Rise amp fall, p.14
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       Rise & Fall, p.14

         Part #4 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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  “Shit. They’re moving out.” He jumped to his feet and slid in behind the wheel of the van. Watching the rearview mirror, he watched Bautista hail a cab. As they were getting in, Dex turned the engine on and turned the van around, grateful the street was wide enough. In the mirror he saw Ash and Austen catching another cab. Dex made sure to stay at least two cars behind Bautista’s cab whose plate number he mentally jotted down. The cab traveled for ten minutes before reaching a quiet street of brownstones. Dex parked the van a few feet away, thanking his lucky stars he managed to find some space. At least something was going his way. He spotted a cab stopping at the end of the block, and two figures got out. Austen and Ash. The two disappeared into the shadows, undoubtedly to case the joint.

  Bautista emerged from the cab with Calvin in tow. He pulled him up against him, gave him a kiss, and laughed before heading to his front door where he dropped his keys twice. Calvin teased him and took the keys from him. He opened the door with Bautista’s arms wrapped around his waist. They disappeared inside, and although Dex lost visual contact, they could hear everything in superclear surround sound.

  Things started to get hot and heavy between Calvin and Bautista, resulting in plenty of heavy breathing, groaning, and moaning. Hobbs removed his earpiece and tossed it on the console’s surface.

  “Take it easy, big guy. You know he’s just doing his job.”

  Hobbs let out a huff and crossed his beefy arms over his chest, his frown deepening.

  “You really need to say something to him.”

  Hobbs’s reply was a lazy shrug of the shoulders, but Dex wasn’t buying it.

  “Come on, man. It’s bugging the hell out of you knowing he’s making out with another dude. The guy just admitted he’s in love with you, and all you’ve got is a shrug?”

  When Hobbs refused to look him in the eye, acting like he didn’t care, Dex decided it was time Hobbs snapped out of his moping and pulled his shit together before he lost Calvin for good.

  “I know you kissed him back.” Dex watched Hobbs’s eyebrows shoot up near his hairline. He turned in his seat toward Dex and jabbed a finger at his discarded earpiece.

  “Yeah, he told me. About what happened at the Fourth of July party, how things changed. I get the feeling you’re not big on change.”

  With a dejected pout, Hobbs shook his head.

  Dex could understand. Hobbs struggled every day with his selective mutism and anxiety. It was rough on the guy. Dex couldn’t begin to imagine what it was like for him, being unable to speak no matter how much he wanted to. Hobbs was also a tiger Therian and a Defense agent. There were expectations, and falling short of those types of expectations was never easy for anyone, much less someone who was in a position where confidence was a requirement. Hobbs could be as intimidating as Ash or Sloane, but the problem started when the time came to deal with people. If there was one guy who understood, who’d been there from the beginning, it was Calvin. The same guy Hobbs was pushing away with his inability to accept change.

  “How long do you expect to keep him waiting? Have you addressed it at all?”

  Hobbs shook his head and turned around.

  “You know, for a big, scary-ass Therian, you can be such a child.”

  Hobbs gaped at him. He pointed to himself in question.

  “Yes, you.”

  With lips pressed thin, Hobbs poked Dex in the chest.

  “Ow.” Dex rubbed the sore spot. “I’m not childish.” That earned him a scoff. “Either way, we’re talking about you, not me.”

  With a roll of his eyes, Hobbs turned around again. Well, that had gone well. Dex lowered the volume on his earpiece. He really didn’t need to hear what was going on, especially since it was starting to sound too much like a porno without all the cursing and begging.

  Dex checked his watch some time later, finding it was nearly four in the morning. Fuck. What the hell was Calvin doing in there? Then again, it was probably best he didn’t know. Hobbs was looking like one wrong move could send him into feral territory. His jaw was clenched so tight he was ready to break something, and his pupils were dilated. Despite being in his Human form, he resembled a tiger ready to pounce and tear the shit out of whatever he could get his claws on. Dex checked his earpiece. It was quiet. A series of soft knocks on the door told him why. Hobbs shot to his feet so quick his chair almost toppled over. He opened the back door and pulled a startled-looking Calvin in before shutting the door and looming over his friend.

  “What happened?” Hobbs growled.

  Calvin’s eyebrows shot up before his expression darkened. He looked pissed. “What do you think happened?”

  This had the makings of turning ugly. Dex sat quietly. Should he try to contain the situation? Anger flashed in Hobbs’s green eyes, and Dex decided it was best he let them work it out. Hopefully it wouldn’t lead to something he couldn’t handle on his own. Calvin he could restrain, but Hobbs? It would be like the time he’d tried to jump on the merry-go-round at the park while it was going full speed. He’d ended up flying across the yard and losing a tooth.

  “What, Ethan? Did I let him fuck me? Did I fuck him? What if I did? It’s not like you have a say in the matter. You don’t get to be pissed off.”

  “Stop,” Hobbs snapped.

  “Or what? For fuck’s sake, make up your mind. You either want me or you don’t. Whatever you decide, we’ll still be friends, but stop dicking me around. I can’t take it anymore.” He stepped away from Hobbs and removed Dex’s jacket to hand it over to him, followed by a piece of paper. “The church Collins goes to. He attends early-morning Mass every Saturday. Let me know what our next move is. I’m out of here. I need to go get a drink or get laid or something.” Calvin headed for the door when Hobbs pushed him against the side of the van.

  “What the fuck, Ethan?”

  Dex couldn’t agree more. What the—Oh.

  Hobbs grabbed Calvin by the waist, hoisted him up, and pushed him up against the van’s wall, pinning him there with his body as he took hold of Calvin’s face and kissed him. It took Calvin all of two seconds to catch on, and when he did, he threw his arms around Hobbs’s neck and eagerly returned his partner’s searing kiss. Years of pent-up sexual frustration seemed to be let loose. The two went at it like nobody was watching. Except someone was watching. Dex was watching.

  Should he remind them he was still here? Should he have brought some popcorn? Should he turn away? Dex sat there for a moment too stunned to do anything but watch. He wasn’t exactly turned off either. Did it make him a perv? It was like watching porn. Two hot dudes going at it. He felt kind of guilty, but had trouble looking away. Who in their right mind wouldn’t find this hot? Damn, he was starting to sound like Austen. Calvin and Hobbs were in their own world, oblivious to anyone or anything else around them, swept up by the fierce emotions which had undoubtedly been driving them to the brink. Their movements grew frantic and desperate. Calvin threw his head back with a gasp for breath as Hobbs moved his lips onto his partner’s neck.

  “Oh God, Ethan.” He dug his fingers into Hobbs’s cropped hair, and the two started rutting up against each other, their breaths growing heavy. Hobbs let out a low feral growl, his hand going to Calvin’s crotch where he massaged his partner before pulling down the zipper of Calvin’s jeans. Oh shit. They were going to whip them out.

  “Please, Ethan. You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting for this. I want you so bad.”

  Calvin’s pained words snapped Dex out of it.

  Dex swiftly swiveled his chair around to face the console, hearing the soft groans and Calvin’s whispered pleas for Hobbs to make him come.

  Not. Awkward. At. All.

  Dex snatched up the two earpieces and stuck one in each ear. He went online and quickly connected to Retro Radio’s online station. His face was red, and he felt relief flood through him when the familiar sounds of electric keyboard drowned out all the sex sounds. Hold up…. Are you fucking kidding me? He dropped his head into his h
ands. In his ears ZZ Top’s “Rough Boy” played with its glorious electric guitar and slow drums, its sensual rhythm and innuendos not what he needed to be hearing right now.

  Normally, he would have walked out, but he was afraid to interrupt them during such an intense, intimate moment. This had been a long time coming, and poor Calvin had been on the verge of losing his shit. Dex doubted whatever was going on behind him would solve the pair’s relationship issues. It might have just complicated the shit out of everything. For an explosives technician, Hobbs wasn’t great at handling these kinds of volatile situations, though he seemed pretty damned good at starting them.

  Dex hoped the two were getting each other off with a couple of handjobs at most, and considering how long they’d been holding out, he doubted the two would last all that long. Tentatively, he removed one earpiece, relieved to hear soft heavy breathing and kissing rather than the audio file to Raiders of the Lost Arse.

  Dex removed the second earpiece and turned around. Thankfully, the two were fully clothed and tucked away. Calvin was on his feet and being held in Hobbs’s arms as he brushed his fingers down the side of Calvin’s face. Dex had no idea what was going through Hobbs’s mind. A series of emotions came across his face before he cupped Calvin’s face, the look on his face heartbreaking.

  “What happened?” Hobbs asked quietly.

  Probably not the best thing the guy could have said after having done what he’d done. Judging by Calvin’s expression, he thought so too.


  Calvin pressed his lips together, and Dex could see how uncertain he was. With a heavy sigh, he gave in. “Nothing happened. We made out, I slipped what Austen gave me into his drink, and got the information I needed out of him. I waited for him to fall asleep before putting him to bed and getting out. Okay?”

  Hobbs’s thumb started stroking Calvin’s cheek, his head cocked to one side as he patiently waited for Calvin to say whatever it was he obviously wanted to say.

  “Come home with me?”

  To Dex’s relief, Hobbs didn’t hesitate. He gave Calvin a nod and pulled him against him, squeezing him tight. Hobbs lifted his head and froze, his eyes meeting Dex’s and widening when realization set in.

  Dex waved. “Hey. How’s it going?”

  “Holy fuck!” Calvin spun around and stared at Dex. “Oh my God.” The pair turned to each other, their faces turning crimson. “Did we just….”

  “Get off in front of one of your teammates?” Dex said, feeling equally mortified by the whole thing. “Yep.”

  Calvin gasped, his attention on Dex again. “Did you watch us?”

  The nerve of the guy. “Who do you think I am? Austen?” He considered lying, but his team knew how shitty he was as it. “I watched a little.”

  “Oh God.” Calvin turned and buried his face against Hobbs’s chest, his voice muffled when he spoke. “We jacked each other off in front of Dex! Someone shoot me.”

  “Hey, how do you think I feel? I’m never going to be able to listen to ZZ Top again without thinking of you two playing knuckle shuffle.” And he’d really enjoyed ZZ Top.

  “I can’t even look at you right now,” Calvin said holding a hand out to cover Dex’s face as he headed for the back of the van with Hobbs in tow. “Call me when we’re moving out. And I swear if you tell Ash I will snipe you.”

  Dex gave them a salute. “Understood.” He held back a smile when Hobbs narrowed his eyes at him and pointed a menacing finger—that really wasn’t so menacing—in his direction. “Yep, I get it. Lips are sealed.” He made like he was zipping his lips, waiting for them to leave before letting out a sigh of relief.

  It was nearly 6 a.m. by the time Dex parked the catering van back in its garage. Not wanting to disturb Sloane, Dex decided to crash on the couch in his base, but not before he used his smartphone to find out what time the morning Mass at Collins’s church was and notify the rest of the team. He received a text from Ash simply stating:

  Rosa’s in. She’s pissed at you. Good luck with that.

  Fuck. He could think of a million reasons why Rosa would be pissed at him, but he didn’t have the energy right now to start listing them or the many ways he was going to have to grovel in order to make it up to her. And Sloane. And whoever else he happened to piss off on any given day. He lay down on the couch, not bothering with his shoes. In three hours he’d have to get up and head out to pick everyone up. Shit. He’d forgotten to text Sloane. Damn it. He thought about what he was going to say and sent a text apologizing for not being there, how Cael had called him with some relationship drama, and Dex had gone off to hang out with him when he’d lost track of time, and he ended up falling asleep at his brother’s. He then texted Cael to let him know. His brother’s response pretty much said it all.

  You’re a giant dick.

  Chapter 8

  “I’VE GOT eyes on Collins. I’m following him down Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.”

  Dex made sure to keep his distance as he walked down the street Drew Collins’s church was on. Thanks to Calvin, Collins was exactly where they expected him to be Saturday morning. At least until Collins walked right past the church where he was supposed to be attending Mass. Dex tapped his earpiece. “Collins went straight past the church. He’s heading into the old Renaissance Ballroom.” This couldn’t be good. The ballroom was derelict. It had been abandoned for years and was sealed off to the public.

  Ash’s voice came in over his earpiece. “Wait for backup.”

  “Sure.” He continued walking, speeding up when he saw Collins jump the fence. “He’s on the move.” Damn it, he couldn’t lose him. The team was only a block over, but by the time they all arrived, Collins could be gone.

  “Goddammit, Dex. You—”

  Dex hung up and put his phone on silent. If only he’d be able to do the same to Ash later on when the guy ripped him a new one. Holy Shit! He’d hung up on Ash!

  “Shit.” In an attempt to soften the blow, he quickly shot off a text saying he was sorry.

  Dex strolled past the Abyssinian Baptist Church and lingered by the chain-link fence. The church had a sign outside saying early Saturday Mass had been cancelled until further notice. If Collins wasn’t attending church on Saturdays like he told his boyfriend he was, then what was he doing around here? Dex stopped and leaned against the fence, his hands shoved into his jacket pockets and his foot propped up against the fence. The woman who’d been walking behind him with her kid gave him a warm smile as she walked by. He waited for them to round the corner and disappear before swiftly climbing over the fence, cringing at the noise made by the shuddering metal.

  His Chucks skidded slightly on the gravel, and he wished he’d invested in some biker boots like Sloane had suggested. He remained crouched down close to the fence for a few heartbeats before slowly rising and peeking through the droop in the tarp zip-tied to the fence. Coast was clear. He made a dash for the block-wide brick building. The windows were too high for him to climb, and all the doors were either boarded up or bolted shut. He could kick in one of the flimsy compressed boards covering one of the entrances, but if Collins was in there, Dex didn’t want to spook him.

  He came across an entrance with a sheet of plywood that was loose from the bottom. Looked like he’d found someone’s secret entrance. Crap. He’d have to crawl in. He kneeled down, removed his tactical flashlight from his jacket pocket, and stuck it between his teeth. Carefully, he pulled at the base of the board and squeezed through. Good thing he wore his busted-up leather jacket. He would have scratched the shit out of his new one. Once inside, he released the board and gingerly turned, his flashlight now in his hand.

  The Renaissance Ballroom had once been a bustling casino and theater back during the days of the Charleston and Lindy Hop, with performances by some of the most renowned jazz musicians of the time. Now all that was left were the decaying remnants of an era long gone. The skeleton of the ballroom was shrouded in shadows and dimly lit with its only source of li
ght filtering through the hollow windows and collapsing ceiling.

  Dex removed his tranq gun from the holster concealed by his jacket, and silently ventured farther in, making sure to watch his step. What appeared to have been a dance floor was nothing but dirt and rubble, colonized by patches of stinky mushrooms. The place was filthy. God only knew what else was in here. He listened for any sounds and tried to keep to the shadows. If Collins was in his cougar Therian form, he’d be stalking and hunting Dex by sight. Maybe he should have listened to Ash and waited for backup.

  Trying to keep an ear out for movement would have been a lot easier if the place didn’t creak and rustle all over. He warily shifted his gaze up to the corroded ceiling beams. The whole damn roof looked like it could collapse at any moment. All it needed was for a pigeon to come through one of the open windows and take a shit on one, and the whole place would come crashing down over him.

  Slowly, he moved from room to room, the walls crumbling or in piles of rubble. There were faded sketches of musicians playing their instruments on some of the walls, and a few of the chandeliers still had bulbs in them. A piece of debris snapped under his sneaker, and he froze. Shit.

  Staying perfectly still, he heard nothing but the sound of his own breathing. There was enough light for him to see around him, and so far, there was no movement. Leaving the room and entering another, he almost didn’t see it. A shadow moved, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Collins leapt at him with a fierce roar from a pile of what Dex had assumed had been debris. Dex bolted, running as fast as he could while trying not to trip on all the scattered rubble. He made for a set of rickety stairs he doubted would even hold his weight, but he had little choice. Before he could make the stairs, Collins came at him from another angle, slamming him into the old concrete bandstand and knocking the gun from his hand. He cried out as his ribs hit at an odd angle, and he fell onto the dust-covered floor, writhing and holding on to his side.

  An angry hiss caught his ear, and he raised his head in time to see Cael claw at Collins’s neck. Collins retaliated, but Cael was too quick. He sped off with Collins on his tail, giving him the runaround, leaping and skidding, making sharp turns Collins’s much bulkier frame had trouble with. Cael led Collins away from Dex when a leopard Therian jumped out from the shadows, tumbling into Cael.

  “Cael!” Dex held on to his ribs, snatched up his gun, and tried to scramble to his feet, the lack of air filling his lungs making it difficult. Two or more Felids emerged from the shadows, all roaring, hissing, and surrounding his little brother. Dex forced himself to his feet and took aim, firing off rounds into as many of the Felids as he could catch. One got shanked with three darts, and he hobbled drunkenly away. Dex kept a grip on his side as he headed for Cael, firing into the roaring Felids until his gun was empty. A roar shook the rafters, scaring the shit out of Dex, but he was relieved to see it had come from Ash with Hobbs close behind. A Felid Therian battle ensued with sharp fangs snapping and claws grazing flesh. Ash roared at Cael, and Cael took the hint. He sped toward Dex when more of Collins’s crew crawled out of the woodwork.

  Dex cursed under his breath. One of them caught him in his sights, and Dex wished he’d brought more than one tranq gun. He should have been more prepared, but he’d been expecting reconnaissance work, not a goddamn ambush. Dex turned to run only to find himself knocked to the ground. He was getting real tired of being pushed around like some Felid chew toy. A roar louder than Ash’s brought everything and everyone to a screeching standstill, and for a split second, Dex thought Hogan had joined the party, but he was way off, though no less screwed. Seb collided with Collins, sending the smaller Felid rolling across the floor into a mound of mushrooms. Seeing himself outmuscled, Collins bolted with the rest of his crew fast on his heels.

  “You have to go after him!” Dex yelled at his teammates. Hobbs turned to do as Dex asked when Seb let out another roar, bringing Hobbs to sit. He lowered his head and flattened his ears back with a chuff. Seb was having none of it. They’d been so close. Dex sat where he was and let out a frustrated growl. No point in arguing. Collins and his crew were long gone.

  Hobbs padded over and bumped his big furry head against Dex’s. At least one of his Therian teammates wasn’t pissed at him. Dex gave Hobbs a reassuring scratch behind the ear as he returned his gun to his holster.

  “I’m okay, pal. Thanks.”

  The low mewl Hobbs let out said he wasn’t too convinced. Cael soon appeared beside Dex and started grooming him, licking his face and hair.

  “Bro, seriously, I’m fine.”

  Cael sat on his haunches and proceeded to tell Dex off in cheetah Therian, despite knowing Dex couldn’t understand what the hell his chirps meant. Intimidation really wasn’t his little brother’s strong suit. Seb on the other hand….

  The huge tiger Therian loomed over Dex, his green eyes flashing with fury. The dude was even bigger in his Therian form than he was in his Human form. What the hell did these guys eat? He held a hand up. “I know you’re pissed—”

  Seb roared, the sound terrifying enough to startle Cael and Hobbs who both ducked behind Dex. Ash kept his distance, his tail and ears saying he was aware of what was going on but trying to keep out of it for everyone’s sake.

  “How about we discuss this in a language we can both understand.” Not that ‘pissed off’ was difficult to understand. Dex preferred it when he could argue his case. He slowly put his hands up in front of him. “I’m going to call Rosa and have her bring the van around. You can shift there.” Seb sat back, and Dex reached for his phone. He called Rosa and asked her to drive up to the chain-link fence on 138th Street. Returning his phone to his pocket, Dex waited. “Letty’s going to bring everyone their clothes, so….”

  Seb let out a chuff and got up. After a quick lick to Dex’s face from his little brother, Cael trotted after Seb with Hobbs slowly trailing behind. “This is going to be fun,” Dex muttered, cursing under his breath as he struggled to get up. Ash appeared beside Dex and pushed his head against him. He shook his mane, and Dex grabbed a fistful of it. “Thanks, man.”

  Ash pulled and Dex stood. He brushed himself off as he headed for the boarded-up door he’d come in through. It was bigger now that his Felid teammates had forced their way through. Teeth gritted, he crawled through. Man, his ribs were killing him. At least he hadn’t broken anything.

  Out on the street, Lou’s catering/surveillance van was parked, and his Felid teammates were leaping in, including Seb. It was going to be even more packed than usual.

  “He’s going to tear me a new one, isn’t he?”

  Ash let out a loud huff before climbing in the van. Dex waited on the steps of the closed church as his team shifted. How the hell had Seb found out they were here? Cael wouldn’t have told him, Dex was sure. Checking his watch, he saw it was almost noon. Shit. Sloane had to be up by now. His thoughts were interrupted a few minutes later when he saw Seb thundering over to him. Although not at 100 percent, considering postshift, he was still intimidating as hell.

  “You have every right to be pissed.”

  “Is this why you were glad Sparks gave me the case? So you could make an asshole out of me?” Seb demanded.

  “What? No. Jesus, Seb. Of course not.”

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