Authors: Skye Warren
Tags: #Fiction, #Erotica
Just now, with Hennessey so focused, I was reminded of
. Police Inspector Javert had been bent on capturing a man who had been a thief in his former life. He became obsessed with it. Except the police inspector wasn’t the hero of the story. The criminal was.
Brody cleared his throat and turned to me. “So what do you think?”
“Oh. Me?” My mind raced, trying to figure out the question. What did I think of
? Hennessey closing the case? “It’s good. I mean, I think he will. Close the case.”
“Good. And you,” Brody said, his gaze clashing with mine, “are going to be his partner.”
“What?” The question left my lips at the exact same time as Hennessey’s. We both stared at Brody, me in confusion and Hennessy in irritation. I could guess why Hennessey was mad, the big shot getting stuck with the rookie. The cause of my own annoyance was a little murkier.
I had been working here six months. HR had contacted me just last week with some forms I’d neglected to fill out on hiring.
was practically stamped on my forehead, but Brody was assigning me to a high-profile case? Even Lance had gotten here a month before me. It sounded fishy as hell, like some sort of equal opportunity mandate, putting a woman—
in the field to cover their asses. I didn’t want a pity assignment, even if it was my only chance.
Brody shrugged, unfazed. “Until such time as Carlos is apprehended or terminated, you two are going to be partners.”
“Whose decision was this?” Hennessey asked tightly.
“Mine.” Brody’s gaze sharpened. “And the director’s. You’re free to take this over my head, but I think we both know you won’t.”
Hennessey swung away, staring out the window, radiating displeasure. He wasn’t sightseeing now. He was pissed. “Does she even know what happened to the last guy?”
And now I had
to worry about. What the hell had happened to the last guy? And the last guy of what?
“I don’t see what that has to do with anything,” Brody said with equanimity.
Hennessey laughed. It wasn’t a nice laugh.
A shiver ran through me.
“I’ll leave you two to get acquainted,” Brody said, as if this were some sort of date.
In a way, it was. The arranged marriage of law enforcement partnerships. Brody shot Hennessey a glance I couldn’t quite dissect before standing. Envy, maybe. As a supervisor, he could only assign the cases, not work them. And something else…a hint of concern. Concern for who, though?
Does she even know what happened to the last guy?
Brody paused on his way out, speaking low enough for my ears only. “If you want out, tell me now. I’ll speak to the director.”
Gratitude pierced my growing worry. The biggest opportunity of my career, of
career with the Bureau, and here he was giving me a choice. I wouldn’t let him down. I wouldn’t let myself down. “No, sir. Happy to be here.”
He nodded, granting me a rare look of approval. “Be careful.” He glanced back at Hennessy. “And watch out for him, will you? He doesn’t realize he’s getting old.”
I suppressed the laugh that wanted to escape and managed a quick nod. Clearly there was some competitiveness between them. That was common enough around here. And I could see why he felt threatened by this man. Anyone would.
Hennessy cut a striking form against the window’s glow, but the silver streaking his honey-brown hair at his temples proved he was older than me. Much older, in both years and experience. Despite the obvious differences between my new partner and me, it felt good to be part of the club. A sense of contentment and happiness swelled inside me. However it had come about, this gig would lift me out of the professional gutter in a way that coffee runs and paper filing had never done.
The door closed me in with an audible click. My walk across the carpet, however, didn’t make a sound. Years of rigorous training, both inside the academy and out, had left me as agile as any practiced field agent. Still, I felt sure he tracked my every movement, effortlessly, with the kind of awareness born of experience. How long had he been an agent? Ten years, twenty? Criminals had shot at him, tried to blow him up, paid money to assassinate him. Any agent with a resume like his would have been a target. His survival gave testament to his skill.
Eyes the color of sheet metal stared at the window, unseeing. Small imperfections marred a handsome face: a slight curve of his nose where it had broken, a small scar on his chin. A line of white scar tissue split a brown eyebrow. He’d done more than evade these criminals; he’d fought them.
“You should’ve taken him up on his offer,” he said quietly.
Brody, he meant. Had he heard the low conversation we’d exchanged? Or did he just deduce what was being said? It didn’t matter.
“I’m not interested in his offer. I want this case.”
“You have no idea what this case is even about, rookie.”
Questions sat on the tip of my tongue.
So what’s the case about, then? When can we get started?
But only one came out.
“What happened to the last guy?”
That finally got his full attention. He looked at me, and I felt the gaze of his gunmetal eyes like a blow. It stole my breath and rendered me speechless. He looked me up and down. His mouth set in a flat line, unimpressed by my gender, my youth, or maybe the pink blouse I wore. Whatever he saw, it made him answer.
“He died. The last time I went after Carlos Laguardia, my partner died. A punk kid who thought he could bring down a monster.”
His words and his tone challenged me.
they said. But I heard the desolation beneath the warning. Whatever family or friends the
might have had, this man had mourned him. Hennessy might be a ruthless agent, but he cared about his partners.
I extended my hand. “Then let’s get the bastard responsible.”
His eyes widened minutely, the faintest indication I’d surprised him before the cynical mask snapped back into place. He studied me, gauging my sincerity, my intelligence, or whatever resemblance I might have borne to the punk kid. I could see him judging my pearl earrings and the unfortunately youthful button nose on my face and finding me lacking. Most guys assumed I couldn’t fight. I had my second Dan in Tae Kwon Do, and I was a better shot than the rest of my graduating class. I was freaking competent, and if this guy was going to question it, if he was going to be prejudiced and—
He nodded. Curtly. Decisively. His approval washed over me, warming me in a way that even Brody’s hadn’t. This guy was the real deal, the Lone Ranger of the country’s gangland, and I’d gladly be his trusty sidekick.
He accepted my hand and awareness rose from where his skin heated mine. Awareness that he was a man, that he was a handsome one. I sensed an answering ripple go through him, as if he’d just registered me as a woman. Attraction, plain and simple. A chemical reaction, really.
I pushed it aside.
Besides that, a different kind of alertness had begun to move through me, one that had nothing to do with the lean muscled body in front of me. This assignment was real. The biggest case to come through our branch in the time I’d been here, and I’d just been assigned as a principal agent. Holy shit. I carefully schooled my expression, forcing back the giddiness. I didn’t even care about whatever ulterior motives they might have had.
For surely there had been ulterior motives. A hundred other agents were more qualified for the role on this floor alone. It didn’t matter. If I contributed one tiny thing that led to us bringing down Laguardia, I’d make a name for myself. No more schlepping coffee or making copies. But my desire ran even deeper than that. Even darker. The sinister excitement I’d felt when I’d held my father’s life in my hands, when I’d turned him in—I felt it now too. It hummed through me, sleek and dark in my veins.
“What are we going to do first?” I asked Hennessey, my voice coming out breathless. I hoped he didn’t notice the flush on my cheeks or my rapid pulse of excitement. The way his gaze flicked to the base of my neck and then away said my hope was in vain.
“First, you’re going to study the case files. I’m already familiar, so I’ll go ahead and do the questioning.”
“An inmate. They’re holding him down at the courthouse for his arraignment, and I need to speak with him.”
A shiny laminate “Visitor” badge was clipped to his lapel. Despite his impressive credentials and senior rank, he was an outsider in this office. As a rookie, so was I.
“We,” I corrected.
need to speak with him. I’ve already read the case files. I
know what this case is about. And I’m coming with you.”
He radiated suspicion, as if he’d never heard of initiative and had never seen anyone be assertive. “Why would you read case files if you didn’t know you’d get assigned here?”
“Because I ran out of money to buy more detective novels. Why do you think?” I blew out a breath, shocked at myself. What the hell? Being sarcastic wasn’t the way to make friends. Then again, there was little chance of Hennessey being my friend. He didn’t want me as a partner. He barely registered my existence.
Though, he registered me now. His eyes narrowed, his lips firmed. He wasn’t happy, but I couldn’t be sorry. His gray eyes took my measure, as more than an annoying new girl, as more than a woman—as an equal. “So you feel confident with the case? With Laguardia?”
“State his full name.”
“Carlos Frederico Laguardia.” I continued to recite the next ten most commonly used aliases. We had no idea what his real birth name had been. Even his identity was a fabrication, a fraud like the disguises and the pretend trips.
If I’d expected Hennessey to be impressed with my recitation, I’d have been disappointed. He frowned. “Where was he last seen?”
“Switzerland.” I paused, wondering how much I should say. How much to reveal to a partner who didn’t yet trust me. “At least, that’s what the official reports say. But it wasn’t him.”
One brow rose. “Explain.”
His stern command sent a shiver down my spine. That autocratic tone annoyed me, but I couldn’t deny he’d earned the right to use it. He had so much more experience, more skills than I. Where did I get off telling him he was wrong? Still, I’d pulled the lever to my own trap door by opening my mouth. The only thing left to do was fall through it.
I thought back to the world map pinned on the wall, the pins in all the reliable sightings, the yarn connecting them loose and drooping to the floor like streamers in a party long over.
“He doesn’t like the cold,” I finally said.
The silence grew thick and potent. “He doesn’t like the cold?”
I shifted uncomfortably. “He avoids it. His headquarters have always been in warm locations. Mexico. South America. The one in North Africa.”
“The Algerian compound was never confirmed. And Mexico… South America… It didn’t occur to you that those are the major centers of drug and weapons trafficking?” He looked incredulous.
“And Russia,” I said quietly. My chest felt tight. I wished I’d never started this. “Russia is another major center of drug and weapon trafficking, but he never goes there.”
Because it’s cold.
He stared at me as if I’d lost my mind. And maybe I had. Maybe that had happened years ago and neither the court-appointed psychiatrist nor the FBI staff who’d cleared me for duty had ever noticed.
Hennessey barked a laugh. “Jesus. You know, the Russians prefer human trafficking these days, having more people than drugs or weapons. And maybe Laguardia just doesn’t like the Gulag. But I take your point.” He laughed again, as if in disbelief. “It’s a fair theory, and a new one, I’ll give you that much.”
The knot loosened inside me, letting me breathe again. He might suspect I was crazy, but at least he knew I paid attention. I could be an asset to him.
A new, grudging respect lightened his eyes, turning them silver. “Okay, rookie, you can come. But I’m driving.”
I didn’t bother hiding my smile. I didn’t care who drove, and besides, that was to be expected. I doubted this man ever gave up much control. I bet his commands extended into the bedroom. The thought filled me with unexpected, unwelcome heat.
What do you remember?
Such an open-ended question.
I remembered going to prison exactly three times.
A few months back, when I had just started, Brody had brought me along to take notes on an interview in a half-hearted attempt at mentorship. The subject had been a long-term inmate in a low security prison who received cigarettes in exchange for intel—or more accurately, prison gossip. The exchange had been concise and boring. My notes, when I had submitted them for the case file, had been the same.
That was the third time I’d been to prison.
Before that, I’d gone on something like a field trip at Quantico. Each of us had been assigned a convict. We studied their crimes beforehand, the evidence and the trials. Then we visited them and added in-person assessments to our reports. My inmate had been a bank fraud expert, a real nice guy with age spots and two grandkids in Detroit. He showed me pictures and asked me to pass along a letter. I reported his illegal request to the board. If assholes like that wanted to fuck around with the law, then they didn’t deserve the children or grandchildren they’d been given. I was doing those kids a favor.
That was two.
But the first time I’d ever been to prison, I was ten years old. By then, my father had been inside for two months with good behavior, no violent incidents. He’d placed a request for visitation of his only child, and the court had somehow agreed. My foster mother at the time had put me in a dress with pink and orange flowers and white patent leather shoes. I remembered how shiny they looked compared to the dark concrete floor. I remembered how they looked covered in blood.
My father tried to kill me that day. Prison security was different back then, less high tech and more dependent on a guard with a baton. My father had come at me with his fists like a bludgeon, wrists and ankles still handcuffed together. The guard stepped in quickly, beating my father half to death. I’d huddled in the corner, staring at the red ink splatter on my shoes and feeling an odd sense of triumph. He’d broken my arm and given me a black eye, but I got to walk out of there. He didn’t.
He had already been serving twenty years, a plea bargain combining all his crimes, but the assault on me had tipped him over into a lifer. He’d never draw a free breath again, and most days, I didn’t care at all.
These three visits played over in my head, like forlorn notes to an old remembered song. Just as well, because Hennessey didn’t turn on the radio. The jail in question was ten miles from FBI headquarters, but in downtown Houston near lunch hour, the drive would take twenty minutes, easy.
Hennessey’s fingers drummed on the steering wheel as the car rolled forward at ten miles per hour in heavy traffic.
“So,” I began quietly, “why the big push for Laguardia in Houston?” At his questioning look, I continued, “I know you’ve been stationed in New York. The Di Mariano family. The Mencia heist. They’re both up there. And the New York office is pretty big. I figure you would have worked the case from there, unless you think he’s in the area.”
I couldn’t see his eyes beneath the aviator sunglasses he wore, but the side of his lip quirked up. “Well, yeah, you know how he feels about the cold. He’s probably sunbathing in Galveston right now.”
Even though he was mocking me, a small laugh bubbled up. I tamped it down, ruthless, shrugging instead. “Fine, don’t tell me.”
There was a pause, as if he were debating how much to say. I suspected he usually operated this way, portioning out his words, measuring how much information to give and how much to keep hidden. What would it be like to be in this man’s confidence? It seemed like an impossible dream. This man gathered information; he didn’t give it away.
A brief nod said he’d found his answer. “He’s planning a big shipment. Drugs. Probably in through the Gulf.”
“How do you know?”
“There’s been chatter,” he said vaguely.
I didn’t push. Partly because I suspected he wouldn’t tell me. And partly because I’d learned that the FBI’s methods of intel weren’t always that impressive. An image of the reedy informant Brody had interviewed flashed through my mind. I hadn’t gotten the impression he was lying, but how much were a few packs of cigarettes worth anyway? We relied on the integrity of men who had none, but it was the only way. Without their false promises, we had nothing at all.
“This guy we’re going to see. He knows about the shipment?”
“He knows that it’s happening. It remains to be seen how many details he has.”
“What makes you think he’s going to share? That’s got to be worth more than cigarettes or booze. Laguardia may kill him if he finds out this guy talked.”
“Sure, I may not get much, but I have to follow the leads. Shake the trees and see what falls out.”
Ah, the scientific method of law enforcement. I narrowed my eyes in suspicion. “And I’m going to participate in this tree-shaking, right?”
“You’ll watch,” he corrected, and for unknown reasons, I blushed. Thankfully, he was staring at the road from behind tinted glasses, so my inappropriate reaction went unnoticed.
“Inside the room.” I had no plans to sit behind a one-way mirror.
“Fine. But you stay quiet. No matter what happens. Got it, rookie?”
“Got it.” I wasn’t scared. The security nowadays was ten thousand times better than ten years ago. I was an adult now, a trained agent.
Dark red liquid splattered on shiny white leather.
“You don’t expect anything to happen, though. He’s not violent, right?”
Hennessey turned and stared, his gaze intense even blocked by his glasses. I could sense him peeling back the layers that I’d thought were impenetrable. He was a damn good investigator, obviously, and his ability to discern the truth wasn’t restricted to the criminals we interrogated.
Without speaking, he turned into a parking garage and flashed his badge to the guard. We circled the levels, climbing higher to find a free space. By the time he parked and shut off the ignition, I’d resigned myself to not getting an answer. Maybe we’d let the question, and my moment of cowardice, pass like a rhetorical question—a random discordant note in the flow of conversation.
He didn’t step out of the car, and when I reached for the door, he put his hand on my arm to stop me. I faced him, shocked anew by the silver eyes he revealed as he took off his sunglasses. They were striated with darker lines that varied with his thoughts, mercurial and completely opaque, like studying the sky for clues only to be caught in the storm.
“Every criminal, every man, every woman can be dangerous,” he said, “if their back’s against the wall. If you’re standing between them and something they want, you’re the enemy. Pretending otherwise, pretending you can be
, is just a way to get yourself killed.”
“Okay,” I breathed, wondering how much he was revealing about himself, about how
been hurt with this advice meant for me.
“But nothing’s going to happen inside, because we’re not going to let it. We have the power. We have control of the situation. You’re going to sit quietly and not draw his attention. I’m going to ask questions. We’ll be back in this car in twenty minutes. Got it?”
Relief swept through my veins. “Got it.”
I exited the car and followed him with a lightness in my step…and a new curiosity about the man in front of me. He both alarmed and comforted me. I didn’t understand it, but I felt safe when he was near.
Some of my confidence began to slip as we went through three separate bar enclosures to get to the interview room. Double guards were stationed at each level. We had to surrender all of our belongings, even the pen and pad I’d brought for taking notes. I’d never been this deep before, but this seemed extreme. Like beyond high security, designed to keep people out as much as in. After all, Laguardia would want to get inside if he could. To kill this guy before he could tell us what he knew. The bars and protocols protected the people inside as much as the ones out.
The final door was an extra-wide metal door with a small square window too high for me to see through in my low heels. The guard stationed beside it moved to open the handle, but Hennessey held up his hand.
He spoke low, for my ears only. “When we’re in there, no talking. No smiling. Don’t react to what he says in any way.”
“Ah,” I said with exaggerated understanding. “You want to play good cop/bad cop.”
He frowned. “No, absolutely not. I said—”
“Kidding, Hennessey. Still and silent, got it.”
One eyebrow rose. “This isn’t a game.”
“Then stop treating me like I’m on my first police ride along. I was top of my class at Quantico. I may not be The Great Ian Hennessey, but I’m not going to fuck this up.”
He stared at me, his expression inscrutable. Then his face eased just a fraction. Something shifted in the air between us, trust falling into its groove the way it should between partners. Real partners.
“It was funny, the good cop/bad cop thing,” he conceded. Then he nodded to the guard and stepped into the room.
I snorted to myself.
It was funny,
he’d said with a totally straight face. What would it take to make him crack a smile? Or make him laugh? It shouldn’t have mattered, but I resolved to find out. Like picking up clues and uncovering a person’s secrets, I would solve the puzzle of Ian Hennessy.
The door closed behind me with an ominous clang. Locked in. We didn’t just visit the prisoners; we became them for these few minutes, closed in, guarded against escape. It was a mindset encouraged by the bare walls and metal table. By the temperature dropping ten degrees, passing comfortably cool and going straight to chilled. The fluorescent lights flickered almost imperceptibly, making it seem as if we were underwater, a cave with strangely-shaped fish that carried little lanterns in front of their faces, the better to eat you with.
A windblown Santa Claus sat on a metal chair, his snow-colored beard long and crinkly. That was my first impression, and the orange jumpsuit did little to dispel his genial appearance. It was only when he turned to me that I saw his face, the way the scar tissue furled in on his eyes, threatening to close them. It wouldn’t have made any difference if it had; his eyes were a glassy blue, unseeing.
Daniel Fuentes was blind.
One of the only men in custody who’d ever seen Laguardia, and he wouldn’t be able to describe him. A coincidence? I couldn’t believe that. I suspected he was still alive, not because of the twenty guards we’d passed between the entrance and here, but because he couldn’t identify Laguardia.
Hennessey didn’t seem fazed by this new development. He’d probably already known about the man’s blindness when he set up the interview.
“Who’s the bitch?” Fuentes grunted.
Charming. And creepy, considering he couldn’t see me. Sharpened sense of hearing, I guessed. Hennessy smoothly pulled out a chair and nodded, directing me to sit. I sat.
“Agent Holmes will be attending this interview. I’m Agent Ian Hennessey.”
“And I’m Mother Fucking Theresa. What do you want from me?”
Hennessy didn’t even blink. The other man couldn’t see him, but his expression was smooth as silk, as if he sat in front of a busy courtroom, a poker face. Now I understood why he’d told me not to smile. The urge to laugh bubbled up in me from some previously untapped spring, a combination of nerves and latent appreciation of the absurdity of the situation.
A blind coke-head Santa Clause in an orange suit sitting across from the crisply-starched renowned Ian Hennessey. My life was surreal, but then what else was new? When I was seven years old, I’d woken up from a bad dream and gone looking for my father. He’d been washing blood off his hands in the sink, and he’d steered me back to bed.
my shoulder with the blood of another child, and I’d fallen into a kind of terrified trance. I’d never woken up, not even when he’d been put in jail, not even when he attacked me there. Everything had always felt wavering and unreal, and the shuddering lights in this room only emphasized it.
This is my life
I’ll never wake up.
Hennessey asked him the standard questions. Where were you on this date or that? Do you have any knowledge of drug activity, of shipments? Bullshit answers. Curse words. Fuentes called Hennessey’s mom a fat slut pig who he fucked in the skull, and Hennessey asked, in a voice so casual and smooth, if he’d ever met a man known as Carlos Laguardia.
Fuentes stiffened. He tried to hide his reaction, but I saw it.
Hennessey did too. He leaned forward. “When?”
Fuentes kicked back suddenly, almost toppling backward, letting loose a stream of rapid-fire Spanish swear words. I jumped at the sudden movement, ruining my statue imitation. Hennessey just looked at him, as if faintly curious, like watching the movements of ants on a park bench.
The man didn’t look like Santa anymore. His eyes rolled around, landing on nothing. He panted, the wild hair like foam at the mouth. “You can’t make me say nothing. You can’t fucking make me. I’m not going to die.”
His fear was infectious; it filled the room, an airborne pathogen. I caught it, breathed it in. My pulse raced, my palms sweated. Even the unmovable Hennessey shifted in his seat, as if he felt a fourth presence in the room, a ghost standing beside the table.