Hell & High Water, page 11part #1 of THIRDS Series
had been aware, but his own grieving had made it difficult to address. How could he help them move on when he couldn’t find the strength to do it himself?
Now there was a dirty-blond enigma making his team laugh so hard they were in tears, and it was only his first day on the job. None of the others had lasted, not with Sloane, and not with his team. The only reason they’d given Dex a chance was because of Cael and Maddock, but the more Sloane watched the team interact with Dex, the more he started to believe maybe the rookie would be good for them. He was charming, in his own weird way. He talked a hell of a lot, always had a stupid smile on his face, and Sloane had caught him a couple of times humming some cheesy ballad. But the light in Dex’s blue eyes seemed to be spreading to the rest of his team. Sloane didn’t know what that meant, other than it was scaring the shit out of him. His team needed this, so he would suck it up and ride it out as long as he could.
SLOANE AND his team returned to HQ, shed all their gear, and headed for their respective offices. Recon agents would take things from here, chasing down leads until they came up with something, while Hudson and Nina worked with the lab to get every tiny piece of evidence analyzed. The moment they got a hit, Sloane and the rest of Destructive Delta would suit up and head out again, but until then, they’d go about their usual duties.
After lunch, where Dex nearly came in his pants from the sight of the canteen and all the vendors offering an assortment of free food, Sloane had spent a good deal of the afternoon training his partner on Themis, how it worked, how to create, access, and amend files, helpful shortcuts that would make the process more streamlined, and how to send information to their fellow teammates.
“Shit, I broke it.” Dex pushed himself away from his desk and threw his hands up.
Sloane chuckled and rose to his feet, walking around to Dex and wheeling him back to his desk. “You didn’t break it. Themis won’t let you do anything you shouldn’t.” He hovered over Dex’s shoulder to see what he’d done now. It was the fifth time the rookie had supposedly broken their intelligence network. Sloane slid a finger down near the edge of the desk and three files popped up. “There they are. You only minimized them. When you tap the same spot twice inside the file, it brings them to the bottom, and the screen flashes once to let you know they’re still open, just out of sight.”
“Awesome. Now how do I access Google?”
Was he serious? “Why do you need Google?”
“When don’t you need Google?”
He was serious. There were moments Sloane wondered how Dex had made it this far. Either the guy was deceptively clever or extremely talented at pretending he was. “How about when you have a powerful, multimillion dollar government interface linked to numerous intelligence agencies across the globe right in front of you.”
Dex squinted at him, his lips pursed thoughtfully. “So… is that a no on Google?”
“Are you on medication?” Sloane asked, eyeing him. “Because that’s the kind of thing I need to know if you’re going to be handling anything more dangerous than a smoke bomb.”
Dex let out a bark of laughter. “I knew you had a sense of humor.”
“I’m not trying to be funny. I’m very concerned.” He pointed to his face. “This is my concerned face.” He could tell Dex was trying very hard not to laugh. Sloane was a lot better at pulling it off.
“It looks a lot like your pissed-off face.”
Sloane shook his head. “The two are very different.”
“Really?” Dex’s eyes lit up with amusement. He sat back, stretched his legs out in front of him and laced his fingers over his flat stomach. “Because the two look the same to me.”
Sloane walked around him to take a seat on the edge of Dex’s desk beside him, one arm resting on his leg as he leaned forward. “I’ll make it easy for you. This face means you’ve done something that concerns me. While this face, accompanied by physical pain upon your person, means you’ve done something to piss me off. Face and no pain, equals concern. Face and pain, equals pissed off. Easy as that.”
“I really appreciate this. Is this part of the training?”
“Yep. You’ll find I can be a very nurturing partner if you do exactly as I say without question.”
Dex let out a snicker before sitting up and leaning forward, his grin wide. “Is that also your sex face?”
“I’m not touching that.” Sloane narrowed his eyes as Dex invaded his personal space. He was onto Dex, and there was no way Sloane was about to break first. There was nothing Dex could do to get under his skin.
“Will you at least poke it?”
Damn it. Sloane found himself laughing. “You’re an idiot.”
“Actually, I’m pretty smart.” Dex wheeled his chair an inch closer. “I like to lull my victims into a false sense of security.”
“And what exactly am I a victim of?”
Dex wriggled his eyebrows and Sloane braced himself. He clearly would never know what was going to happen with Dex. That thought was either very frightening or strangely entertaining. He still hadn’t figured out which.
“There’s one thing I need you to clarify,” Dex said.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
His partner gave a slow nod, his expression growing somber before he started rambling on about someone putting out Sloane’s fire. It sounded oddly like an old Eagles song. Wait…
“Are those song lyrics?” Sloane let out a groan and sat back. “That’s a song, isn’t it?”
Dex jumped to his feet as he sang and played invisible instruments around Sloane.
“Oh dear God, it gets worse.” Sloane let his head fall into his hand.
Dex’s earpiece flashed blue and Sloane watched in amusement as Dex tapped it. “You’ve reached the voice mail of Agent Dexter J. Daley. I’m away from my desk at the moment having hot monkey sex in the archive room with my partner Agent Sloane Brodie. Please leave a message after the snarl.”
“You son of a bitch.” Sloane jumped to his feet and made a swipe for him. Dex laughed and darted around to Sloane’s desk.
“Relax, it’s only the sarge.”
“What?” Sloane squawked.
Dex doubled over laughing. “Oh shit! You should see your face!”
“I’m going to kill you,” Sloane ground out through his teeth.
“I’m kidding, man. It’s my brother, and he’s on a private line.” Dex tapped his earpiece again. “What up, nerd?”
Sloane stormed over to his desk, pushing Dex out of his way so he could sit down. Dex laughed as he ambled to his own chair and dropped into it.
“Yep, I’m still alive,” Dex glanced over at Sloane with a grin. “But if looks could kill, it’d be a different story. I don’t know.” He checked his watch then glanced up at Sloane. “Depends on whether our Team Leader has some more training—”
“Well, what do you know, looks like it’s quittin’ time. I’ll meet you at reception.” Dex got to his feet, his usual big dopey grin on his face. “Want to come? We’re going to grab some dinner.”
“In case you missed my subtle gesture, I’m trying to get rid of you.”
“Gotcha.” With a wink, Dex headed for the office door. “See you tomorrow, partner.”
“Get lost.” Sloane tapped his desk’s surface and pulled up Dex’s report on his observations from the last crime scene. The door swished quietly and Sloane glanced up, letting out a sigh of relief. Finally, a little peace and quiet. It was hard to believe today had been Dex’s first day. It felt like a lot longer. To say the guy was unlike any partner Sloane had ever had would be the understatement of the century, but there was also an easy way about him, something that made those around him comfortable. Sloane could easily fool himself into believing he’d known the guy much longer.
Everything about today should have been routine. A routine introduction, routine callout, routine ride in the BearCat, yet nothing about today had felt routine. Dex wasn’t inti
Sloane’s head snapped up at the unexpected intrusion, and he felt embarrassed at being caught with his head in the clouds by his sergeant. “Hey, boss. Yeah, I’m fine. Why?”
Maddock gave a lazy shrug before he walked into the room and made himself comfortable in Dex’s chair. “Nothing. Just, you were smiling.”
“Oh.” Sloane cleared his throat, unaware he’d been doing that. “Just thinking about something stupid. Don’t worry about it.”
“Something Dex did?”
That alone had Sloane trying to hold back a smile. There was no point lying to his sergeant. The guy could smell bullshit from two towns over. The thought had him chuckling. “Yeah, he was singing some cheesy song and playing air guitar or drums, I don’t know, something ridiculous like that.”
“Get used to it. He does that a lot. He also doesn’t know any songs after 1989.”
Sloane peered at him. “You’re kidding me, right?”
“Nope.” Maddock shook his head, his usual stern expression unmoving.
Inexplicably, Sloane broke into laughter, and when Maddock joined in, Sloane was laughing so hard, he had tears in his eyes. A few moments later, he finally managed to get a hold of himself. He gave a sniff and wiped his eyes. “No disrespect, Maddock, but your kid is fucking weird.”
Maddock chuckled, his grin wide. “Yeah, he is.” He sobered up and leaned forward, meeting Sloane’s gaze. “But maybe he’s precisely the kind of weird the team needs.”
Sloane mirrored his sergeant’s pose. “You think so?”
“I do, and I know you’ve had the same thought.”
Sloane arched an eyebrow at his sergeant, not in the least bit surprised the guy had figured out as much. There was no hiding anything from Maddock. Growing up in the Maddock household must have been interesting to say the least. He didn’t know who to feel sorrier for: Maddock having to keep Dex and Cael out of trouble, or Dex and Cael for undoubtedly being caught before any of their boyhood shenanigans had a chance to take off. “Okay,” Sloane admitted, “yes, maybe the thought crossed my mind.”
“Good. How was his first day?”
Sloane mentally recapped their day, from the moment Dex had run into him in the training bay to their sparring session where the guy wouldn’t stay down, the showers and the carefree way he ribbed his baby brother, the briefing room and mansion where he’d shown insight, their encounter with the media and how Dex had managed to calm Sloane with his sincerity and compassion, to moments ago where Dex had made him laugh like he hadn’t laughed since… since Gabe. Sloane met Maddock’s steady gaze.
“He’s going to do fine here. If he doesn’t drive us all crazy first.”
Maddock smiled and stood. “That’s all I wanted to know.” He headed for the door and paused. When he turned, his softened expression was unexpected. “It’s good to hear you laugh again, son.”
Sloane swallowed hard, his voice rough when he spoke. “Thanks, Sarge.”
With that, Maddock was gone, leaving Sloane in the empty silence of his office, a silence he had grown accustomed to. Not that it ever bothered him. In fact, in his line of work, moments of solitude were slim to nonexistent, and he often found himself needing those moments to gather himself and his thoughts. He focused his attention on the open reports, deciding he was better off losing himself in his work rather than the minefield in his head. He started reading through everything to make sure Dex hadn’t left anything out, doing his best not to feel the lingering effects of Maddock’s words and the reminder of how hard the last year and few months had been for him. Shaking himself out of it, he told himself not to go down that route again. He scanned the report, his sight landing on the digital sticky note with his name neatly scribbled across it. How was it the guy freaked out when he minimized his own documents, but he had no trouble adding a personal note to his report, which was a multistep process?
Their desk interface allowed for secure communication between them, away from the prying eyes of other agents if marked as such. Sloane eyed the yellow rectangle, wondering why he hadn’t opened it yet. There was absolutely no reason not to. Tapping it, it expanded. There was nothing on it except for a “play” symbol. It was an audio file.
“Don’t do it, Sloane.” He stared at the little triangle, a sense of foreboding washing over him. “Nothing good can come from pressing play.” His finger hovered over the note. What if it was important? Sloane grimaced. If it were important, Dex would have told him. He cringed and tapped the button, knowing he was going to regret it.
The melody of a harmonica blared from his desk, and he gave a start. A few seconds in, a woman’s voice started singing away, telling him to keep on smiling. Several more artists joined the cheesy eighties ballad with saccharine lyrics about shining and friendship with the wailing harmonica not missing a beat. Sloane had never heard anything more terrifying.
“Oh dear God.” He hit the mute button on his desk, horrified when nothing happened. He tapped it repeatedly before bringing up the speaker settings on his desk. Nothing seemed to work. This couldn’t be happening. With every cheesy word, the song got louder. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” No matter what he did, he couldn’t get the damn thing to stop playing. “Oh God, please make it stop.”
“What the fuck are you doing?”
Sloane’s head shot up to find Ash standing by the door, gaping at him. All Sloane could offer was a helpless shrug and a panicked cry. “I can’t get it to stop!”
Ash came running over, hovering at his side. He tapped the mute button to no avail, moved the sliders, tried removing and deleting the audio file, but nothing worked. It only seemed to make the damn thing louder. Calvin and Hobbs came into the office along with the rest of the agents on the floor wandering over to see what was going on.
“Call IT,” Ash said over the wailing of the harmonica.
“Are you crazy? I’m not getting IT up here. They’ll think I’m fucking nuts!”
Ash thrust a hand in the direction of their fellow agents all laughing and sniggering as they crowded by the door. “It’s a little late for that. Besides, at this rate you won’t have to call them because they’ll be able to fucking hear it from there!”
An idea came to him and he frantically tapped a sequence into the panel at the side of his desk. “Come on.” A beep later, the sound cut off, and his desk went black. Blue letters scrolled across the surface. Rebooting… please wait.
He gritted his teeth and pinned his fellow Defense agents with a glower. “Laugh it up. Just remember this. If he can get to me, he can get to you. You won’t know when, you won’t know how, but when it happens, it will be loud, horrifying, and involve awful pop music. I will also be there to enjoy every second of it. Now get the hell out of my office.” The agents all scrambled away with the exception of Ash, Calvin, and Hobbs.
Calvin cleared his throat, doing his best not to crack a smile. He was failing miserably. “I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you’re not a fan of that particular song.”
“What gave me away,” Sloane grunted, waiting for his desk’s interface to finish loading.
“I’d told Dex as much.”
Sloane peered at him. “Elaborate.”
“Well, at lunch he asked me if I thought you’d like it. I had no idea what song he was talking about so he explained it and sang the first chorus. I said there was a good chance you’d want to hurt him afterwards.”
A smug grin appeared on Ash’s face. “Still want him to stay?”
“Shut up. I hope he gets you next,” Sloane grumbled.
Ash shook his head. “Not going to happen. I would hurt him. Physically. Not in your sorry-ass,
“Go away.” Sloane dropped his head onto his desk’s surface and closed his eyes. “I have to plan my revenge.”
Ash appeared beside him. “Can I help?”
“Because I want to make him suffer, not maim him.”
“You’re no fun.” Ash headed for the door, Calvin snickering behind him, and Hobbs leaving no evidence he was ever there. His door swished closed, and Sloane quickly got out his smartphone, texting Dex.
I don’t know how you did it, but you’re going to regret it.
Seconds later, his phone buzzed.
I’m sorry. It’s a…. Hard Habit to Break.
“Fuck me.” Sloane stared at his phone in disbelief. He quickly texted back, Don’t you dare.
His phone buzzed again. I hope this doesn’t mean we have to go our…. Separate Ways.
Sloane groaned before replying, Stop.
You’re right. I need to learn some…. Self Control.
I’m serious. The guy just never quit.
Would I Lie to You?
“Jesus Christ.” I hate you so much.
Sloane stared at the little happy face before tossing his phone on his desk. That’s it. There was no way he could win against someone who was clearly unstable. Great. Just great. The scariest part? He might actually like the guy.
With another groan, he hung his head. “I’m so screwed.”
DEX WAS falling asleep when he heard his name, scaring the hell out of him. He would have toppled back out of his chair if he hadn’t thrown his arms out and clung to the edge of his desk for dear life. He frantically looked around the room.
“What? What happened? Who died?”
“No one died,” Sloane said with a laugh. His partner leaned back in his chair and shook his head in amusement. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I wanted to tell you to go home.”
Dex squinted at his watch. “It’s not quitting time yet.”
“Rookie, quitting time doesn’t exist here. It’s okay, you’ve earned it. It’s been one hell of a week. Recon is searching for Lloyd Everton’s whereabouts, but the guy’s covered his tracks pretty good. We’re still waiting on the lab to get back to us, but they’re having trouble finding anything that would give us a lead. I’ll finish up the reports. You go home, get some sleep. If we get anything, I’ll call you.”
Dex eyed him warily. Was this a trick? Sloane had yet to make his move after Dex had coerced his innocent brother into hacking Sloane’s desk, disabling all the audio tools except for the speakers once Sloane hit play on Dex’s little love note. The next day, Dex had walked into the Defense Department to a standing ovation, much to Sloane’s annoyance. Dex was officially one of them. His sense of victory however, had been short-lived when he sat down at his desk and was promptly informed by his partner of his imminent demise. Either Sloane had forgotten all about it, or he was biding his time. Dex didn’t like it one bit.
“You’re volunteering to do reports? Are you going to write something really offensive and then sign my name? Is that what’s going to happen? Or draw penises all over the page?” That’s what he would do.
Sloane gave a very attractive snort. “Right. Because I’m going to risk disciplinary measures for a prank. No ulterior motives, Dex. I hate reports, but I can deal for one night. Go on, get lost.”
Dex didn’t have to wait around to be told again. He jumped to his feet and stretched. “Okay. Thanks, man.” With a yawn, he headed for the male locker room, greeting his fellow Defense agents as he walked by.
Man, he was dead tired. Every day this week they’d been rushed off their feet, driving from one end of the city to the other, catching their meals in the BearCat and napping in shifts. Recon had put their informants to work, but for every helpful lead, there were dozens of false alarms. The media was tearing them apart, showing up at several locations, provoking the already riled public. Every time a reporter recognized Dex, he or she brought up Walsh’s trial. It was exhausting.
In between the callouts, Dex still had training, including sparring sessions with all his teammates except for Ash, thankfully. Sloane seemed reluctant to send them onto the mat together. Dex couldn’t say he was disappointed. Then there were hours of lifting weights, cardio, running, swimming, boxing, and yoga, followed by hours of filing reports. He was surprised they didn’t make him fill out a report every time he had to take a dump. If his team got one more call from a nutjob claiming he was the HumaniTherians killer, Dex was going to…. He didn’t even know what he’d do other than wish a thousand fiery deaths upon him. His brain was too tired to function. All he wanted was to get home and crash.
The showers and locker room were empty with everyone still busy working out in the field or their offices. Sloane was right about one thing, it had certainly