Hell & High Water, page 3part #1 of THIRDS Series
familiar thing he had left. He was—had been—one of the Sixth’s top homicide detectives, and he’d worked damn hard to get there. Of course, sitting in McGrier’s office with a tissue to his bleeding lip made it pretty obvious he didn’t have much of a career left to get back to. With a resigned sigh, he nodded.
“Okay. When do I start?
With a grim nod, his captain resumed his seat. “September twenty-third. They’re giving you a week to catch up on all the new policies and codes before your introduction.”
A knock sounded on the door and Dex tilted his head back to get a better look at the fair-haired detective hovering by the door. Ah, Pearce, his knight in tarnished armor. One of the selective few who didn’t feel the need to share his opinions about Dex’s so called “betrayal.” When Pearce noticed him sitting there, he smiled widely.
“Pearce.” Dex returned his smile. It’s a shame he was leaving. He could see himself hanging out with Pearce, shooting the breeze over a couple slices of pizza, sharing a few beers on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
“You wanted to see me, sir?”
“Yeah. Daley’s leaving us. He’s been recruited to the THIRDS.”
The air was vacuum-sucked out of the room, and Dex looked from Pearce to the captain and back, hoping someone could shed a little light on the unscheduled loss of atmosphere.
“What team?” Pearce asked quietly.
McGrier actually squirmed in his seat before clearing his throat. “Destructive Delta.”
Pearce went tense all over, his jaw clenched so tight, he looked as if he might crack something. Dex suddenly remembered Pearce’s brother and he prayed his luck wasn’t that bad. The THIRDS was huge. What were the chances he’d end up on the same team Agent Gabe Pearce had been on? Shit. He was Gabe’s replacement, wasn’t he?
Dex looked up at Pearce. “Same team?”
Pearce merely nodded, his lips pressed together in a thin line.
This wasn’t awkward at all. Just great. No one wanted to be the guy who came in after a dead partner. Dex hated baggage, and now he was about to walk into a partnership with enough to fill an airport terminal. His new partner probably had all sorts of expectations and they hadn’t even met yet. Howard Jones had lied to him. Things were not getting better. They were getting worse by the minute.
“Congratulations.” The word just about managed to squeeze past Pearce’s lips.
“Thanks,” Dex muttered.
“Do you know who your partner is?” Pearce sounded a lot more casual than he was probably feeling. Dex couldn’t knock the guy for trying.
“No, uh, it’s all kind of caught me by surprise.”
Pearce nodded and turned his attention back to the captain.
“Pearce, you’re going to take Dex’s place until we get people shuffled around here. Why don’t you walk him to his car? Dex, we’ll send your stuff to THIRDS Headquarters, along with any paperwork.”
In other words, the cap didn’t want Dex getting roughed up now that he was part of a shiny new elite force, and if Pearce was with him, Dex would make it out of the building in one piece. Good times.
Dex got up, removed his Glock from his holster and placed it on McGrier’s desk, along with his badge. He exchanged the whole “it was a pleasure working with you” bull with the cap, knowing neither one of them had anything else to say. They didn’t bother with the whole “keep in touch thing” because they both knew it wasn’t going to happen unless it was in an official capacity.
Pearce walked silently beside him through the old precinct, shoulder to shoulder, lost in his own thoughts. Dex couldn’t tell if the look on his face was due to grief or antipathy, but he felt for the guy. He wanted to apologize to Pearce for his loss, for the promotion that reminded him of his loss, for the actions that led to his promotion that in turn reminded him of his loss. Dex would have apologized for his whole damn existence if he thought it would make a difference, but it wouldn’t, so he didn’t.
Dex had opted for parking his baby in the private parking garage across the street instead of the precinct lot, just in case. The amount of money paid for parking would be far less than what he’d have to shell out for a new windshield or paint job.
When they reached his car, Dex turned to Pearce, figuring this was probably the last he’d see of him. No chance Pearce was going to want to share that coffee with him now.
“Thanks.” Dex patted the hood of his baby with a dopey grin. Sometimes he liked to pretend he was John McClane in a Die Hard movie, except with more speed limits, fewer explosions, and generally a lot less action going on. He really needed to start daydreaming a little bigger. As he suspected, Pearce gave him a curt nod and turned to walk away, but to Dex’s surprise, stopped.
“Watch your back over there, Daley, and don’t expect a warm welcome.”
Well that didn’t bode well. “Why do you say that?”
Pearce seemed to mull it over before turning back, his hands shoved into his jacket pockets. “Destructive Delta is in Unit Alpha, and those positions are the highest, most dangerous, most sought after in the THIRDS, yet Gabe’s position is still open, has been on and off for over a year. What does that tell you?”
“I don’t know, but I can imagine losing Gabe was probably tough for the team.”
Pearce nodded, his lips pursed. “I’m sure it was, but the THIRDS don’t mourn, they keep moving. They’re not like the rest of us. Rumor is, the Team Leader, Agent Brodie, has run off over half a dozen agents. I’ve met him, and believe me when I say he’s the biggest asshole to walk this earth. As far as he’s concerned, no one is good enough to replace Gabe. I would have found his loyalty admirable if he hadn’t been the one to send Gabe to meet that Therian informant on his own the night he was killed.”
“You think it was Agent Brodie’s fault Gabe got killed?” Dex was concerned for Pearce. Maybe this team leader was an asshole, but if the THIRDS were as good as everyone claimed them to be, surely they wouldn’t have sent in their own teammate knowing he couldn’t handle himself. “You don’t want to go down that path.” Dex put a hand on Pearce’s shoulder. “It doesn’t lead anywhere good. I didn’t know Gabe, but I get the feeling he wouldn’t want you thinking like that either.” Dex understood what it felt like to lose family at the hands of criminals. He also understood firsthand how dangerous it could be to fall into despair. Lucky for him, he’d had his adoptive dad—Anthony Maddock—at the time to pull him out before he’d lost himself.
“You’re right.” Pearce’s scowl gave way to a sad smile. “Gabe wouldn’t have wanted that. At least he died defending what he loved. Take care of yourself, Daley. I’ll call you about that coffee.”
With that, Pearce walked away, his footsteps resonating through the empty, cavernous garage until he disappeared into the shadows, leaving Dex standing by his lonesome facing an undiscernible future.
Damn you, Howard Jones!
CONIUCTIS VIRIBUS: With United Powers
That’s what the chiseled stone above the colossal gold-framed doors proudly stated.
Dex could count on one hand the number of times he’d been in front of this building and actually gone in. Its façade was as imposing as the organization it housed. Flanked by East Thirty-Eighth Street and East Forty-Second Street, The THIRDS Manhattan Headquarters on First Avenue was a monument to the realities of their ever-evolving world. It was amazing how the course of Human history could change in the blink of an eye, or rather the plunge of a needle.
Dex wasn’t old enough to have been there when Eppione.8 threw the world into chaos, but he remembered being a little boy with his parents telling him stories, trying to make him understand why everything seemed to be burning and crumbling around them, why people were so angry all the time, breaking things, and being so scary. It was all so frightening to a five-year-old, and he didn’t want to sleep in his bed alone. When his dad would leave for work, Dex
No expense had been spared in creating the THIRDS’ Manhattan Headquarters. It was grandiose in gray stone with gold accents enclosed in a huge expanse of well-manicured lawns and greenery, fortified by an impenetrable border of stone with gold-plated iron bars. A giant gold statue of some Greek goddess on a marble plinth stood in the center of a circular courtyard inside the expansive front gate, with an array of fancy marble benches painstakingly arranged. It had been designed in an old Art Deco style to compete with the rest of New York City’s classic structures. In truth, the building resembled the Waldorf Astoria more than it did any government building.
Dex didn’t know a whole lot about how the THIRDS operated. He did know they were the guys you called when shit got real. After the May Day Massacre and the riots in the early eighties when violence erupted between Humans and Therians, citizens demanded a law enforcement agency that could not only handle Therian threats, but that could do so fairly.
The THIRDS was created and set up so every team had both a Human and Therian element, whether they were agents, secretaries, or bureaucrats. High ranking officers were paired with other high ranking officers, but not necessarily of their own rank, like Tony who was a sergeant was paired up with a Therian lieutenant. The THIRDS was also the first multicultural government organization promoting equality for all races, religions, genders, and sexualities. The intention was to show that despite varied cultures and beliefs, both Humans and Therians could come together under one common goal—justice for all. Of course, it wasn’t as black and white as all that, but at least it was a step in the right direction considering the last forty-odd years.
Like any other military funded government outfit, the THIRDS operated on a “need to know” and “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” basis. When you were a THIRDS agent, people got the hell out of your way. His dad and brother never discussed their jobs, not even with Dex. Now he wished he’d pushed them to know more. The THIRDS didn’t trust anyone outside the family, their family.
“You gonna stare at it all day? Or you comin’ in?”
The familiar baritone voice brought a big grin to his face, and Dex turned in time to receive a bone-crushing bear hug.
“Dad,” Dex wheezed out the greeting as he was all but lifted off his feet.
Tony’s chest rumbled with deep laughter and he gave Dex one final squeeze before releasing him. “You don’t know how happy I am.” He held Dex at arm’s length, a deep frown coming onto his stern face. “I was worried sick. What’s the matter with you? You don’t know how to pick up a damn phone to let me know you’re alive?”
“I’m sorry. I meant to call, I did, but it’s been a pretty shitty couple of weeks. I got home to Lou moving out, and then I had to return the rental but had to get the auto club to come out—”
Dex nodded. “And then—” He was cut off as his cheeks were caught between Tony’s large hands and squeezed. Jesus, it was like he was thirteen all over again, grounded for fighting at school—he hadn’t been the one to start it of course—and Dex had the genius idea of climbing out of his bedroom window to go to the park. Only his shoelace got caught on a nail in the windowsill, and he ended up falling head first into Mrs. Jones’s rose bushes below.
“What happened to your face?”
“Um….” Dex tried to talk through his squeezed cheeks, mumbling until Tony finally released him. “I got jumped in the parking garage after the trial.” Dex didn’t bother trying to hide the truth, mostly because he’d never get away with it. “And then my first morning back, in the evidence locker.”
“I see.” Tony put his hands on his hips and rolled his big shoulders. With pursed lips, he ran a hand over his shaved head and down to his jaw where his salt-and-pepper stubble was growing in. Shit. “Tell me something, son.”
“Oh you don’t get to Dad me. Not while you’re standing in front of me telling me you let a bunch of no-good sons of bitches beat the shit out of you.”
Tony put a finger up to stop him. “We’re not going to talk about this now because there is way too much shit to do, but you can bet your skinny ass we’re going to sit down and talk about this. You work for me now, so if you think for one minute I’m not gonna take my frustrations out on you, you best think again. You hear me?”
There was no point in even attempting to argue. “Yes, sir.”
“Let’s go.” Tony motioned behind him and Dex straightened his shoulders, walking in tall like the agent he was, not the thirteen-year-old he felt like. Behind him, his dad cursed and mumbled under his breath. Maybe Dex had been a little too quick in his excitement to be working with his family. The minute he stepped foot inside, he heard his name being called.
“Dex!” Cael sprinted over and threw his arms around him, squeezing him tight. “I’m so glad you’re one of us now.”
“Well, not exactly. I don’t purr and get the urge to play with giant balls of twine.”
“You’re such an ass hat. I’m still excited you’re here, but once the novelty wears off, I’ll be sure to tell you to bite me.”
Dex chuckled and gave his baby brother’s cheek a pat. “I’m glad I’m here too.”
“All right, break it up,” Tony grunted, though Dex could tell he was holding back a smile. “Tender moment’s over. Cael, get your ass back to Sparta.”
“Yes, sir.” With a wink at Dex, Cael sprinted off.
“What’s Sparta, and please tell me there are guys in togas,” Dex said, putting his hands together in prayer.
“No. It’s the training facility. It’s nicknamed Sparta, less for the guys in togas and more for kicking your ass until you’re ready for battle.” Tony walked off and Dex quickly followed. Getting to work with his family almost made everything he’d endured worthwhile. Almost. “Did you go through your induction packet?”
“Yep.” It was a good thing the files had been digital or they would have killed off a small forest printing the thing out. It had contained information on everything from Therian law to THIRDS policies on agent conduct. There had even been a section on stinky food at the workplace.
“There are several THIRDS’ field offices throughout Manhattan, including offices for specialized operations, but you’ll be working out of the Manhattan Division’s HQ. There are three main departments in this division—Intel, Recon, and Defense—with a total of eight thousand employees. Each department is broken up into four units—Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Omega. Units Alpha and Beta handle major crimes, with Alpha taking on the more violent crimes. Delta and Omega handle lesser crimes. Each unit is then broken up into squads, or teams. There are ten squads in your unit.”
Tony led him through the pristine Art Deco main lobby, and for a moment, Dex could have fooled himself into thinking they were at Grand Central Station during rush hour. Everyone walked and talked with purpose, as if whatever they were doing or saying was of the greatest importance. In the center of the lobby, high above the extensive marble reception desk, the THIRDS’ shield hung proudly, the double helix shaped into a circle with an atom symbol in the center representing the connection between Humans and Therians. This was it. The big leagues.
They turned a corner toward a wide corridor filled with gleaming gold elevators, and Tony stopped at one situated at the end. Dex was pleasantly surprised when the gold doors opened on their own as soon as they stepped up to them. With a grin, Tony pointed at the floor.
Inside, Dex watched Tony press his hand to a sleek black panel with a blue line outlining a handprint. When he removed it, his image flashed, along with his name and a whole load of other information including clearance levels. Before Dex had a chance to work any of it out, Tony pressed the blue glowing “A” button on the gold pa
Dex looked down at himself. “Yeah. It’s weird being back in uniform, though this one’s much more badass than my old HPF one.” He wore black military grade boots, heavy-duty tactical pants in a deep, charcoal gray with tourniquets built into each upper leg, pockets for slip-in ballistic pads and a padded adjustable waistband for added comfort. Secured from his utility belt were several pouches, along with a quick-release, detachable thigh rig with a Drop & Offset kit containing two ballistic nylon tension straps fastened around his leg. It had a holster with a self-locking system to prevent anyone from removing the Glock 17 tucked away inside. On the same thigh rig was a tactical knife. Over his black undershirt, he wore a heavy-duty shirt matching his pants in color with two patches on one arm—one for the THIRDS NYC Division and one for Unit Alpha, Destructive Delta—and on his right arm, the THIRDS shield. Over his left breast pocket, THIRDS was stitched in white letters, and, similarly stitched over his right breast pocket, was D. Daley. Clipped to his belt was his shiny new badge, lucky 2108. Overall, it was pretty damn sexy.
“I’m sorry about Lou.”
That was not sexy. “Me too,” Dex grumbled. It had been nearly a month and the sharp pain in his heart had downgraded to a dull ache, mostly because after a good deal of thought, he came to the conclusion Lou had been right. They’d been heading down that road a long time ago. Even so, when he thought of Lou being gone, he was hit with a sense of sadness, and in the beginning, he’d really missed him. The morning after an exceptionally pathetic night of sitting on his couch in nothing but his boxers, drinking himself stupid, he thanked God he’d had the foresight to delete Lou’s number from his phone. He knew himself too well, and the last thing he needed was to send his ex a bunch of whimpering drunken texts or, heaven forbid, voice mails. What did it say about their relationship that he never memorized his ex-boyfriend’s number?
His dad’s gruff voice interrupted his pitiful thoughts. “Can I be frank?”
“Sure. Can I be beans?” Without even having to look up, Dex knew what his dad was doing. “Stop. You know how I hate when you do that.”
“Do what?” Tony grunted.
“Do that puckered ass thing with your lips.”
“And you know all about puckered asses.”
Dex arched an eyebrow at his dad. “You know, at times I wonder who the grown-up is here.”
The elevator pinged and they exited into a long white hall with dark gray flooring. “And I wonder if you’ve lost more than a few marbles. Like the entire bag.”
“Fine. Go for it.”
“He wasn’t the one.”
Dex was at a loss for words. Tony had never mentioned anything before. Then again, he wasn’t the sort to meddle in his kids’ lives, unless they did something that called for meddling, then he was a heavyweight champion. In their teens, Cael and Dex had created a superhero persona for him, known as The Meddler.
Not sure he wanted to know the answer, but feeling the need to, Dex cleared his throat and asked, “What makes you say that?”
“Whose idea was it to be exclusive?” Tony came to a halt, his beefy arms folded over his broad chest as he faced Dex. Damn it. The stubborn set of his jaw and furrowed brow told Dex he couldn’t joke his way out of this one.
“His, but I wouldn’t have agreed if I wasn’t ready.”
“And whose idea was it for him to move in?”
“His, but again, I agreed because I was ready.” Were they really going to have this conversation now?
“Or maybe you didn’t care one way or the other and were only trying to make him happy.”
Dex straightened, his voice going higher than it should. “Hey, I cared about him.”
“I’m not saying you didn’t, but I think maybe your relationship wasn’t as perfect as you convinced yourself it was. Dex, I know you. Hell, I raised you. When you love something, you throw yourself into it, consequences be damned. Remember that police outfit I put together for you one Halloween when you were eight?”
A dopey grin found its way onto Dex’s face. “Yeah, I loved that thing.”
“You lived in it. You refused to wear anything else. You slept in it, ate in it, played in it, even went to school in it.”
“I also got beat up in it,” Dex added with a frown. “But then I suppose it didn’t help that I kept trying to arrest my classmates.” Hmm. He was starting to sense a pattern.
Tony placed a gentle hand on Dex’s shoulder. “My point is, when you’re passionate about something, it shows in everything you do. With Lou, you were never bothered about anything.”
“Not true. We fought about stuff.”
“No, you fought about one thing, the one thing you truly loved. The job. You were willing to put your job before Lou every time. Boy, the excuses you came up with were something else. Worst part was you didn’t even know you were doing it.”
Dex took a step back and shoved his hands into his pockets, not liking where this conversation was heading, or the fact that he could feel his anger rising. “So what? Now I’m a shitty boyfriend for caring about my career?”
“I’m saying if you weren’t willing to risk everything for him, he wasn’t the one for you.” Tony gave him a gentle pat on the back before he strode off again.
They walked side by side in silence, and Dex wondered if Tony could be right. Had Dex been going along with the relationship just to make Lou happy? It didn’t feel that way. Dex had been happy with Lou, and although it was true the only thing they ever argued about was Dex’s job, it hardly meant he hadn’t cared about anything else.
When Lou wanted his attention, Dex gave it. When Lou needed help to expand his catering business, Dex had supported him. When Lou had asked Dex how he felt about them living together, Dex said he was fine with it. Should he not have