Chapter 1

 

 

THE HANDCUFFS dug into his wrists, and Caleb shifted to relieve the pressure. He shared the couch with three others arrested in the raid. None of them were speaking either to each other or to the cops. Their boss, the head of the small-time operation, had been carted away with a broken nose after he threw a punch at an officer. The resulting brief skirmish had given Caleb a small cut on his cheek from when an officer pushed him aside. As far as he could tell, it had stopped bleeding.

Two hours after the police had knocked on the door and forced themselves into the property with a search warrant, the three remaining suspects still waited silently. Caleb understood the long waiting would help wear them down for the questioning that would follow, and it didn’t bother him. It was the handcuffs squeezing a little too tightly and an itch from the drying blood on his cheek that irritated him.

A young officer wearing dark jeans and a white dress shirt underneath a police rain jacket approached the four pressed against each other on the couch. “All right, boys. You’ve already heard your rights, so now is the time to talk. Anyone got anything to say to me?”

Caleb recognized the blond man, and he knew his three colleagues would as well. Gabriel Carter was a sergeant with the Seattle Police Department Vice Squad. He had transferred from Las Vegas, Nevada, with a personal vendetta against sex traders. He had quickly formed a task force and hit the market fast and hard, taking it off guard, making multiple arrests, and creating an impressive list of faceless enemies.

“Fuck off.”

Caleb had no idea who had replied, but the unimaginative retort was tiresome. Gabriel snorted and waved his officers over. “Take them in separate vehicles.”

An officer grabbed Caleb by his upper arm and hauled him to his feet.

“I got something to say,” Caleb said, pulling against the hold.

The three others had spat various insults at the police but grew quiet when Caleb spoke.

Gabriel stepped closer and narrowed his eyes. “You got something to say to me?”

“Yeah.” Caleb smirked and leaned forward. “You have nothing on us, and you know it. August ran this house. We’re just innocent civilians caught in the middle.”

“We’ll see about that.” Gabriel laughed softly and stepped back.

Caleb turned his head and glared at Gabriel until the uniformed officer gripping his arm forced him out of the house and onto the porch. He offered a few insults directed at the wife he assumed the officer had at home. Caleb had never met the man before and had no idea if he was truly married, but describing scenes of what he would do to the woman the officer might love was a sure way to rile him up and show off in front of the others.

Just before they shoved him into the back of a cruiser, he heard one of his friends from the house shout a farewell directed at him. Caleb smiled and dropped into the backseat without protest. There he waited. The other cars departed first, leaving him alone without criminal witnesses.

The door opened and Gabriel leaned inside. “You’re an ass sometimes.”

“You’re a bigger ass. Get me out of these cuffs.”

“You still have a final show to perform at the station. The others have to see you in booking and interrogation. We’ll release you there.”

Caleb sighed. “Can you loosen them at least?”

Gabriel nodded, and Caleb scooted over. He presented his wrists behind his back to the sergeant and sighed with relief when he felt the handcuffs loosen. Then Gabriel patted his shoulder and closed the door, leaving him once again alone in the cruiser.

Detective Connor Bishop was hours away from seeing three months of undercover work as Caleb Dulanski come to a close, dropping him back into a regular life. There would be no more pretending to be another person in the company of known criminals and watching his back on days he stayed home. He would arrive at the station for a typical workday, like his fellow officers in the Vice Squad, and go home at the end of shift. He could once again wear his clothes that had hung untouched in his closet for three months.

Connor rested his temple against the window and blew out a slow breath, fogging the glass. There was a lot he looked forward to now that his assignment was ending, but he knew better than to think he wouldn’t take another one the moment his sergeant offered it. While he enjoyed his commonplace life near the shore where it was safe, he had no real problem venturing into the ocean depths where the monsters played.

“You did a good job, Bishop,” Gabriel said, taking the front passenger seat. “August Nempke has been a slippery bastard for years. It’s about time he sees a jail cell.”

“Can I get a raise now?”

“I’m not the payroll department.”

Connor leaned back and watched the officer he had just insulted slide behind the wheel. “Sorry about what I said. It was just for show.”

“This is our undercover officer, Connor Bishop,” Gabriel explained to the officer with a wave toward the back. “Williams here is hoping to take his career into the federal arm of law enforcement,” he said, raising his voice to address Connor.

“Like in the FBI or something?”

“Yeah.” Gabriel sighed and faced the front.

Connor leaned forward to look at Williams through the separation. “What section of the FBI, Williams?”

“Cybercrimes.” Williams glanced back at Connor. The dislike hadn’t faded with the explanation of Connor’s undercover assignment.

“Sex crimes to cybercrimes. You masochist.”

“You’re one to talk.”

Connor sat back with a chuckle. “Are you referring to going undercover to get close to a pimp and drug dealer? That was nothing. Small fish.” His bravado was mostly for show, and Connor had fine-tuned it to convince himself that the shadows he chased would never catch him.

“There are no small fish,” Gabriel said. The edge to his tone put an end to the discussion.

William dropped the car into gear and pulled away from the busy crime scene. Silence filtered into the cab, only disturbed by the muted chatter from the dashboard dispatch radio. After several miles, Gabriel turned in his seat and looked at Connor.

“How are you doing?”

“My wrists hurt.”

“I don’t mean physically.”

Connor shrugged. “I just want to get home, take a hot shower, and sleep until ten tomorrow. I’ll put the last three months behind me until the court date.”

“Don’t forget your report.”

“How could I?” Connor shifted to relieve the pressure on his arms. “I’m hoping my sergeant is nice enough to allow me some time off after this.”

“I don’t think your sergeant has any say in the matter,” Gabriel replied. “Department policy that forces your time off trumps his wishes for a full task force.”

Connor chuckled at the retort and looked outside to watch the city passing by.

The autumn rain had let up an hour ago, but the air remained heavy with humidity, and the wet streets glistened under the city lights. Despite the horrors Connor had witnessed in the house for three months, he could still find beauty in the worst parts of the greater Seattle area.

“Sergeant Carter, you worked undercover in Las Vegas, right?”

Williams’s question cleared Connor’s approaching good mood. He studied the back of Gabriel’s head and wondered what the sergeant would say. If Williams didn’t know, and he wasn’t a part of the task force, would Gabriel divulge his past?

“Yes. I was in Vice,” Gabriel answered.

Gabriel’s clipped tone would prevent any follow-up inquiries from Williams. Connor looked back at the passing streets. He was just as interested about his sergeant’s history as Williams seemed to be, but what he already knew was enough to understand he shouldn’t pry.

Connor had met Gabriel eight months ago when Gabriel asked him to join his new task force. Gabriel had made it clear then that his past and present were not to be topics of discussion. A sly name search on the Internet had shed some light on what Gabriel had accomplished in Las Vegas, and allowed Connor just enough insight into his sergeant to ignore his curiosity for more.

 

 

THE INTERROGATION room was silent and cold, but at least Williams had removed the handcuffs. Connor stared at his reflection in the two-way mirror and tried not to notice how tired he appeared. During the three-month assignment, he had let his brown hair grow past the tips of his ears. He looked at his hands to avoid the man he barely recognized as himself. A haircut wouldn’t fix the problem, but it would be an easy place to start.

The door opened, and Connor spoke to the table. “Who’s taking me home?”

“Do you think the Seattle Police Department is your personal taxi service?” Gabriel handed Connor a cup of water and sat down across from him. “We’re cutting you loose now, but take the same precautions getting home as you have these past few months. We don’t want someone following you.”

“Okay.”

“You’re now on a mandatory two-day paid leave following the successful close of your undercover assignment. As you know, but I still have to say, there is counseling available and strongly suggested.”

“Yeah. This isn’t my first rodeo.” Connor drank the water Gabriel brought him and then set aside the empty cup.

“It’s the first three-month-long rodeo. You might have gone home each day, but you were Caleb Dulanski for three months. Transitioning back to being Connor Bishop full time might not be as easy as you think.”

“I feel fine. I feel like myself.”

“It’s all water off a duck’s back, right?”

“Right,” Connor agreed, scratching at the cleaned and closed cut on his cheek.

“I’ve been where you are, so don’t hesitate to call me if you need or want to talk with someone.”

Connor saw an opening to learn more about his sergeant and leaned forward. “You brought down Arden, right? He was a key player in a large human trafficking market through Nevada. Your work also halted Arden’s father and a trafficker named Demetrius. The court case was high profile and closed to reporters, but your name was leaked as a key witness.”

“I don’t speak about that particular case. I only went that deeply undercover once. Tiptoeing on the line of questionable morals was a onetime deal, and not something I would willingly repeat.”

“The news never reports about what happens to the officers involved. Did you come out of that assignment—” Connor paused and searched for the appropriate word. His fingernail dug into the forming scab on his cheek and he winced. “Did you return okay?”

“At the time I thought I did.” Gabriel stood. “My partner suffered worse, and it was seeing him stumble through the transition back to regular life that made me realize I wasn’t the man I’d been before I took that assignment.”

Connor wondered if what his sergeant said was true, or if he was just trying to coax Connor into admitting he was held together by strings of false hope and empty promises of selective amnesia. Connor smiled and pushed to his feet.

“In two days, I’ll walk into your office the same man who walked out three months ago.” Connor tugged at his hair. “Complete with an expensive haircut and a close shave.”

“Okay.” Gabriel opened the door. “I’ll take you home.”

“I thought you said you’re not a taxi service.”

“If you want to argue with me, I’ll take you handcuffed.”

Connor chuckled and followed his sergeant without another word.