Blood & Thunder, page 19part #2 of THIRDS Series
“It’s starting to,” Sloane said. “I’m thinking kidnapping. Someone was looking for something, something they thought this guy had.”
Ash frowned. “I don’t get it. Isaac plants the bomb then sets out to frame him? But he had to know we’d come looking for the guy. If he needs this doctor, wouldn’t he want us not trying to track the guy down?”
Sloane was getting really tired of going in circles. “Whatever Isaac’s reason, it undoubtedly figures into his plan. We need to find out why Isaac would want Dr. Freedman. Goddamn it, we need to know what Isaac found at the youth center. Either Morelli was the means to finding Dr. Freedman, or Freedman has information on Morelli that Isaac wants. Either way, the two are connected. Keep digging.” He tapped his earpiece and had the switchboard patch him through to Maddock. “Sarge, we aren’t going to get anywhere if we can’t get access to the youth center files. Everything leads back to Morelli, and I have a suspicion this doctor knows something. The guy’s gone. I’m willing to bet Isaac got his hands on him, and if that’s the case, he led us here for a reason. Why are we being kept in the goddamn dark?”
“I’m working on it, but I keep getting the runaround from Lieutenant Sparks. I don’t know what the hell is going on.”
“Well someone better tell me something, because I’ve had about enough of this bullshit.”
Maddock’s voice was low, the warning subtle. “Take it easy, Sloane.”
Damn, now he was getting pissy with his sergeant. “My apologies, Sarge. You know how I feel about red tape.”
“The feeling’s mutual. All I can do is keep working on it. See what else you can find.”
“You mean other than the fact the guy seemed like a godsend for these kids?” Sloane let out a heavy sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose to ease the headache that was forming. “We’ll keep looking.”
“Found something!” Letty waved a sheet of paper at him.
“What is it?”
“An elementary school newsletter.” She showed it to Sloane and he gave it a quick read, stopping when he got to the captioned photograph.
“Shit. We need to go.” He tapped his earpiece. “Agent Stone, Agent Taylor, keep searching the house. We’re heading back to HQ to follow up on a lead. Let us know if you find anything.” He received a confirmation from both Team Leaders, and Sloane didn’t waste another second. He moved out with his team trailing quickly behind him.
“What’s going om?” Ash asked, as he jogged toward the driver’s side of the BearCat.
“I’m not sure, but I need to talk to Lieutenant Sparks.” If his suspicions were right, things were a whole lot worse than they could have imagined.
SLOANE TOOK a deep, fortifying breath and knocked on Lieutenant Sparks’s door. Her soft but firm voice asked him to enter. He pressed his hand to the panel on his left, entered his security pin and the door swished closed. There was no privacy mode setting for Lieutenant Sparks’s office because the whole office was created to be secure. It was spacious, but sparse with her desk in the center of the room across from the door, two chairs in front, a few filing cabinets, a digital board, and a personal bathroom off to the side. Sloane stood at attention with his hands clasped behind his back, waiting for permission to sit.
“One moment, Agent Brodie.” Lieutenant Sparks tapped away at her keyboard with her bright red, manicured nails, the scarlet matching her lips in color. Lieutenant Sonya Sparks resembled a 1940s pinup girl with fiery hair falling in soft waves over her shoulders in Veronica Lake fashion, a pristine white pantsuit accentuating her ample curves, and white, three-inch heels that had her towering over a good deal of the agents, seeing as how she was already just under six feet tall without them. Pitch-black eyeliner and thick long lashes framed her deep-blue eyes. She was quiet, observant, and the government tattoo on her neck marked her Therian form as a cougar.
Anyone who underestimated Lieutenant Sparks was in for a real eye-opener. She was a hard ass, but a fair one. Sloane had no idea how old she was, only that she’d been with the THIRDS since he’d joined when he was sixteen, and she seemed to have barely aged since. It was no secret he held a certain amount of sway with her, though he had no idea what he’d done to earn such an honor, but she looked out for him and had offered invaluable advice over the years.
“My apologies. I needed to send off a report,” she said, finally shifting her gaze to him. She motioned for him to take the seat in front of her desk and cocked her head to one side, studying him, her piercing-blue gaze intense. Sloane tried not to fidget in his seat. It was amazing how she was the only one around here who could make him feel like that uncertain teenager he’d been when he’d first joined. “What’s on your mind?”
“I think we might have a problem,” he replied, hating the rough way his voice sounded when he spoke.
The name made Sloane tense, and he sat forward, unwilling to believe she’d kept him in the dark. “It’s true, then. And you knew?”
“That Dr. Freedman wasn’t who you believed him to be? Yes. I was notified shortly after you and your team deployed. My orders were for Destructive Delta to carry on with their investigation. It was unlikely you would find anything, as the man has been in hiding for years.” She smiled affectionately at him. “I knew if anyone would find something, it’d be you. I told them as much.”
Sloane shook himself out of it. “So you know who he is, the information he has?”
“I know Dr. Shultzon was a First Gen doctor. Yours, Ash’s, as well as dozens upon dozens of other First Gen Defense agents we employ. The Chief of Therian Defense is well aware of the danger Dr. Shultzon is in, and in turn, the danger the THIRDS is in. Isaac Pearce vowed he would destroy the THIRDS, and he’s discovered a way to do that. Well, I don’t know if it would destroy us, but it would certainly discredit us, and throw enough red tape to unleash chaos within our ranks. It seems that’s why he kidnapped Morelli.”
“What does…?” Suddenly it struck Sloane, and he couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of it sooner. “Morelli was a First Gen recruit.” Sloane ran a hand through his hair, trying not to let his anger get the better of him. “The Chief of Therian Defense knew, didn’t he? That bastard knew from the beginning that Morelli was First Gen. And then they have the nerve to come down on us for not solving this thing fast enough when they’re holding out on information?”
“You know how it works, Sloane. Morelli’s file was doctored after his death, so as not to raise any questions on classified information, especially after learning Isaac had managed to get his hands on your file years ago. You told me so yourself, Isaac was obsessed, claiming the THIRDS was hiding information, and he was right. Isaac somehow discovered Morelli was First Gen. We know he forced Morelli to access his file in the hopes of finding something, and when he didn’t, tried to get him to access Themis. Receiving no results, he killed Morelli and followed the one lead he did have—the CDC Therian registration office.” She leaned forward, her gaze intense. “We cannot allow Isaac Pearce to get his hands on First Gen information.”
“Okay, then help me. We know Morelli’s file led Isaac to the CDC registration office, and from there, he followed the trail to the Therian Youth Center. Obviously, something there led him to Dr. Freed—I mean Dr. Shultzon. Why can’t we get access to the youth center’s files?” He watched Lieutenant Sparks rise to her feet. She paced behind her desk, her gaze on the floor, and her lips pursed. “Please, you gotta give me something, Lieutenant.”
She nodded and turned to face him. “All right. Because it’s you. That youth center is one of many belonging to the THIRDS. It’s part of a recruitment program. It has been since the First Gens program was terminated. That’s why your search for the founder has led you in circles. The THIRDS is the founder.”
Sloane stared at her, unable to believe what he was hearing. The youth center had been a recruitment center? He had so many questions, he didn’t know where to start.<
“Sloane, think about the situation you found yourself in. Think about Ash and all the others like you. You needed a place to go, but at the time, there wasn’t one. Dr. Shultzon went out personally to find those like you. He saw your potential and that of many others, so he devised the THIRDS First Gen Recruitment Program. Unfortunately, it meant your home became….” She cleared her throat and waved a hand in dismissal. “Well, anyway. After the THIRDS First Gen Recruitment Program ended, the THIRDS wanted to continue seeking out gifted Therian individuals, without all the media brouhaha and political meddling. If the Human military could recruit via high schools, why couldn’t we recruit in a similar fashion?
“The THIRDS opened Therian Youth Centers all around the country. Those who don’t qualify get what they need—education, food, shelter, and are soon found permanent housing. They’re given the tools necessary to get out there and face the world. Those who show potential are introduced to a THIRDS Recruitment Specialist who discusses their future with them.” She cocked her head to one side, studying him. “Do you need a moment?”
“No, I’m fine,” he muttered, trying to take in all this new information. It wasn’t as though he was surprised he’d been kept in the dark about all this. The THIRDS—for all its good intentions—was still a government organization, and no one loved secrets better than the U.S. government. What he wouldn’t have given when he was younger to have somewhere like the youth center, somewhere colorful and bright, with other kids like him, toys and classrooms, the semblance of a normal life. A part of him was angry First Gens had suffered as they had, simply to be understood, to earn the right to be treated as citizens and not animals. He was glad the new recruits didn’t have to go through what he did. He wouldn’t wish that hell on anyone, but he still couldn’t keep the bitterness from his voice when he spoke. “Must be nice, getting your pick of the best and brightest, knowing they’re not a bunch of fucked up sociopaths.”
The lieutenant’s expression softened. “Sloane, it was a different time. The Humans didn’t know what they were dealing with. Hell, even we didn’t know what we were. Hundreds of Human and Therian citizens were losing their lives by the day. The riots were destroying everything, states, cities, families. The First Gens helped the THIRDS understand Therians and showed the world Therians were more than freaks of nature. Whatever you or anyone else thinks, without you, without the sacrifices you made, the THIRDS wouldn’t be here, and equality for Therians would be nothing but a fanciful hope.”
“I’m honored.” The lieutenant was right, but that didn’t mean he had to feel happy about. It wouldn’t erase what had been done. “So how did Shultzon end up Dr. Freedman?”
“Like I said, the program was terminated after the THIRDS had finished recruiting First Gen agents. Anyone who had anything to do with the program was given a generous severance package. Most of them retired years ago. Shultzon continued to work for us. He wasn’t ready to let go, and he had the right connections. They allowed him to work with the Therian Youth Center as a volunteer doctor under an alias. They gave him a new name, a new life, under the radar to protect him and the THIRDS.”
“And now Isaac has him.” Sloane shook his head. “This is a goddamn nightmare. What if Isaac tortures him for information?”
“Dr. Shultzon is trained to withstand torture.”
Sloane shifted in his seat, hearing the crinkling of paper in his pocket. He cursed under his breath. Pulling out the folded newsletter, he opened it and swallowed hard before placing it on the lieutenant’s desk and sliding it toward her. “What if he doesn’t need torture?”
Lieutenant Sparks snatched up the piece of paper, her eyes going wide. “Shit. I wasn’t told he had kids, much less grandchildren.”
“Sucks being kept in the dark, doesn’t it?”
She frowned at him, but didn’t reply. After studying the photograph for a moment, she took a seat behind her desk. “I need to make a few phone calls. As soon as I have some answers, I’ll hold a briefing. Tell your team you’ll let them know as soon as you hear anything.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Great. More waiting. He stood and turned for the door when she stopped him.
He schooled his expression, making certain not to show any signs of his growing anxiety. “Yes?”
“We’ll stop him, but I need to know you can handle this. If it’s too much—”
“I can handle it,” he stated firmly.
Her expression hardened, and her eyes met his. “I won’t hesitate to pull you off this case.”
“Understood.” He gave her a curt nod, ready to leave, when something occurred to him. “What happened to the research facility?”
“It closed when the program terminated. All the archived files were being converted to digital files. There’s not much left, and what is left is under heavy security. It’s also in an undisclosed location. You don’t even know where it is.”
It was true, none of the First Gens knew where they’d been taken, where they’d lived, where they’d become what they were. “Shultzon knows.”
“Like I said, it’s in a secret location and heavily fortified. We would know the minute anyone unauthorized so much as attempted to step foot inside.”
“For all our sakes, I hope you’re right.”
“Before you go. I need you and your partner to go to the hospital. I need to know when your teammates are ready to come in. Also, please remind Agent Summers he’s due for briefing first thing tomorrow.”
With a nod, Sloane walked out of her office, closing the door behind him, his thoughts on everything he’d learned. He had to watch his step. If he showed any signs of being unable to cope with the case, or God help him, a relapse, he’d become a hindrance, and possibly a danger to himself and his team. He couldn’t allow that to happen. As much as he told himself he could cope, he couldn’t say for certain what would happen the deeper they delved into this. For now, all he could do was his job, and pray Isaac didn’t get his hands on any First Gen records. Now that he thought about it, it was probably a good thing Dex was keeping his distance.
Oh God, Dex. Sloane came to an abrupt halt outside his office. He hadn’t even thought about Dex, about what he would think if he found out. Finding his office empty, Sloane quickly stepped inside and locked the room behind him, turning on privacy mode. He looked down at his hands, cursing under his breath at the sight of them trembling. What if Dex found out the truth about his past? This argument would be the least of their worries. How would Dex look him in the eye, much less work with him? Sloane sank into his chair behind his desk.
“Keep it together.” This was exactly what Lieutenant Sparks was talking about. It would be fine. It had to be. The THIRDS wouldn’t let that information get out. How many First Gen THIRDS agents would be pulled from duty if the public discovered where they’d come from or what they’d done? Who would look after his team while Sloane was…? Damn it. No. He stood and tapped his earpiece. “Daley, meet me at the car.” As he headed out, he told himself he wasn’t going to break. Now he had to make himself believe it.
Dex had never been exposed to so much of it as he had in the last few days since the youth center bombing. He hated it. It was becoming unbearable. Sloane ended up turning on the radio in the Suburban so they weren’t driven crazy by it. For days, Dex had done his best to remain professional, speaking to Sloane when spoken to. He kept his head down, did his work. The worst part—aside from feeling like utter shit—was everyone constantly asking him if he was all right. Clearly, he wasn’t, but what the hell was he supposed to do? Sloane had given him a verbal reprimand and for all the wrong reasons. Dex was sure of it. It had completely blindsided him, and he was having a hard time getting past it.
To make things worse, he hadn’t received a Confirmation of Submission notice and that made him nervous.
As they walked through the hospital wing, Dex considered waving the white flag. Sloane w
“Check on Calvin. He’s barely left Hobbs’s room since the incident. Lieutenant Sparks wants him in bright and early for briefing. I’ll talk to your brother. You can find me there when you’re done.”
“Okay.” Dex walked two doors down to Hobbs’s room, smiling at Calvin talking to his partner who was sitting up, looking endearingly puzzled. A second later, Dex had an idea as to why Hobbs looked so confused. Calvin gently took hold of his best friend’s face and kissed him. Not an “I’m so happy you’re awake” kiss, or a drunken best friend kiss, but an “I want to know what your tonsils taste like” kiss. Holy shit! The large Therian had been stunned at first, but now he was eagerly returning Calvin’s kiss, his fingers gripping his partner’s arms. All Dex could do was stand there like an idiot. He needed to turn around, pretend he hadn’t seen a thing, and run. Run, Dex, run!
“What the hell is going on in here?”