Rise amp fall, p.10
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       Rise & Fall, p.10

         Part #4 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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  but it caused a lot of health issues. Her immune system was slowly deteriorating. She caught an infection after childbirth and passed away a few weeks later.”

  “I’m so sorry.”

  “I didn’t know what to do with myself. Our relationship was far from perfect, but we loved each other.”

  “Why isn’t Beth registered under your name?”

  “I dreaded this day. When my past would catch up to me. I was always paranoid about it. It broke my heart, but I couldn’t keep Beth with me. I was afraid someone would try to hurt her. But I was weak and couldn’t give her up for adoption either, at least not to a stranger. I took all the savings I had and paid off the doctor at the Therian registration office. My brother is listed as the biological father. He’s married to a Therian with a Therian child. I knew Beth would have a good home there.”

  “Does she know you’re her biological dad?”

  Perry shook his head. “She thinks I’m her uncle. One day she might find out. But who knows where I’ll be then.” He turned to face Dex, his expression grim and determined. “I’ll do whatever it takes to keep her safe, Agent Daley. There is nothing in this world I wouldn’t sacrifice for her. I’ve made mistakes. Unforgivable mistakes. But Beth shouldn’t have to pay for them.”

  “And I agree with you, Perry. But if I can find you and your family, what makes you think Beck Hogan can’t?”

  “Beck Hogan,” Perry whispered the name, as if saying it too loud might conjure the guy up. “I’ve been moving around, trying not to stay too long in one place. The moment I saw the news reports about the others, and then Hogan being responsible for the explosion, I knew he’d come after me sooner or later.”

  “Hogan’s looking to finish what he started. He won’t rest until you and Jackson are dead. If it means getting to you through your family, then so be it.”

  “Why are you helping me?”

  “I sincerely believe you regret what you did, even if I can’t forgive it, but I’m not willing to put your little girl’s life at risk. I want Hogan. I’m beginning to think the only way is to draw him out.” He couldn’t believe he was saying this, but when he thought about it, the answer was clear as day. “If I can keep you and Jackson away from him, he’s failed. He’ll never complete his revenge. Once he finds out, he’ll make his move, and I’ll be waiting for him.”

  “What do you need me to do?”

  “Turn yourself in to the THIRDS. They’ll take care of the rest.”

  Perry turned to look at Beth who waved at him again. After several painfully silent minutes went by, Perry let out a weary sigh, and his shoulders slumped in defeat. “Okay. Can I have a moment to say good-bye?”

  Dex nodded. He stood by as Perry took the stairs on their left leading down to the court. Beth ran to him and threw herself in his arms. He squeezed her tight and put her down, talking to her and smiling like nothing was wrong. It was almost too much for Dex to watch. Despite the brave face Perry put on, Dex could see the man’s heart breaking. After a fierce hug, Perry headed back toward Dex, his eyes red and filled with unshed tears.

  “I’m ready.”

  Dex led the way to his car, unlocking the door for Perry and making sure he was seated inside before going around to the driver’s side and getting in. He fastened his seatbelt and got them moving, but he didn’t head back toward Manhattan. Instead he pulled into Fifty-Ninth Street next to a dry-cleaning supply warehouse. It was a dead-end road with a few houses across the supply warehouse. He drove to the end, made a three-point turn, and parked.

  “What are you doing?”

  “The THIRDS will make sure Beth and your family are safe, but there’s something else I need.”

  Perry looked exhausted. “What?”

  “Do you have any information on where I can find Brick Jackson? He’s the last guy on Hogan’s shit list.”

  “Brick? Jesus, I haven’t talked to him in years. We used to work at the same construction firm a few years ago, but he just up and disappeared one day.”

  Something in Dex’s gut told him Perry wasn’t being completely honest. It wouldn’t be a stretch to believe the only two Westward Creed members who hadn’t become members of the Order would contact each other. If Reyes attempted to recruit Perry, it was likely he’d tried to recruit Jackson. “Does Jackson have any family? Friends you know of? Something? Whatever you can give me might help keep Jackson alive. You have no reason to trust me, I get it, but if I don’t find Jackson before Hogan does, the next time you see your friend will be in the news after he’s found mauled to death.”

  Perry stared at him, horrified. He went silent, turning his attention out the car window. The guy was thinking about it, Dex was certain. After an excruciating amount of time went by, Perry turned back to him, his expression suspicious.

  “Why do you want Hogan so bad, Agent Daley?”

  “Because he hurt someone close to me,” Dex said. “I need to stop him before he hurts anyone else.”

  Perry was undoubtedly wondering whether he should trust Dex or not. He had no reason to. But Hogan and his crew had already killed several Westward Creed members. The evidence was hard to ignore. In the end, Perry let out a sigh. “Jackson’s gone. He knew a guy who could get him a new ID and passport. Official. After Craig ended up dead, Brick freaked, said he was leaving for California. No connection to anyone there.”

  Shit. “So he’s in the wind?”

  “Yeah. Brick never settled down. I think the guilt about what happened back during the riots ate away at him too.”

  Dex started the car and headed for HQ. Well, so much for Jackson. He’d still run it by Austen, see if Austen could confirm the intel. There’d be video surveillance at the airports. Even if he’d used a different identity, he’d pop up on a feed somewhere. Then Austen could send an alert to the THIRDS California HQ, just in case.

  Twenty minutes later, Dex was walking Perry to HQ. He’d parked a couple of blocks away and accompanied the guy to the corner wall of the looming government agency. Dex was already risking exposure, and God forbid Seb caught him with Perry. One coincidence related to the case was questionable enough, but two?

  “It’s important you make them believe it was your idea to turn yourself in, otherwise we get a whole load of questions and red tape we don’t need. Not if we’re going to move this along quickly.”

  “You want me to lie to them?”

  “No, you’re simply withholding certain information. Tell them why you’re turning yourself in. They’ve no reason to be suspicious of you, and since you had nothing to do with the Order or Reyes, there won’t be any charges. It’s likely they’ll put you into protective custody until Hogan is caught.”

  “Why can’t I tell them about you?”

  Dex decided to be honest with Perry, even if he wasn’t being honest with his own employer. “Because technically, I’m on leave. Hogan put my team out of commission, and he’s threatened my family. My partner was hurt badly by the bomb Hogan planted. I’ll be honest with you, Perry. Another team was assigned this case, but I can’t leave my family’s safety to chance.”

  Perry nodded his understanding, his gaze sympathetic. “You’re protecting your family. I get it.”

  Dex wished him luck and watched him approach the guards at the gate. He must have stated his name because the guards jumped to action, talking into their earpieces and quickly escorting him inside. Dex didn’t waste any time. He turned and headed back toward his car. As he walked down the block, he felt good. Like something was finally going his way. Talking to Perry had made him realize the quickest way to finding Hogan was to make the guy come to him. Hogan was obsessed with getting revenge, but if there was no one left to get revenge on, he’d take it out on whoever had relieved him of it, like he’d tried to do with Ash. It was insane, but how the hell else was he supposed to find one Therian in the whole of New York City?

  Dex fished his keys out of his pocket and hit the alarm button, but when he opened his car door, the alarm
went off. Hadn’t he turned it off? He hit the button again. Weird. He sat back, ready to turn on the ignition, then stilled. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. He quickly recovered, turned on Retro Radio, and when he pulled back, he discreetly went for his Glock. Unlatching the safety mechanism, he swiped up his gun and turned, his gun aimed straight at the chest of the huge Therian in his backseat.

  Chapter 6

  “MOTHERFUCK!” HE returned his Glock to its holster and glared daggers at Ash sitting casually in the back of the car like he was waiting to be chauffeured around town. “What the hell, man? You broke into my car?”

  “You should really be more careful. Could have been Hogan back here.”

  Fuck, he was right. But Dex wasn’t about to admit it. “Why are you here acting like some horror movie backseat serial killer?” A thought occurred to him. “Are you spying on me? Did Sloane send you to keep tabs on me?” Was he that transparent? Even if Sloane did know, did he not trust Dex to handle this?

  “He asked me to keep an eye on you. He’s worried.” Ash motioned to the front seat. “I’m coming around. If you try to drive off without me, I will beat the shit out of you.”

  Dex mumbled something unintelligible under his breath about preferring to drive over him but sat patiently while Ash got out and got into the passenger seat. He fastened his seatbelt and motioned for Dex to do the same. Was the guy serious? Ash arched an eyebrow at him. He was serious. Dex fastened his seatbelt as Ash reached over and turned off the radio.

  “I don’t know how Sloane listens to this shit music of yours.”

  “It’s not shit. And he listens to it because he’s a caring partner and not an asshole,” Dex replied, switching it back on and lowering the volume. “My car, my music. And I don’t need a babysitter.”

  “Clearly you do. Otherwise you wouldn’t be doing what you’re doing.”

  “Which is?”

  “Something incredibly stupid.”

  “You think I’m going to stand back and watch some other team bring in Hogan after all the shit he’s put us through? If they even find the guy?”

  “We’re under direct orders, Daley.”

  “Fuck orders,” Dex snapped. “My family’s in danger. Cael is in danger. I’m not going to wait around for Hogan to put my brother in the hospital, or worse, the morgue. Are you?” He expected Ash to argue back, instead his burly teammate sat back with a disapproving frown.

  “Pretty shitty move, using your brother to get me to agree with you.”

  “Not my intention. Besides, it’s the truth, and you know it. We’re all in danger. That’s part of the reason Sparks pulled us off this thing.”

  “Exactly. And you’re proposing we go out there and make it easy for Hogan to finish the job.”

  “We? I’m not proposing we do anything. Jesus, Ash. Your stiches haven’t fully healed yet. Go home. Get some rest while you can get it, and not a word of this to Sloane.”

  Ash let out a humorless laugh. “Are you kidding me? Do you realize what Sloane would do to me if he found out I knew what you were up to, lied to him, and then let you go off on your own? It’ll be a hell of a lot more painful to put up with than my fucking stitches, I can tell you that much. He might be my best friend, but he’s also my Team Leader, and he will beat the shit out of me in training. I think it’s how he remains so fucking calm all the time. He takes his shit out on us in Sparta.”

  “Yes, he does. Ash—”

  “Forget it, Daley. If you’re determined to play John McClane, I’m going to be there to make sure you don’t lose your fucking shoes.”

  Dex held back a smile as he started the ignition. “Actually, John McClane didn’t lose his shoes, he took them off.”

  “Don’t correct me.”

  “But you’re wrong.”

  “Not about you being a pain in my ass,” Ash growled.

  Dex opened his mouth, and Ash jabbed a finger at him. “I hear one sexual innuendo come out of your mouth, and I swear you won’t have to worry about Hogan because I’ll kill you myself. Now get me up to speed.”

  “What makes you think I have anything?”

  “Because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be on Destructive Delta. I saw you drop that dude off at HQ. Now stop dicking around and fill me in.”

  “Okay. Fine. Where am I dropping you off?”

  “Home. I followed you in a cab.”

  “How cliché.”

  “Fuck off. I’m not supposed to be driving yet. Fucking Therian meds are bullshit. It’s like they’re purposefully trying to tranquilize us or something.”

  Dex rolled his eyes. It was true Therian medicine had a ways to go and a good deal of cures were still under development, but he hardly thought a bunch of painkillers were out to tranq them. As they headed north in the direction of Ash’s apartment, Dex brought Ash up to speed, telling him everything he’d done up to this point without filling him in on where he was working from. If Ash decided to rat him out to Sloane, the last thing he needed was either of them showing up at Clove Catering. Lou would have a fucking heart attack. He’d need to be extra vigilant from now on knowing Ash was spying on him.

  “I gotta say, I’m pretty impressed.”

  Dex shot him a glance. “But…?”

  “No but. Good work.”

  “Maybe I should pull over. I feel kind of faint.”

  Ash actually chuckled. Well, today was just full of surprises. He’d turned onto FDR Drive when his phone rang. He tapped the Bluetooth button on his steering wheel to answer.

  “Daley here.”

  “It’s me.”

  “Austen. Just the guy I wanted to talk to.”

  “Aw, I feel loved.”

  Not touching that. It would be like waving a red flag in front of a horny bull. “According to Perry, Jackson’s in the wind. Got himself a new name and is heading for Cali.”

  “I’ll have confirmation by tonight. Now it’s my turn. I found you a lead.”

  “Fucking ace. What is it?”

  “It’s going to take some reconnaissance. Keeler, you up for it?”

  Dex and Ash exchanged glances. “How’d you know Ash was with me?”

  “It’s what I do, baby. Ash, Sweet Cheeks, how’s it hanging?”

  Dex burst into laughter while Ash rolled his eyes and answered in his usual pleasant growl. “Get on with it.”

  “Okay, we have a way to possibly get to Hogan. He’s got a new second-in-command. Drew Collins. To get to Collins, we’ve got to get to Collins’s boyfriend, Felipe Bautista. But you’re going to need help.”

  “What kind of help?” Dex asked. Something told him he wasn’t going to like the sound of this.

  “The Destructive Delta kind.”

  “Shit. You want me to bring the team in on this?” Absolutely not. Out of the question. Putting his career on the line was one thing, but his teammates? He couldn’t ask them for that. It was his idea. If shit went south, he’d suffer the consequences alone.

  “Depends. You got a fully equipped surveillance van?”

  “Um, no. You’re the super-secret specialist or whatever.”

  “Squadron Specialist Agent. Dude, I can’t just pull a vanload of high-tech equipment out of my ass. If we were going through the proper channels maybe, but not on such short notice and definitely not while you’re out playing Batman.”

  “All right, I get it. But I won’t bring Cael into this.”

  “You know any other boy wonder who’s got the equipment and the know-how to set up a surveillance van? Kid’s got a shit-ton of equipment in his basement.”

  “How the hell do you know?” What exactly did Austen’s job as Super Spy Whatever entail? He might have to ask Sloane at some point. Was part of Austen’s job to keep tabs on them? Is that why every squad had one? If it weren’t for Sloane’s relationship with Austen, Dex wouldn’t have trusted the guy not to go running to Sparks.

  “Squadron Specialist Agent,” Austen reminded him.

  “Right. Lo
ok, I don’t want Cael risking his safety or his career because of me.”

  Ash let out a scoff.

  “What?” It was like arguing was as essential to the guy as breathing.

  “You know how pissed off Cael will be if we’re found out and you didn’t tell him? Not to mention how pissed he’ll be on top of that because you didn’t trust him to make up his own mind?”

  Damn it. Why the hell did Ash keep making sense? As much as Dex hated to admit it, his teammate was right. Cael would be pissed off at him if he found out Dex was keeping yet more secrets from him. Seemed like lately all he did was lie and keep secrets from his loved ones. It was starting to become a disturbing trend, one he disliked himself for. Dex kept promising Cael he’d stop treating him like a little kid, and yet he continued to make decisions for him, thinking he knew what was best.

  “Okay. I’ll tell him. No promises, though. What else do we need?”

  “Face it, dude. You’re going to need backup. As scary and ass-kicking as Ash is, he ain’t a hundred percent right now. Hogan is a tiger Therian, Collins is a cougar Therian, and the rest of Hogan’s crew is made up of either Felids or wolf Therians. If you insist on doing this, one lion Therian and one Human won’t be able to stop them. Plus, you’re going to need firepower. Tranqs and shit.”

  Ash cursed under his breath. “Letty.”

  “Duuude, have you seen that chick’s house? She’s got a fucking armory in her pantry. You open any cupboard, and I swear to Santa’s jingly balls there’s like half a dozen guns in there somewhere. I’m pretty sure she’s got grenades in the cookie jar. There’s definitely an AK next to the cans of Goya beans. I saw her take it out to clean.”

  “Oh my God, you do spy on us!”

  There was a long pause. “No.”

  “Whatever,” Dex muttered. He didn’t have time for this. “Okay. Guns. Letty. Fine.”

  “You’ll need a medic. And a huge-ass tiger Therian wouldn’t go amiss. And really, it would be stupid not to invite the sniper along.”

  “Fuck me.” Dex stopped at a red light and let his head fall against the steering wheel. “Okay, so basically we need the whole team.”

  “I think I said as much like twenty curse words ago.”

  Dex looked over at Ash who shrugged his shoulders.

  “Thank you, Ash. What an incredibly insightful shrug. It really helped me.”

  “Fuck off. Destructive Delta is family, Dex. I thought you’d know that by now. The least we can do is talk to them. Let them make up their own minds.”

  “Good,” Austen stated cheerfully. “We’ll meet tonight. I’ll text the address.” Austen hung up without so much as waiting for a confirmation from Dex. Guess they’d be meeting tonight.

  “Shit. We need a van. Where the hell am I supposed to get a van from by tonight?” Who did he know—Damn. Lou was going to kill him. Ash must have seen him cringe, because he gave him a questioning look. The light turned, and Dex continued up First Avenue. “Lou. He rents space in a garage a block away from Clove Catering where the company vans are parked.”

  Ash seemed to consider this. “You think he’ll let you borrow one?”

  Dex pulled up outside Ash’s apartment building and turned to look at him. “I sure as hell hope so.”

  “You do what you gotta do. I’ll call the team. Now go home.” Ash checked his watch. “Sloane should be waking up soon. The least you can do is bring him breakfast in bed.”

  “So he won’t be pissed at me?”

  Ash got out of the car and leaned in to scowl at Dex. “No, jackass. Bring him breakfast in bed because he’s injured, and you’re his fucking boyfriend. Stop treating him like your Team Leader and treat him like the guy you’re in love with. It’s the least he deserves.” Ash slammed the door, and Dex sat there gaping. Had he been out-relationshipped by Ash Keeler? What the hell was the world coming to?

  “Damn.” Ash was right. Again. How messed up was that? Dex drove home hoping he had time to make breakfast before Sloane woke up. He really needed to get his shit together. After everything they’d been through, they were finally starting to build something solid. The last thing Dex wanted to do was fuck it all up. If he hadn’t already. Though he’d like to think they’d be able to work through this the same way they’d worked through everything else.

  He got home in record time. Standing perfectly still inside the living room, he listened for any movement upstairs. Nothing. Being as quiet as could be, because Therians had ridiculously good hearing, Dex got to work making Sloane’s favorite. Double eggs benedict and a side stack of blueberry pancakes. Dex even made the Hollandaise sauce and pancakes from scratch. While the ham cooked, his stomach demanded not to be left out, so Dex made himself an egg and ham breakfast sandwich and munched while he finished cooking Sloane’s food. It made him smile knowing Sloane was upstairs in his bed, sound asleep. How awesome would it be to
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