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Divide & Conquer

Abigail Roux

  Chapter One

  CUED by the station jingle, the lights came up on the television newscast set, highlighting a slim, pleasant-faced black woman in a white blouse and green suit jacket sitting at the desk and tall, smiling man wearing a charcoal gray suit. The station logo appeared on the screen. “This is WBAL TV 11 News at 6. Im Jeff Barns. ”

  “And Im Alicia Harrison. Good evening. ” The camera focused on Harrison as a photo of a police car on fire appeared over her left shoulder. “Riots shook the city last night following the Ravens loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round playoff. It was the third riot since New Years Eve, and the violence continues to escalate. Andrea Gregg has more on the story. ”

  A siren cut to a night shot of a police car burning. People ran in front of it, taking photos and yelling as firefighters worked to douse the flames. The windows in the store behind them were smashed, glass scattered everywhere. A teenager was kicking in a final window in the background.

  “For the third time in a month, residents of Baltimore have woken up to a city in ruins. ” The sound of glass shards crackling and dragging on concrete accompanied the shot change. An older, balding man was sweeping up glass in front of a store.

  “They ransacked the place,” the man, identified by the title cards as Store Owner Steve Vilnick, said. “This is the second time this month. Im not sure well open again. ”

  As he kept sweeping, Greggs voice took over. “So far, no one has been seriously injured in the riots, but the property damage now reaches into the millions. Police say they are doing all they can to bring those responsible to justice, but tempers are beginning to fray. Today, city residents showed their frustration in a number of organized protests outside police headquarters. ”

  The shot changed to a demonstration outside the ugly facade of one of Baltimores many police district buildings. “They arent doing enough,” a young woman identified as Jasmine Burke, student, said. “What have they done to stop it? Nothing. Its getting so you cant go around at night anymore without walking into the middle of a battleground. ”

  “What are we paying them for?” Roy Monroe, store clerk, said. “Theyve made no arrests, got no leads. Man, after they smashed up the store I work in, we had to shut down for a week, and I didnt get reimbursed for that time. Why are we still paying them?”

  “I am concerned. Of course Im concerned,” Bob Smitherman, banker, said. “Places that have always been safe in the city just arent anymore, and public events? After New Years, Im avoiding them. Too many angry people and too few police. ”

  The shot switched to the Baltimore police chief. “We are, of course, doing all we can to stop the instigators of these riots, but we need the publics help to restore peace and safety to our city. We cant stand strong when were divided. ”

  A young woman in a light blue blazer appeared on screen holding a microphone. Her title read Andrea Gregg, WBAL reporter. A number appeared at the bottom of the screen. “Police are asking anyone with information or photos of rioters destroying property to call the tip line. You can also submit tips anonymously at www. baltimorepolice. org. This is Andrea Gregg, reporting for WBAL TV 11. ”

  T HE steaming hot water poured down over his shoulders, and Special Agent Zane Garrett groaned, drawing it out as he rotated his head to stretch the tense muscles of his neck. The shower was a pleasure after the two-hour workout this morning that had culminated in another rough-and-tumble boxing match with his partner.

  Zane let his eyes flutter shut, laid his head back to soak his hair, and released a long sigh while he enjoyed the pounding water pressure. This was an old gym, a small one tucked away in the basement of the FBIs Baltimore field office. But Zane preferred it to the newer, shinier fitness center in town that some of the agents frequented. Mostly because this old locker room had wonderfully tall shower heads and he didnt have to stoop—one of the hazards of being six foot five—and half-wall shower stalls, which meant he could sometimes ogle his very handsome partner without too much risk of being caught.

  Straightening, Zane opened his eyes, switching his attention from the water trickling down his face to the man not even three feet away on the other side of the tiled barrier.

  Special Agent Ty Grady stood with his face turned toward the water and his hands on the tile wall in front of him, his shoulders hunched forward and his back arched. His dark brown hair was cut short, shorter than usual, a necessity after being bleached blond for their last assignment. The water poured over and around his defined muscles, sloughing off the remains of the soap from his body and making the dull gold of his Marine Corps signet ring shine. Winding down in the shower was one of the few times Zane ever saw his partner that still, a true novelty when it came to Ty Grady.

  Although if Ty stayed in place for more than a minute, Zane could get his hands on him…. Zane growled and ducked his head back under the water, reaching to turn down the water temperature before grabbing his bottle of body wash. His ability to keep the lust in check while at work was usually better than this.

  When he glanced over a couple of breaths later, Ty was leaning his arms on the partition between them, smirking at him. Zane arched an eyebrow, wondering not for first time if Ty could read his mind.

  Ty looked him up and down and then glanced over his shoulder at the otherwise empty showers. “So, I had a thought,” he told Zane casually.

  “Danger, Will Robinson,” Zane commented as he squeezed gel into one hand and started soaping up.

  “Dont be like that,” Ty told him, his voice sounding hurt but carrying the undertone of mischief Zane was well used to. Zane snorted and shifted under the water as he washed off so he could look at Ty without craning his neck. “You had a thought,” he prompted with a small smile.

  “No, youll have to work for it now,” Ty responded with another smirk as he turned back to his own stream of water. Zane rolled his eyes and chucked his wet washcloth over the divider, smiling as he heard the wet splat against Tys skin. Tys infectious laughter, mingling with the relaxing thrum of the water running through old pipes, rewarded his effort. Zane grinned, letting the little spark of warmth spread through him as he finished rinsing off.

  He was reaching to shut off the water when a shrieking alarm pierced the soothing peace of water falling. “Fire alarm. Time to go,” Ty announced calmly as he turned the water off and grabbed his towel from the far wall of the shower stall. He didnt even dry off. He just wrapped the towel around his hips and headed for the exit as if there were nothing unusual about it.

  Zane winced as he covered one ear. “Ty!” he called out as he snatched up his towel and hurried after his partner. He grabbed Tys arm when he caught up. “You cant go outside soaking wet and practically naked in the middle of goddamn January!” He started tugging Ty back toward their lockers, where they could at least grab shorts and T-shirts and running shoes.

  “Cold is better than on fire,” Ty argued, though he let Zane drag him back. “Theres no fire down here. ”

  “You dont know that. ”

  “And the exit is twenty yards away,” Zane said as he hurriedly pulled Ty along behind him. “Now get dressed. And shoes. ” “Garrett, when an alarm starts going off, I head for an exit!” Ty shouted unhappily. He wasnt panicking, of course. Ty never panicked unless he was trapped in the dark or couldnt find his beloved Bronco in the parking lot. He shucked the towel, pulled on a pair of shorts, and slid his feet into his worn athletic shoes. Then he grabbed Zanes arm and gave him a tug toward the exit, heedless of Zane trying to get into his shorts.

  “Okay, damn, give me one second!” Zane exclaimed, grabbing his T-shirt and towel after shoving his feet into his running shoes, resisting Tys yanking as he leaned over to snatch
up Tys T-shirt before letting his partner pull him along.

  “Drag your feet later, Lone Star. Either the buildings on fire or its a drill and well be doing paperwork until our fingers bleed if were not out in time,” Ty insisted as he pulled Zane along the corridor toward the emergency exit. Ty was notoriously flighty and could be easily distracted, but in an emergency, he honed in on one thing and one thing alone: survival. There was no fighting the iron grip he had on Zanes arm or his insistence that being half-naked and outside was better than any alternative right then.

  “Im thinking well get a little leeway since we were in the showers,” Zane bit off as they thundered up the concrete steps out of the basement and through the emergency door that led outside into the bitter cold and wind.

  The morning sun blinded Zane as they pushed through the emergency exit and emerged onto the wet sidewalk in front of the building. The next thing he knew, Ty was ducking in front of him as if taking cover from a projectile, and Zane turned instinctively to check the threat. A shocking slap exploded across his face in a spray of ice water across shower-flushed skin.

  Another immediate snap, this one on his upper arm, another on his thigh as something else hit him, and more water splattered across him in the chilled air as he spluttered and wiped his eyes with one hand, striking out with the other at something dark flying toward his face. He felt the brief sensation of rubber on his fingers and then another painful snap like a rubber band, then more water. Zane swung toward movement at his left side. Five heartbeats had passed.

  By the time Zane realized hed just suffered through a barrage of colorful water balloons, Ty was standing again and looking at the rowdy crowd being pushed back behind the snow-dotted barriers on the sidewalk opposite the FBI building. More protesters.

  Protesters lobbed more water balloons across the street. Ty deftly caught one, cradling it like a football to keep it from popping. He reared back as if preparing to sling it back toward the crowd.

  “Grady!” Special Agent in Charge Dan McCoy barked from somewhere near the main entrance. Tys shoulders slumped, making him look like a scolded puppy who was miraculously good at dodging water balloons, and he dropped his ammunition as more landed around them.

  Zane wasnt so calm. He angrily batted down the next balloon thrown at him, and it hit the concrete with a smack and splash. The frigid wind bit into his wet skin and sucked the breath from his lungs, and Zane couldnt suppress the shudder, still feeling the sting of busting balloons on his skin. “What the hell?”

  “Quit bitching. At least theyre full of water and not something worse,” Ty shot back at Zane through gritted teeth. He folded his hands over his chest and the white words on his blue T-shirt—“Relax, Im hilarious”—and hunched his shoulders as he turned to look up at the concrete structure behind them. “Goddammit, its not on fire!”

  Those around them close enough to hear began to laugh, including some of the protesters across the street. Zane shook his head. How the hell did Ty manage to relate to people without even trying? It would never cease to amaze him.

  Another balloon sailed through the air, landing at the feet of a man with a bullhorn who stood near the entrance to the office building. He began to inform the crowd that any further action would be considered an attack on federal property and federal agents, and that arrests would be made. When the words “up to and including deadly force” came out of his mouth, the crowd began to rumble.

  Zane had read the memos. But this was the first time he had personally run into an attack. “I guess they figure we wont arrest them for assault,” he said with a shake of his head as he watched his breath practically crystallize as he exhaled, it was so cold.

  Ty looked around the crowd, his face expressionless. “Couple rubber rounds int-to them should f-fix them up,” he decided, his teeth beginning to chatter in the cold.

  Zane snorted. “Into the balloons, or into the crowd?” He crossed his arms, mirroring his partner, and took a step back. He glanced at Ty. “Imagine the paperwork. ”

  “Garrett! Grady! Get your asses back inside!” McCoy yelled from across the lawn. “Im not signing off on the sick leave when you get pneumonia!”

  “You say that now, but Im n-not f-filling out any f-forms!” Ty yelled back, stuttering harder. He was watching one of the agents decked out in riot gear, specifically eyeing the gun filled with rubber bullets. Another volley of balloons, yellow and green and red and blue, pulsing with freezing water, sailed through the air toward them.

  If Ty had one of those rifles in hand, he could make an impressive show of those flying targets; that might clear these people out fast. Zane knew that was exactly what Ty was thinking. He also knew Ty wasnt thinking about the PR aftermath. Even when Ty considered the public backlash of his actions, he rarely cared.

  “Fuck this,” Zane growled. He took Ty by the upper arm even as Ty took an impulsive step toward the man in riot gear. Zane turned them around and started pulling him back toward the building, dismissing the people watching and jeering at them.

  “Those little yellow f-forms with the rippy s-sides, and the blue ones th-that ask the s-same questions f-fourteen times, and the goddamn p-pink ones that make your fingers b-blue,” Ty rambled as he followed along without protest. He sounded like Porky Pig. “Id f-fill all those out if I could sh-shoot someone right now. ”

  “This time Im with you. It would be worth it. ” Another agent swiped an ID card for them, and Zane opened the side door to the building, shoved Ty inside, and followed, pulling the solid steel door shut behind them and wincing because the alarm was still wailing.

  Ty threw his arm over Zanes shoulders and hugged him close. His skin was cold against Zanes. “This is g-getting ugly,” he said, not looking at Zane. Zane knew he was referring to the situation at large, the unrest in the city. He continued to speak, lowering his voice until Zane couldnt hear him above the blaring warning.