“YOU SURE this is the place?”
Dex shifted his entry weapon to one side and stepped up behind his brother at the surveillance console while the rest of the team double-checked their equipment at the other end of the BearCat. Cael tapped away at the keyboard, bringing up a grid of the area, satellite mapping, and a host of surveillance feeds from local businesses he’d undoubtedly “borrowed.”
“College Point, Queens, near the Canada Dry bottling plant. That’s what our source tells us.”
“Reliable?” Dex asked, receiving a curt nod.
“Hasn’t let us down yet.”
Hopefully this wouldn’t be the first. The last thing they needed was to waste more time with another dead end. Four months of reconnaissance and intel gathering from Unit Alpha’s Intel and Recon agents, and Defense agents finally had something useful to go on regarding the whereabouts of The Order of Adrasteia, though they still didn’t know how big the group was or how spread out they were.
Despite being Human perpetrators, which should have fallen to the jurisdiction of the Human Police Force, the threat was against Therian citizens, not to mention the Order had declared war against the THIRDS by executing a THIRDS agent. The online video of Agent Morelli’s death had gone viral and ended up being broadcast on television two days before Christmas. Dex could still hear the bastard’s voice in his head as if he’d watched the whole thing yesterday, the spiteful words dripping with venom.
In order to cure our city of its disease, we must dispose of its carriers, starting with the organization that promotes the sickness. We will unleash Hell upon these sinners, starting with the THIRDS.
Seconds later, the THIRDS organization went to Threat Level Red. They had to stop the Order before they had any more loss of life and before any more zealots jumped on the crazy train. Since then, the already tremulous relationship between Human and Therian citizens was growing more unstable by the day, which was exactly what the Order wanted.
The THIRDS had recruited volunteers to patrol the city, removing the Order’s hateful propaganda, but it was a futile endeavor. With every poster spouting “Humans 4 Dominance” or sporting the Adrasteia goddess symbol the THIRDS took down, three or four took its place. So many flyers littered the streets, they resembled the aftermath of a ticker tape parade. Everywhere Dex looked, the Order was leaving its bloodred mark, promising hellfire and chaos, refusing to give in unless they got their way, or the city burned, whichever came first. The media wasn’t helping any either. Turning on the TV, one would think a presidential election was going on, what with all the ludicrous accusations and childish attempts to discredit the opposing side.
In the middle of it all were the THIRDS. Since the Order had surfaced, the organization had been accused of everything from sitting on the fence (too cowardly to pick a side), to being traitors to their species (depending on the agent being accused), to being the source of evil itself, to being the only thing keeping this city from crumbling. No matter what they did, someone accused them of something—not working hard enough or fast enough or not giving enough of a shit. It would have driven Dex out of his mind ages ago if he let it get to him, which was why he didn’t. Most importantly, he wouldn’t allow it to get to his team.
Sloane strode up to him, addressing Cael as he handed Dex his ballistic helmet. “What do we know about the area?” Dex snatched the helmet from his partner with a groan.
“I hate this thing.”
“When a bullet hits your helmet instead of your skull, Rookie, you’ll love it.”
Damn. Can’t argue with that.
Cael didn’t bother hiding his amusement as he answered Sloane’s question. “Mostly industrial estates and construction firms. Fifteenth Avenue ends at the East River, though there’s a small dirt drive that heads into the sign and window factory’s parking lot—if you can call it that.” His expression sobered, his Therian pupils dilating in his silvery eyes. “But the immediate area surrounding it is residential, with Popps a couple of blocks away.”
“What’s Popps?” Dex asked. He wasn’t all that familiar with the area, and after months of running around the city, the neighborhoods were all starting to blend together.
“The Poppenhusen Institute. It’s a community center offering programs for kids and families.”
Ash joined them with his usual cheerful growl. “Great. Bastards know what they’re doing. The industrial sites offer plenty of cover, but the residential area makes it difficult to go in aggressive. Last thing we need is a stray bullet catching some poor kid.”
Sloane nodded his agreement before motioning to the console’s large flat screen. “Do we have an exact location?”
“Here.” Cael pointed to a small area near the edge of the river at the end of Fifteenth Avenue. The property consisted of two small buildings on a small expanse of dirt with a chain link fence going around the front and the East River around the back. “It’s listed as IGD Construction Supply Services, but it’s a front. At least now it is. I conducted a search for businesses and individuals who’ve had contracts with them and turned up plenty of hits, but they were all jobs completed over a year ago, with nothing in the works since. I called from one of our secure lines back at Recon, pretending to be a client and the ‘secretary’ said the company was in the middle of a restructure and not taking on any new projects.”
“A piss-poor security network, consumer-grade crap. There’s a camera on the north side, another on the south, and one on this house here, which acts as the office. I can have the feed looped faster than Dex can sing the chorus to Alice Cooper’s Poison.”
Dex opened his mouth, and Sloane clamped a gloved hand over it. “No. Cael, don’t encourage him. Ash, entry.”
“I don’t like this.” Ash studied the screen, his beefy arms folded over his tac vest. “We’re talking confined quarters. If they’re in there, they’ve got to be prepared. The second structure is our primary target and where they’ll most likely be. It has no windows, two small entrances on the side, and three vehicle entrances at the front. The good news, it’s aluminum, so it’ll be easy to blow that shit sky high.” Ash’s frown deepened.
“Either way, 110th Street is out of the question. They’ll see us coming. I say we have three teams. Team one comes up Fifteenth Avenue, past the bottling plant, to there,” he said, pointing to a medium-sized, tan brick house on the screen. “They can use that entryway. The wooden fence and the house will cover them. They go around the back, cut through the chain link fence, and end up in the back of IGD’s yard. They can sneak up on them from behind, take out whoever’s in this office, and then come in strong from the front, especially since the windows have burglar bars so our perps won’t be able to get out that way. Anyone comes at the team, they can throw the bastards in the river, but that’s just my opinion.
“Team two takes the same route, comes up behind the primary target, breaches the perimeter using this door here, giving you room to maneuver should the bastards come through the second and third entrance, or the side doors. And speaking of, if they do, we’ll have the third team ready across the street having approached through the back of the sign and window factory. There’s enough construction equipment and debris to conceal them.”
With a curt nod, Sloane gave Ash a firm pat on the shoulder. “Good work. You heard him, team. Cael, you’re our eyes. Keep us informed of all activity.”
“Copy that.” Cael turned back to the console while Sloane addressed the rest of the team.
“Letty, Rosa, you’re team one. You take the office. Calvin, Hobbs, you’re team two. Go around the back of the primary target, take out the door, and smoke ’em out.”
Calvin gave him a curt no
“Ash, Dex, you’re with me. We’re coming in behind the sign and window factory.” Sloane tapped his earpiece. “Agent Stone, Agent Taylor, this is Agent Brodie.”
The Team Leaders’ gruff voices came in over their earpieces. “Agent Stone, here. What are your orders, Agent Brodie?”
“Agent Taylor, here. Ditto.”
Sloane rolled his eyes. “Agent Stone, I want you and your team situated at the corner of 110th Street and Fourteenth Road. Make sure no one comes in or out. Have Beta Pride on standby and keep an eye out for civilians.”
“Agent Taylor, you and your team take the corner of 112th Street and Fifteenth Avenue. You know the drill. Have Beta Ambush on standby and keep an eye out for civilians. Try not to scare any kids today.”
There was a deep rumble of laughter from the other end. “And take away Keeler’s fun? Perish the thought.”
“Kiss my ass, Taylor.”
“You just come on over here and bend over, Keeler. We’ll have ourselves a gay ole time. Taylor out.”
“Pussy,” Ash muttered.
“That’s kind of the opposite of why I’d kiss your ass,” Agent Taylor said with a laugh.
Ash opened his mouth for a rebuttal—undoubtedly one laced with enough obscenity to make their ears bleed, but Sloane was too quick, tapping Ash’s earpiece and jutting a finger at him. “You and Taylor can have your battle of wits some other time.” Ignoring Ash’s glare, Sloane turned his attention back to the team.
“All right, watch your backs, and let’s show those sons of bitches what happens when they mess with our city. Letty, Rosa, give us a five-second lead.”
“You got it.” Rosa put on her ballistic helmet and lowered the visor; the rest of the team followed suit. Sloane’s voice came in loud and clear.
“Let’s move out.”
Destructive Delta’s BearCat was parked at the corner of 112th Street and Fifteenth Avenue, and they gave a small wave to Beta Ambush’s truck as it pulled up to the sidewalk a few feet away from them. Everyone scrambled out, heading toward their respective starting points.
Dex fell into formation behind Sloane with Ash at his back, their rifles in their hands as they quickly jogged down the sidewalk and turned onto Fourteenth Road. They could see Beta Pride’s BearCat parked near the corner, and they headed toward it, alert to everything around them as they passed all the two-story houses with their white picket fences. The sky was blue with some wispy clouds hovering over them, the weather in the mid-60s, and the neighborhood quiet at this time of day. No one would ever suspect anything was wrong, unless they looked out their windows and spotted the three heavily armed THIRDS agents dashing by.
Before they got to the truck, Sloane signaled for them to cross the road, where they stopped at the corner of 110th Street. Although they were a block away from IGD, Sloane wasn’t taking any chances of their getting spotted. They turned the corner, and following his silent signal, they dashed behind the parked cars and waited. As soon as they received the okay, they darted across the street, down the side of one of the businesses, and around the back to its parking lot.
A man in a gray suit carrying a portfolio and armful of papers froze on the spot, eyes going wide. Dex motioned for him to go inside, but it took three tries before the guy snapped himself out of it. He made like the wind back toward the building’s exit, nearly running into the glass door in his attempt to flee. Sloane motioned forward, and Dex readied himself, inhaling deeply and releasing it. Eight months on the team and at times he still couldn’t believe he was a Defense agent for the THIRDS. His agency dog tags pressed against his skin under his uniform reminded him he was no longer a homicide detective, but a soldier. He’d been awarded his tags six months in, after passing his probation with flying colors.
Despite his initial reluctance to join the THIRDS after HPF bureaucrats had all but forced him into it, Dex had never felt more content than the moment his lieutenant placed those tags around his neck, with his dad and brother looking on nearly busting at the seams with pride. Those tags were a reminder of his new life, and everyone who now depended on him. Destructive Delta had taken him in, even if it had been a shaky start, but one thing he knew for certain, he had no intention of letting them down.
They reached the wooden fence separating them from the back of the sign and window building. Sloane stepped aside and gave Dex a nod. Rookie gets to breach. Let the fun begin. Dex turned, giving Sloane access to his backpack and the Hooligan kit inside. Seconds later, Sloane handed him a small crowbar, and Dex jammed the end between two of the wooden boards before giving the iron bar a fierce jerk. The wood creaked and splintered. He grabbed the looser board with a gloved hand and tore it off. Once the second board was off, it was easier to remove a third. He turned to give the crowbar to Sloane only to be met with a set of scowls.
Ash motioned to the fence. “Your skinny Human ass might fit through there, Daley, but we’ll be lucky if we can get a shoulder in.”
Seriously? Dex turned back to the fence, grumbling under his breath as he stabbed the crowbar between two planks. It wasn’t his fault his Therian teammates were built like brick shithouses. He was lucky he didn’t end up having to remove half the fence. Not only was he still getting used to being on a tactical team, but on a Therian one. Being inconspicuous while armed to the gills took skill. Being inconspicuous while standing at nearly seven feet, weighing almost three hundred pounds, and armed to the gills took some kind of voodoo magic. He was still trying to figure out what manner of sorcery Hobbs had used to disappear behind a Scion iQ during their last assignment.
“Move your ass, Rookie,” Ash growled.
“You’d like that wouldn’t you?” Dex replied with a groan, tearing off one particularly stubborn board. “You really need to stop eyeballing it, man, or I’m gonna start getting ideas.” He chuckled when Ash cursed him out under his breath. With the task complete, Dex handed the crowbar to Sloane, who quickly returned it to its place in Dex’s backpack. He gave Dex a pat on the arm to signal he was done, and Dex stepped aside, falling into formation once again. He paused, arching an eyebrow at Ash.
“I’m not going to look at your ass, Daley. Not if you were the last fuckable thing on this planet.”
Dex grinned widely. “So you’re saying I’m fuckable?” God, he loved winding the guy up. It was so damn easy.
Ash gave him a shove through the fence. “I’m saying if you don’t shut your trap, the next time I look at your ass will be while I’m taking aim to shoot it.”
“The next time?” Dex laughed. “Oh shit. Keeler’s been looking at my ass.”
“Sloane,” Ash grunted.
Sloane shook his head as they used the heavy machinery around the sign company’s yard to conceal them. “Dex.”
It wasn’t quite a warning, more a friendly reminder to shut his pie hole. Regardless, Dex looked over his shoulder at Ash who was grinning smugly. Dex mouthed the word, “narc,” causing Ash’s grin to fall away to a glower. That was more like it.
They scurried along the side of the building, their sights on the target across the street. A small bulldozer was parked a few feet away from the building’s back entrance, and they crouched down beside it in the dirt and patches of dry weeds. He heard Sloane’s quiet words come through his earpiece.
“Letty, Rosa, what’s your twenty?”
“We’re coming up behind the office now.”
“Copy that. Calvin?”
“We’re about to fix the det cord to the door. Do you want us to—”
Calvin was cut short when a shot popped through the air.
“Calvin?” Sloane edged toward the front of the bulldozer. They could hear low groans coming through their earpieces, and Dex’s heart was in his throat. Sloane’s curses continued as he tried to get an answer from their teammate. “Goddammit, Calvin, talk to me. Wh
“Shooter,” Calvin wheezed, his breath ragged as he tried to talk. “I’m okay. Got hit in the vest. Fuck, shit hurts. We’re under fire.” Just as he said the words more shooting erupted. It was coming from somewhere close by.
Sloane peeked around the bulldozer looking to pinpoint the location of their shooters. “I’ve got a visual. There’s a charter bus just ahead. All the windows are smashed to shit. It’s been stripped. I make two shooters inside.”
“Looks like someone wasn’t happy with their service,” Ash muttered.
“Cael, is the area clear?” Sloane asked.
“Aside from our shooters, affirmative. No civilians.”
“Agent Stone, Agent Taylor?”
“This is Agent Stone. Area’s secure.”
“Agent Taylor here. Area’s secure.”
“Copy that. Destructive Delta, we’re going in aggressive. Go, go, go!” Sloane darted out from behind the bulldozer with Dex and Ash on his heels to a chorus of gunfire, bangs, and shouting across three locations. They sprinted to the stripped black-and-gold charter bus, and Sloane pitched a couple of smoke bombs through one of the smashed windows before they breached the bus through the open driver’s side.