Authors: Skye Warren
Tags: #Fiction, #Erotica
“You’re safe here,” Hennessey said. “I can protect you.”
“Fuck you,” Fuentes spat. “You fucking
hijo de puta
motherfucker with your fucking badge, thinking you own everyone. Thinking you control everyone. Well, you don’t control me, and you can’t make me talk.”
“I can protect you,” Hennessey repeated. “But only if you help me. Otherwise you’re just another inmate. What can I do about that?” He turned to me, then, as if he expected me to answer. I stared back, wide-eyed. He continued, “I can’t do anything to help a man charged with your crimes, a guilty man. But if you helped me, right now, I would make a call—”
“No.” Anxiety thickened Fuentes’s voice. “No calls. No calls.”
I couldn’t even blame him. Carlos had friends in supposedly safe places. Cops. Security guards. Who’s to say he didn’t have a friend in the Witness Protection Program?
But his fear proved one thing: he knew something. Something useful, something he wasn’t telling us. Hennessey knew it too. His gray eyes glinted with renewed purpose.
Hennessey’s voice lowered, soothing and almost seductive. “Fuentes, I want to help you. But I need to know you’re on my side. I have to know that I can trust you.”
Fuentes moaned, rocking slightly in his chair. Animal sounds filled the room. His chair clattered against the concrete floor. My heart crawled up into my throat. This was real fear, like the shadow of a memory, something I’d been running from for a long time.
I’d been frozen the first time I’d seen blood on my father’s hands, the first time he’d touched it to my cheek and wished me goodnight.
What do you remember?
I was broken inside, a psychotic break at age six that I’d been so careful to hide from the world. I never knew emotions the way other people did. I didn’t have morals, and I found his fear so cold, so alluring. I wanted to touch it, to place my palm against the frosted glass and leave a handprint behind.
I’d only ever wanted to be normal, prayed for it, but it had always been too late for me. While other children had backed away from white vans, I’d looked at them with longing. I wanted to be special enough to be taken. I wanted to matter that much.
“Just give us something, a show of faith,” Hennessey continued, relentless.
“Why don’t you ask Carlos’s
, huh? The bitch lives here, right? Married one of your fucking badges, didn’t she?”
I remembered reading about the woman Carlos had kept around for obvious reasons. She’d turned on him and managed to escape alive.
So it was possible.
Hennessey was inexorable. “I’m asking
. Or I might let it slip that you
tell us something. I bet some people wouldn’t be happy about that.”
His threat rang in the air, shocking me. Did we do that? Did we threaten to do something that would have an inmate killed? Would he follow through with it?
Fuentes shook his head, muttering nonsense words, a tie-dye language of English and Spanish and stilted ghetto slang I knew from my childhood.
It was too late for him. He was blind and broken and locked in one of the tightest security holds that existed. He had a hundred charges against him. If he got out, he would have to face Laguardia. He had no hope, but if there was one thing he could do, if there was one man who had the power to change this man’s fate…
“Tell him,” I said. My voice came out rusty, as if it had been hours since I’d last spoken instead of minutes. “Please, give him some information. About the shipment, anything. Maybe it won’t even matter. They’ll change it anyway, now that they know you’re caught. It doesn’t have to be useful to get you into the program. It just has to be the truth. Something you heard.”
Hennessey looked fit to kill. Me, to be exact. His glare accused me.
I told you to stay quiet. You said you would.
I shrugged slightly, not sorry. Even if it didn’t help, it couldn’t hurt.
Except Fuentes’s gaze narrowed on me as if he could see my face. In his pale flat eyes I saw a flicker of recognition. A chill went down my spine, and I wondered for a terrifying moment if his blindness was faked. The doctors in prison had ways of checking that, didn’t they? I had no idea, but God, that would be a pretty slick way to get information when people didn’t think you could.
When I spoke again, it was quieter. “Tell us something you heard. Something you saw.”
He blinked, a hint of confusion on his face. It was believable, that was for sure. But then, he was a liar and a murderer. I’d learned long ago not to trust men like him.
I’d learned not to trust anyone. I still didn’t want him to die.
“Please,” I murmured.
He continued to stare at me, but I felt his voice directed at Hennessey. “Fifteen minutes with her. You step outside.”
The chill in my body turned into a deep freeze. He was asking for fifteen minutes alone…with me. I stared at Fuentes, unable to comprehend what he’d asked. So seriously, too, as if he really thought it might happen. Even though it wouldn’t. I glanced at Hennessey to be sure.
My new partner met my gaze, and I felt a cold stab of fear. Real fear, the kind I had always been reaching for. His eyes held scales, weighing the information we could get against leaving me with Fuentes for fifteen minutes. Weighing precious information against a rookie agent. The perverted scales of justice, and they tilted against me.
“Five,” Hennessey said.
My heart turned into a thunderstorm, heavy and untamed. Oh God. This couldn’t be happening. It was a dream, the horrible trance.
Wake up, wake up.
Fuentes snorted. “What could I do in five minutes? Barely stand up. Nothing.
Feeling off balance, I stood up. My chair scraped against the floor, filling the room with an awful screech, like the scream I was incapable of making.
“Ten minutes,” Fuentes countered.
Hennessey stood up too, and I walked backward until the cold wall stopped me, imprinting its cracks on my body. How far would he go to get the information he needed? How far would he go to bring down a criminal? Was
how he’d managed to catch so many of them? But Hennessey wasn’t walking toward me. He circled the table, going for Fuentes.
Fuentes backed up too, knocking over his chair. We shared a kinship in that moment, both of us terrified of Hennessey but tied to him. Like planets orbiting the sun, we needed him for survival, but we would keep our distance as long as we could. Fuentes huddled against the wall, looking pathetic even though he was larger, slightly taller and definitely wider, than Hennessey. Still, Hennessey managed to put his palms on either side of the other man’s head. He leaned over him, threatening him without a single touch.
“I’ll leave you alone with her, but it will take less than five minutes. You’re old and handcuffed, and I’m not talking about a quick fuck anyway. I’m talking about how long it’ll take for her to kill you once I give her a knife and tell her what you did to those three little girls in Tijuana. Or was it four? You’d know better than me.”
Fuentes was shaking. I was shaking. The world felt unsteady, an earthquake in our heads. Three little girls in Tijuana.
What do you remember?
I remembered rage. The impotent rage of a child. Fuentes disgusted me, but the worst part of all was that I connected with him. He looked past Hennessey’s shoulder and stared into my eyes because he felt it too. I believed he was blind in that moment, because this wasn’t a man who would want to be weaker than he already was. He heard my breathing, he felt my pain, and he homed in on it. I wanted that knife. I wanted to use it. Did Hennessey know that about me? Could he tell?
Five minutes. Ten. What could happen in fifteen minutes?
“Two weeks from now,” Fuentes said, wheezing. “In two weeks. There’s a building shaped like an M. An old warehouse nobody uses owned by Laguardia under a shell corporation. That’s where the drugs are going. A lot of them.” Fuentes slumped against the wall, defeated. “That’s all I can tell you.”
Hennessey stepped back and straightened his suit. “Thank you.”
Fuentes slid down to the floor, the orange fabric stretching grotesquely across his legs and belly. “The call?” he asked, sounding like a lost child. “You’ll make the call.”
Hennessey nodded shortly. “I will.”
Fuentes nodded, looking miserable. Guilt over ratting out Laguardia? Or fear for himself?
When my legs would support me again, I pushed off the wall and followed Hennessey out of the room. We walked in silence, with only the accompaniment of metal bars clanging to mark the steps. Even when the sunlight blinded my eyes and the exhaust of the city burned my lungs, I stayed silent. Mute. Like he’d told me to be inside. Why hadn’t I listened?
This will be our little secret, okay?
That was what my father had told me, but I hadn’t listened to him either. I just couldn’t keep quiet, even when it was important. I was constantly searching, always reaching out, desperate for a connection that I had yet to find.
My poise lasted until we reached his car in the parking garage. He went to the driver’s side door, but instead of getting inside, I went to stand by the wall, resting my forehead against the cool cement. Like the walls of the interview room and yet so different. Here we were free, with the sunlight streaming in through open-air spaces on the sides. Here we were safe. Tears streamed down my cheeks, as unstoppable as rain.
I felt Hennessey behind me, and then he was turning me, pulling me close. I breathed in his scent and sank into the hardness of his embrace. I climbed inside him, standing still, while he held me, murmuring words I couldn’t understand. The cloth of his dress shirt became wet beneath my cheek, damp with tears, the transference of fear from me to him, because he was strong enough to carry the burden for both of us.
Are you afraid?
No. Not with him.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. Sorry for crying on you. Sorry I spoke in the room when I wasn’t supposed to. Sorry I’m a weak, inexperienced rookie you’re stuck with.
“I wanted to spare you that,” Hennessey said gruffly. Meaning a direct confrontation with the man. I’d brought it on myself, he meant.
“It’s okay. I knew you wouldn’t really do it, what he asked for.”
The statement hung in the air like a question. I wanted reassurance, after that one breathless moment when I’d thought he was seriously negotiating my rape.
Hennessey didn’t have any reassurance for me. “Fuentes gave us what we needed.”
“And you’re going to…to make the call, right? For witness protection?” I didn’t know why I cared about a criminal. He’d probably done lots of horrible things, and I had no desire to learn the details of the girls in Tijuana. Yet it felt important that we follow through on the promise we’d made. Because for a moment, it had seemed as though the threat Hennessey had made to Fuentes was real too, spreading the word that he had talked and thus ensuring his death. Hennessey had sounded so horribly sincere, and I wanted to believe it was the mark of a great interrogator.
Hennessey stepped back, his hands lingering on my arms a second too long. He spoke softly, with something like regret in his eyes. “You have to understand. He’s already dead. From the moment we stepped into the room. Laguardia won’t care if he talked or not. He’s a liability. From the moment he did business with a man like that, this is how it had to be.”
It was my first glimpse of how this game really worked, outside of the weird bubble my father had created, outside of the carefully manicured lectures in the academy. In the real crime world, everyone was a target. We were all going to die here; it was just a question of when and how gruesome it would be.
Only as we pulled away did I realize what was strange about that room. I pictured it again in my mind. Drab walls butted up against each other, with a flat ceiling stacked on top. There was no camera in that room. No mirrored window with an observation room on the other side. No evidence that Hennessey had ever threatened Fuentes, except for my word. And if Hennessey had left me in that room for five, ten, fifteen minutes, if he’d gotten the guard outside to agree, there would’ve been no evidence of that either.
The next morning, I woke up before my alarm went off. The sky outside was stained pink, like someone had washed something red with the pale sheet of sky.
I wore my silk blouse with the pale yellow chevron patterns that I’d found at a vintage shop on a rare trip to Austin. Over that I wore a black jacket far too rigid to really be comfortable. I didn’t like it, but it was basically a requirement to be taken seriously. I was already a rookie, and my short height and china doll features didn’t do me any favors.
So I put on the sleek Italian wool, but underneath it all, I wore satin and lace and remembered the feel of a warm, solid chest beneath my cheek. I wished I could take back that moment, so he would see me as an equal instead of a scared little girl.
No, scratch that. I wanted him to remember that moment like I would, one second of the connection I’d always been searching for. I hoped my tears had stained his shirt, turning it a grim impossible pink so he would remember I was a woman too. I’d always been ancient, really—even when I was a kid.
I drove to work wondering how just one day could make things seem a little sharper, a little weightier. Was it Hennessey who made it different? Or was it the act of facing evil for the first time in over a decade?
Life or death situations could bind you to a stranger, the way I mourned every day for the children my father killed. For the children I’d
him kill before I turned him in. We were in the same position, those kids and me. At the mercy of a psychopath. But they had died, and I had lived.
, the textbook would say. It wasn’t me who had caused that pain; it was misfortune, coincidence, the melody of a madman. I was a victim too, they said. I was the one who had suffered, not the one who caused suffering. Except I hadn’t ever suffered, not really. No one had ever hit me or continued to touch me when I said no.
Creepy men in white vans took one look at the jaded knowledge in my eyes and kept on driving. They knew there was no innocence left to corrupt—just a hollowed out space where my soul should have been.
I didn’t want those men to hurt me because I liked pain. I wanted them to hurt me because I knew I deserved it all along. I’d escaped it through a twist of fate. I’d let the hurt fall to other more hopeful children. And for that, I would always deserve to be punished.
Hennessey was leaning against his car when I pulled up. Morning light glinted off his smooth jaw. He seemed somehow younger than before. He looked bright and put together, as if yesterday’s stress and upheaval had meant nothing to him. Threatening a child molester with death was like fetching coffee for him. Implying he might let his rookie partner get raped was like filing a paper. Part of the job, easy peasy.
He nodded toward the passenger side. “Get in, rookie.”
“Where are we going?”
“To catch a bad guy. Where else?”
His voice was light, and I took that airiness into myself. I made it mine. Let this be a joke. At least then I could be in on it.
A coping mechanism,
the textbook would say. Life was one big coping mechanism, one more beat passing without desperation, another moment without fear. I wasn’t afraid of a joke.
We didn’t go back to the prison. Instead, we went to the permitting center and rode a creaky elevator to the fifth floor. A large dusty room contained architectural plans and permits for the entire city, in no sort of order that made sense to me. There were gaps, too, I learned. With a building changing from one survey to the next without any official construction permit being filed. The thin fading carbon copies chronicled the growth of a metropolis, only hinting at the people who lived within it.
And I found that looking for a building near the docks shaped like an M was fucking hard. We found a seemingly endless amount of possibilities, and we set each one aside so we could check into its current usage and ownership. And the worst part was knowing we could miss it in this haphazard pile. The proverbial M-shaped needle in the biggest haystack in Texas. For all the fancy gadgetry we oohed and ahhed over in the academy, actual detective work was a backward business. We peered into the past, hoping it would help. But history held onto its secrets like a forest at night, shrouded in moonlight and steeped in folklore. There was magic in these dusty volumes, but all we could see were shadows.
We walked over to a diner for lunch, where I ordered a salad and two eggs sunny side up. Hennessey ordered a burger loaded with cheese and bacon, fries, and a milkshake. I raised my eyebrows as the waitress left us.
Hennessey grinned, almost boyish. “Sorry, I don’t share. You’ll have to get your own if you get tired of rabbit food.”
I snorted. “My arteries will thank me later.”
“You’re not into living dangerously?”
“I’m an FBI agent working one of the highest profile cases south of the Mason Dixon. My danger quota is full.”
He nodded, turning pensive. “You’re probably right. Though sometimes…it gets to be too much, to live a normal life with a dangerous job. We build up all this steam, and we don’t have the release of money and drugs the way the criminals do.”
“Maybe you don’t,” I deadpanned, and he laughed. His smile changed his whole face, made him younger and so handsome that my heart squeezed. Synapses lit up in my brain, firing into places long asleep. Like waking up and finding the world more vivid than your dreams.
His smile faded. He looked me in the eye. “Truth is, I never planned to live very long. In this job, there’s always a bullet out there with my name on it.”
I looked down, tracing a groove in the laminate with my fingernail. Not a grown up response, but it was all I could manage in that moment. I had the sense of a ghost again, of Carlos Laguardia and a hundred other criminals, all gathered around us with sinister incorporeal faces.
Since I was in this job too, there was a bullet with
name on it. But that didn’t bother me. That was why I was here, if I were being honest. Some criminals sought their deaths using
suicide by cop.
Me? I’d been working at
suicide by criminal
my whole broken life.
But if Hennessey were killed…that would hurt. He was a larger-than-life hero in my mind, his death unthinkable to me.
I never planned to live very long.
His words chilled me.
Trying to break the somber mood, I quipped, “I hate to break it to you, but you’re no spring chicken. You’ve already lived a long time.”
It worked. He quirked a grin, and my insides lurched forward, speeding up again. It was like riding a high, teasing out those smiles of his, and if I wasn’t careful, I could become addicted.
His eyes twinkled. “So maybe you can start looking out for me, partner. Watch what I eat.”
“Maybe,” I said, missing the word
coming out of his mouth, realizing his voice had been laced with strange affection each time.
sounded respectful and cold falling from his lips.
“We’ll spend the rest of the day in the record room,” he said, switching subjects. “That should be enough to get us started. We can dig into the backgrounds tomorrow.”
“Okay.” A question hovered on my tongue. “Doesn’t it seem kind of…random? Hoping he’s telling us the truth and assuming we’ll find the right building and be able to tell that it is. There’s so many ways for it to go wrong.”
His eyes were grave as he nodded, and I appreciated that he took my question seriously. “It’s true, but crime is random. The nature of detective work is to always be one step behind. We have to wait until they commit a crime or make a mistake, and then we can follow them.”
One step behind. How accurate. How depressing. I stared at him, realizing how difficult that might be for a man with pride. With initiative. How much easier it’d be as a criminal, how freeing.
He continued, “And then one day, we catch up. We get some commendations, and we move on to the next case.”
“If crime is random, I take it you don’t believe in trying to understand the criminals, the way their mind works, why they do what they do.”
“Nah, I leave that to the doctors. And the lawyers. My job is to put them in handcuffs. That’s all I allow myself to care about, because as often as not, they end up back on the streets with a plea bargain or whatever the fuck.”
“You paint a bleak picture, Hennessey.”
“Just being honest, rookie.”
I warmed at the return of his endearment. That was what it had become now, an expression of kindness. He had grieved for the other rookie who had died. It meant something to him, to be young and new here. He wanted me to live, to succeed, and that elevated my junior status to a place of honor.
“Are we going to do what Fuentes said and interview Laguardia’s woman?” The word fell awkwardly from my lips, but I didn’t want to call her a
or a whore. I wasn’t really sure who she’d been to Laguardia except that she’d fucked him. There’d been a few pages about her in the files, but they’d been mostly blacked out, unreadable. Classified. Since she’d gotten away, I assumed she’d flipped on Laguardia. Except that didn’t explain why she was still alive. Carlos wouldn’t let a betrayal go unpunished…but he had, with her.
Hennessy shook his head. “That was years ago. She won’t have any information on this deal going down or his current whereabouts.”
. The blacked-out pages proved that.
“We can ask her general questions. Like what Laguardia looks like. She slept with him. She should at least know that much.”
A grainy black-and-white image flashed through my mind, of a man standing still in a crowd, looking up. He wore a large jacket—was it required to cover him or was it part of the disguise?
Hennessey looked bored. “Five-foot-ten. A hundred and eighty pounds. Black hair, strong build. Like a million other criminals.”
“She might know the way he works. His quirks. Whether he usually attends important shipments like this one and what role he might play.”
Hennessey gave me a faintly pitying look, and his voice, when he spoke, was gentler. “These kinds of guys don’t let their women participate in business. They don’t treat them as equals.”
Like we do,
was the subtext. But even there, it wasn’t true. Women didn’t advance at the same rate as men in the FBI. They weren’t, on average, paid as much. Even my position on this case was an unexplained thing with an ulterior motive lurking somewhere out of reach. Equality was a pipe dream on either side of the law, and it made me defensive.
“That’s exactly my point. They wouldn’t have believed her capable of anything, so they wouldn’t have guarded themselves around her. She could have overheard things. She could be a gold mine of information.”
I was breathing hard, somehow. Sweating, as if this had become a fight. Hennessey stared at me in the same way he had at Fuentes, like looking down at ants, like wondering at the strange behavior of lesser mortals. Suddenly this diner table was metal to match his eyes, the retro décor around us turned to concrete walls. The dim sound of voices evened out into the buzz of fluorescent lights, no other people here, no cameras, no witnesses.
He spoke in the same even voice he’d used in that room, low and seductive. “You want to know what information she has for us? Whether he liked to give it to her in the pussy or in the ass. How rough did his blowjobs get and does he pay extra if she bleeds.”
I stared at him, unblinking. I couldn’t believe he was talking to me like this, except I’d asked for it, hadn’t I? I’d pushed him, and now he was pushing back. His words felt like a threat, and I wore an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs, headed for certain death. Trapped.
“That’s how women get treated by men like Laguardia. That’s the part they gloss over in the academy textbooks.”
That’s why we’re going to stop them,
I willed him to say, desperate to redeem the man in front of me. We were on the same side, but in that moment, he felt like my enemy. In that moment, I saw my future. Even worse, I saw a glimmer of amusement in his eyes. The smug expression of an animal who’d spotted his prey—and knew he would catch her.
Then he sat back. The illusion lifted.
I heard the clatter of silverware clang in my ears, felt the lamp swing above our table, too bright. I took a breath and felt it spread through my lungs like acid. His expression had returned to its usual, half-sardonic, half-distracted. He looked endearingly rumpled and slightly apologetic.
God, I was crazy, imagining bad guys everywhere, all around.
“Sorry,” Hennessey said. “I’m going to have to pull rank on this one. If we were desperate for leads, maybe. What we really need is more time to go through all these records, to find where the deal is going down and start laying down surveillance.”
At least he seemed genuinely regretful, and it
a valid reason. The woman could be a wild goose chase, a waste of time like he thought. Then again, she might know the most important things of all. One thing Hennessey didn’t seem to realize was that it said a lot about a man whether he preferred to give it in the pussy or in the ass and how he liked his blowjobs. It exposed a man too, when he made a woman bleed.