Hell & high water, p.2
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       Hell & High Water, p.2

         Part #1 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet

  Dex frowned, trying to drum up what he remembered from the incident. He remembered it had been especially hard on Pearce, not having access to the case. But since Gabe had been a THIRDS agent, the HPF had no jurisdiction. “I thought the guy involved had been a Human informant?”

  Pearce shook his head. “He was an HPF informant, but he wasn’t Human. He was Therian. A kid.”

  Shit. Pearce’s brother had been killed by a Therian informant and here he was, coming to rescue a guy who’d testified against his Human partner in favor of a young Therian punk. “So, why aren’t you kicking the shit out of me too?”

  A deep frown came onto Pearce’s face. “If your partner was stupid enough to let his personal prejudice affect his judgment, he deserves what he got. The truth is I admire you. Not everyone would’ve had the balls to do what you did. What happened to Gabe… was different.” He sighed, his expression troubled. “I’m just saying to watch your back. There are a lot of zealots out there looking for any excuse to carry out their own justice and things have been getting worse since that second HumaniTherian was found dead a few months ago. Some of these Humans are out for blood.”

  Pearce wasn’t wrong on that. Two HumaniTherian activists had been murdered in the last six months and the evidence was pointing toward a Therian perpetrator, which meant jurisdiction fell to the THIRDS. Although the organization was doing its best to reassure the public, a storm was brewing between Humans and Therians, especially if they didn’t catch whoever was behind it soon. Dex’s testimony against his partner couldn’t have come at a worse time.

  “Thanks for the warning, Pearce.” Dex stepped out of the car and closed the door behind him, taking a step to the side to wave at Pearce as he drove off. As soon as the guy was gone, Dex let out a sigh of relief. He loved his quiet little treelined street. With a smile, he painfully climbed up the steps to his front door. Finally, he was home. He stuck the key into the lock, turned it, and pushed the door open, baffled when it went thump halfway. Christ, now what? Something heavy was wedged up against it. With a frustrated grunt, he forced it open and carefully stuck his head in, frowning when he saw the large open cardboard box filled with DVDs, CDs, and a host of other things that should have been in his living room. His initial thought went to burglary, except he’d never run into thieves who stopped to bubble wrap their stolen merchandise.


  Dex locked the door behind him and wandered into the living room, his jaw all but hitting the floor at the near-empty state of it, along with the many cardboard boxes littered about in various stages of completeness. Something banged against the floor upstairs and Dex took the stairs two at a time.

  “Babe?” Dex found his boyfriend of four years upstairs in their bedroom throwing shoes into empty boxes. “What’s going on?”

  “I’m moving out.”

  The words hit Dex like a punch to the gut, a feeling he was growing all too familiar with these days. “What?” He quickly maneuvered through the obstacle course of boxes and scattered manbags to take hold of his boyfriend’s arms, turning him to face him. “Sweetheart, stop for a second. Please, talk to me.” He went to cup Lou’s cheek, only to have Lou move his face away. Ouch. Double sucker punch. Tucking the rejection away for later, he focused on getting to the bottom of this. “Lou, please.”

  “The nonstop phone calls, the reporters knocking on the door, the news reports on TV calling you a disgrace to your species. I can’t take it anymore, Dex.”

  Guilt washed over him, and he released Lou. How many more casualties would there be as a result of his doing “the right thing”? “Give it some time. This will all blow over. What if we go somewhere far away from this, the two of us, huh?”

  Lou shook his head and went back to packing. “I have a life to think about. I’ve already lost half a dozen clients. I can’t afford to lose any more.”

  “This is New York, Lou. One thing you won’t run out of is parties to cater. It’s almost September, next thing you know it’ll be Halloween and you’ll be knee-deep in white chocolate ghosts and tombstone ice sculptures, telling your clients how throwing a party in a real graveyard is a bad idea.” When his lighthearted approach failed, Dex knew this was serious. Of course, to most people, the packed boxes would have been a dead giveaway, but Dex wasn’t most people. He refused to believe Lou would walk out on him when he needed him the most. “What about me? Aren’t I a part of your life?” Dex was taken aback when Lou rounded on him, anger flashing in his hazel eyes.

  “You sent your partner to prison, Dex!”

  Unbelievable. It wasn’t bad enough he was getting it from everyone else, now he was getting it at home too? Dex was growing mighty tired of being treated like a criminal. “I didn’t send him to prison. The evidence against him did. He shot an unarmed kid in the back and killed him for fuck’s sake! How am I the asshole in this?” He searched Lou’s eyes for any signs of the man who’d wake him up in the middle of the night simply to tell him how glad he was to be there with him.

  “It wasn’t like you’d be able to bring the kid back. Not to mention he was a delinquent and a Therian!”

  Dex’s anger turned into shock. “Whoa, what the hell, Lou? So that makes it okay? What about Cael? He’s a Therian. You’ve never had a problem with him.” At least Lou had the decency to look ashamed.

  “He’s your family. I had no choice.”

  This was all news to him. Dex loved Cael. He would never push his brother out for anyone. He’d been upfront about his Therian brother when he and Lou had first started dating. If his date couldn’t accept Cael, he couldn’t accept Dex. “Where is all this coming from? Since when do you have a problem with Therians?”

  “Since one ruined my fucking life!” Lou chucked a pair of sneakers at one of the boxes with such force the box toppled over.

  “Your life?” This conversation grew more astounding by the minute. Dex thrust a finger at himself. “Have you seen my face? I got the shit kicked out of me in the parking garage, thanks for noticing. If a fellow detective hadn’t come along, I’d probably be in the hospital right now. And you know what the most fucked up part of that is? They weren’t even street thugs. They were fucking cops!” Dex had known the moment he’d seen their attire and the telltale signs of an ankle holster on one of them. The bastards had probably been at the trial.

  Lou threw his arms up in frustration. “Your own cop friends don’t want to have anything to do with you, and you expect me to pretend like nothing’s happened? To ignore everyone staring at me, saying, ‘Oh, there goes that prick’s boyfriend. He’s probably a LiberTherian sympathizer too.’ I don’t want to get the shit kicked out me, Dex.”

  “Oh my God, seriously?” Humans loved throwing words like HumaniTherian and LiberTherian around as if they were insults. His strong belief that Therians and Humans deserved to be treated equally made him a HumaniTherian, even if he wasn’t out picketing on the White House lawn, and he was fine with that. But that didn’t make him a LiberTherian. He was hardly an anarchist, and considering he was in law enforcement, he’d never had a problem with authority, though he didn’t follow it blindly either. He hated when someone tried to stick him in a little box with a label slapped on his ass. Like everything was black and white. Doing his best to summon patience despite his reservoir being nearly depleted, he took hold of Lou’s hand and pulled him to their king-sized bed. Lou allowed himself to be led but refused to sit or even look him in the eye. “Do you care that much about what people think?”

  No reply. Dex supposed he couldn’t blame him. Things were so screwed up, he didn’t know which way was up anymore.

  “It’s not just the trial.”

  Dex swallowed hard, wondering what new surprises Lou had for him. Sure, they argued sometimes, but no more than any other couple. They had fun together when their jobs allowed it, though now that he thought about it, it had been a while since they’d had a day off together. Lou had been as busy these days with his career as Dex had been with his ow
n, but neither of them ever complained about not spending enough time together. Maybe that was the problem. He could fix that, though. He could take some time off work, and take Lou somewhere nice, with sandy white beaches and cocktails. At least that’s what he thought until he saw Lou’s face.

  It was over.

  “I’m sorry. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t keep getting left behind; sitting here on my own until sunup while you throw yourself into the line of fire every chance you get.” The hurt in Lou’s eyes only added to Dex’s guilt.

  “It’s my job,” Dex replied quietly, exhausted from the day’s events, and quite frankly, the whole of his life at the moment.

  “Saving the world is not your job. It’s your obsession. An unhealthy one that will get you killed. You told me you became an HPF officer so you could make a difference there, like your dad, but if you keep this up, you’re going to end up like him.”

  Dex’s chest tightened. “Don’t.”

  “That’s why they’re the Human Police Force. They don’t want to see things your way. Okay, so some of them might change their minds, some probably already feel the way you do, but not enough of them to change the way things are. Why do you think the government opened the THIRDS?”

  “What do you want from me, Lou? Do you want me to change? Is that it?” Dex leaned toward him, pleading. “I can do that.”

  Lou shook his head. “You are the job, Dex. I couldn’t ask you to change who you are. What I want is for you to take care of yourself, and please, don’t call me or come to my job.” Lou tugged at his hand, and Dex reluctantly let go. “I’ll send the movers for the rest of my stuff tomorrow while you’re at work.”

  “That’s pretty much the entire house,” Dex murmured, taking stock of the near-empty room. He was also pretty sure Lou was leaving some stuff behind for him, like the bedding.

  “Why do you think that is, Dex? You were never here. I was the one who made this a home.”

  The words made Dex’s heart ache and when he spoke, his voice was quiet. “Was I that bad?”

  Lou stepped up to him and placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. “You’re a great guy, Dex. We had fun, and you were good to me, but we weren’t right for each other. If it hadn’t happened now, it would have happened eventually.” He ran his fingers through Dex’s hair, the tender gesture bringing a lump to his throat. Shifting forward, Dex wrapped his arms around Lou’s waist and squeezed, his cheek pressed against Lou’s chest.

  “Please don’t go.”

  “I’m sorry,” Lou replied hoarsely, pulling away. “I’ll leave the key in the mailbox.”

  Dex nodded and fell back onto the bed, his body feeling heavy and in pain, inside and out. He was so exhausted he couldn’t find the will to do anything but lie there and wish his bed would swallow him up.

  “I’m sorry, Dex. I really am.”

  “Me too,” Dex murmured softly. A few minutes later, he heard the front door close, making him cringe. He rubbed his stinging eyes for a moment before his hand flopped back down to the bed. He should get up and shower. Instead, he lay there staring up at the white ceiling. In his pocket, his cell phone went off. He ignored it and closed his eyes. The landline started shrilling and he let out a low groan. It was probably his dad. The answering machine beeped and a saccharine voice that was definitely not his dad’s chirped,

  “Mr. Daley, this is a friendly reminder that your rental is due back at the lot before six p.m. Failure to do so will result in an additional day’s charge being added to your credit card. We appreciate you using Aisa Rentals and hope you have a pleasant evening.”

  Dex checked his watch.

  5:59 p.m.

  Fuck. My. Life.

  DEX WAS well on his way to having yet another spectacular clusterfuck of a week, despite feeling pretty confident things couldn’t possibly get any worse than they’d been recently. After all, the last month had been pretty epic in the “screw you” department. It had been so bad, he’d actually been looking forward to the end of his two weeks’ paid leave in order to get back to work. Oh, Dex, you silly boy.

  Things can only get better.

  Isn’t that what Dex had been told this morning? Well, more like that’s what the song on the radio had been harping about on his way to work. That’s the last time he allowed himself to be reassured by an eighties song. Retro Radio was going to be deleted from his playlist first chance he got. That’s if his head cleared up enough by the end of his shift to let him make sense of all the shiny glowing buttons on the dash of his car. Nothing like a good old fashioned shit-kicking to start your morning on your first day back at work.

  It was true he’d been expecting some anger and hostility to come his way after what he’d done. The dirty looks and shoves into lockers or various similarly occupied spaces, his paperwork doubling up as toilet paper in the restroom, his desk drawers filled with everything from doggie chew toys to rubber mice. All of it had been expected. Unpleasant, but expected. The friendly beatings? Not so much.


  With a nod of thanks, Dex took the little paper hankie offered by Captain McGrier and dabbed his split lip. He resumed his slouching, tonguing the sore spot inside his mouth where he’d bitten himself after the first punch hit. His body was aching and his head was killing him, but at least he was pretty sure he wasn’t concussed.

  “Where’d they get you this time?” McGrier’s bushy white brows drew together in an expression that could have meant anything from “I hope Anne’s not making meatloaf again,” to “I’m seriously considering punching you myself.” For a man who only had one facial expression, he was sure tough to get a read on.

  “Evidence,” Dex replied. Knowing what McGrier was going to ask next, Dex didn’t bother waiting. “And no, I didn’t see who it was.”

  Peterson, Johnson, Malone, Rodriguez, and the IT guy with the Mohawk and face full of shrapnel. What the hell was his name? Nick? Ned? Ned. Dick Ned.

  Of course Dex had seen who it was. They both knew he’d seen who it was. Or more specifically, who they had been, but Dex wasn’t about to rat out his own brethren, even if his brethren had happily worked him over moments ago in the isolated evidence locker. Damn. How had he become the most hated guy in the precinct? Even Bill—the guy who ate other people’s lunches from the fridge, was less hated than him.

  McGrier sighed heavily, his chair letting out a screeching protest as he leaned his heavy mass back. “You’re one hell of a detective, Daley, but the fact remains, this can’t go on.”

  “No kidding,” Dex grumbled. “My dry cleaning bill’s tripled in the last month.”

  “You’re the only detective I know who comes to work looking like he stepped out of a goddamn men’s fashion magazine. What the fuck is that in your hair?”

  Dex instinctively touched his tousled locks. “Forming cream.”

  McGrier leaned forward and sniffed. “And what’s that smell?”

  “Citrus mint,” Dex muttered, leaning away from him. “FYI, that was kind of creepy.”

  “FYI, you realize you’re a homicide detective, right?”

  “What are you trying to say?” Just because he felt like crap didn’t mean he had to look it. Judging by the state of his captain’s office, it was a pretty safe bet McGrier didn’t agree. It was as if the man had an aversion to tidiness. Whenever McGrier called him in, Dex always managed to hover by the door and not step foot inside the Den of Disorder. It was a clean freak’s worst nightmare. Dex’s worst nightmare.

  The leaves of the fake potted fern on top of the beat-up filing cabinet were drooping from the thick layers of dust. There were stacks of files—crookedly stacked files—with sheets sticking out every which way on every available surface. On file boxes along the side of the room. On McGrier’s desk underneath three coffee mugs—one of which deserved nothing short of incineration, though the tar-like remnants of what had once been a thin layer of coffee might cause it to explode. How did the man work in this? The whole place was in need o
f a hazmat team.

  “You eat Cheesy Doodles at your desk,” McGrier informed him.

  How’d they go from hair gel to cheese snacks? “Hey, don’t knock the crunchy cheesy goodness. You’re always eating pistachios—which, by the way, are messier—and you don’t hear me bitching about it.” Dex nodded toward the war zone of tiny shells on the desk in front of McGrier.

  “Kids eat Cheesy Doodles. Grown men eat nuts.”

  Dex arched an eyebrow and opened his mouth only to have McGrier jab a finger at him. “Don’t you even think about it, wiseass.”

  “I was only going to say that grown men eat Cheesy Doodles, too. That’s why they put extreme on the packaging. And explosions. What’s manlier than explosions?” McGrier’s lips pressed together in what Dex translated to be some form of disapproval, so Dex decided to be serious for a moment. “All right, sir, you didn’t call me into your office to talk about my wardrobe, Cheesy Doodles, or my love of nuts.” Well, he’d tried. Judging by McGrier’s scowl, he’d failed. “Fine, I’m sorry. Tell me what this is about.”

  “I think you know what this is about.”

  Dex couldn’t even come up with a smartass remark. “Yeah, I know. What was I supposed to have done?” No way McGrier would answer that, but Dex liked to play the “what if” game with himself every now and then.

  “You did what you believed was right. You need to stop beating yourself up over it.”

  He would have thought McGrier was trying to be funny if he suspected for even a moment the man had a sense of humor. “Why would I beat myself up when I’ve got plenty of other people to do that for me?” McGrier was unsurprisingly not impressed with his reply.

  “I know you feel like shit right now, and I’m afraid what I have to say isn’t going to make things any better.”

  That got Dex’s attention and he sat upright, getting a sick twisting feeling in his gut. In the back of his mind, he’d been waiting for it but now that it was happening, he wasn’t as prepared as he thought he’d be. “What?”

  “The commissioner isn’t happy about finding the HPF in the middle of this shit-storm, especially with those unsolved HumaniTherian murders. I’ve been informed to advise you that it’s time for you to move on.”

  “Move on? Move on to what?” The suits were pushing him out? Dex propelled out of his chair so fast it toppled backward. “That’s what this is about, isn’t it? Votes? Ten years I’ve been busting my ass here, giving you blood, sweat, and tears, and they’re going to push me out for doing my goddamn job?” He slammed his hands on the desk, turning the tiny pistachio shells into launched projectiles. “This is bullshit, Cap!”

  “Daley,” McGrier said with quiet emphasis, his brows set in a straight line as if he couldn’t fathom the reason for Dex’s hissy fit. Dex didn’t give a damn what his captain thought this was. They were talking about his career, a career that was being dismissed without so much as batting an eyelash, all so a bunch of bureaucratic assholes could bullshit their way through another election.

  “There’s no way I’m taking this lying down. You hear me? I’ve seen some pretty fucked up shit in my time but this—”

  “You’re not being pushed out. You’re being promoted. Sort of.”

  “I—What?” Dex blinked a few times as he tried to decipher the words that had come out of McGrier’s wobbly mouth. “What do you mean I’m being promoted? Sort of.” Now he was really confused.

  “What I said. So, why don’t you sit back down and relax before you have a stroke or something.”

  After setting his chair back on its legs, Dex resumed his seat. Not because he had been told to do so, but because he was afraid if he didn’t, he might just have that stroke. “I’m being promoted to….”

  Fill in the blank.

  “It’s more like you’ve been recruited.” McGrier studied him closely. What kind of response was his captain expecting from him other than Huh?


  “As of this afternoon, you are a Defense Agent for the THIRDS.” The man grew quiet and Dex couldn’t help but wait for him to throw his arms out and shout “Ta-da!” with a show of jazz hands.

  What was happening here? If he’d been told he was getting transferred, he would’ve understood. If he’d been told he was getting demoted, he would’ve understood. Hell, he would’ve understood being let go, but being recruited by the THIRDS? Nope. He couldn’t say he understood. Especially since he’d never applied for a position in the first place, as he’d recently found himself stating repeatedly.

  “But… how? Why? Maybe you can, I don’t know, explain? I’m feeling a little slow today. One too many kicks to the head.”

  McGrier stood and started pacing. “Daley, whatever you may think, I like you. You’re an honest young man with a good head on your shoulders. You were a damned good cop and became an even better detective. Things may die down around here, they might not, but I think your skills would be better suited to an organization with a different way of doing things. We both know if they tried to push you out or demote you, they’d lose the Therian vote, but if they promoted you to an organization with a reputation for supporting both Humans and Therians, it’d be a win/win situation for everyone.”

  “Yeah, if I’d been trying to get in, which I hadn’t been. Right now it’s a win/what the hell situation.”

  McGrier continued as if Dex hadn’t spoken. “I had a meeting with Lieutenant Sparks while you were on leave, and she happens to have a position open on her team. The fact that you scored top of your class during the training and have Sergeant Maddock to put in a good word for you, has made you a key candidate. You know Maddock has always wanted you over there with him and your brother. The THIRDS is the only organization I know of that allows family members to work together, so why not take advantage?”

  Dex’s mouth moved but nothing came out, so he decided it best to shut it. Maybe he was concussed. Maybe he was in a hospital somewhere hopped up on meds and dreaming about getting recruited by the Therian Human Intelligence Recon Defense Squadron. Jesus Christ, the government loved their acronyms. Somewhere some government suit had jizzed his pants coming up with that one.

  The Sixth Precinct had been Dex’s home for the last ten years. They were like family. Then again, his “family” had pretty much disowned him in the last few months. Should he fight to stick around where he wasn’t wanted? He’d already been beat up twice. If that wasn’t their way of flipping him off, he didn’t know what was.

  McGrier was right, things might die down, or they might get worse. As it was, his presence alone had everyone on edge, and those same dickbags who’d cast him out were forcing everyone else to pick sides. He could spare a lot of good people a whole lot of grief if he took this position, not that he was being given much of a choice.

  It all came down to whether he left quietly. He should be grateful for the opportunity. There were officers out there who’d clean toilets if it meant getting their foot through the THIRDS’ door. Plus, Dex would get to work with his real family. That didn’t make leaving his job behind any easier. It was the only
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