wondering along the same lines as him. This wasn’t a regular callout.

  “Sloane, what’s going on?”

  “I don’t know.”

  Sloane looked troubled, and that wasn’t good. Why would Sparks not inform Sloane? Cael finished getting dressed beside Ash, straightening one of the straps of Ash’s tactical vest, when he heard familiar voices. Seb entered their armory, followed by his team. He was dressed in full gear, looking large and imposing, as always. He gave Cael a wink before walking past him to speak quietly to Hobbs, who was looking anxious. Calvin wasn’t kidding. Hobbs looked like he hadn’t slept in days. His shoulders were slumped, and he stayed as close to Calvin as possible. Seb let his head rest against his little brother’s, whispering something to Hobbs, who nodded and even managed a small smile.

  Calvin closed his locker and turned to Seb. “Any idea what this is all about?”

  “Yeah,” Dex pitched in. “And why are we meeting offsite?”

  Seb released his brother and shook his head, his expression no less troubled or confused than the rest of them. “I know as much about all this as you guys. We better head out.”

  They all finished suiting up and grabbing their gear before hurrying out of the armory and heading for their BearCats. Sloane, Seb, and Taylor did a quick recon before splitting up and leading their teams to their respective trucks. Hobbs climbed in behind the wheel with Calvin riding shotgun as usual. Cael sat behind his surveillance console when it struck him.

  “Where’s the sarge?”

  Everyone stilled.

  “I’ll find out,” Sloane said, typing away at his smartphone as everyone took a seat on the bench and buckled up.

  Cael fastened his seat belt as the BearCat roared to life when Sloane announced Sarge wasn’t coming.

  “He’s not been called in on this.”

  Sloane put his phone away, and Cael noticed Ash and Dex exchange glances. What were they thinking? Clearly they weren’t happy about it, and Cael was with them on that. Why would their sergeant not get called in for this emergency? Sloane told Hobbs to get them moving, and the three BearCats drove out of the garage and into the night. This whole thing wasn’t sitting well with Cael, and judging by the looks on his teammates’ faces, they felt the same. Everyone seemed to be lost in their own thoughts as they headed for the address Sparks had relayed. It didn’t take long to get there, especially at this time of night. Cael checked his watch. Damn, it was almost four in the morning.

  The BearCat turned and drove up an incline, the light dimming around them. Cael figured they’d reached the parking garage. There was a faint beep, like the setting of a car alarm. Most likely the signal. Hobbs drove a couple more feet before their truck came to a stop. Well, this was it. They were about to find out what was going on. Hobbs turned off the engine and joined them in the back, followed by Calvin.

  “All right, team. Let’s see what this is about.” Sloane stood and opened the back door, peering out before opening the door wider and hopping down. He motioned for the rest of the team to follow. Ash jumped down, and Cael was right behind him, sticking close to him as the headlights from the approaching two BearCats neared. The trucks came to a halt, the lights remaining on as the teams climbed out.

  The parking lot was eerily quiet, but then it should have been at this time of night. Scanning the area, Cael noticed there were security cameras. They were pointing away, with no lights or anything signaling they were recording. Ahead of them, Sparks and a small team of Therian agents Cael had never seen before approached them. The agents were dressed in black suits, shirts, and ties, and one of them was carrying a medium-sized armored case.

  “Thank you all for your promptness. This case is to be delivered to the Teterboro Airport, where a small team of Therian agents will be waiting beside a private unmarked plane. I’ll be monitoring your navigation systems. I can’t stress enough how crucial this mission is. It’s also highly classified. I expect you all to report in the moment the drop is made. Understood?”

  Everyone nodded and replied with affirmatives. Sparks gave the signal, and the agent holding the case handed it over to Ash, who frowned but accepted it.

  “Destructive Delta, you keep the package secure. Theta Destructive, Beta Ambush, your job is to make sure Destructive Delta delivers the package at all costs.” With that she turned and headed for the black Suburban parked a few feet away.

  None of them knew what the hell was going on, but each Team Leader gathered their team and headed back to their respective truck. Ash climbed into the BearCat, the package in his hands. He took the lone seat across from the bench, where their sergeant usually sat, and buckled himself in, using the extra safety harness as well. The rest of the team silently took their seats on the bench and buckled up as the truck’s doors closed. The engine roared to life, and Hobbs waited until Theta Destructive’s truck had driven past befo
re following, with Beta Ambush taking up the rear. The trucks left the parking garage, traveling up West Thirty-Third Street.

  THERE WAS silence as they headed toward Ninth Avenue. Of course, the silence didn’t stay that way for long. It never did when Dex was around.

  “Okay, since no one else is going to say it, I will. That’s the fucking drug, isn’t it? We’re transporting the drug.”

  “We don’t know that,” Sloane stated calmly.

  “What else can it be? We’re transporting a mysterious armored case to a private airfield at four o’clock in the morning, our sergeant’s not been informed of this, and we have two other teams providing backup with enough firepower to take on a small army. Sparks, Ward, the drugs? It has to be.”

  “This isn’t the first transport we’ve done,” Ash offered, “and we don’t exactly keep regular hours.”

  None of them wanted to believe Sparks was involved with the control drug. That after years of being with the THIRDS, being their lieutenant, she could be behind an unsanctioned op. And for what purpose? She was a Therian. Why would she get involved in something that would control her own kind? The agents with her had also been Therian. It made no sense.

  Dex looked to Sloane. “Tell me you’re not thinking the same thing.”

  Everyone turned their attention to their Team Leader. If Sloane believed it, so would the rest of them. They all waited, hoping Sloane could offer them something to argue Sparks’s innocence.

  “Fuck.” Sloane leaned his elbows on his knees and ran his fingers through his hair.

  “What if it is the drug, Sloane?” Rosa said. “Are we just going to hand it over to God knows who? It’ll disappear.”

  “And what do you propose we do?” Ash griped. “No wonder she didn’t call Maddock in on this. He would have fucking blown his shit.”

  “We could take it back to HQ,” Dex pitched in.

  Sloane shook his head. “If Sparks is involved, she could easily get to it. She has high-level security clearance. She’ll be able to get into areas we can’t.”

  “We could hide it.”

  Ash scoffed at Dex. “Where are we going to hide an illegal unsanctioned mind-control drug, genius?”

  “Fuck you, Simba,” Dex snapped. “At least I’m making suggestions.”

  “Stupid suggestions. Justice.”

  Sloane sat back and put a hand out. “All right, that’s enough. Just let me think for a second.”

  “Aren’t there contingency plans for this sort of thing?” Dex asked Sloane, though his glare was still pinned on Ash, who couldn’t resist having a dig at Dex.

  These two were going to drive them all nuts. How did they always get themselves into these situations? They needed a real vacation, one as far away from New York City as possible.

  “You mean for the ‘your lieutenant is involved in a conspiracy, please drop off all illegal substances at point B’ situation?”

  Dex appeared unimpressed. “And here I thought your sleeping with my brother might actually make you less of an asshole.”

  “Dex!” Cael gasped, unable to believe his brother blurted that out in front of everyone. He wished he could crawl under a rock. His brother must love the taste of boot, because he was always sticking his foot in his mouth. For crying out loud!

  Rosa thrust a finger at Ash. “I knew it! Pendejo. You said nothing was going on between you two.”

  “Well, I lied,” Ash replied sweetly. “Cael and I are dating, okay? You and your girlfriend will have to find a way to get over the loss.”

  “Screw you,” Rosa huffed, her arms crossed over her chest.

  “Sorry, that position’s ocupado.”

  Cael groaned before Sloane finally lost his shit. “Will you all just shut the fuck up?”

  The entire truck went silent.

  “We have an extremely grave situation on our hands and little time in which to resolve it, and you’re fucking bitching about who’s dating who? Unless you have a solution, I don’t want to hear a peep out of any of you. Un-fucking-believable.”

  The speakers on the surveillance console turned on with a beep, and Cael frowned. “What the hell?” He hadn’t turned anything on.

  “Destructive Delta, come in!”

  “Austen?” How the hell did he patch himself into the console, and why wasn’t he calling them through their earpieces? The urgency in Austen’s tone had Cael’s instincts on high alert. Something was going on.

  “Brace for impact!”

  “Harness!” Sloane shouted. No one questioned Sloane’s orders. They all strapped into their harnesses within seconds. “Austen, what’s going on?”

  “Hijack! I repeat, you’re about to get—”

  Cael’s head shot up in time to see the headlights of a colossal Mack truck speeding right for them before it hit.

  The world fell into silence.

  His body jerked fiercely, a sharp pain jolting through his neck and limbs. There was a burst of noise and chaos before nothingness consumed him.

  EVERYTHING HURT.

  Cael groaned at the pounding in his head. He blinked a few times and forced his eyes open after a great deal of effort, his vision blurred. Rubbing his eyes, he tried again. Around him he heard groans, and someone sucked in a sharp breath. What happened? Carefully, he pushed himself to his feet, the floor clanking beneath him. What the hell? He dropped his gaze, frowning at the weapons cage beneath his boots. Hadn’t he been strapped into his chair? Something brushed the top of his head, and he looked up, a choked gasp escaping him. Rosa hung from the ceiling unconscious, a thin line of blood trailing down the side of her face. No, wait. It wasn’t the ceiling. The BearCat was on its side. It all came back to him. They’d been rammed.

  Cael took in the damage around him. Oh God, his team. Rosa was unconscious. Letty was groaning and coming around, a nasty bruise on her forehead. Ash was cutting through his harness, and Dex was—Where the hell was his brother?

  “Sloane, wake up!”

  Cael turned, his eyes widening at Dex on his knees next to Sloane, who was out and on the floor, his torn straps hanging from the truck’s wall. The impact had been enough to dislodge the bench’s backrest and Sloane’s harness. Cael carefully climbed off the cage and went to Sloane’s side. He felt for a pulse, hanging his head in relief when he felt the steady beat. “He’s just out. His pulse is steady.”

  The sound of machine-gun fire erupted outside, and Ash handed the armored case to Cael. “Hold this for me. Dex, help me get the girls down.”

  Dex removed the tactical knife from his thigh rig and helped Ash cut Rosa and Letty out of their harnesses. Outside a small explosion rocked the truck, and everyone stilled.

  “Shit. We’re under attack.” Dex tried to look out one of the ballistic windows now above them, but he had no luck. All they could see was sky and smoke.

  “Shit. Everyone, move your asses,” Ash ordered, hurrying to free the girls. Together he and Dex lowered them to the floor, Letty now fully awake and trying to get Rosa to come around. Sloane groaned, and Dex went to his side, helping him sit up.

  “What the hell?”

  “We were rammed,” Dex said, looking up past Cael and cursing under his breath.

  They all followed his gaze, finding Hobbs standing there, his eyes glassy as he held Calvin limp in his arms, a small trickle of blood coming out of Calvin’s ear. Oh no. No. Cael went to Calvin’s side and felt for a pulse. It was weak, but it was there.

  “He needs a hospital,” Cael said, turning toward his team when he heard Seb’s voice coming in through their earpieces.

  “Destructive Delta, come in!”

  A chorus of gunfire resounded around them, and Ash entered his security code into the weapons cage, removed tranq rifles, and passed them out. He tapped his earpiece. “Seb! What the fuck is going on out there?”

  “It’s a hijacking. We’re under heavy fire. I make roughly forty armed hostiles. My team and I are coming to get you out of there. Taylor’s backing us up. Wait
for my signal. You can’t stay in there. They’re coming for the package.”

  “Shit.” Sloane stood and grabbed his helmet off the floor, securing it on his head before picking up an MP5 machine gun from the weapons cage and one of the ballistic shields from the floor. “Everyone gear up. We gotta get to a secure location.” He turned to Hobbs, who was worriedly looking down at Calvin in his arms. In the distance, they heard sirens.

  “Hobbs, give Calvin to Rosa and Letty. We need you.”

  Hobbs looked uncertain, his troubled gaze going down to Calvin in his arms. Letty stepped to him and put her hand to his arm.

  “We’ll take care of him. Rosa’s going to look him over, okay?”

  Hobbs nodded and laid Calvin gently on the floor, leaving him to Rosa and Letty, who quickly checked him over. Rosa went to work administering first aid, telling Letty they needed to get Calvin to an ambulance.

  Ash turned to Cael, his expression determined and scaring the hell out of Cael. He knew what was coming, and he didn’t want to hear it.

  “Whatever the hell is going on, it’s all about this.” He pointed to the case before putting his gloved hand to Cael’s cheek. “No matter what happens, you get this case out of here. You hear me? You get it out and somewhere secure.”

  Cael shook his head. “I can’t leave you.”

  “You have to. Whatever’s in there is important enough for them to kill for. We can’t let them have it.” He slid his hand down behind Cael’s neck. “We’ll get through this.”

  He kissed Cael briefly but passionately before pulling back. With a wink, he picked up a helmet and handed it to Cael, who secured it on his head as Dex did the same. They all geared up, with Dex, Cael, and the girls the only ones not picking up shields.

  “All right,” Sloane came in over their earpieces. “Dex, you and Cael get that to a secure location, and once you do, you call the sarge. Letty, Rosa, you take Calvin and the three of you get somewhere safe. Get him to an ambulance. The three of us will help Seb and the others cover you. Got it?”

  Dex readied his rifle. He took hold of Sloane’s chin, pulled him down, and kissed him. “You be safe.”

  With a nod, Sloane hit the com button on his vest. “Seb, we’re ready. We’ve got one man down and need to get him to an ambulance. Dex and Cael have the package. We’ll cover them so they can get the hell out of here.”

  “Copy that.”

  “Here we go!”

  Sloane opened the back doors, and everyone rushed out of the truck. It was like they’d entered a war zone. There was smoke and debris everywhere, bullets flying, and flash bangs going off. There were masked men and Therians shooting at THIRDS agents from behind parked cars and the Mack truck that had been used to ram the BearCat.

  Sloane, Ash, and Hobbs used their shields to form a protective barrier around their five smaller members, deflecting fire and shooting as they all quickly worked in unison to get behind the truck for cover. Seb and three other members of his team hurried over, shields in hand.

  “I’ve tried calling dispatch, and no one is answering. What the fuck is going on?”

  “I don’t know,” Sloane replied, firing at the hijackers. Cael couldn’t see past his teammates’ shields. The circle grew bigger, with Seb and the other agents joining. Horns honked, people screamed, and Ash broke formation.

  “Take cover!”

  Cael managed to get a glimpse of a tactical vehicle heading their way before Ash grabbed him around the waist and hoisted him off his feet. With the case in one hand, Cael snatched his Glock from his thigh rig and shot at the asshole aiming at Ash, hitting him in the vest twice and knocking the guy off his feet. Cael and Dex were pushed together behind a parked car as the arriving tactical vehicle that had been looking to run them over came skidding to halt, armed men emerging from its back doors, one of them about Ash’s height with a mask on his face.

  “Hand over the case!”

  His voice sounded familiar, but he was using some kind of scrambler or enhancer.

  Sloane tapped his com. “Rosa, Letty, where are you?”

  “Taylor got us to an ambulance. We’re leaving Calvin and—”

  “No,” Sloane ordered. “You stick with him. Find out what the hell is going on with dispatch, and get us some backup.”

 
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