Hell & high water, p.7
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       Hell & High Water, p.7

         Part #1 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet

  straight through the expansive bullpen. It wasn’t as busy as Dex thought it would be. The teams—except for his, which was in the briefing room—were most likely out in the field or training. There were rows upon rows of extraordinarily spacious offices to each side of the carpeted path, all of them made up of transparent and frosted glass panels. They walked to the end of the path, and a few turns later, they stopped at one of the offices, but before going in, Tony pointed to a black door on the right.

  “That’s briefing room ‘A.’ You’ll be spending a good deal of time there. There are three more to the right of it, a kitchen and lunchroom, followed by the male locker room, female locker room. At the end of the hall, make a right and you get to the sleeping bays. To the left of the briefing room is the Archives Room. Make a left at the end of that hall, and there are more sleeping bays. Canteen is on the fifteenth floor, you already know where Sparta and the main locker rooms are.” With that said, Tony walked into the office.

  Inside, it was twice as big as his old captain’s office and much, much, nicer. In the center of the room, two large black desks were pressed together facing each other, each one with a shiny, sleek black surface. There didn’t seem to be a computer in sight.

  “Where are the computers?” Dex was momentarily distracted by the lack of machinery. He’d eavesdrop on Sloane’s side of the office later.

  Tony gave him a cheeky smile and Dex almost wet himself in anticipation. “We’ll get to that. Now we use a system called Themis. It runs a series of highly advanced algorithms to scan surveillance submitted by our Recon Agents. It also looks for psychological and behavioral anomalies in order to identify potential threats. Our Intel guys gather information through whatever means necessary, be it cooperating with other agencies, or interception. Any questions so far?”

  “There is one. Stop me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t it have made more sense to put the homicide detective on Recon rather than with the demolition squad? You’ve seen me, right? I mean, I’m in shape but I can’t bench press a bus.”

  “None of our guys can bench press a bus.” Tony considered his words for a moment. “Maybe a Mini Cooper, but definitely not a bus.”

  “Not helping.”

  “Dex, Defense isn’t made up of no-brained muscle. These guys have to make split second decisions. Decisions which will mean the difference between saving someone’s life and watching them get torn to shreds. It’s one of the most physically and mentally demanding roles at the THIRDS. The reason you’re Defense is because your physical endurance score was as impressive as your mental endurance score. You also did everything within your power to preserve life during your simulations exercises. And that’s your objective, Dex. Preserve life.”

  “And when a three hundred pound Felid is trying to use me for a scratching post, how am I supposed to preserve life? Namely mine.”

  “You train. Also, that’s where your partner comes in. You’ll find working with a Therian partner to be unlike any partnership you’ve ever had. If one of you lets the other down, it could have dire consequences for the both of you and the team.”

  “You’re referring to something in particular?”

  “Post Shift Trauma Care.”

  Dex had experience from growing up with Cael how Therians needed care after their shift. The change in body mass took its toll on their Human side once a Therian shifted back. Years ago, scientists claimed the effects of Therian Post Shift Trauma weren’t all that different to the aftereffects of an epileptic seizure, only on a smaller scale, including muscle soreness, bruising, brief disorientation, and hunger. Eating after a shift was extremely important as not eating could lead to the Therian collapsing and a host of other health issues if they didn’t. It was scientifically proven that Humanity remained neurologically present while Therians were in their Therian form. It meant they could remain in that state for extended periods of time. However research confirmed remaining in Therian form for more than a year could mess with the mind and the Human side might slip beyond retrieval.

  “What about it?”

  “It’s your responsibility to make sure Sloane receives PSTC, which means being ready with his PSTC kit if you’re away from the BearCat and taking care of his gear while he’s in his Therian form when necessary.”

  Dex’s eyes widened. That could be anywhere from 120 to 160 pounds worth of gear. “Are you serious?”

  “Better get started on those bench-presses.” Tony looked too happy for his own good.

  “Thanks. So, besides being responsible for carrying my gear and possibly his, what’s in a PSTC kit and please tell me it doesn’t weigh much.”

  “Energy bars, snacks, bottle of Gatorade, disposable set of clothes—couple of T-shirts, pants, underwear, socks, blanket, and a pair of sneakers.”

  “Damn it, sneakers too?”

  “Well, we supply disposable booties, but as you can imagine, the agents aren’t too fond of them, so they often bring their own shoes.” Tony shrugged. “It’s not against the rules. They lose ’em, they gotta pay to replace them. Sloane prefers sneakers.”

  Dex looked down at his own size tens. He’d been somewhat preoccupied during their little sparring match to notice the size of Sloane’s feet. “Don’t suppose they’re average-sized sneakers?”

  “Sloane weighs in at 240 pounds and is over six foot six.”

  “Pissbunnies. Maybe I can convince him to switch.” Or swap them out and pretend he had no idea how it happened.

  “Yeah, good luck with that. Now are you going to bitch all day, or do you want to get to the toys?”

  Finally they were getting to the exciting part. “Sex toys?”

  “I’m going to have to set boundaries, aren’t I?”

  “No. I’m sorry. I’ll behave.” Dex made a cross over his heart with his finger. “I’d like to see the toys, please.”

  Tony stepped up to the desk on the left and motioned Dex over. “See this box here?”

  There was a thin blue-lined rectangle on the bottom left-hand corner of the desk’s shiny surface. “Yeah.”

  “Put your hand there.”

  Wiping his left hand on his pants, Dex placed it where Tony instructed, squealing like a schoolgirl when the desk’s surface flickered to life. “Now that’s what I’m talking about! This is some Star Trek shit right here.” He was so excited he could barely contain it. He loved getting shiny new toys.

  “Yeah, all right. Easy there, Solo.”

  “I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that. Seriously, man. You raised two kids and you still can’t tell the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek?”

  “They both take place in space with weirdly dressed dudes. That’s all I gotta know about it.”

  Dex hung his head in shame. “I weep for you.”

  “Be quiet and pay attention. Themis uses handprint recognition for log in. More secure than a password. Essentially, your desk is like a big tablet. When you’re both logged in, you can share information by sliding files from one surface to the other. You can keep your old cell phone number, but you’ll be given a new portable communication device that will allow you access to the desktop’s interface. The pass key on the portable device will be made up of a combination of your choosing using your fingerprints.” He pointed to the glowing blue symbols in the shape of a keypad on the right side of the desktop. “These control everything else in the room. Tap the rectangle with the checker box pattern.”

  Dex was all but bouncing. The second he tapped the button, the top half of the frosted cubicle wall to his left lit up.

  “That’s your board.”

  “I get my own board?” Dex gasped in awe.

  “Don’t come in your pants yet. Yes, you get your own board. It’s also touch screen, so it allows you to easily open multiple files, shuffle things around, add notes to it and then update the information on your system. When you’re not using it, it goes into stealth mode like the rest of your desk or you can press the “sleep” button. To wake it u
p, press your hand to the panel again.” He pointed to a set of large black filing cabinets in the corner of the office. “Any information that can’t be digitally scanned in is kept in those locked cabinets. Everything else is kept in the Archive Room. Now open the top right-hand drawer of your desk.”

  Dex did, pulling out something that resembled one of those small wireless headset earpiece things Wall Street douchebags used to communicate with other Wall Street douchebags.

  “It’s a wireless headset with links to the switchboard and your team. It’s also takes voice command. While you’re on duty, you wear it.” Tony pointed to his own secured around his ear. “The tiny ‘A’ will glow blue if you’re connected, red if you’re disconnected, and orange if you’re incapacitated, sending a signal to the rest of your team and headquarters. If you have a call coming through, pressing down on the ‘A’ will activate the microphone. The tiny button above the ‘A’ dims the light, so it doesn’t give away your position. The emergency signal can be activated verbally or by holding down this button up here.” He reached over and pointed to a tiny red button on the side.

  “After the briefing, Letty will take you to the armory, show you to your locker and your personal gear. Your arms’ locker also requires your handprint to unlock. After that, we’ll break for lunch. Okay so far?”

  “Yep.” Lunch. He could do with some lunch. Especially since that bastard Sloane gave his Cheesy Doodles away. What kind of guy does that? A bastard, that’s who. Did he not respect the male code of honor—thou shalt not steal another dude’s snacks?

  “What now?” Tony groused.

  Dex pouted miserably. “Sloane gave my Cheesy Doodles to Grizzly Adams.”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about and I don’t want to know. Put your earpiece in and get your ass moving.” Tony ushered him out, and Dex followed with a pout, securing his earpiece into place. It was going to take a while to get used to. Then again, there was a good deal to get used to. When they reached briefing room “A,” Dex took a deep steady breath before going in.

  A large table in the shape of a semicircle with about two dozen chairs occupied the center of the spacious room. Seven of those chairs were currently seating his teammates, most of who didn’t appear particularly happy to see him, except for Cael who smiled at him but that was a given. Across the semicircular table at the head of the room, was a low stage with a black podium, and high above it a massive flat screen TV. To each side of it were slightly smaller flat screen TVs. Beneath the outside TVs sat two medium-sized tables with chairs, the chairs on the right currently occupied by Dr. Colbourn and Dr. Bishop, who sat facing the team, each with a tablet in their hands.

  “Sit down,” Tony told him, motioning at the empty seats between Sloane and Ash before he made his way to the podium.

  Crap. Where should he sit? If he sat next to Ash, Sloane might think he was trying to avoid him, but if he sat next to Sloane, Ash might think he was flipping him off. Or he could be a complete douche and sit across from his team. Yeah, that would go down well. Okay, he was overanalyzing this. He walked to Sloane, but before he could sit down, Sloane stood and moved over so he was next to Ash, leaving the seat in front, right at the front, the only one available to him. Dex sat down and swiveled his chair to face the front. Great. It was high school all over again. Front of the class with the asshole captain of the football team sitting behind him waiting for the teacher to face the board so he could torment Dex and then pretend it was all in good fun so he could copy his homework.

  “All right, team. As you all may know, the THIRDS were handed jurisdiction on the HumaniTherians case months ago after the HPF concluded the evidence was pointing toward a Therian perpetrator. It was originally assigned to Unit Beta, until further evidence suggested it was the same perp. Now it’s our case. So far, there have been two victims.” Tony tapped the surface of the podium in front of him, and an image of a fair-haired man in his mid- to late thirties popped up on the large screen. “Mr. Dan Bennett,” he tapped the podium again and this time, an image of a dark-haired woman—also in her mid- to late thirties, popped up on the screen beside the first victim, “and Ms. Paula Chambers. Both victims received severe lacerations to the throat, hitting the main artery and causing the victims to quickly bleed to death. Hudson and Nina have been working hard to find a tear they can analyze, but the cuts are inconsistent. We do know these were violent acts. I’ll let Cael and Rosa fill you in on what they’ve got. Agents.”

  Cael and Rosa made their way to the podium. Tony stepped to one side, his hands placed against his lower back as he watched his agents. Cael cleared his throat and tapped away at the podium.

  “Like the Sergeant said, definitely a lot of anger involved in these murders. Intel has run both victims through Themis looking for connections between the two, but so far nothing has come up. Although both were HumaniTherians, they worked for separate organizations and neither crossed paths professionally or personally. There are no records of any communication between the two. No e-mails, phone calls, nothing. Mr. Bennett was found dead in his apartment late in the evening after the HPF became notified by Mr. Bennett’s employer when he didn’t show up to work after three days. Mr. Bennett never so much as took a sick day before then. The apartment building’s tenants were questioned and no one saw anyone come in or out of the apartment. The building has no surveillance inside or out, no security either. It’s badly maintained, if at all, so plenty of places for the perpetrator to hide.” Cael stepped aside and Rosa took the podium.

  “The second victim, Ms. Chambers, had argued with her Therian girlfriend, a Ms. Ruiz, the evening before. Neighbors say it was common. We interviewed Ms. Ruiz and according to her, she slept in her own apartment after they argued. She took some sedatives to calm her nerves and help her sleep. Toxicology confirms this, as do her neighbors who saw her black Ford Fiesta parked in front of her house all evening. We can also confirm Ms. Ruiz’s Therian form is a Canidae. These tears were made by large claws, not teeth. We believe our suspect is a large Felid.”

  Dex heard Sloane’s quiet curse behind him, but he didn’t turn around. Considering Destructive Delta was made up of large Felids, he could understand their frustration. Also, Felid Therians had a pretty bum rap. Statistically, Felid Therians made up a smaller portion of the criminal population, but since the homicides committed by criminal Felids were usually so violent, it overshadowed the more numerous crimes committed by Therians of other classifications, which of course made them a media target.

  “Any questions?” Rosa asked.

  Dex held up a hand, ignoring the groan he heard come from his partner.


  “The HPF receives hundreds of reports every day from HumaniTherians who’ve received violent threats. Only a tiny fraction of those are actually investigated and by then they’ve usually escalated. Can Intel get their hands on those reports and run them through Themis for potential suspects? I’m guessing the right algorithms should whittle down the list, especially once you start cross-referencing Felids with priors or histories of violence.”

  Rosa blinked at him, the room silent before she snapped out of it and spoke. “That’s a very good question.” Dex gave her a wink and although she shook her head, she smiled before turning to Tony. “Sergeant?”

  “Glad you brought that up. Lieutenant Sparks has spoken with the HPF Commissioner and they’ll be granting us temporary access to the files. It’ll take a few days while they gripe about it, but we should have it soon. I’ll have Intel notify Cael and Rosa as soon as we know something.”

  A strange low alarm resonated through the room, giving Dex a start. “What is that?”

  “Shit.” Sloane was immediately on his feet along with the rest of the team. A wide red bar with flashing white letters scrolled across all the screens: Alert! DB Hector Ortiz HHMA. Requesting OS: Unit Alpha—Destructive Delta: DDME, DDRA, DDDA.

  Dex read through all the abbreviations, recalling them from his training mat
erial, the first half of which he was familiar with since the HPF used the same codes. Dead body, Hector Ortiz, Human, Hispanic, Male, Adult. The rest were THIRDS specific codes, the “DD” in front pertained to his team: Destructive Delta, the ME: Medical Examiners, the RA: Recon Agents, and the DA: Defense Agents. Fuck, another homicide. Looks like they were being called in to backup Recon, which meant this was a bad one.

  “Okay, team, let’s roll out. Everyone knows what to do. Letty, give Dex a brief rundown of his gear downstairs. Aside from the modified tranq guns, it won’t be anything he hasn’t handled before. Dex, you stick close to your partner, got it?”

  “Yes, sir.” Dex gave a curt nod, falling into line behind Sloane as the team left the briefing room in a neat little row like a military drill. The few agents who were around the department stayed out of their way, and ahead of them a receptionist waited by the glass doors. When the team neared, the receptionist accessed the panel, the doors swishing open. They soon reached the elevators and Tony pressed his palm to the screen. In no time, they were all heading to the sub-basement where the armory and garage were located.

  As soon as the elevator doors opened, everyone headed out. The armory was as extensive as he’d expected with wall-to-wall secured metal cages and lockers. Letty quickly showed him to one wall of cages, the sign fixed above it read: Destructive Delta. She stopped beside Sloane who already had his locker open and was slipping into his tactical vest.

  “This one’s yours. A lot of this is standard issue with a few new toys.”

  Dex put his hand to the screen situated where a lock would normally be and the cage went click. She pointed down at the large shield carefully propped up to one side.

  “That’s your level IIIA ballistic shield with high-intensity dual lighting system including strobe capability.” She grabbed a vest and held it up to him. “Your level IIIA tac vest with side protection, front opening system for easy on/off, front pocket with pull-down groin protection—”

  Dex opened his mouth and Letty cut him off. “If you make any dick jokes I will blow yours off.”

  “Got it.”

  “It’s also got a retractable ballistic nape, ballistic throat and shoulder protection with integrated collar system. This sucker is heavy as balls before you add all your shit to it, so have fun with that.” She shoved it at Dex and pointed to one of the shelves. “Those are your level IV armored plates, and that there is your ballistic helmet with retractable visor.”

  Dex nodded as he strapped himself into his vest, leaving the throat and nape protection unfastened for the time being, and Letty started quickly handing him attachments.

  “Gloves are flame resistant, cut resistant, and thermal resistant, with removable molded knuckle protection. Taser, which I will use on you if you break any of this shit. Zip ties.” She kept handing him things and he tried his best to keep up, finding pockets, hooks, and places for everything. As soon as each piece was tucked somewhere, she shoved a black backpack at him. Unfastening the Velcro flap at the front, she swept her hand across the various tools a la Vanna White.

  “Hooligan Kit includes bolt cutters, Thundermaul and breacher. Det cord for blowing shit up, sledgehammer, ax, crowbar. In the BearCat, we’ve got a battering ram for breaching—performed by the rookie, i.e. you. Chains and hooks for burglar bars.” She then unfastened the straps at the top and opened it for him. “Inside you have your nonlethals—flashbangs, smoke bombs, pepper spray canisters, stinger grenades, and tear gas. In the BearCat you’ll find beanbag rounds shotguns and 40mm grenade launchers.” With an evil grin, she handed him the backpack and he slipped into it, attaching the straps in their appropriate places. Then he noticed the straps with clips on his shoulders.

  “Crap.” He’d been so busy working out where all his accessories went, he forgot all about the key pieces of his equipment. The guns.

  “Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we get to the hardcore stuff.” She swatted the side of his thigh and he gave a jump, his eyes widening at her evil grin. “You’ve already got your Glock 17. Now behind me is your Remington 870 12 gauge, your double-aught buck with steel bearings, MP5 submachine gun, the AR15—your primary entry weapon, and this baby here….” She grabbed one of the rifles and handed it to him. “It looks like your AR15, but it’s actually your new best friend—a modified tranq gun. The tranqs in this use a combination of ketamine and xylazine. The BearCat is equipped with M99 and M5050 tranquilizers, but only Rosa handles that shit. She’ll be giving you a step-by-step on how to use it properly without killing yourself dead.”

  Sounded like something he would say. He liked her already. Dex clipped the tranq rifle to his vest straps. “You scare me.”

  “Good.” She gave him a smack on his ass as she walked off. Letty was small, barely reaching his shoulders, but he had no doubts she could kick some serious ass. She’d have to, being in Unit Alpha. It couldn’t be easy for her and Rosa with all the testosterone flying around, a hefty portion of it coming from Ash alone. Yet she had a sweet smile and very soft features. If Dex had seen her walking down the street in civilian attire, he never would have guessed she packed enough heat to take on a small army.

  By the time Dex was finished strapping everything into place, he felt winded. He’d completed the THIRDS training while wearing the same equipment, but a good deal of what got him through it was knowing that once he got to the other side, he wouldn’t have to worry about it again. But this was it. Every time that screen flashed, he’d be going out to face Therians in their most dangerous form. Taking a deep breath, he grabbed his helmet and nearly jumped out of his skin when he received a firm pat on the shoulder.

  “No time for daydreams, Rookie. Move your ass.” Sloane gave him a gentle shove forward and Dex bit his tongue. Now would not be a good time to tell his partner to go screw himself. He slammed the cage door shut, the lock clicking into place. Sloane brushed past him and Dex hastily put his helmet on—visor up—and fastened the chinstrap before putting on his gloves. He held onto his rifle and followed Sloane along with the rest of the team out of the armory.

  The THIRDS tactical vehicles were parked in the HQ garage attached to the rear of the building and accessed through a short tunnel. There was no time for Dex to browse the pretty black service cars, one of which he would be riding in with Sloane when they weren’t in the BearCat. The team didn’t stop until it reached a massive armored truck, and Dex couldn’t help but gaze at it in awe.

  It was shiny and black with large white letters on the sides displaying THIRDS and below in smaller letters NYC Unit Alpha. It was much longer in length than the typical ballistic vehicle, and on the outside, it was equipped with the works. It had blue lights on the roof and on the winch at the front. On the side, two narrow ballistic glass panels up high, three gun ports beneath the panels and an additional gun port on the passenger side door. The roof contained a rotating hatch, a CS gas deployment nozzle, and a Common Remotely Operated Weapons Station program with a mounted M240 machine gun that Dex hoped they didn’t need to use.

  Hobbs ran around to the driver’s side while Calvin climbed into the passenger side. The rest of the team stood to one side behind the vehicle as Calvin opened the back doors. Dex followed the rest of his team inside, taking in everything around him.

  It was unlike any armored vehicle Dex had ever seen. Along one side were cages filled with an armory of weapons, locked cabinets and drawers. Across from the cages was a long black bench with straps and beside it, a small wall of surveillance equipment, including a sleek console, chair, several touchscreens, slim computer keyboard, and plenty of glowing, flashing buttons he would be sure to stay away from. Toward the front of the truck was a medical station that resembled the inside of an ambulance, including a defibrillator, syringe driver, suction unit, ventilator, immobilization equipment, and a stretcher. There were refrigerated units, more locked cabinets, and a small restroom. Toward the rear of the truck, there was a wide-open rectangular space, and Dex note
d the grooves and panels tucked into the floor. Those panels came up if they had a Therian who refused to shift back to his or her Human form. The idea disturbed him. How did his Therian teammates feel about sticking their own kind in a big iron cage?

  Above the cage, stretching across the width of the truck, was another groove with a looped strap sticking out of each end. It appeared to be some kind of pull down screen, and Dex realized it was for privacy. It had completely slipped his
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