Against the grain, p.9
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       Against The Grain, p.9
 

         Part #5 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet

  Sloane was off, and Ash remained seated on the bench. He leaned back against the wall, thinking of his next move. It was certain Sparks would approve Sloane’s request for Ash to train the brothers in an official capacity. He also knew she would allow it because it was him. Ash’s experience and track record meant he held a certain amount of sway, and rather than sending Dex or Cael offsite to train or arranging a THIRDS training specialist, Ash would be permitted to carry out the training as he saw fit. That’s if he could convince Cael to continue training with him. His methods might have been unorthodox, but he got results. He’d managed to get Cael really pissed, and that’s what the young agent needed for combat. He wasn’t lacking in ferocity; he simply needed to learn to reach deep down and draw from it.

  Ash stood with a groan. Time to work on his groveling.

  Chapter 6

  THAT JERK!

  Cael climbed into their black Suburban and slammed the passenger side door shut. He was so mad it took him over half a dozen tries before he could click his seat belt into place. All he could think about was Ash yelling at him to get angry. Then he thought about Ash writhing on the floor in pain. Poor Ash. Unbelievable! “No,” he scolded himself. “You are not allowed to feel guilty after what he did. Nope. No. Noooo.”

  Rosa eyed him worriedly. “You okay, gatito?”

  “Ugh!” Cael let out a frustrated grunt. “Ash Keeler is the most frustrating, infuriating, jerkface jerk ever!”

  “Wow.” Rosa stared at him. “A jerkface and a jerk. Must have been bad.”

  Cael felt his cheeks growing warm from his little outburst. “Just start the car.” He folded his arms over his chest, refusing to give it another thought. He was not going to feel guilty. Ash had asked for it. Literally. He’d asked Cael to get mad and attack him. So he did. He’d given Ash exactly what he’d asked for.

  “What did jerkface do?” Rosa asked as she turned on the ignition and pulled out of their designated parking spot. Cael ignored the amusement in her tone.

  “He’s training me in CQC.”

  “Oh?”

  Rosa drove out of the subbasement at the rear of the building where the THIRDS garage housed all their tactical vehicles and out onto the street. They were heading to NY Presbyterian Hospital. Their first case since returning to duty. Why did it have to be that hospital, of all places? Like they hadn’t been there enough recently.

  “And it’s not going well?”

  “I punched him in the balls,” Cael muttered, feeling embarrassed now that he’d said it out loud.

  Rosa let out a bark of laughter. “I’m sorry.” She tried to keep herself from laughing but was failing miserably. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to laugh.”

  “Liar. You’d do the same if you had the chance.”

  “You bet I would. Don’t think I haven’t tried. Fucker’s too fast.”

  “Wasn’t fast enough this time around,” Cael said with a snort.

  Rosa laughed as they drove, their siren and flashing lights announcing their presence and demanding traffic get out of their way as Rosa maneuvered through New York City’s busy streets. Cael couldn’t help thinking about his training. Ash had said and done what he had to get him angry. Cael knew that. He thought about Ash’s crude remark about what “she said,” and his frown deepened. It was stupid, but it had really gotten under Cael’s skin. It made him think about the women Ash had been with. Why was it so easy for Ash to be with them? All Cael wanted was to understand. Was that too much to ask? Dex had a point. Why was it a big deal for Ash? Images of him on Ash’s lap Thanksgiving night made him want to crawl under a rock and never come out. God, what an idiot he’d been. He’d even taken off his shirt, dry humping Ash like some wolf Therian in heat. It was pathetic. And then to make things worse, Ash had shot him down.

  “Gatito? Cael.”

  Rosa prodded Cael on his arm, and he gave a start. Shit.

  “Sorry, Rosa.”

  “We’re here.”

  She motioned to the main hospital entrance, and Cael hopped to it. Time to get to work. Berating himself for his poor romantic choices would have to wait until later.

  They headed through the glass doors to the reception area and spoke quietly to one of the nurses.

  “Agent Cael Maddock from the THIRDS Unit Alpha and Agent Rosa Santiago.”

  “Yes, of course.”

  The nurse quickly got to her feet and spoke quietly to her coworker before motioning for them to follow. They followed her through the hospital wings toward the ICU and down another wing containing only offices. At the entrance was a medium-sized reception area with three nurses.

  “I’ll leave you to it, Agents.”

  The nurse excused herself, and Cael frowned. He looked over at the nurses by the desk, who were chatting as if nothing was happening. The corridor was empty. No flurry of activity, no agents, no CSIs coming and going. Rosa must have been thinking the same, because she turned to him with a questioning look.

  Cael shrugged, and they headed over to the nurses’ station, showed their badges, and introduced themselves. One nurse pointed to one of the open offices. Did they know one of their coworkers had just died? Why was everyone so… blasé?

  “This is fucking weird,” Rosa whispered as they walked into the doctor’s office. Cael stilled.

  “Where is everyone?” The only occupant was the dead body lying on the floor in the middle of the room.

  Hudson and Nina were always the first ones on scene, with a long line of CSIs trailing behind them. They should have arrived long before Cael and Rosa. He tapped his earpiece and asked Lisa, Unit Alpha’s receptionist, to patch him through to Hudson. There was no answer from him or Nina. That was odd.

  “Agents?”

  Cael turned in the direction of the soft voice and found a blond male Human nurse with pale blue eyes, his mouth covered by a surgical mask. His hospital ID said his name was Jude Russell.

  “What can I do for you?” Cael asked.

  “I’ve been instructed to inform you that your team has been momentarily detained. They should arrive shortly.”

  Cael nodded, waiting for the nurse to leave before turning to Rosa with a frown.

  “Why wouldn’t Hudson or Nina call us?”

  “I don’t like this.” Rosa walked around the body and crouched down, reading the doctor’s ID. “Dr. Ward. Why does that name sound familiar?”

  “Shit. Dr. Ward?” Cael crouched down beside Rosa. “This is the doctor that treated Ash when he was shot. He was also Sloane’s doctor when he was brought in after the explosion.”

  “Carajo.”

  “Yeah.” Cael looked the body over. “Male wolf Therian. Looks to be in his mid to late thirties.”

  Rosa took notes on her tablet, and Cael pulled a pair of examiner’s gloves from his pocket. He tugged them on as he studied Ward. “We’ll need Hudson to confirm, but from the looks of him, I’d say he hasn’t been dead long. About an hour at most.”

  “I don’t see any signs of a homicide.” Rosa used her pen to push open the sides of the doctor’s coat. “No blood, bruising, or wounds.”

  Cael very gently placed his hands on the doctor’s head, feeling around and under. “No lacerations or bumps. Strange, considering he’s on the floor.”

  “Heart attack?” Rosa asked.

  None of this was sitting well with him. He removed his hand from Ward’s head when he noticed a tiny purplish blue blemish behind his earlobe. “I found something.” He leaned in for a closer look. “I’ve got an entry point. He was injected with something.” Damn it. Where the hell was Hudson? Cael was about to pull back when he noticed something white under the doctor’s desk.

  Rosa followed his line of vision. “What is it?”

  “I don’t know yet.” Cael got down on his hands and knees in front of the desk and reached under it, then pulled out a small white prescription bottle. He read the label. “Thelxinomine. I’ve seen this name before.” And recently too. “Can you run it through Themis?


  “Sure. Give me a sec.”

  Rosa tapped away at her tablet. The search was taking longer than usual.

  “Nothing.” She shook her head. “That can’t be right. I’ll run it again.”

  She tapped away, conducting another search, her frustrated huff telling him the second search had yielded the same results.

  “This isn’t possible. How can a hospital-prescribed drug not be in Themis?”

  Cael couldn’t understand it. Every legal and illegal substance known to man and Therian alike was listed in Themis. If the information was out there, Themis could find it.

  Nurse Russell returned, lingering in the doorway. “Is there anything I can help with?”

  “Perfect timing.” Cael showed Russell the prescription bottle. “Can you tell me what this medication is? What it’s used for?”

  “I’m kind of new here, so I’ll have to look that information up. I can bring you the file.” Russell took the bottle from him and motioned toward the door. “I’ll be back in a sec. Left my tablet at the nurses’ station outside.”

  “Sure.”

  The nurse left, and Cael looked around the office. Everything was so clean. If Ward had been poisoned, they’d need Hudson and Nina to get the body back to the lab to run some tests. They needed confirmation on time of death and whatever it was the Therian had been injected with. Cael couldn’t shake the feeling something was off about all this. Why were they the only ones here? Why did no one seem bothered? They were all so cold. And why the hell hadn’t Rosa been able to find any information on the drug?

  “Where did that nurse go? I thought he said he left his tablet outside at the nurses’ station?” Rosa said, standing to join Cael.

  “Let’s go find out.” Cael left the office with Rosa behind him. The nurses’ station was a short distance from Ward’s office. This time there was only one nurse behind the desk.

  “Excuse me.” Cael flashed his badge again. “Have you seen Nurse Russell? We’re waiting on some information.”

  “One second.” The Therian nurse picked up the phone, and seconds later, a young Therian female nurse with dark hair appeared.

  “Can I help you ?”

  Cael frowned. “No. Sorry. We’re looking for Nurse Jude Russell.”

  “I’m Nurse Jude Russell,” she said, smiling pleasantly.

  Cael looked at her ID. It did indeed say Jude Russell. Well, that wasn’t confusing at all. What the holy hell was going on around here?

  “The nurse we’re looking for is a male Therian,” Cael insisted. “Blond hair and pale blue eyes.”

  The two nurses exchanged puzzled glances before female Nurse Russell turned back to him. “I’m sorry, Agent, but I’m the only Jude Russell in this department.”

  “Okay.” Rosa turned to the nurse behind the desk. “Is it possible the Jude we’re looking for was from a different department?”

  She tapped away at her screen. “I’m sorry, but there’s no other registered nurse under that name.”

  What the hell? They hadn’t made up the guy. Cael hurried back to the office with Rosa on his heels. “What the hell is going on?”

  “This is seriously fucked, Cael.”

  Cael rushed inside and came to an abrupt halt. No, this was seriously fucked. “Rosa, tell me I’m not going crazy. There was a body on the floor last time we were in here.”

  Rosa walked past him and stared down at the floor where Dr. Ward had been a moment ago. “What the fuck is going on?”

  There was no sign anyone had been in the room, yet the place had been swept. It was empty. All of Dr. Ward’s belongings, everything on his desk, in it, the shelves, anything that wasn’t furniture, were gone. They’d yet to hear from Hudson and Nina. Cael spun on his heels and stomped back to the nurses’ station, frowning at the male Therian sitting where the female Human nurse had been seconds ago.

  “Who are you?” Cael asked, trying not to snap at the nurse.

  The Therian blinked up at him. “Can I help you, Agent?”

  “Where’s the nurse who was here a moment ago?”

  “She had to go. Emergency.”

  “Right.” He thrust a finger in the direction of Dr. Ward’s office. “Maybe you can tell me who the hell went into that office and moved Dr. Ward’s body?”

  “I’m sorry, who?”

  Jesus. Cael pinched the bridge of his nose. This was getting absurd, and he was starting to lose his patience. “Dr. Ward. He was found dead earlier, and we’re here to investigate. Someone has moved his body.”

  “I’m sorry, sir, but there’s no doctor by that name here.”

  Cael gaped at the guy. “Yes, there is. We were just in there with him. Look up a patient. Ash Keeler. Tell me the name of the attending doctor.”

  The nurse tapped away at his screen. “Here it is. Ash Keeler. THIRDS agent. It says here his attending doctor was Dr. Fredrickson.”

  “What? No, that’s not right. Look up a patient named Sloane Brodie. He was admitted in August.”

  More tapping. The nurse looked up at him and turned the screen so Cael could see. He pointed to the name in blue letters. Dr. Fredrickson.

  “This is bullshit,” Cael declared. He was about to chew out the nurse when his earpiece beeped. “Cael Maddock,” he growled.

  “Agent Maddock, this is Lieutenant Sparks. I want you and Agent Santiago in my office immediately.”

  “Can it wait? We have a situation.” It took a hell of a lot of patience not to spit the words out.

  “Your job isn’t to question my orders, Agent Maddock. Your job is to follow them.”

  “Yes, Lieutenant.” He tapped his earpiece and motioned for Rosa to follow him. “Come on. Sparks wants us in her office.” He pulled off his gloves and disposed of them in one of the nurses’ biohazard bins.

  “Cael, what’s going on?” Rosa asked as they hurried out to the parking lot and their Suburban. He climbed into the passenger side as his partner slid in behind the wheel. They fastened their seat belts and soon were on their way back to HQ.

  “I don’t know. But I intend to ask Sparks. This is all just… wrong. From the moment we stepped foot in there, it was wrong. Something was up with those nurses. And that guy who disappeared with the prescription? Someone went in there after us and swept the place.”

  They’d had newbies contaminate crime scenes, had to face uncooperative witnesses and all kinds of messed-up things, but this was the first time they’d had a body disappear on them. Not long after, they arrived back at HQ and the subbasement garage. They took the elevator up to Unit Alpha, and Cael couldn’t shake the feeling in his gut. If he were in his Therian form, his fur would have been bristling. He went to tap his earpiece to get a hold of Hudson, but instead he headed for his and Rosa’s office.

  “Where are you going? I thought Sparks wanted us in her office.”

  “She does. I need to make a quick call.” He put his hand to his desk’s interface and tapped Hudson’s extension into the digital keypad. Hudson answered cheerfully.

  “Cael. What can I do for you?”

  “Where were you guys?”

  “I beg your pardon?”

  “You and Nina weren’t at the hospital.”

  “Were we supposed to be?” Hudson asked, sounding puzzled. “We’ve not had any callouts today.”

  “You’re weren’t requested at NY Presbyterian?”

  “No.”

  “Okay. Sorry. Must have gotten my intel wrong. Thanks, Hudson.”

  “No worries. Let me know if you need anything.”

  “Will do.” Cael hung up and arched an eyebrow at Rosa. “That nurse told us they’d been detained. They hadn’t even been called out. Let’s see what Sparks has to say.”

  They’d left the office and were walking through the bullpen when he saw Ash sitting at his desk in his and Letty’s office. Taking a detour, he knocked on the glass wall. Ash looked up and smiled tentatively.

  “Hey. Everything okay?”

  “I
m not sure.” He walked in with Rosa beside him. “What was the name of the doctor who attended to you at NY Presbyterian Hospital?”

  “Dr. Ward.”

  “I knew it! That bastard.” They weren’t losing their minds. Ward had been there. Dead.

  “Who?”

  “Something really fucked-up is going on,” Rosa said, coming to sit on the edge of Ash’s desk, talking quietly. She brought Ash up to speed on everything that had happened from the moment they’d arrived at the crime scene, the puzzling game of musical chairs with various nurses, disappearing staff, vanishing bodies, and altered information. “And then Sparks orders us back here.”

  “Wait, what was the name of the drug you found?”

  “Thelxinomine,” Cael replied. “Have you heard of it? I swear I’ve seen it somewhere.”

  “I know exactly where you saw it.” Ash opened his desk drawer and straightened. “What the fuck?” He jumped to his feet, and Cael was immediately at his side.

  “What is it?”

  “My prescription. It’s gone.”

  “Are you sure you left it in there?” Rosa asked.

  “Yes. I took one at lunch and put the bottle in this drawer. And now it’s fucking gone.”

  Ash searched through the rest of his desk drawers, coming up empty every time. Ash’s side of the office was impeccable. It would be hard to believe the guy could lose anything there. Letty’s side was less organized but still tidy enough not to drive Ash mad. Cael knew what a neat freak Ash could be.

  “Where’s Letty?” Rosa asked.

  “She’s with the sarge, taking inventory on the last shipment of ammunition.”

  “Did you leave your office recently?” Cael looked around the office, not that he’d be able to spot if something was out of place. If Ash hadn’t noticed, it was likely whoever had come in and taken the pills had done so discreetly. Someone had to have seen something. They were in the freakin’ bullpen, for crying out loud.

  Ash narrowed his eyes at his desk, as if doing so might make the pills reappear. “About twenty minutes ago. I went to the bathroom.”

  Rosa walked to the door and discreetly peeked outside. “You can get a new one, right?”

  “I suppose, but the doctor who prescribed it for me is dead. It was Thelxinomine. Dr. Ward signed off on it. I had two weeks’ worth of doses left.”

  “There’s no way this is a coincidence.” Cael tapped his earpiece. “Dex?”

  “Hey, bro. What’s up?”

  “Are you around?”

  “Yeah, in the office with Sloane.”

  “Stay there.”

  “Sure.”

  The three of them left Ash’s office and found Dex sitting behind his desk. His brother quickly tapped his desk, as if they hadn’t noticed the brightly lit neon table hockey he’d been playing on his desk’s interface. Ash entered his badge number into the security panel and initiated the office’s safe mode. The walls went white, and he turned to Sloane.

  “Your doctor at the hospital was Dr. Ward, right?”

 
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