Blood & Thunder, page 18part #2 of THIRDS Series
“Damn it, Dex. Will you look at me when I’m talking to you?”
“Let go of my arm,” Dex warned, his hand curling into a fist at his side.
“Seriously? We’re going to do this?” Sloane nodded and took a step back, motioning for Dex to advance. “All right. Come on. If it’ll get it out of your system, I’ll oblige.”
“Now who’s being patronizing?”
“Why do you have to be so goddamn unreasonable?”
“I’m unreasonable, Mr. It’s-your-job-to-do-what-I-say?” Dex’s jaw muscles clenched and he put his hands up. “You know what? Screw this, and screw you.”
Sloane scoffed, his voice a low grumble so only Dex could hear him. “Yeah, you won’t be doing that any time soon.”
“You can be such an asshole.” Dex made the mistake of thrusting his hand out toward Sloane. He might have been going to poke Sloane, or shove his shoulder, but Sloane’s instincts kicked in and he caught Dex’s left wrist, twisting his arm and forcing Dex to double over. The hold didn’t last long, as Dex twisted his body toward Sloane, bringing his right fist with him.
Sloane caught Dex’s fist and swiped his leg out from under him. He stood back, watching Dex push himself off the mat with a frustrated growl. Dex came at him with everything like he did during their training sessions, with the added bonus of being truly pissed off. Sloane wasn’t too proud to admit he had to watch himself. Dex’s skills had improved dramatically since he’d joined, and Sloane could no longer take Dex’s rookie status for granted. The guy was a fast learner, determined, and quick to adapt. He was also frustratingly good at mimicking Sloane’s movements. Sloane reeled backward, getting clipped on the chin by one of Dex’s right hooks. He’d had enough of this.
Dex charged him, and Sloane used his size, weight, and strength to his advantage, grabbing Dex, lifting him off his feet, and slamming him down onto the mat. Then he rolled his partner over, and pulled his arms behind his back. “Calm down.” Sloane swiped a zip tie off his utility belt and looped it over Dex’s wrists, giving it a tug. He got to his feet and took a step back, surprised when Dex started laughing. “What the hell’s so funny?”
With a shake of his head, Dex rolled onto his side and sat up. His expression darkened as he rose. “One, I resent the fact you don’t think I can still kick ass with my hands tied behind my back, and two….” Dex bent over and thrust his arms down. The zip tie snapped and fell to the floor. He swiped it up and tossed it at Sloane’s feet. “I grew up in two cop houses. You think I don’t know how to get myself out of a fucking zip tie? You want me down and out, you’re going to have to do better than that.” Dex stormed off with Sloane staring after him. What in the hell just happened? He snapped himself out of it, the agents around him pretending they hadn’t seen a thing. Well, some of them were pretending.
“What are you all looking at? Get back to your training.” He turned and ran into Ash. “Now you’re babysitting me?”
Ash looked unimpressed. That made two of them. “Maybe I should have explained how talking works.”
With a grunt, Sloane swept past him. “I didn’t realize I was talking to the expert on communication.” To his frustration, Ash followed him out of the training bay, out of Sparta, and into the busy corridor.
“Don’t get pissy with me. You gave him a reprimand, lectured him, and then restrained him? I would have been surprised if he hadn’t tried to kick your ass.”
“Ash, go away.”
“Not gonna happen. Didn’t happen when we were kids, ain’t gonna happen now. Get your shit together, bro.” Ash walked off, and Sloane put his hand to the elevator panel. Had someone drugged the water around here? Released some toxic gas into the vents he hadn’t become aware of? How had he ended up the bad guy in all of this, with Ash defending Dex, no less? Had the world gone crazy?
“Screw this.” He had way too much shit to do to go chasing after Dex. His partner needed time to cool off and come around to the fact Sloane was right. In the meantime, he would head to the Recon department and try to get some answers from someone. This whole case wasn’t sitting right with him. Not so much from Isaac’s end. The man was a lunatic bent on vengeance. That Sloane understood.
What he didn’t understand, was why everything was moving so goddamn slow around here. Something was going on, and he had every intention of finding out what it was, with or without Dex.
OVER AN hour later, Sloane was in even more of a foul mood, if that was possible.
According to Recon, Allan’s information from the CDC Therian registration office had come in seconds after the Therian Youth Center bomb went off, meaning it had been put aside, priority falling to the youth center, as it should. Themis had run its algorithms, showing Isaac Pearce had visited the center a few weeks before planting the bomb. He had signed in under a random name, worn a different disguise, and done exactly what he had the second time he’d visited. Sloane’s guess was he’d been casing the joint, doing a test run of sorts. Isaac was smart. He wouldn’t have gone in blind. Themis also found what Isaac had been doing on his tablet. He’d been accessing the registration office’s network and their files, namely Morelli’s.
Sloane stalked toward his office and tapped his earpiece. “Rosa, Morelli’s registration file led Isaac to the Therian Youth Center. Apparently, Morelli had spent some time there when he was a teen. I’m willing to bet he had a file there as well, and Isaac accessed it before he set off the explosion. I want to know what was in that file.”
“I’m on it,” Rosa replied.
Maddock’s voice came over his earpiece. “I want everyone listening to this to meet in briefing room ‘A’ right now. Don’t care what the hell you’re doing, get in here.”
Sloane hurried to the briefing room, his eyes instinctively landing on Dex. Their eyes met before Dex turned away to face the front of the room. Ignoring the jab, Sloane took a seat behind him. He wouldn’t let his partner’s brooding stop him from getting on with his job. The room filled with agents from Beta Pride and Beta Ambush, including Agent Taylor. Although plenty of seats remained empty around the huge semicircle conference table, Taylor decided he was going to sit in front of Dex.
“All right everyone, settle down.” Maddock stood behind the podium at the front of the room and tapped his tablet. A video player appeared on the large flat screen TV positioned high on the wall behind him. “This video was uploaded on a Humans 4 Dominance forum that popped up a couple of days ago. Intel has been monitoring it since it launched, but until now, it was mostly a bunch of idiots talking trash. A few minutes ago, Themis sounded the alert.” He tapped his tablet and the video played.
They all watched in uncomfortable silence as what started as a sunny, serene day on a quiet street turned into a war zone. Every minute of the horrific Therian Youth Center bombing was there in gory HD. At the end, Maddock switched over to the forum.
“Have you read the comments?” Ash asked from across the table, shaking his head in disgust as he scrolled through the forum on his tablet.
“Don’t,” Dex said, his jaw muscles clenching. “It’s better if you don’t. Let Themis read that shit. It’ll only make you want to hit something, preferably one of those assholes’ faces.”
“What kind of sick bastards get off on watching shit like this?”
Dex turned his attention back to Maddock. “More importantly, whoever uploaded this was there. Do we know who it was?”
Maddock brought up a large black screen with undecipherable white text scrolling at unreadable speeds. “Themis is trying to pinpoint a location, but it looks like it was uploaded via cell phone. We should have the owner any second now. There we go.”
The screen flashed and a second narrow screen slid in from the side with a John Doe avatar instead of a photograph, along with a name. Themis continued to scan for more information, but came up with nothing.
“Looks like we’ve got a name. Dr. H Freedman. No visual, driver’s license, or social securi
Damn. Sloane sure as hell hoped they got something. A GPS setting, IP address, something. Whoever had uploaded the video knew what they were doing.
“We’ve got an address,” Maddock declared.
Maybe not. One mistake, that was all they needed, and they could nail this bastard.
“All right. Everyone, suit up, and head out. Destructive Delta, you’re going in. Agent Taylor, Agent Stone, you and your teams are going in as backup since Destructive Delta is down three agents since Agent Simmons won’t be in until tomorrow. “Keep me informed. I want this Dr. Freedman brought in.”
Sloane hurried out of the room along with everyone else, aware of Dex close behind. They’d yet to say a word to each other. Rosa came running up to him and he welcomed the distraction. “Give me something, Rosa.”
“This isn’t looking good. According to the Therian Youth Center’s head organizer—Dr. Michaels, the network was completely fried by the explosion, and the backup files would be accessible through their corporate office, but when I called the corporate office, I was told they no longer had access due to security restrictions and were waiting for clearance from the founder. I decided to cut the middle man and get a hold of the founder, except, whoever they are, they don’t exist.”
Sloane stopped in his tracks. “What do you mean they don’t exist?”
“Well, they exist on paper. Everything is meticulous and thorough. All the paperwork is legit, except there doesn’t seem to be a body to go along with the information provided. Every phone number I call leads me to another number, which leaves me to another message. One big loop de nada.”
“So suddenly there’s a lockdown on the files and the founder goes missing, if he or she ever existed. Fantastic.” He hurried out of the department to catch up with the rest of their agents, annoyed when his eyes continually strayed to Dex, as if his body couldn’t stand not making some kind of contact with him, even if it was just visual. “Rosa, I want you to tell Intel to keep trying. I want some goddamn answers.” The elevator was full, but Sloane pushed in, finding himself squeezed in against Dex, the top of his head under Sloane’s chin. Sloane closed his eyes, silently urging the elevator to get moving. It didn’t help that he could smell Dex’s shampoo, or feel the softness of his hair when Dex shifted. It especially didn’t help when someone decided to squeeze in at the last minute, forcing Dex back against Sloane, their bodies pressed together.
Sloane hated how he was starting to doubt himself. Had he made the right decision? Was he willing to give in to see Dex smile again? Get your shit together, Brodie. He wasn’t going to stop being Team Leader, or running his team the way he always had because he’d gotten into a fight with his lover. If he gave in now, what kind of message would he be giving Dex? That he could get away with what he wanted because they were sleeping together? The elevator pinged, and Sloane all but fled. He had more pressing matters to deal with. The rest would have to wait. At least that’s what he kept telling himself.
DR. FREEDMAN’S house was located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in a residential neighborhood lined with fenced-in trees, expensive brownstones sporting flowerbeds in bloom, and luxury cars parked alongside pristine sidewalks. Agents from Beta Ambush approached the house while the rest searched the perimeter, and each end of the street was blocked by their backup teams’ BearCats. Sloane waited with his team in formation behind the safety of their own truck, rifles in their hands. The moment Beta Ambush breached the front door, Sloane gave the order, and they rushed up the steps and into the house. They spread out, checking all the rooms, under beds, in closets, anywhere anyone could hide. One by one, his team confirmed their status until the house was declared clear.
Sloane scanned what was once an elegant-looking living room. The large room was decorated in cream and brown hues with dark accents. The windows were light and airy, expensive rugs covered the hardwood floors. Bookshelves were tucked into the walls to each side of the fireplace, though it was empty of books. In fact, every surface in the room had been cleared of its contents, the evidence scattered on the floor all around them. Lamps had been knocked over, coffee tables upturned, throw pillows slashed along with couch cushions. The place was a disaster.
Ash gave a low whistle. “Looks like the doc left in a hurry.”
“I’m not so sure about that. It looks more like it’s been ransacked. All right, I want this place searched inside out. I want to know who this guy is, if he’s part of the Order, where he might be heading, does he have family, friends, everything, and I want it yesterday, so move your asses.” Sloane stalked off into the next room, rounding the corner when he heard Letty’s concerned voice.
“Damn, what’s up with him?”
“He and Daley got into a lover’s quarrel,” Ash grumbled.
Dex’s reply was a low, “Fuck you, Ash.”
There was movement around the room before Rosa piped up. “You guys fighting?”
“It’s nothing,” Dex muttered, followed by more shuffling, before Dex let out a heavy sigh. Rosa was undoubtedly giving him “that look.” “Okay, yes, we got into a fight.”
Sloane told himself he shouldn’t be eavesdropping, but then again if his team was going to carry on this conversation as if he couldn’t hear it, then it wasn’t his fault. Rosa spoke up in her usual no-nonsense tone.
“You need to make up.”
Dex scoffed. “Says who?”
“Listen up, Rookie. You do not want to have him giving orders while he’s pissed. He’s an absolute miserable fuck. I love him, but it’s the truth.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong. He’s the one who tore me a new one for doing my job. Yes, I went against orders, but I was right to. I’m not budging on this.”
“Carajo, you two are so stubborn.”
Sloane had heard enough. If Dex truly thought he hadn’t done anything wrong then nothing Sloane said was going to change his mind. If anyone was being stubborn, it was Dex. He walked into the bedroom, which was in the same ransacked state as the living room. The queen-sized mattress had been pulled off the bed, its stuffing strewn everywhere. Drawers were open or upended, clothes, shoes, ties, scattered everywhere. However, what stood out the most was that there was nothing personal in the room. No photographs, artwork, nothing that could help him get a profile together of who lived here. He rummaged through the disorderly dresser, but found nothing except men’s clothing. All he knew about this doctor was that he was a size “Medium.”
On the opposite wall, a closet stretched from one end to the other, its wood louvered doors pulled wide open. He found a light switch, not surprised to find the closet had been searched as well. Inspecting the contents of the closet, he met with another dead end. Nothing but clothes, shoes, belts, and hats, most of it on the floor or dangling precariously off hangers. He checked pockets, but came up empty. Who the hell was this guy? And why was he so careful? Sloane was about to turn off the light, when he noticed something black and furry on the floor in the corner. It looked like it had fallen from somewhere. Picking it up, he found it was a toy. Wait….
“Oh my God.” A lump formed in his throat as he stared at the stuffed toy of a black jaguar. It couldn’t be. And yet…. He held the toy in his gloved hands, thinking about how much bigger it used to be. Then again, the last time he’d held it, he’d been smaller. It still had its white bandages around each paw, and Sloane swallowed hard. With a shaking hand, he turned it over, inhaling sharply at the white tag under its tail with the initials S.B. written in black marker. The letters were slightly faded and worn, but they were there, and they were his.
“Hey, you okay?”
Sloane held the toy behind him before Ash came into view. He nodded at his friend. “Yeah, um, see if you can find a photograph, or something we can use to physically identify this guy.”
Ash cocked his head to one side, his expression one of concern. “You sure you’re okay?”
As soon as Ash left, Sloane removed his backpack and stuffed the toy inside. He quickly zipped it up and clipped it back into place. He didn’t know how the hell this had gotten here, or if it really was what he thought it was, but he needed to find out.
Letty’s voice came in over his earpiece. “Sloane, we found something.”
Sloane hurried through the house and into a large office where his team was gathered. It was in a worse state than the other rooms.
“Well, the guy definitely had something to do with the center, but….” Rosa held up a handful of invoices. “Tax write-offs. The guy donates to the center every month. Has been for years.”
Dex shook his head, puzzled. “Why would he blow up a center he donates money to?”
“Not just money,” Rosa said, shuffling through the paperwork in her hands. “Clothes, video games, gift cards. Hell, one year he donated six computers. His last donation was three weeks ago. Kids’ furniture. Four bunk beds, two desks, beanbag chairs…. This guy was a saint. This makes no sense.”