Straight to Hell
"Andy," I say, trying to stifle a yawn and cursing my lack of sleep. It was supposed to be a relatively quiet night, well, alright, not so much quiet but it was really only supposed to be Nikki and me at her place after we came home from the bar. Instead I spent the whole of the wee hours before dawn in an interrogation room ringing a confession from the two wannabe-professionals that took out Darrell. Which really wasn't all that hard. I've had to crack tougher fourteen year olds.
The good part is that Nikki and mine's part in this is pretty much done. We did promise Ron that we were going to finish it and finishing means waiting out the rest of the day to quietly escort Andy out and into custody then a nice S.W.A.T. team raid on three of the largest distributors in my city.
This is one of the last things I want to do. I want to find out where that money went and my gut tells me that the only person that can explain that is Andy, Darrell's assistant. Now if he would just frickin' talk to me I could figure out the rest of this stupid puzzle.
"Nora, really, I don't know," he pleads, but his eyes shift down. Bullshit.
He's sitting in my chair looking at my computer screen. I need him to open up and well, I just need to treat this like an interrogation. The setting's a bit off, but I think I can manage. Gently, I place my hands on his shoulders as I stand behind him. "Andy, I've got to tell you, I've been over these accounts a dozen times. Those numbers aren't adding."
Applying just the tiniest bit of pressure on his shoulders, I lean in and whisper in his ear, finally revealing myself not as a cop, but as a hired contractor for Dominguez, Little and Hunter, "Ya know, Andy, I'd hate to have to turn these numbers over to our employers, Chocolate hates when people mess with his money." His already taught muscles pull tighter as I speak and he freezes in the chair. "I know you didn't help Darrell, but since he's gone and you're left, you're it."
Removing my hands, I take the back of the chair and spin him around. "Andy, help me, help you." I search his eyes and see nothing but fear. I soften my voice, and whisper, "I've worked with guys like them all my life Andy. I can get you out of this."
He licks his lips, shifting in his seat. "I…I haven't done anything."
I shake my head. "But you can tell me what happened. If I can explain what happened, Chocolate and the others will let you go." I brush a stray lock of his shaggy hair away and nod. "You can do that right? Figure it out before the day's over?"
His bright grey eyes blink and then his head nods just a fraction of an inch. Taking it as the 'go' signal, I breathe a sigh of relief and right myself. Letting a hand rest on his shoulder, I say, "Good. We've only got a few hours. I'm gonna leave you to it."
I don't bother waiting on him to say anything as I grab my phone off my desk and head out to the lobby to call Nikki. She picks up on the second ring, "Hey there gorgeous," she nearly moans.
Unthinking I look around wondering if anyone overheard and then I want to smack myself in the forehead. Of course no one overheard. "Is anyone around?" I grumble.
"Cameron, me, Chocolate and Ron. We're just waitin' on a few more of the boys to show up, darlin'. How are things on your end?" she answers her voice a little too sugary for my liking.
"Nik, what's wrong? If something's wrong tell me we can't go dancing tonight," I manage to get out even past the boulder size lump in my throat.
"I think," she answers, "that sounds divine. Maybe I'll invite Cameron and Chocolate along."
My nose crinkles and I pull the phone back trying to convey the look I'm giving her over a cell line. I know it won't work and the absurdity of it is just this side of crazy, but she's confusing the hell out of me.
"Nora," I hear her call my name.
I put the phone back to my ear and say, "I'm here, Nikki. I'm just trying to figure out if our late night activities have deprived you of the little bit of sanity you had left."
"Nuthin' of the sort. There have been some interesting developments on my end that we should discuss once you get off of work."
My brow furrows as I start chewing on my lower lip. Glancing up, I notice Andy come out of my office carrying something. The color of the something registers and I hiss, "Nikki, we've just talked ourselves out of dancing tonight. Andy just became a four-seventeen. I need back up." I walk up to an island that holds deposit and withdraw slips, leave my phone open and on then approach Andy.
His eyes are wide, nervous. Briefly I flash back to the face of a baby squirrel I brought home when I was in second grade. The thing had fallen out of a tree and broke its leg. Andy looks like that. Scared shitless and about ready to do something completely stupid.
With my hands raised, I shuffle to him as the gun goes up. It takes a moment but as soon as the first woman screams, others, men and women alike, shout causing all hell breaks loose.
"SHUT UP!" he screams and lets off two rounds in the ceiling.
Ducking, I pull the two people closest to me down to the floor and duck walk over to him. The silence is always disturbing after a gunshot, this time it's no different. The sobs and whimpers are muffled by the stillness. I am thankful that no one was hit. The two rounds caused plaster and paint to rain down around the kid's feet.
"Andy!" I shout, rising from my crouch "Kiddo, put the gun down."
He spins in my direction and then time stands still. I watch as his index finger slowly, gently depresses the trigger on the gun in his hands. It booms and I hear the echo before I feel the burn.
"Nora! Nora, godamnnit talk to me!" I plead into my cell phone where all I can hear is chaos and shouts. I jerk back as two gunshots sound and then dead silence. My eyes dart between the three people in the booth with me. Not bothering to give them answers, I shove Ron out of the booth and scramble out. I'm running for the exit when I hear Nora's voice, faint but there. Alive.
"Ron," I cover up the phone, "You have two minutes to get me to that bank." I shoot a look at the following Cameron and Chocolate and say, "Call Dan Harney at S.C.U." I hiss at them, "Tell them there's a hostage situation at Nora's bank."
All three sets of eyes grow large and everything stands still for a fraction of a second. Then they jump into action. Cameron and Eric stuff themselves into the back seat of the Cadi while Ron hits the driver's side. I jump in and before I have the door closed he peels out of the back alley.
Another shot rings out and my jaw clenches. Godamnnit. Nora, I swear, if anything happens to you I'm gonna kick your ass. I suck in a breath as I hear, "Andy," Nora's voice sounds pained, "That wasn't smart."
"Oh, shit," the scared male voice echoes, "Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. This is all going to shit. I didn't mean for any of this to happen."
"Didn't mean for what to happen, Andy?" Nora asks.
"You, bleeding. Darrell. Shit poor fucking Darrell. He wasn't supposed to die. He didn't even know!" Andy answers.
He shot her. The little fuck shot her. My jaw clenches and I do the only thing I can. Listen.
"Know what, Andy?" Nora starts in. Keep him talking sugga. Keep him focused on answering questions not shooting at things.
"He…he…he didn't. I was skimming the take. It wasn't supposed to be that much. Not even a full percent of what we took in." Andy moans and then all I can hear are the sniffles and whimpers from scared bank customers.
My free hand slams against the roof as I use it to stabilize my body around a corner. I look over at the speedometer and urge Ron a little faster.
"It was you wasn't it? You were the one that was taking the money and why Darrell was killed. They thought it was him," Nora says putting the puzzle pieces together. "They came after him and really it should have been you all along."
"Yes, okay!" Andy shouts. "The program wasn't supposed to take that much! I was supposed to be gone a week ago, but the…"
"But, what, Andy?" Nora's voice is getting a fainter. I don't know if she's moving away from where the phone is or if she's getting weaker.
"I, the I.D. I needed wasn't done. I'm sorry," I hear him groan.
"Andy," though faint, Nora's voice has evened out, "we can get out of this, but I need you to put the gun down." There's a pause and then she says, "No, Andy, stop. Look we can work this out. You can't do this, this way."
A set of squad cars are already lined up outside the bank. As our car slides and slows down, I jump out and run towards Dan, surprised he's there so quickly. I didn't even hear Hunter or Chocolate talking. He looks at me and I point to my phone. His eyes go wide at the meaning and I nod.
"Andy, listen to me! Look at me, kiddo," I hear Nora plead. "Put the gun down and let these people walk out of here."
I hear a groan, it's anguished and then, "Andy! Andy! No!" Everyone outside of the bank flinches at the single gunshot that goes off from behind the doors.
Bile rises in the back of my throat as I wait to hear something. Anything. I swear the seconds that it probably took feel like hours, until I hear the scrape of the phone and then, "Nikki?"
"Nora?" The sound of her voice causes the weight that settled on my chest to go away. "Nora, talk to me."
I hear her hiss and then say, "Tell'em not to shoot please. I'm gonna get everyone outta here two by two."
"Hold your fire!" I shout and jog up to the doors, ignoring protocol I reach them as the first few bank patrons come tumbling out into the daylight. I push past them and into the lobby, frantically searching for my partner.
I spot the top of her head towards the first teller window and rush over. I wasn't prepared for the sight. She sits there; Andy's mangled head in her lap. Her left shoulder is soaked in blood and I can't tell if it's hers or his. She blinks and looks at me shaking her head. "I tried to get him to stop."
Dropping to my knees next to her, I smooth some of the blood spattered hair away from her face. I'm not sure what to say so I just start looking her over. My eyes zero in on her shoulder. Gingerly, I tug at the torn seared fabric. Blood seeps from the wound and I say, "We need to get you outta here sugga."
She nods and hisses as I try to apply a little pressure. "Stupid kid. I'm just lucky he was such a sucky shot."
I look at her and she sends me a small half hearted attempt at a grin. "It's a scratch, Nikki. Trust me. It hurts like a mother, but it's only a scratch."
"Nikki! Nora!" I hear Cameron call from the doorway of the bank.
"Over here!" I shout back.
Nora's eyes go wide and I smile at her. A shadow falls over us and I know it's her.
"You two are always so cute together," she jokes and I look back. Her eyebrow rises and she says, "Nikki, you better kiss her with a quickness, they'll be coming soon."
I snort and Nora's eyes bulge. Ignoring her sudden frown, I press our lips together before I hear the rapid footfalls of the other cops. "Nora!" Dan shouts.
"Yeah," she hollers back as I rock back on my heels and stand, trying to help her up. I take the injured shoulder and Cameron takes her right side.
"Christ, Delaney." He looks his ex-partner over and shakes his head. "Why do you always gotta try and give me a damn heart attack."
"It's fun." She sticks her tongue out at him and then looks at Cameron. "And would someone tell me what in the fuck she is doing here?"
Cameron looks at me and I shrug as she answers, "I'm here because we were all together when this happened. Also, you should be nicer to me."
Nora shoots her a look and I bite my lip as we hit the street and a medic reaches us.
It's then that Nora sees the shield suspended from the woman's neck.
"You?" Nora asks.
"Yeah, me. Real name is Trish Hunter, I'm with the D.E.A." Cameron/Trish winks at us as Eric comes running over.
"You too?" Nora spits as a medic sits her down on the back of an ambulance and begins cutting away the shirt around her shoulder.
Eric nods and grins. Nora hisses in pain as I take her hand.
I watch as the medic cleans and begins to uncover the wound in her shoulder.
I swallow as Trish shoots me a look and nods. "Come on, big guy. Let's go talk to Ron and see if we can help the locals clean this up."
Eric lets her lead him away and I hang on to my partner, finally allowing my heart rate to drop below a hundred and ninety.
"The hell I'm not," I seethe looking between Nikki and Dan.
"Nora, you were shot today. You can't," Dan says blandly. "Flesh wound or not. Stitches or not. I'm not having one of my best detectives out there not at a hundred percent."
"Look," I say, making a show of rotating the shoulder that has the seven stitches in it. It hurts like a sonuvabitch, but they don't need to know that. "It's fine. I'm fine."
"Nora," Nikki starts, "he's right. We can handle this."
"Actually," Trish pipes up from behind my partner, "the call isn't yours to make lieutenant. As lead on this case, it's mine and Nora, you're out."
"What?" I shoot her a glare and she ignores me.
"Listen to your boss and your partner. Take point on the raid. Be our ears, but there's no way I'm letting you go in right after the events of today." The D.E.A. agent puts her hands on her hips and dares me to challenge her. What I really wanna do is take the assault rifle she was loading and shove it up her ass.
"She's right, Nora. Look I'll take care of your partner; you sit back and guide us when we need it." Eric shoots me a large white grin and I roll my eyes.
One last time I look between three sets of determined eyes and then to Nikki. She looks tired and I would be more than willing to follow the doctor's orders and go home if she were coming with me. But they must think I'm completely retarded if they think for one second I'm going to leave my partner to go in with a team of federal agents and a handful of good ole boys from Vice into a warehouse with some of the worst dealers and distributors NOLA has to offer.
I shake my head at her and say, "No. I've got a few stitches. Let me at least stay behind a few guys and take down at least one. I can do that."
Trish's eyes soften for a bit and I notice the looks that pass between her and Eric then her and Nikki. "Fine."
Heaving a sigh of relief I resume strapping my vest down and reach for my badge hanging off the chain in my locker. I slip my clip free and check to make sure a full magazine is available, before jacketing the round, saftying the firearm and slipping it in its holster. "Now that we have that settled. Let's go," I grunt and shoulder past Dan.
We hit the back of the van and Ron's there waiting on us. He looks me over and then cracks a grin. "Nikki, this new partner of yours got a set on her." He cracks his gum and scurries into the back of the van as the rest of us follow.
"She's got a hard head that's going to land her in some hot water is what she has," Nikki glowers at me and I make a point to ignore her.
I don't need this right now. I'm hurting and pissed off. If it wasn't bad enough that I get shot, I got to watch a twenty-two year old kid blow his brains out in the middle of a bank. Truthfully I want to shoot someone right now. It might make me feel better. Instead I get to find out that Eric and Trish are federal agents and they've been tracking a specific Columbian dealer for nearly two years.
"Okay," Eric's voice cuts through my focus on my throbbing, "We have a set of three teams. We're the first in and through the front. There are two other exits at the warehouse. The back one will be taken by a team of eight D.E.A. and then the water exit which we have the N.O.P.D. covering." He points to a blueprint of the building that's taped to the back wall of the van. "We go in fast and quiet through the front. We drop anyone that's standing guard then hit the main floor that's set towards the back of the building."
"Questions?" Trish asks.
"Yeah, how exactly are you two going to maintain your cover here?" Nikki asks.
Trish tosses a helmet that was sitting behind her at my partner. Nikki catches it and looks at the face shields. Tinted and mirrored, no one should be able to see who's behind the mask.
"Alright, but what are you two gonna do after this?" I ask.
"The guy we're after, Fredrico Castillo, will be annoyed enough that he'll plan a trip to Miami and then that's when we'll grab him."
"Why such a hard on for this guy?" Ron asks.
Trish looks to Ron then back at Eric. Both of their faces tell me everything I need to know. "He took away a member of our team. The bastard owes me twenty grand and my husband back," Trish spits out as Eric's large hand rests on her shoulder.
The van comes to a stop and we pile out, finishing off the rest of our gear, making sure jackets and badges are on display. The vest I'm wearing pinches the stitches in my shoulder but I shrug it off as Nikki hands me the assault rifle. I sling it over my shoulder and take the offered helmet. I secure my hair and snap the chin strap across my jaw. "Well then, let's finish this up so you can go collect."
Trish looks at me and nods.
We go in line, fast and quiet, two guards at the front get taken out almost immediately. Tranq darts embedded in their necks as they drop to the concrete. Communication between the five of us is hand gestures, none of us able to see each other's eyes. I keep Nikki's back in my line of site constantly as I bring up the rear.
I can't tell if it's the adrenaline or the fear that's made the knot in my stomach. All I know is that I couldn't let her go in here alone. As we turn the corner to the main floor of the warehouse, we bottleneck in the hall, then spill out onto the main floor. Fanning out, shouting for those gathered around the table to keep their hands raised.
The back doors bursts open and the D.E.A. agents sweep in. They begin cuffing the six people around the table as we keep a close eye on the rest of the surroundings. It's swift, quiet and not like the shoot outs you see on T.V. when these things take place. The raid was text book and efficient. Both things I'm grateful for. Dominguez, Madrid, Terry, Little, T-Rock and one of his goons are frog marched past us in cuffs. Six pieces of shit taken off the street, a double homicide solved and less drugs in my city, all good things in my book.
As we empty out of the building, we see the transport van housing the arrestees shut the back doors then take off to central booking. Finally, my heart beat returns to a normal level and I shrug off the helmet and jacket, handing Eric my vest, rifle and jacket.
We shake hands with the other agents and then just as soon as it started, it ends and we're on our way back to the station. No worse for the wear with a better city to show for it.
"Nora," Nikki hisses in my ear.
I look over at her and see her eyes directed not at my face but tank top and wounded shoulder. Glancing down, I see the bright red stain seeping through the layers of gauze. Fuck.
She reaches out and lifts the bandage. She glares at me and clips, "You popped a stitch or two."
I wince. "Worth it," I grunt as she smacks my shoulder. Fuck that hurt.
I grunt again and don't put voice to what I really wanna say. A few popped stitches are worth my piece of mind. Better a few stitches than not being able to make sure she's safe.
Getting ready to hand Nora back her shirt, I think twice and turn to lock the door to her examination room. After we finished up at processing everyone decided to make Nora go back to the hospital and get re-stitched. As I turn to her, I catch her eyes skirting back up to my face and I smirk. I swear my girl's got a one track mind that is unrivaled.
I set her shirt down beside her and fit myself between her legs, resting our foreheads together. I take a moment, center myself and allow us to just be. This is the first moment we've had alone since the bar last night. I finally feel her move as her lips press against mine. I pull back and nuzzle her neck, close to where her stitches are, placing soft kisses around the wound.
"Nor," I whisper into her neck, "This could have…"
"Shhhh," she coos and pulls me back, placing an index finger against my lips. "It didn't and that's what we have to worry about." Her eyes are bright and earnest.
I nod and accept her words. It's not the time. I help her into her shirt and then finger the sling the nurse left on the bed. "Don't even think it, babe," Nora warns.
I shoot her a look and say, "You aren't gonna argue about this." She huffs and I finish, "And you won't be arguing with me about this," I say holding up the sling.
Her lips purse and she pouts, but she does let me help her put her arm into the sling. We finish getting her put together and step out into the hall where Ron, Trish and Eric are waiting. Their faces break into smiles.
"Well, now that that bit of excitement is over, why don't we cut out of here, shelve the paperwork for tomorrow and get some drinks," Trish says. "Courtesy of the D.E.A., of course."
"Ya know, Trish, I would love to, but the doctor said Nora should get home and rest. I want to actually make sure she rests," I say cutting a glance to my partner. My look brooks no argument from her; I make a mental note to give her a cookie or some such treat when we get back to her place.
"Well, we can't be arguing with doctor's orders none," Eric says and gathers me and Nora up in his arms, taking care to watch her shoulder. "You ladies take care."
Trish watches on amused as he releases us and she shakes her head. "Eric, you are the biggest fucking teddy bear on the damn planet." Her hands go to her hips and she looks us over again, similar to when we first met. "Look, you two take care of each other and if you ever wanna come over to the dark side of law enforcement, look me up." She winks, smiles and then shoves Eric down the hall.
Ron's left and he's rubbing the back of his neck looking between the two of us. "Look, Nik, about…"
I cut him off, "Don't, alright. We're good. We also need have a drink one day soon."
He nods and looks over at Nora. "You take care of my partner. She's a keeper, Detective, but somethin' tells me you already know that." He lays a hand on Nora's shoulder and offers her his best smile. "Keep it that way will ya?"
Nora says nothing, but she does offer his hand a squeeze.
"We'll catch up when your lady friend hasn't been shot, Nicolette." He winks at me and I grin as I watch him saunter down the hall.
"Nicolette?" Nora's asks.
I sigh and nod. "That is my name, sugga." I turn to her and guide her in the opposite direction to where Darius said he's waiting with a car for us.
"Is that your full name?" she asks me as we hit the street.
"I'm not sayin' another word." I spot Darius next to a Jeep and smile.
"Nik, you ever tell me to come get you at a hospital and not tell me why again, I'm tellin' maw maw on you." He grins and opens up the back passenger door for Nora and me to get in to. "And another thing," he says slipping into the driver's seat, "This drivin' two white chicks around…neither of you look like a Daisy and I sure as hell ain't no Hoke."
"We won't make a habit of it Darius. Thank you," Nora mumbles as graciously as possible.
"Good. So what happened?" he asks catching my gaze in the rear view mirror.
"Nora got shot trying to talk Andy Dowling outta holding the bank hostage," I say grabbing her hand and lacing our fingers together.
His eyebrow rises and he looks in Nora's direction. "You okay?"
Nora's head lifts up and she shrugs with her good shoulder. "I'll live."
"Uh," Darius grunts.
"The important part," Nora says making sure I'm paying attention, "Is that everyone, Nikki really, got out of this assignment whole and unharmed."
Tears prick my eyes and I blink trying to clear them.
"Well, that is a bit of good news." He smiles at me and I close my eyes. We really haven't finished that conversation from the park. Neither of us really wanting to talk about it. Tonight really ain't the night. There's a lot I need to sort through, but what I really want is to get Nora home, a nice hot bath and then a solid eight hours of sleep. The last time I saw a bed was three nights ago.
Darius pulls up to Nora's apartment building, I slide out and jog to the other side. As she grabs my hand and begins to slide from her seat, I hear Darius, "Nora, give me the keys to your car and I'll have it delivered here by tomorrow morning."
She shoots him a look and I say, "He'll treat her right, Nor. Come on, hand them over."
Begrudgingly, she fishes the keys from her jacket pocket and hands them over to Darius. He drops them in the middle console and grins. "By the way Detective, your girl's name is Nicolette Joyelle." He winks at her and I cringe. Damn him.
"You'll need it if you intend on stickin' around," he says, turning around as I slam the door when she reaches the sidewalk.
He offers me a wave then peels away from the curb. Bastard.
Now how am I gonna stay mad at him after that?
"Nicolette Joyelle, eh?" my lover asks.
I turn to her and give her a once over. The arm in the sling and bags under her eyes do nothing to dampen the butterflies in my belly. She's a sight at any time of day and in any condition.
"Yeah, that happens to be my full name. If you would please do this southern belle a good turn and not let that out, I'd be appreciative." I snag her good hand and lead her up the steps and into her apartment.
The apartment door clicks shut and she spins me around planting a searing kiss on my lips. I linger there in a state of bliss until she breaks away and husks, "I promise to only use my powers for good babe. I took an oath after all."
Her grin says everything as I drag her back to her room and into the shower. Tonight I'll just be thankful that she's safe and no worse off than a few stitches.
Tomorrow's gonna be a different story.