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Infiltrate retribution, p.5

Infiltrate_Retribution, page 5

 part  #2 of  Exposed Series

 

Infiltrate_Retribution
 


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  I held a hand to my churning guts.

  “Don’t, don’t you dare, Bent. I mean it.” I

  bolted for the door. “Leave it alone. I don’t

  look back. Ever. I can’t.”

  But it was too late. He’d reached deep

  into my heart and sliced open a wound I’d

  thought had scarred over long ago.

  68

  ELEVEN

  Fireflies flickered in the shrubs along the

  fence enclosing Emmett’s yard in a mix of

  weathered wood and overgrown greenery.

  The cozy glow did nothing to put me at

  ease. In fact, the almost fantastical setting

  had me clenching my teeth until my jaw

  ached. This was worse than the classical

  music at the treatment center.

  “Another soda, Raven?” Officer

  Daniels—I just couldn’t think of him as

  Emmett’s dad—reached into a cooler and

  tossed a can my way even though I hadn’t

  replied.

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  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  I caught the can an inch from my

  nose. Wow. Throwing projectiles at his

  son’s dinner date sent quite the message.

  Next time it could be a bullet. Probably

  not, but still…I studied the wrinkles

  around his eyes. They could be from

  laughing. They could be from something

  much worse.

  Like him plotting my downfall.

  Emmett watched from across the

  patio dining table, a smirk on his face.

  He was loving this.

  I aimed for his shin, but only managed

  to kick a table leg. Pain shot through

  my foot. My muffled curse had Emmett

  laughing out loud.

  Officer Daniels stopped chewing.

  “Did she just kick you?”

  “She tried.”

  “You’re right—she does have

  endearing qualities.”

  Endearing qualities? Just what else

  had Emmett told his father about me?

  I squirmed in my seat, not comfortable with

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  i n f i l t r a t e

  the idea of them talking about me when I

  wasn’t around to defend myself. Besides,

  I wasn’t endearing. I was a major badass.

  I chomped into my hamburger without

  mercy. Maybe that was the appeal for

  Emmett. A way for him to get under his

  father’s skin. The cop’s son hooking up

  with a bad girl from the wrong side of

  the tracks. If we had any train tracks in

  this town.

  Maybe Emmett was using me as much

  as I was using him.

  I decided I was fine with that. In fact,

  it actually helped us make sense.

  So why did the burger suddenly taste

  like secondhand vomit in my mouth?

  “Raven…” Officer Daniels’s light-

  hearted tone darkened. “You know why I

  asked Emmett to bring you here.”

  Looked like the gloves were coming

  off. Finally. “You want information about

  Team Retribution.”

  He tilted his head. “Is that what you’re

  calling yourselves?”

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  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  “On good days. Mostly I call the others

  ginormous pains in my butt.” I shoved my

  plate aside. “There’s not much to tell. You

  already get the gist of what we do, what

  we are.”

  “But not who you are. I need to know

  more about your team, Raven. There’s

  you, another girl Emmett has met once,

  but the rest…”

  “Are just a couple of guys with similar

  interests.”

  “And those interests would be in

  stolen vehicles, forgeries, obtaining highly

  classified information and essentially

  blackmailing criminals?”

  “Dad—” Emmett started, holding up

  his hand as if to block his father’s words

  from reaching me.

  I stopped him mid-breath with a

  light touch to his wrist. “Not to mention

  taking down corrupt police officers,”

  I said pointedly. “I appreciate the wining

  and dining, Officer Daniels, but if this

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  i n f i l t r a t e

  is a setup, let’s get on with it.” I glanced

  around the dreamlike yard, pulse

  pounding, willing myself to remain calm.

  “Are your boys hiding in the shrubbery?

  Should I start packing for juvie?”

  A zing of tension had my muscles

  clenching. My jaw locked.

  Emmett swore under his breath.

  “Raven, you’ve got this all wrong. He just

  wants to know who he’s working with.”

  “Emmett’s right.” Officer Daniels

  interlaced his fingers. “I’ve put my career

  in jeopardy by helping you. There’s

  interest in your team. Questions from my

  superiors.”

  I pulled in a deep breath. “But you

  haven’t told them anything.”

  “I wouldn’t have much to say, would

  I? I’ve met you. Emmett has had contact

  with your friend Jo. But we don’t know

  the other members of your team.”

  He studied me with serious eyes. “The

  thefts, the breaking and entering—those

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  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  alone weren’t enough to put you on the

  radar, but you kids have been slicing

  through high-level, tightly secured

  resources like their firewalls are made

  of mosquito netting. That doesn’t go

  unnoticed. If things ever go south, give me

  the name of your hacker and I know I can

  get the rest of you total immunity.”

  My stomach dropped at the thought of

  betraying Bentley and Jace that way. “Not

  going to happen.”

  He lifted his hands in surrender.

  “Purely worst-case scenario.”

  Speaking of worst cases, my cell phone

  hummed from my jeans pocket. Just as I

  glanced at the screen, Officer Daniels got

  a text as well. We stared at our screens.

  My message was from Jace. The body of

  another teen had been found, this time in

  my school gym.

  “I have to go,” we said simultaneously

  to Emmett.

  He frowned back at us, his shoulders

  stiff with tension. “Now? Both of you?”

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  i n f i l t r a t e

  “It’s not like we were having the time

  of our lives anyway.” I stood, ignoring

  Officer Daniels’s irritated sideways

  glance. “I’ll see you at school.” I paused.

  “If there is school tomorrow. I guess it

  depends.”

  “What does that mean?” Emmett’s

  puzzled expression had nothing on his

  father’s angry one. “What’s going on at

  the school?”

  “Your source sure is fast, Raven,”

  Officer Daniels said. “But I do not want

  to see a hint of you at the scene. Not even

  your shadow. Are we clear? Because if

  I do—”

  But he was ranting at dead air. I’d

  already slipped across th
e yard, away

  from the warm lights and deeper into the

  darkness.

  “Raven, wait.” Emmett jogged after me.

  “My ride’s this way.” Vaulting forward,

  I quickly scrambled up the fence. I swung

  my legs over the top, ready to drop into

  the alley behind the Daniels property.

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  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  “Would you just hold on?” Emmett’s

  voice was thick with frustration and

  disappointment.

  I met his gaze, conscious of the deep

  rumble of Jace’s car growing louder with

  every breath.

  “I didn’t think Dad would get into

  things tonight.” Emmett rested his palms

  on the fence boards.

  “It’s okay.”

  “I wanted you to have fun. For him to

  see how great you are. Don’t let this be an

  excuse to not see me again.”

  I let out a sigh. Now was the time to

  say something deep and meaningful. To

  tell him I understood, that tonight and

  his father’s not-so-subtle threats didn’t

  matter. That I still liked him anyway. But

  the words were having a boxing match

  behind my teeth.

  A squeal of tires echoed in the night.

  Speaking of boxing…

  “Let’s go,” Jace called from his car.

  “We have to hurry.”

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  i n f i l t r a t e

  I shoved away from the fence and

  landed hard for such a short distance, my

  mind and body out of sync. I charged for

  the vehicle.

  Slamming the passenger door shut,

  I let Jace speed us far from the hurt in

  Emmett’s eyes.

  There wasn’t a vehicle in the world

  that could drive fast enough.

  77

  TWELVE

  Breaking into a school at night was usually

  a no-brainer, but breaking into a school

  that was now a designated crime scene,

  complete with several police cruisers and

  freaked-out neighbors, was a little more

  tricky.

  Unless you could climb the building

  and get a bird’s-eye view.

  I shimmied farther along the rafters

  high above the polished gym floor.

  Jace had dropped me off near the side

  entrance, and I’d taken my usual route up

  the exterior wall to the rooftop entrance.

  It was easy enough to open the small

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  i n f i l t r a t e

  metal hatch and drop down into one of

  the custodial rooms. I landed lightly on

  my feet, narrowly avoiding a mop bucket

  full of murky water.

  I cracked open the industrial door and

  took a quick look down the hall. Then

  sucked in a breath and sealed it shut again

  as a police officer strode by. I waited until

  the tread of his footsteps faded, then tried

  once more. The coast was clear. I cut

  across the hall to another door and slipped

  inside. I followed the narrow staircase

  that wound backstage to the second-story

  access point. The landing was about four

  feet wide and stuffed with additional

  props, costumes and backdrops.

  I shoved a mangled Christmas tree

  out of my path and climbed the railing.

  I jumped up and reached for the metal

  beam overhead. Time to straddle the

  rafters.

  “Can you hear me now? Raven? Planet

  Earth to Operation Big Bird. Where is she?”

  Bentley’s voice came through loud and

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  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  clear in my earpiece, startling me. I bit

  back a curse and adjusted my grip. “I told

  you we should have tested the two-way

  communication link before using it live

  in the field.”

  In the field. Bentley did love his spy

  talk. I snorted.

  “Hey, I think I’ve got her. Raven, are

  you in?”

  “What do you think?” I whispered

  roughly. “Now will you pipe down?” From

  my vantage point I could easily observe

  the investigation below.

  Several police and ambulance crew

  members had gathered by the bleachers,

  blocking my view as they filled Officer

  Daniels in on the situation. We’d arrived

  at almost the same time. As they talked,

  Daniels scanned the gym with keen eyes.

  He was clearly on the lookout for me.

  Adrenaline flared, and I took in a

  few slow, steady breaths. I had to remain

  completely still. One wrong move and the

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  i n f i l t r a t e

  rafters would creak and reveal my hiding

  place.

  Police officers buzzed around the gym,

  taping off the area and photographing the

  scene. Occasionally shoulders shifted

  and I caught sight of denim-clad legs and

  cross-trainers. Ugh. Not a sight you ever

  wanted to see. A guy’s body dangled from

  the highest peak under the bleachers.

  His face. For a second I swore his

  mouth was opening and closing, desperate

  for air. It was all in my head. It had to be.

  I turned away, forcing down the bile

  that surged up my throat. I kept my gaze

  fixed on the wooden rafters as the emts

  and police cut the body down. Once it

  was covered and wheeled out of the gym,

  the officers’ voices grew in volume and

  echoed across the gym, bouncing off the

  cinder-block walls.

  “The evening custodian found the

  boy around 7:40 pm.” A cop was briefing

  Daniels. “He immediately called 9-1-1,

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  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  then followed up with the principal and

  informed her of what he’d discovered.”

  “And the note?” asked Officer Daniels.

  The cop nodded. “Bagged it.” He

  handed Daniels a plastic bag containing

  a piece of paper.

  Daniels held it delicately, reading

  aloud. “I never meant to let you down, Dad. ”

  My stomach twisted at hearing the last

  words of this boy being read while his body

  was being photographed a few feet away.

  “I’m sorry I failed you. I failed the team.

  I tried, but it wasn’t enough. I’ll never be

  enough. ” Clearing his throat, Daniels returned the evidence. “The note is

  addressed to his father. He doesn’t mention

  anyone else.”

  “No. The mother died a few years

  ago. Cancer. My son used to play on the

  basketball team as well, before he blew

  his knee out. Anyway, I remember her

  coming to the games, right to the end.”

  He cleared his throat. “Ryan was their

  only child.”

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  i n f i l t r a t e

  Daniels shook his head. “Horrible

  thing, suicide.”

  My jaw clenched.

  If what we suspected was true…

  It was horrible, all right, but it wasn’t

  suicide.

  It was mur
der.

  83

  THIRTEEN

  “So what are you saying?” Jo hopped up to

  sit on the marble countertop. “We don’t

  help kids anymore?” She swiped an apple

  from a glass bowl and took a bite with an

  angry crunch.

  Jace leaned a shoulder against the

  ginormous stainless-steel fridge, while

  Bentley sat on a barstool, ignoring the

  rest of us and tapping away on his laptop.

  “Nooo.” I dragged the one-syllable

  word out for all it was worth. “But the

  McNair case was a joke. If I’d been

  following up on the Cody situation

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  i n f i l t r a t e

  instead of dealing with that total waste

  of our time, maybe we could have done

  something. I might have gotten to him

  before he…” I struggled with the thought

  of Cody taking his own life. Add to that

  his little sister’s, and I could barely think

  at all. “And the other guy, Ryan—I can’t

  get the image of his body swaying in the

  air out of my mind.”

  “Raven.” Jace shook his head. “You

  can’t blame yourself. Or us. We’re just

  skimming the surface of what’s going on

  here. But I do hear what you’re saying

  about weeding through the sob stories

  and only taking on the most important

  jobs. I’m sure Jo understands where you’re

  coming from too.”

  Jo shrugged. “No more small beans.

  I can live with that.” She pointed her

  half-eaten apple at me. “But how do you

  propose we decide which is which? Eenie,

  meenie, miney, mo? Not a super-efficient

  system.”

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  j u d i t h g r a v e s

  I opened my mouth to say we’d pretty

  much been doing exactly that, but Bentley

  spoke first.

  “I’ll do more research, background

  searches, dig a bit more before bringing you

  guys the potentials.” He tapped his screen

  like it held all the answers. “I probably

  should have done that before we agreed

  to help Jonathan anyway. If you need

  someone to blame, Raven, blame me.”

  Bentley was the last person who

  should have felt bad about the current

  situation. He’d constantly gone above

  and beyond for the team and had mad

  computer skills none of us could touch.

  “It wasn’t your fault, Bent,” I said in

  a huff.

  He shot me a sad grin. “Wasn’t yours

  either.”

  Jace clapped his hands together,

  making us jump. “Right, Bentley will

  establish some sort of evaluation protocol,

  and we’ll go from there. It’s obvious this

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  i n f i l t r a t e

  is top of the list, so let’s focus, shall we?

 
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