Major Crimes, page 5
“I do like computers, I have to admit. But no, this is not what I do for fun. This is actually sort of a job.”
“For Timothy? Is it something to do with the restaurant?”
Hayley stood up, stretching her back. “Speaking of, I’ve got to get back out on the floor. Tim will be looking for me I’m sure.” It was her fifteen-minute evening break, but like every break she used it to look back over the coding.
“He won’t mind if you’re late if you’re doing something for him.”
Hayley shook her head. “No, this is not for him. This is sort of a side job for me.”
“Oh.” Mara’s eyes got big. “I didn’t know you did side jobs with computer codes.”
Hayley ran a hand over her tired eyes. “Only when my past comes back to haunt me.”
She didn’t wait to hear what Mara would say about that cryptic statement, just headed to the back of the kitchen where she could begin washing dishes. She left the box of papers there in the supply closet. Hardly anyone went in and even if they did, unless they were well versed in computer coding, none of the pages would make sense.
Weariness set heavily on her shoulders, her muscles sore, her brain tired. She needed more than the four hours of sleep she was getting each night. Needed a chance to do something else besides work here or filter through the code.
She hadn’t even seen Mason in two days. She told herself it was okay as she loaded a rack of dishes into the dishwasher. She knew she had to take this opportunity while it was here to make such great money.
But she lived in constant fear that her son would forget her. That no matter how often Ariel talked to him about Hayley, he would reject her somewhere inside.
Guilt battled with exhaustion, and for the first time she was glad for all the steam that flew out of the industrial dishwasher. At least it hid her tears.
Three hours later, nearly ready to drop, Hayley had all her work finished in the kitchen. Mara and the other waitresses had left. Timothy was on his way to make the night bank deposit and had closed up the entire front of the restaurant. All Hayley needed to do was mop the floors and she could go.
The thought of dragging the mop over the entire restaurant was completely beyond her at this moment. She’d have another cup of coffee, look over a little more of the code and then mop.
And then go home for four or five hours of sleep. And then get back up and do the same thing again tomorrow.
The only light at the end of the tunnel was that for the first time today she’d seen an odd pattern in the coding. It might be nothing, but the way the data had been sent in that particular transmission had been odd, as if it possibly housed some other message.
It wasn’t much but it was at least something to look for, to see if it happened again. Once she had a pattern it would be easier to find how the mole was communicating.
Of course all of this would be a hell of a lot easier if she could look at it on the screen, scrolling down as she finished each section, rather than having to physically get a new sheet of paper to look at. But she wouldn’t complain. She was making money.
Cain was going to be back soon—was supposed to have been back yesterday—and was probably going to blow a gasket when he found out she was still working at the Bluewater, rather than just for him full-time. She would just have to make him understand that she needed this job, too.
She made her coffee, dragging out the cream and sugar—hoping Timothy wouldn’t decide this was employee theft—and made her way back to the tiny desk inside the not-much-bigger supply closet.
The coffee provided mental fortitude enough for her to confirm the first suspicious pattern she’d seen in the coding earlier today and look for it again. All she needed was to see the same loophole the mole had attempted twice and she would have what she needed.
But after another hour, pages highlighted and spread all over the stockroom, her lids were heavy again. She’d done all she could do for today. She needed to mop and go home.
The sound of the front glass breaking had Hayley bolting upright, all exhaustion gone. She jerked open the closet door and found the hallway engulfed in flames.
The building was on fire? How had it spread into the hallway so soon and why was it growing so fast?
More importantly, how the hell was she going to get out of here when the entire hall was engulfed in flames?
Going back into the supply closet, already starting to cough, she grabbed her cell and called 911. In the few moments it took for her to get connected to an operator, more smoke was seeping under the door.
“911. State your emergency.”
“I’m at the Bluewater Grill.” Hayley coughed out the address. “There’s a fire. I’m trapped inside.”
As she said the words, panic barreled through her. Oh God, she really was trapped inside. She wasn’t going to be able to get past the fire in the hall.
The operator was telling her to stay low, that help was coming. Hayley could barely hear the woman’s words over her own panicked breaths and coughs.
There was no way she would survive until the fire department got here. She needed to get out of this room before the fire made it all the way in. The chemicals surrounding her would be lethal if she breathed them in, and might even explode.
She grabbed her T-shirt and yanked it over her mouth and nose before opening the door. Heat blasted her back, stealing her breath. Through narrowed eyes she saw that the flames had now encompassed the entire hall—walls, floor and ceiling. She would have to run through the hall—maybe seven or eight feet, all a blazing inferno.
Someone was calling her from the other end of the hallway.
“Cain!” She yelled as loud as she could, but the word came out as a croak.
He would never hear her voice. Would have no idea she was back here. She rushed back into the supply room and grabbed a wrench and metal can of paint. Please let it be enough.
She brought it back in the hallway and began banging on it with every bit of failing strength she had left.
“Hayley, is that you?”
She banged harder.
“Hang on, I’ll be right back,” he yelled.
She dropped the can and wrench, falling back from the flames that were crawling closer to her. A few moments later he was back. She heard a fire extinguisher being sprayed in spurts and then could see him in the flames coming toward her. Big, strong, capable.
He yanked her into his arms. “Are you okay?”
“Stay close to me. We’ve got to move fast. Keep low.”
He pulled her in front of him, wrapping his body protectively around hers, using the extinguisher he held in front of her, making a path for them. Hayley felt heat all around her as they moved, but nothing burned. Cain’s arm kept her waist tucked against him, his back sheltering her from the fire that flamed behind them once they moved past.
Out of the hallway the immediate danger subsided, but the entire dining room of the restaurant was on fire. Cain pulled her through and out the front door, both desperately sucking in oxygen as they hit clean air.
“Are you okay?” he asked again once they could breathe, sitting at the far end of the parking lot, watching the fire trucks roll in.
“Yes.” Her voice sounded rusty. Hoarse. But already her lungs were easing.
He yanked her into his arms again, cradling her head against his chest. She let out a little squeak but didn’t try to get away. That had been way too close. Things had gone from fine to critical so quickly she wasn’t even sure exactly what had happened.
And definitely didn’t know what would’ve happened if Cain hadn’t shown up when he did. She tried to ease her head back from his grasp, but he wouldn’t let her.
“Why were you at the Bluewater?” she croaked out.
Now Hayley completely jerked away from him. Had he seen Mason? Oh God, what was she supposed to say?
“I talked to your cousin. Who, of course, wouldn’t even let me in the door.”
Relief flooded her. Ariel didn’t know Cain was Mason’s father, and even if she suspected it was him, Ariel wouldn’t say anything to him. She was still mad about the whole arrest thing.
“And,” he continued, glaring down at her, “imagine my surprise when Ariel told me you were at work. Here at the Bluewater. From where, if I recall, we agreed you would get time off.”
“I tried, but it didn’t work out and I couldn’t afford to get fired. Don’t worry, I’ve still been doing your work. I just—”
Cain’s livid curse cut her off. “I don’t care about the damn case, Hayley. You were already bone-weary exhausted before I got here. And now you added searching the computer codes in your spare time?”
Hayley looked over at the restaurant, which was now completely up in flames. All the files she had gone through over the last four days, any progress she had made, were now gone.
Maybe she would tell him that after he had calmed down about the fact that she had two jobs. Because right now she didn’t have the energy to fight, or really to do anything but sit here and breathe.
But it wasn’t long before the fire department had the burning building under control and everyone had questions. Cain stayed by her side, features pinched, as Hayley explained that she’d been in the back room reading. Cain confirmed that she was doing some consulting work for Omega Sector.
When the fire inspector explained that the entire back half of the restaurant had been completely destroyed, Hayley looked over at Cain.
“All my work with the computer codes is gone. It was all here with me.”
“You shouldn’t have even been here in the first place,” he muttered. “But printouts are replaceable.”
At least he didn’t seem too mad about how this was going to set them back. He was much angrier about her being here at the restaurant.
Timothy joined them not long after and Hayley was definitely glad to have Cain around to calm the other man down. Timothy wanted to know exactly what had happened and Hayley had no idea.
“You must’ve left something on in the kitchen,” Timothy screamed. “This is all your fault.”
“Actually,” the fire inspector cut in, “we have pretty irrefutable proof that this fire was arson related.”
“Arson?” Timothy scoffed. “That’s ridiculous. You’re saying someone burned the restaurant on purpose?”
Timothy turned and glared at Hayley again. “Maybe some of your old prison buddies or something?”
Hayley didn’t even know how to respond to that. But she didn’t have to. She felt Cain’s hand slide around her waist and pull her back slightly so that he could step in front of her, putting himself between her and Timothy.
Cain turned to the fire inspector. “You said you had proof?”
“Looks like three good old-fashioned Molotov cocktails. Thrown straight through the windows.”
“What the hell is a Molotov cocktail?” Timothy spit out.
“Poor man’s grenade,” Cain muttered.
The fire inspector nodded. “Yep. They’re also called bottle bombs. Basically a can of some sort of flammable liquid, with a burning wick sticking out. It gets thrown and sets everything it touches on fire.”
“And if it came through the front window, then Hayley was very definitely not involved,” Cain pointed out to Timothy.
“Actually, how the fire in that back hallway escalated so quickly is something we’ll be checking into. So I’d appreciate it if everyone wouldn’t mind staying in touch.”
“I’m sure she had something to do with it.” Timothy turned to point at Hayley. “She just got out of prison.”
“Timmy, I know you and I went to school together, but we’re going to have a problem if you keep this up,” Cain said, tone hard.
The fire inspector turned to Timothy. “In my years of experience, I’ve found that the people who almost died in the fire are not responsible for the arson. I’ve also found that in many arson cases involving a business, the owner has something to do with it.”
Hayley somehow managed not to laugh at Timothy’s outraged look.
“Oh my gosh, Hayley honey, are you okay?” Hayley heard Mara’s Southern drawl as the woman rushed up behind her. “I just heard about the fire on the news and I rushed back over here. I knew you had been the last person here.”
Cain continued to talk to the fire inspector and Timothy as Hayley turned to talk to Mara.
“Yeah, it was pretty scary.” Hayley really didn’t want to think about how seriously close to death she’d come tonight. “If my friend Cain hadn’t come by, I would’ve been trapped.”
Mara threw her arms around Hayley. “I’m so glad you’re okay. Did you lose all your stuff you’ve been working on so hard? All your computer papers?”
Hayley nodded. “It was all I could do to get out with my life.”
Evidently the older woman was a hugger, as she threw her arms around Hayley again. “The important thing is, you’re all right.”
Hayley could feel exhaustion pulling at her. She needed to get home. Although it looked like nobody would have to work at the Bluewater tomorrow.
“Looks like none of us will be working here for a while,” Hayley said. “We’ll all have to find new jobs.”
Given the fact that Timothy thought she had something to do with it, Hayley doubted she would be working there ever again.
“Yeah, that’s a bummer,” Mara said. “But I hope you and I can keep in touch even with new jobs.”
Hayley nodded. She didn’t have friends. Surviving and providing had taken up all her time since she’d gotten out of prison. “I’d like that.”
Mara hugged Hayley once more and then moved on. Hayley saw Cain still talking to the fire inspector and made her way back to him.
“I’m going home. I’m tired,” she whispered.
Tired didn’t even come close to what she was feeling. At this point Hayley was afraid she wasn’t going to be able to even walk over to her car, much less drive home.
But, like always, she would find a way.
She turned, but Cain grabbed her elbow. “No.”
“Whatever needs to be talked about is going to have to wait.” Everything around her was starting to spin slightly. Crap. She needed to get to her car so she could at least sit down.
“I’ll drive you,” Cain said. “But we’re not going to your house. I’ll take you back to my place.”
“No.” She wanted to make a more elaborate argument, about how she just needed to be in her own bed, with her own stuff, and that she would be fine tomorrow. But the words wouldn’t come.
Cain turned her so they were standing face-to-face. She focused on his green eyes, using them as a lifeline to keep her from falling.
“Hays.” He trailed a finger down her cheek. She wanted to lean into the softness of the touch, to the strength he offered. “You’re about to fall over. I’ll drive you.”
“Fine. But I want to go to my apartment.”
She saw his lips tighten as he glanced over at the smoldering building. “You need to stay with me. The fire inspector thinks, based on how fast the hallway burned, that whoever did this to the Bluewater was actually targeting you.”
Fourteen hours later, Cain sat in the living room of the house he’d grown up in sipping a cup of coffee, trying to tamp down the toxic blend of rage that surrounded him every time he thought of Hayley trapped in that fire.
He’d already done a thorough workout with the old set of free weights his dad kept in the garage. And had run five miles on the treadmill his mother had bought for walk
Neither of those had really helped.
The longer Hayley slept up in his old bedroom, the worse the feelings became.
She was so damn exhausted that she had slept for fourteen goddamn hours.
She’d been working on the computer codes while still trying to work double shifts at the Bluewater? Cain could feel his teeth grind and tried to force himself to relax. If he hadn’t been called back to his office in DC—for a case completely unrelated—he would’ve been here and never allowed that to happen. Because Hayley had already been on the verge of collapse before taking on more work.
He rubbed his jaw.
He’d had his ear singed off by Ariel when he’d answered Hayley’s phone, possibly the only dumbphone left in the world used by people under the age of eighty, when Ariel had called. Hayley had been so deeply asleep she hadn’t even heard it ring over and over—seriously, he wasn’t going to have any enamel left on his teeth by the end of this if he didn’t chill out—so finally he’d answered it.
He’d explained to Ariel what happened. About the fire and danger Hayley might be in. About how she’d fallen so dead asleep on the way to his house that she hadn’t heard her phone.
Ariel had pretty much told him to keep his distance from Hayley. Except with a lot more curse words and at a volume that rivaled a screaming jet engine. Guess she hadn’t forgiven him for his part in Hayley’s arrest.
His coffee wasn’t helping his rage, but Cain knew he was going to have to channel it. Either that or have serious dental work done.
But more than that, he knew why he was holding on to his anger so tightly. Because it was much easier to handle the anger than the fear.
That moment of abject panic last night when he pulled up at the Bluewater, knowing Hayley was inside, and saw the flames.
Now it wasn’t his jaw that clenched, it was his heart.
Thank God Hayley had the sense to beat on that can, otherwise Cain wouldn’t have thought to look in the storage closet area. Wouldn’t have been able to get her out.
The thought of losing Hayley... Cain put his coffee cup down on the table. One thing the fire had done was force him to take a good hard look at the truth. His feelings for Hayley hadn’t died, no matter what had broken between them four years ago.
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