Rise amp fall, p.19
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       Rise & Fall, p.19

         Part #4 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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  tending to the grass, a couple walking down the path. Theta Destructive sat in their BearCat several yards away on Terrace Drive awaiting instructions from their Team Leader. Seb had given them only enough information for them to know another team was working the area undercover. It was all they needed. When a team trusted their Team Leader, the agents would follow him or her to hell and back, no questions asked, no excuses given.

  Exactly at noon, Collins appeared, giving the area a cursory glance as he headed over to Bautista and gave him a kiss. Destructive Delta listened in on the conversation through the tiny military-grade bug they’d placed on the cross hanging from the delicate gold chain around Bautista’s neck.

  “Hey, baby. I’m surprised you called.”

  “I was missing you,” Bautista replied, standing to wrap his arms around Collins’s waist. “You’re always so busy these days.”

  “Yeah. But it’ll be over soon.”

  Dex’s gut twisted. The alarm bells in his head went off, and he listened intently.

  “What will be over soon?” Bautista asked, cocking his head to one side.

  Collins kissed his boyfriend on the lips before taking a step back, an almost heartbroken expression on his face as he held his hands up in surrender. “I don’t blame you for turning me in. You’re a good guy. It’s why I fell in love with you. Take care of yourself.”

  Shit. He knows. “Destructive Delta, move in!” Dex held his tranq gun at the ready as he and the rest of his team emerged from the shrubbery and rushed Collins who remained still, his hands up in front of him as he called out to them.

  “I’m unarmed, agents.”

  “How could you?” Bautista cried as Calvin tried to drag him away. “How could you kill all those people?”

  “You wouldn’t understand,” Collins replied, turning away from his distraught boyfriend. Calvin led Bautista to Seb’s black Suburban heading their way while Ash removed the Therian-strength zip ties from his belt. He kicked at the back of Collins’s knees, forcing him onto the ground before he secured the Therian’s ankles, then his wrists behind his back.

  “You’re going to rot in jail, you piece of shit,” Ash said, roughly hauling the Therian to his feet.

  Dex frowned. He studied the area around them. Everything was quiet. No telltale signs of an ambush. No Therians hiding in the bushes or the reflection from sniper beams. Nothing.

  This is too easy.

  Collins smiled maliciously, and Dex’s blood ran cold. He marched up to Collins and grabbed a fistful of his shirt. “What did you do?”

  “Me? I haven’t done anything.” The smile never left the smug bastard’s face. “The question you should be asking, Agent Daley, is what have you done?”

  Something wasn’t right. Dex’s gaze shifted to Ash who looked equally annoyed by Collins’s cryptic threat. A phone went off, and Dex looked around, the rest of the team shrugging. It took Dex a moment to realize it was coming from Collins. Searching the Therian’s pockets, he pulled out a burner phone. There was a text message. He opened it up, and his heart almost stopped.

  We’ll be in touch. Don’t do anything stupid until then, or your cheetah won’t be chirping much longer.

  On the screen, an image of Cael bound and gagged, his cheek bruised and split lip, popped up. Dex thought he was going to be sick.

  “Oh God.” He shook his head. No. No way could that sick son of a bitch have Cael. It couldn’t be. The phone slipped from his hands onto the grass. It couldn’t be. The photo was a lie. It had to be. Dex walked away from Collins before his shaky hand touched his earpiece. “Seb. I need one of your guys to check the van. Now.”

  “On it.”

  “What is it?” Ash asked worriedly.

  Dex held a hand up, signaling for him to wait. He had to know for sure. A few heart-stopping moments later, and Seb’s anxious voice came on the line.

  “It’s empty, Dex. Cael’s gone. Looks like there was a struggle.”

  “Fuck!” Dex put his hands to his head. It had been a trap. The whole thing had been a fucking trap. Had Collins known Bautista would turn him in? He had to have been expecting it. No wonder the guy had turned himself in so easily. It had all been a distraction for Hogan to get his hands on Cael. How long had the bastard been waiting to make his move?

  “I’d listen to what he says,” Collins called out behind him. “Hogan likes them cute and perky.”

  “What the hell are you talking about?” Ash demanded, giving Collins a shake. Dex stormed over, his anger reaching boiling point as he threw a punch and hit Collins square across the jaw, forcing his head to snap to the side.

  “You motherfucking piece of shit, where’s my brother?”

  Hobbs appeared beside Collins, holding him up. Furious, Dex concentrated on Collins, barely aware of the gasp behind him or the lack of Ash’s presence. He was about to beat the shit out of Collins if he had to when Ash’s claws dug into Collins’s neck, drawing a horrible gurgling sound from him. Startled, Dex took a step back. He stared in stunned disbelief as the Felid inside Ash looked out from his amber eyes. His claws had grown out along with his fangs, and he lifted Collins off his feet. Tiny rivets of blood trailed down Collins’s neck.

  “Tell me where he is, or I’ll rip your fucking throat out!” Ash snarled.

  Fuck. Dex looked from Ash to Hobbs, who was staring wide-eyed at Ash. So this was a first for his teammates as well.

  “Tell me!” Ash squeezed his fingers tighter around Collins’s neck, drawing more blood and choking from Collins.

  “Ash!” Dex tried to pry Ash’s hand off Collins’s neck. “We’re not going to get any answers if he’s fucking dead!”

  Dex’s words seemed to get through, and Ash lowered Collins, placing him back on his feet, but he didn’t let go. He let out a low feral growl as he shoved him into Hobbs. Dex walked up to Collins who was awkwardly holding on to his bloodied neck, glaring at them.

  “Tell me where he took my brother, or I swear I will let him beat it out of you.”

  Collins let out a scoff. “I’m dead anyway, Daley. I’ll never fucking talk.”

  “Have it your way,” Dex replied through his teeth. He stepped back and nodded to Hobbs. “Bring him.”

  Seb’s voice came in over his earpiece. “You said you were going to hand him over.”

  “When I was done with him,” Dex said. “And I’m not done.”

  “Jesus Christ, Daley. What the hell are you going to do?” Seb’s irritated voice was swiftly followed up by Sloane’s concerned one.

  “Dex, what the hell is going on?”

  “Hogan has Cael.”


  “We’re taking Collins back to the van to interrogate him.” They headed for the van when there was a commotion behind him. He spun around in time to see Collins swipe Ash’s gun from his holster. Theta Destructives agents pulled their weapons, aiming at Collins who took aim at Dex. Hobbs was quick, clamping down Collins’s arm and twisting it, forcing the man to cry out while Ash threw an arm around Collins’s neck. The expression on Ash’s face had Dex bolting toward him, shouting out an order. It came too late. Dex watched, horrified, as Ash jerked his arm back, snapping Collins’s neck. The cougar Therian crumbled to the ground in a lifeless heap.

  Dex dropped to his knees beside Collins, checking his vitals for some miracle. His gaze shot up to Ash whose amber eyes were filled with quiet fury. “What did you do?”

  “He was a threat, and I neutralized him.” Ash swiped his gun up and returned it to his holster.

  Dex jumped to his feet and shoved Ash. “You snapped his fucking neck!”

  “They were about to take him out. I saved them the bullets.”

  Seb and his team came running, stopping beside Collins’s body. “What the fuck happened?” He turned to one of his undercover agents who quickly relayed the events as they occurred with no hint of emotion or concern. Collins had swiped Ash’s gun, meant to shoot Dex, agents were going to open fire, and Ash neutraliz
ed the threat. The agent made it sound like a drill, just a regular procedure. Dex’s eyes landed on Ash. His stillness scared the hell out of Dex, but it was superseded by a greater fear.

  “How are we supposed to find Cael now? We’re running out of time.”

  “Come on.” Ash motioned toward their van. “Your brother’s smart. He would have left something behind for us. Seb, take care of Collins. We’ll call you.”

  Before Seb had a chance to answer, Ash walked off. Fuck. Dex’s earpiece beeped, and he knew Sloane was calling him, undoubtedly wondering what the fuck had happened. Seb would fill him in, and while he did, Dex wanted some answers from Ash. The team followed Ash to the van, and they all climbed in. Dex stopped cold when he saw all the equipment on the floor. It took everything he had not to lose it. He shook his head and turned to Ash.

  “He wouldn’t have been expecting Hogan.” Dex thrust a finger at the equipment on the floor. “Hogan has my brother, and you killed the only fucking lead we had!” Dex threw his hand out, snatched Ash’s gun, and pulled. All it did was tug at Ash’s belt. The safety mechanism was in place and secure. He stared up at Ash in disbelief. “You let him take it.”

  Ash studied Dex, his lips pressed into a thin line before he looked around at the rest of the team. “Hogan has Cael, and if I have to snap the neck of every last one of these murderous motherfuckers to get him back, then so be it. If anyone has a problem, you can join Seb.” He turned his attention back to Dex, pupils dilated. “We’ll find Cael. So help me, we’ll find him if it’s the last fucking thing I do.”

  Dex swallowed hard. He nodded and walked over to the equipment. He didn’t want to think about how goddamn bad everything had gone. Collins was dead, Hogan had Cael, and they didn’t have a clue where the bastard had taken him. What if something happened to his little brother? It would be his fault. He’d brought Cael into this. What the hell would he say to his dad? That he’d decided to go against orders, play fucking hero, and it got his brother killed? God only knew what Hogan was doing to Cael. Dex’s chest started to feel constricted, and he was having trouble breathing. Fuck, he couldn’t be losing his shit. Not now. Cael needed him.

  “Take it easy,” Sloane breathed into his ear and Dex stilled. His arms slipped around Dex, and all at once Dex felt himself growing calm. “There you go.”

  Dex had been so lost in his own anguish he hadn’t even heard Sloane arrive. He turned, slightly aware of the rest of his team watching them, but he didn’t care. His smartphone beeped, and Dex fished it out of his pocket.

  “What is it?” Ash asked, looming over his shoulder.

  “There’s a weird orange light blinking on my phone.”

  “Why’s that weird?”

  “I didn’t even know it had an orange light. I’ve never seen it before.” He woke up his phone from sleep mode and tapped through the security screen. A little bluebird wearing a Rebel Pilot helmet bounced on his screen and chirped. Tears pooled in Dex’s eyes, and he let out a soft laugh. “You little genius.”

  “Is that Angry Birds?”

  “From the Star Wars version,” Sloane offered.

  Dex nodded. “The Bluebirds are Cael’s favorite.” Dex tapped the screen, and the bluebird bounced and spun. An alarm went off on the console, and the screen flickered to life, splitting into two images. On the left was a map with a bouncing Rebel bluebird. On the right an abandoned-looking building beside a canal. “That’s where Cael is.”

  Rosa stepped up to the console. “Cael must have installed some kind of GPS in the system. Looks like he’s in Red Hook.”

  Sloane turned to Hobbs. “You know what to do.”

  Hobbs jumped behind the wheel and buckled up, the van’s engine roaring to life. Beside him, Calvin buckled up in the passenger seat.

  “Everyone buckle up. Hobbs, move out,” Sloane ordered as Dex helped him sit. He took a seat beside his partner. Sloane took hold of Dex’s hand, laced their fingers together, and gave him a reassuring squeeze. It took Dex a moment to realize what Sloane had done. They were holding hands in front of the whole team. No one said a word, and Dex was grateful. All he could think about was getting to Cael.

  “We’re going to get him back,” Sloane promised.

  Dex believed Sloane, but as the van sped through Manhattan toward Red Hook, he closed his eyes and prayed they’d get his little brother back alive.

  Chapter 11

  “I DON’T like this.”

  Dex turned at Sloane’s words. His partner was as concerned as the rest of the team. Dex would be lying if he said he wasn’t worried too. Besides the fact he trusted Hogan about as far as he could throw his hairy ass, the guy had picked the location, and not any location, but something out of a bad horror flick. Dex was certain Hogan had no intention of making it out of this.

  How many members of Destructive Delta was he planning on taking down with him?

  The Red Hook Grain Terminal loomed in the distance like some haunted Scottish castle on a foggy moor. Its concrete silos and crumbling façade were covered in black mold and graffiti. Sections of the building had collapsed and crumbled into the Gowanus Canal. There was a container terminal nearby along with several other industrial structures. It was all eerily quiet. They were the only thing around for miles. Black specks among stretches of gray. Heavily armed specks. They’d parked the van behind one of several mountains of debris away from the road.

  “I don’t like it either, Sloane, but that asshole has Cael in there somewhere. I’m not leaving here without my brother.”

  “Dex is right,” Ash said, checking the ammo in his tranq rifle.

  Theta Destructive’s BearCat arrived on the scene, and when the back doors opened, four agents in their Therian forms leapt out. Two tigers, a lion, and a cougar. They followed Seb, who looked like he was ready to take on an army with enough firepower to bring down the whole fucking grain terminal, which was fine with Dex. He didn’t care if the whole place went up in smoke as long as he got Cael out of there. The public would probably thank them for getting rid of the eyesore.

  “I thought we should even the odds,” Seb said with a grin. “Hogan’s likely to have some of his goons in their Therian form.”

  “You’re right.” Sloane turned to Hobbs. “How about it, big guy?”

  Hobbs gave a curt nod and headed back to the van to shift, with Calvin accompanying his partner. A shadow swept over Dex, and he gave a start, his hand flying to his chest when Austen materialized beside him in his Therian form.

  “For fuck’s sake, Austen. You scared the shit out of me.” Could the guy not approach like a normal Therian?

  Austen chirped and rubbed up against Dex’s leg only to get promptly swatted by Sloane. “Knock it off.”

  Fur bristling and ears flattened, Austen dropped onto his back with paws in the air.

  “No I’m not mad at you,” Sloane grumbled. “But you should know better.”

  Felid Therians did not like having their scents encroached upon by other Therians. Sloane’s scent was all over Dex, and any Therian trying to replace it would get in deep shit with his partner. It was common courtesy. You did not hit on a dude’s boyfriend when he was right there. Austen was lucky Sloane wasn’t in his Therian form. Suddenly Austen stiffened. He rolled onto his paws and his ears flattened against his head as he sniffed at Dex’s arm. He started chirping, and the other agents in their Therian forms hissed and growled. They backed away from Dex and hissed at him.

  “What the fuck’s gotten into them?” Ash asked, arching an eyebrow at Sloane.

  Shit. Was it Sloane’s mark? Dex discreetly tucked his arm behind his back.

  Sloane’s jaw muscles clenched, and he took a step closer to Dex. The feral Therians backed off. “Who the hell knows? Let’s get on with this.”

  “Okay. So what’s the plan?” Ash asked.

  “The place is fucking huge,” Rosa added, scratching Hobbs behind the ear when he padded over to them. “They could be anywhere.”

turned to Seb. “Well, we found Hogan. This is your rodeo now.”

  Dex tensed and Seb noticed. He let out a sigh. “You can’t be here when backup arrives.”

  “And when’s that?” Dex asked with bated breath.

  Seb seemed to think about it. He looked from Dex to Sloane and back. “When you get your hands on Hogan or give me the signal. Whichever comes first. If I don’t hear from you thirty minutes after breach, I’m calling in the cavalry.”

  Dex nodded. He couldn’t ask for more than that. “Thank you. I appreciate that.”

  “As for entry, everyone goes in. Teams of two and three with at least one feral Therian in each group to sniff out the others. I think Ash and I should remain in our Human form to tranq whoever we can. I’d rather take them in alive if possible. Keep in communication and watch your backs. Priority is to get Cael out safely. The place is falling apart. Watch your step.”

  “You heard him,” Sloane said. “Ash, Austen, you’re with Dex. Rosa, Letty, you’re with Seb and his team. Calvin, you’re with Hobbs. Let’s finish this.” Everyone broke off into their respective teams, and Sloane took hold of Dex’s elbow. “Can I talk to you a sec?”

  “Sure.” Dex accompanied him behind the van, away from the prying eyes of their teammates. Sloane’s pupils were dilated, leaving only slivers of glowing amber around them. It seemed to be happening quite a lot lately. Dex might have to ask his partner about it at some point when they weren’t about to walk into what was undoubtedly a giant trap. Knowing what Sloane was going to say, Dex stepped up to him and put a hand to his cheek.

  “Hey, I’ll be careful. I promise.”

  “I can’t believe I’m letting you go in there, but I know how important this is.” Sloane let out a sigh and nuzzled Dex’s hand. “Please come back to me alive, and bring Cael with you.”

  “I will.”

  “You know I would give anything to be in there with you.” He glared at his crutch before shifting his eyes back to Dex. “But I’d be more of a hindrance than anything.”

  “Do you really think I don’t know how hard this is for you? It’ll be okay.” Dex gave Sloane’s lips a kiss and followed it up with a wink. “I was trained by the best.”

  Sloane chuckled and swatted Dex’s ass. “Get going.”

  Dex nodded and joined the others. On Seb’s signal, they took off toward the terminal building, one group at a time. Most of the windows and doors were missing, broken, or crumbling. They slipped inside, their rifles ready and Therian teammates silently on the hunt alongside them. Dex, Austen, and Ash were the last ones in on Seb’s orders. Inside one of the doorways, Seb signaled silently to Dex, and he made a dash for Seb with Ash and Austen on his heels.

  Seb pointed to Dex, then up. Looked like he and his team were heading upstairs. He nodded and carefully started making his way through the cavernous terminal, making sure to remain alert, listening for every sound, peering into shadows while checking on Austen who sniffed the air around him. Despite the daylight coming through all the openings, there were still far too many shadows for Dex’s liking. Hogan’s crew was most likely in their Therian forms, which meant they would sniff Dex out before he even saw them coming.

  The ground floor was filled with rows of white columns—circular silos, stretching up to the ceiling. One of the staircases nearby had collapsed into the canal with all manner of rusted reinforcement-steel bars, chunks of concrete blocks, and bricks. The place was falling apart. Gray concrete and corroded iron girders surrounded them on all sides. Dex found a set of oxidized metal stairs just about strong enough to hold Ash’s weight. He motioned over to it, and Ash nodded, testing one slat, then a second. When it didn’t give way under him, he started to climb. Dex followed with Austen close behind.

  They heard a sharp cry, and Dex’s blood ran cold. Cael! He pushed past Ash, running up the stairs with Ash cursing behind him. Dex took off toward his brother’s scream, the cry that followed shaking him to the core. He was going to tear Hogan apart! A gasp escaped him when the floor suddenly disappeared from beneath him. Two strong hands snatched ahold of his vest and jerked him to one side where he fell into Ash, the two crashing to the ground.

  “Fuck,” Dex breathed, pushing himself to his hands and knees. He moved his gaze to the large hole in the floor he’d almost fallen through. Crawling over, he peeked in and was met with nothing but a black abyss. The only sign it ended was the tiny dot of white light way down below. Turning his head to one side, he found the floor littered with huge holes leading down into the silos. Fuck, if anyone fell through one of these, there was no coming out of it alive.

  “Watch your step,” Ash hissed at him. He stood and grabbed Dex’s vest before hauling him to his feet. “Come on.”

  Dex followed when Austen paused ahead of them. His head popped up, and he sniffed the air before he darted off, leaping over huge moveable spouts once used to transfer bushels of grain from the roof into the silos. Ash came to a halt beside a metal door tagged with graffiti, a deep frown on his face. What the hell was he doing? Ash thrust a hand out and mouthed the word “run.”

  Listening to his gut—and Ash—Dex bolted in the opposite direction from where Austen had gone when he heard the roar of a cougar Therian behind him. He glanced over his shoulder long enough to see Ash fighting off two Therians in their feral form. Cael’s scream echoed around him, and Dex skidded to a halt, turning and frantically trying to find where it had come from. There were so many windows, nooks, doorways, holes, and tubes. It could have come from anywhere. If he called out for Cael, he’d give away his position. Damn it, where the hell had Austen disappeared to? Just as the thought crossed his mind, Austen leaped out from behind a spout, his claws scratching against the concrete as he made a sharp turn away from Dex, two Felids on his tail. Austen jumped and skidded sharply, avoiding the two Therians coming at him from two different angles. He sprung over them, and they smacked into each other. Their dizziness didn’t last long, and with roars, they gave chase.

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