Chapter 1

 

 

THROUGH HIGH-POWERED binoculars, Deke watched the house from a rise about two hundred yards away, waiting, in silence. His partner, Tom Banks, was a hundred yards to the east, and a SWAT team milled just out of sight, everyone waiting for Deke’s signal. He wasn’t sure precisely what he was waiting for, but he knew it would happen soon.

It was dusk, and lights glowed from the grimy windows. He could see the shapes of people moving around inside, but the dirt and the incongruous lacy curtains obscured his view. In front of the house was an ancient, dented American pickup and two boy’s bicycles, one with a shiny red seat and a pole with glittery streamers attached, and the other a sleek white mountain bike sporting bright orange wheels.

Deke would have loved a bike like that as a kid.

Serah Cartier, Deke’s supervisor, settled next to him on the hill. “You positive there aren’t any kids in there?”

He nodded. “They just use the bikes to deter raids,” he whispered. “And that’s Morales’s pickup.”

“All right then.” She nodded.

Deke raised his hand and gave the signal. The first guys threaded silently over the hill toward the house in the dusky gloom. Deke and Banks continued to watch from the ridge with Serah.

The lead men moved to surround the house. Without warning, a huge explosion turned the entire structure into a fireball, windows shattering as the heat and force blasted them out. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion, the agents closest being blown into the air. For some reason, the entire scene was blanketed in silence. Deke wasn’t sure if he was really there or just watching from a very great distance. None of it seemed real.

“Good job, Kane,” a voice said over his shoulder. It was the head of the field office, Foster Ward. “They’re all dead. You’ll get a promotion for this one!” A large, heavy hand clapped him on the back, nearly knocking him over from the force as Ward, then Serah, started chuckling. The laughter grew louder, and soon it turned into a shout—a long, deep bellow that snapped Deke out of the scene until he discovered he had been the one shouting. He sat up, naked and drenched in sweat and tangled in the sheets in his own dark bedroom.

He ran his hands through damp hair and tried to get his frenzied breathing under control. It’s just a dream, he reminded himself. It’s not real. Not all of it anyway. Not the part about his boss telling him he’d be promoted for the successful operation. It hadn’t been a success. It had been a nightmare. He’d fucked up, and two little kids had died in that meth lab explosion, not the drug dealers connected to a terrorist cell he’d insisted were holed up there. Morales and his accomplices had already cleared out. Deke’s operation netted only some kids who’d turned an abandoned drug lab into a hideout.

Now, not only did the dream haunt him—he’d had it nearly every night in the four months since the tragedy—but his failure dogged him as well. He’d been suspended on medical leave for the first thirty days, then put on desk duty. They didn’t kick you out of the Bureau right away, even for failure to get your facts straight before you sent in a SWAT team.

Blowing up kids was another matter entirely, and he was lucky he still had a job. That was mainly because he was still in a reevaluation phase, with constant psych evaluations to determine his fitness for duty. The shrink hadn’t made a final determination, and if he got a thumbs-down on his psychological fitness eval, he could kiss his FBI career good-bye.

Deke sat up and stared at the empty space on the other side of the bed. He still wasn’t used to being alone, still reached out for Timothy. He’d reached out a few too many times, needing support, but Timothy hadn’t been able to help, and when Deke hadn’t been able to move past the tragedy, Timothy moved out. He hadn’t completely abandoned Deke, just moved halfway across town.

Deke glanced at the phone. Should I?

No.

He got out of bed and headed to the kitchen for a glass of water. His skin felt clammy, and his feet stuck to the floor. God, it needed a good scrubbing. He couldn’t sleep; he might as well put the time to good use. He flipped on the lights, grabbed the pail and detergent from under the sink, and went to work. The steady back-and-forth of mopping began to settle his agitated brain.

Maybe he’d actually manage some sleep before he had to get up for work again.

Work. If you could call it that.

While he was waiting for Psych to sign off, they’d put him on the social network monitoring desk, where he couldn’t hurt anyone else. He didn’t even have a weapon until he was cleared again for regular duty. He now spent his days poring over Facebook and Instagram for idiots who posted photos of themselves committing crimes or spending ill-gotten gains. As boring as this was after his old job liaising with the DEA or Homeland Security and the Joint Terrorism Task Force, he actually helped bring a lot of complete idiots to justice. They weren’t the same caliber of criminal he was used to dealing with—drug dealers, some weapons dealers—but Portland was safer without them on the streets.

Even the white-collar unit got more action than Deke did on his desk.

Once he spotted something suspicious, he used a variety of techniques to locate the perp; then a team of “grown-up” agents got to make the collar. Deke got a silver star on his report card for the assist, but the takedown team got the gold star—and the glory.

He wasn’t sure how much longer he could endure this. If he wasn’t already a little fucked-up in the head, this would surely drive him around the bend. It was the Bureau’s way of easing him out when they couldn’t easily fire him. He’d heard from a friend who did a stint in Tokyo that when a Japanese company wanted to get rid of someone, they put him on an impossible task or put him in a room on his own and made him feel like an outcast in the company. Japanese companies didn’t like to fire people; it went against the corporate culture. Eventually, the guy would quit, and the company would save face.

Deke understood very well how successful that strategy must be. Every morning as he knotted his tie and prepared to leave his apartment, he wondered just how much longer he could keep this up. How many more days of mindless web surfing could he take before he either handed in his papers or just offed himself? Probably a good thing he didn’t have his service weapon after all.

Maybe that was for the best, he thought on nights like these when the dream—the nightmare—woke him up. Tonight he’d actually had the dream twice. That only happened once in a while, but he knew it didn’t bode well for his future.