“I need to talk to someone.” The voice was authoritative and, though it couldn’t be described as yelling, it sure carried. I rounded the corner to see a man standing in front of officer Yang at the service desk.
Yang, for her part, stood her ground against a man who’s wide stance and lean muscles bespoke a fighter. The tatoos that climbed his neck and peeked from under his shirt sleeve didn’t help his impression. “Sir, we can’t divulge information about an ongoing investigation.”
“Except to the media?” The man’s voice remained calm but his eyes burned. “This circus is starting to make people nervous and they’re looking sideways at my guys.” A growling undertone vibrated in his throat. “Are you trying to get them lynched?”
“Officer Yang.” I nod first to Yang and then to the man on the other side of the desk. “What seems to be the problem.”
“Detective,” Yang said, turning relieved eyes up to mine. “This gentleman-”
“Who can I talk to about this serial killer.” The man’s eyes shifted to me and they practically glowed with anger.
“I believe Office Yang told you-”
“‘We cannot disclose information about an ongoing situation’ or some bullshit?” I wasn’t sure he was aware of the low growl he was producing until he cleared his throat and took a deep breath before continuing. “Look, my guys are good guys. They may have done wrong in the past but that is in the past and they came here looking for a fresh start. Most of them have found jobs but they still get suspicious looks. This bullshit with the killer is making many of them feel unsafe at work.”
“I’m sorry, sir.” I kept my voice as neutral as possible. “We’re doing everything we can to get Murrell off the streets.”
“It better be soon.” The man planted his index finger on the counter. “You may not like what will happen if any of my men gets lynched.”
I pressed my lips together. “Is that a threat, sir?”
“Just a warning.”
I tried a different tack. “People are just scared.”
“And scared people do stupid things.” He nodded. “Sure. But you can’t expect innocent people to not defend themselves.”
I pressed my lips together. There was nothing I could say that wouldn’t antagonize the man even further.
“And what about the New Years run?”
“What about it?”
“What is City Council doing to make sure its citizens are safe during the annual New Years Eve run tonight?”
“I believe they’ll be discussing that this afternoon at city hall.”
“Is the public invited?”
I ground my teeth at his not-quite-accusatory tone. “They posted the announcement a half-hour ago and they would, indeed, like the public to be involved. I’m sure they would love your input.” My dry sarcasm didn’t even make him blink.
A smile tilted his mouth up, though it didn’t touch his eyes. “Thank you for your time, officer.”
The obvious slight made my jaw clench on my own smile. He nodded and walked out the front.
I turned to Yang as she sat at the computer playing solitaire. It made her look busy to anyone walking in, exuding a more professional atmosphere, while occupying her when there was nothing to do. “Who was that?”
“AJ Belmont. AKA: The Masked Crusader.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
She sighed. “Tanuki. He’s the new self-appointed liaison between ex-con shifters and everyone else, I suppose. He works at the Community Center.”
My eyebrows shot up. “The Community Center?”
“What does he do there? Scare away tax payers?”
She rolled her eyes to the ceiling then to me. “What tax payers?”
“He runs the children’s programs and works with at-risk youth.”
I looked from her to the front door in shock. “Nope. Don’t believe you. That’s too much.”
“How do you know?”
“He’s in here all the time complaining about the work atmospheres for his men, complaining about the lack of employment opportunities, complaining about the lack of funding for his programs.”
“He seems to complain a lot.”
“Just means he cares.” She looked out the door almost longingly.
Which was my que to head in to the bullpen and back to the hunt for Murrell. Mr. Belmont may have gotten on my nerves, but he had a point. We needed to shut Murrell down.
“Alex, do you have the Winter file?” I asked as I set my brown take-away bag on my desk and pulled out one of Jimmy’s famous wet burritos.
I loved that he set up his stand in front of the precinct today. Popping the top off the to-go tray, the smell of the beef and bean wrapped in a fresh tortilla and topped with a spicy sauce and melted cheese just made my mouth water. I grabbed the disposable fork and started to unwrap it as I turned to face Alex who, uncharacteristically, hadn’t answered yet. Maybe he’d caught a lead.
Alex wasn’t sitting at his desk. Where Alex had a military cut hairstyle, this man had cornrows. Where Alex could hide by just turning out the lights or stepping outside at night, this man might have to at least find a deeper shadow. Where Alex was like a barrell, this man might tip over in a strong wind.
“Excuse me,” I said as I stepped up behind where he sat perusing the material on Alex’s desk. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Coffee. Black. Make that five sugars,” he said without even looking around.
I yanked the chair away from the desk, sending him back several feet. He turned an unnerving pair of one golden brown and one blue eyes on me. A few pages remained in his hands as he watched in shock as the rest moved farther away. “Hey! I was reading that.”
“Clearly. Unfortunately, I am unaware of your identity and have no immediate way of gauging your rank.”
He stood, arranging the papers still in his hand into a neat stack as he looked up at me. I knew I could crush him in an instant, but he seemed unaffected. “No,” he cocked a hip to the side as his eyes scanned down my body and back up, “but you can call me Sir Wallace. As in your knight in shining armor.”
I pressed my lips together and crossed my arms.
He slunk a step toward me, batting his lashes.
“Hey, man.” Alex appeard at the interloper’s shoulder, hanging an arm around his neck. “I wouldn’t try your wiles with this one,” he said waving a hand in my direction. “He’s all but spoken for.”
The other man grinned slyly my way. “So there’s wiggle room.”
“Nah, man, he’s besotted. High-school sweetheart is back in town.”
I grunted, narrowing my eyes on my partner. This person did not need to know anything about my personal life.
However, this new information seemed to have a decided effect on the smaller man. He stopped his flirtatious stance and looks, straightening to his full height. Surprisingly, he was taller than Alex, belied by his lanky figure.
“Damn, bro, if you all meet your fated mates around here, what am I gonna do?” he all but whined.
Alex rolled his eyes. “Oh, I dunno, go through legitimate channels?”
“Psshhht, I’ll just come to you.” He slipped his arm around Alex’s torso with one arm and lightly punched him in the chest with the other. “You know you’re like a brother to me.”
Alex patted the side of his face forcefully. “Try that again, Chase, and, as your adopted brother, I’ll have to arrest you.”
As they parted, I noticed Alex reclaiming a couple file folders that had appeared in the other man’s hand. I let my arms fall to my sides in fists and stepped into Chase’s personal space.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I growled.
“My job.” To his credit, he still didn’t back down even though I loomed over him.
“What job? You’re not qualified to work here.”
“Well, HR.” He squared his jaw. “I do have an extensive resume of catching criminals law enforcement is too innefective to catch themselves.”
I ground my teeth. First the criminal advocate and now what could I could only infer to be a bounty hunter. Though, he did look a little, no, a lot small for the occupation.
“How? With your winning attitude?”
He puffed out his chest.
Alex put a hand on each of our shoulder’s. “Hey, guys. Chill. Step back.”
I took a deep, slow breath in through my nose as I stepped back, trying to reign in my temper. Then something struck me. “You’re an omega? Shouldn’t you be on-”
“Suppressants? Damn, HR, you’re good.” He pulled out a zip packet from his backpack housing an EpiPen style injection kit. It was a more expensive option as the dose and brand was individualized but more effective and fast acting than the usual pill or manual loaded needle medication. “Always keep ‘em on me.” He took one out and jammed the needle end into his thigh with a hiss.
No wonder I’d reacted so strongly; he’d been in the first stages of a heat cycle. Strange that I’d reacted to him as an alpha to an alpha rather than an alpha to an omega. All I could think of to say was, “I don’t work in Human Resources.”
I took another breath, the hairs that I hadn’t realized had stood up on my neck settling. Let’s try introductions. “My name is Haven, but you can call me Detective-”
“Riley. Exactly, HR.” He grinned childishly.
This kid was going to get on my nerves, pheromones or not. I turned toward Alex and opened my mouth. He just held up a finger to stop me speaking as he was on his cell. I complied, even if my teeth did clack when they shut.
“That was the hospital,” he said as he hung up. “Avery’s awake, but he’s badly burned.” His face looked grim. “If we want to talk to him today we gotta hurry.”
I closed my eyes, trying to reign in the temper that information caused. Taking a few deep breaths I opened my eyes.
“Right. Let’s get moving. And you-” I turned toward Chase. He was gone.
“Man.” Using a finger to draw Chase’s outline where he’d been standing moments before, Alex continued,” you can almost see the blinking, dotted outline right there.”
“I wish he’d been a cartoon.”
“No you don’t.”
“Why not?” I grunted. “Then he’d just be the figment of a sadistic immagination.”
“You wouldn’t want to be the antagonist on CartoonNetwork.”
“I’m not a jealous cat, a redneck hunter, or a crazy coyote.”
Alex just raised an eyebrow, holding my gaze. Like hell was I going to admit he was right.