“Have you talked to Max today?” I blinked dumbly at Alex. His thick brows nearly became one as he snapped his fingers milimeters from my face. “Dude, you gotta snap back to reality. Where’s your head at?”
I drew my lips into a smile, at least I hoped it was a smile. “Sorry, man. I’m here.”
“Better be.” His grin had always been infectious and it was no less so today. I felt my smile diminish in size but become guinuine as he started barking out orders. “We got a big day ahead of us, dude.” He slapped me on the back and shut the rear hatch on the unmarked SUV. Snatching the car keys from my loose grip, he said, “But I’ll be driving just in case. I want in on this bust since we’re the ones that located the son-of-a-bitch and with your state of mind we’d probably end up a couple counties over.”
I grunted, annoyed. He did have a point and we would only be wasting time if I tried to argue with him. My mind was stuck on Christmas Eve and my ex. I needed to unstick it for the moment and focus on a hitman come serial killer, or was it serial killer come hitman, who’d escaped last week after he killed one of his escorts and critically injured the other. They weren’t sure if the survivor would ever walk again. Even a shifter couldn’t just walk away from Robert Murrell unscathed. That was what made Murrell so scary.
We pulled into Cloverfield trailer park. Nothing to do with the movie and everything to do with the shape the drives were designed after. Murrell’s cousin, Avery Lange, owned and managed the property. He’d called yesterday, indicating that Murrell planned on staying for a few days at least. Murrell was bunking in an empty trailer in the middle of the southern loop, the roads and buildings arranged like a four leaf clover. Our vehicle was near the back of the procession of police vehicles and we’d just passed the main office at the center of the large roundabout that connected each clover leaf when I motioned Alex to go around the loop instead.
There it was. The sign out front said ‘open’. While the hours of operation posted said ‘9-5 Mon, Wed, Fri’, we’d told Avery to continue until lunch as usual, shut down and go out to eat, and not come back until either Alex or I notified him. A slat on one of the blinds slipped down in alignment with the others. Someone was definitely there and I had a sick feeling as I tried to recall seeing anyone close up the office as we drove by. God, I hoped I was wrong.
I glanced in the direction the other cars had gone. If I was wrong they’d need the manpower, but if I was right, there might not be enough time to wait for them to return. I opened my mouth to tell Alex to pull over but he was already doing so. I casually readied my weapons as Alex and I strolled up to the front door as if nothing was wrong.
Alex knocked and called, “Hey, Avery, we need to talk to you, you got a minute?” He seemed so relaxed. That’s why he was the one speaking and I was watching the perimeter, not facing the door. I was too tense and anyone watching would be able to read it in my face. They could read it in my stance too, but it was less likely without facial qeues.
He knocked again. “It’ll just take a minute, I promise.”
A hissing sound came from the other side of the door and a white smoke started to poor from the cracks. Someone screamed. I pulled out my baton to smash the tinted glass of the front door and was immediately knocked on my ass, Alex standing over me. Alex grabbed the back of my vest and was yanking on it to get me up and away from the door. I got up but I turned back to try to help Avery, or whoever was inside.
Alex held me back, his hands vice grips on my shoulders. “Dammit, Haven, think, man. You can’t go in there.”
“No, Goddammit. Think. Do you smell that?”
“Garlic,” I growled, incapable of forming complete sentences anymore.
“Exactly,” he snapped. “That’s white phosphorous in there. There’s nothing we can do.”
Shit. He was right. We didn’t have the proper gear and even if we went in now, Avery might already be dead and we’d likely do nothing but join him. Fuck. Alex depressed the switch on his walkie and radioed it in. The front door burst outward, the thin stumbling frame of Avery following what looked like a fire extinguisher through the broken glass. He tilted to the right stumbling a couple more steps as he coughed before collapsing on the ground.
“Go get your water from the car. Mine too,” Alex ordered as I stepped toward Avery.
“Yes, water, asshole. You always carry extra. Go grab it, now.”
When it came to chemicals, you didn’t question Alex. I went for the water. I had three bottles of water plus my 50 oz nalgene. When I returned, Alex had pulled out a pair of handkercheifs, why he had them I had no time to ask, and poured one of the water bottles over both of them and handed me one. He took the other two water bottles and opened them enough that just a flick of the thumb would pop the lids off and put his bit of fabric over his nose. Tucking one of the water bottles into the crook of his kerchief elbow he nodded toward Avery and we set off, me copying him.
Avery was smoking in places as we approached, a white smoke. We ducked and weaved avoiding the thin streams until we were next to him. The smoke was wafting from parts of his bare skin and one under his shirt. Alex started pouring his water over the exposed smoke streams dousing the burns. I, again, followed suit. we were down to his feet when one of the first locations started smoking again. I had a little water left and quickly poured all of it on the area. Luckily I could hear sirens in the distance. I had just time enough to take a look at the still breathing corpse once known as Avery Lange.
Captain Thurgood laced his fingers together as he rested his elbows on his desk and looked at us. He had resting stern face and was difficult to read. “You two been cleared by the hospital?”
“Yessir,” Alex and I said in unison. I suppressed a mild cough.
“Good. Then you can go home and get some rest. Take a couple days.”
Murrell’s disconcertingly cold eyes flashed in my mind. “But, sir-”
“Murrell is in the wind. No telling where he is now. We’ll call you with any developments.” We just stared at him.
“Avery,” Alex started.
“Is still unconscious,” Captain interjected. “If and when he wakes you, I’ll let you know.” When we didn’t make a move to leave, he sighed. “Look, if your call didn’t come in when it did several of our men would have joined Avery or been sent to the morgue directly. Now, go. Rest while you can, because we’ll need you on your game.”
“Yessir.” Alex said through gritted teeth while I just gave a tight nod.
We stood and left.
“Wanna go to Pinkerton’s?” Alex’s idea wasn’t a bad one. After the day we’d had, spending some time at the local police bar sounded perfect.
I sighed. “Meet you there at ten? I’ve gotta check in with my mother.”
“Sounds good. I’ll drop you off.” That’s right. I’d gotten a ride in. That felt like a whole different day.
“Jaci should be done fixing Zoe’s front axels. You can drop me off at his shop.” My brother was the best mechanic in the state. I wouldn’t trust anyone else with my GMC Yukon XL. It was new by my standards which meant it was 15 years old, and it was by far the best vehicle I’d owned.
“Dude, you still name your cars?”
“They last longer when they have a good name.” He snorted, always the skeptic. “Trust me.”
“I trust you with my continued existence,” he stated, “just not your existentialism.”
“Aw, come one, Alex.” I wave my hand from my shoulders down. “It’s all part of the package.” I grin as we pull up to a five stall garage with a sign hanging over the office door that said ‘Mecha-Nicks’. Jace stepped out of an open stall door and waved as he strode to the passenger window. “Hey, Jaci.”
“Hey, Haven.” He had an awkward half smile and his eyebrows were scrunched together rising in the middle.
I pursed my lips. “Spit it out, Jaci. What’s up?”
He rubbed the back of his head. “It’s more than the axels. The wheel bearings are going bad, the shocks are almost gone and you’re not going anywhere until it gets a new water pump.”
“Aw, hell.” I was going to have to get a ride from Alex every day until it was fixed.
“You could ask mom.” Jaci winced. “I mean, she’s got Lucille in the garage.”
“Oh, my god. Your whole family names cars?” Alex put a hand to his chest in mock dismay.
Jaci leaned down, crossing his arms on the open window panel. “Not all of us. Nita thinks its beneath her and Galihali doesn’t even drive.”
I grunted. Glancing sideways at Alex, I asked, “Would you mind?”
“Yeah, yeah. Who knew this morning that I’d be relegated to chaufeure by tonight.” He put the car in drive as he grinned and tipped a nonexistant hat towards me.
“They’re at Pinkerton’s,” Jaci called as he pulled away.
“Perfect.” Alex exposed a feral grin.
I groaned and squeezed my eyes shut. I’d forgotten that Nita and Lavinia, her omega, had their wedding shower tonight. When they’d set it up months ago, I’d been planning to attend with Raiden, but apparently attending a wedding together was a big step. Bigger than he was ready to take. At least with me.
It was going to be a long night. But I didn’t realize how long when I walked into the bar and was struck by a strong honey and cream scent that could only belong to one person.