Thanks for checking in this fine Wednesday. How's everyone doing? I'm doing just fine. Pretty psyched actually. My blog reached over a million views this week! Woohoo! So this deserves a quick note of appreciation to you guys, my readers and commenters, for keeping me sane through this weird little journey of mine. We've had a lot of ups and downs, but you guys stayed right there with me, and for that I thank you.
Now onto something kind of important about this chapter. I wanted to give you all a heads up about the content in this posting. For those of you who have read up until this point, you know that this story does in fact deal with child prostitution, abuse and trafficking. I didn't choose to use these strong elements in the storyline because I found them to wrought with entertainment.
I used them because they are real life things that happen to real children every single day in this world. I'm not here to solicit some specific organization dealing with child endangerment or worldwide trafficking. I just wanted to let you know that it's real and it's sad and if you so wish, there are organizations devoted to freeing children of these hellish situations that you can look up.
I just wanted to warn you that some of this might be a little graphic. And in that I mean, I guess it all depends upon what turns your stomach. Because this chapter was pretty hard to write for me. So I thought it might be hard for you to read. Besides Camille and Halverson, these realities are the true villains in this story.
That said, if you're rooting for Wes and Adrian to pull through this mighty shit storm of an investigation, I got one thing to say. Camille... girl, you better watch your back because they're coming for you.
Have a good night and enjoy the read,
Whispers: Part 9 Playlist
Presumed Lost - Splashdown
Empire - Alpines
Soldier On - The Temper Trap
Red Arrow - Gem Club
Last Things Last - Rachel's
Whispers In Silence: Part 9
Quinton released Adrian’s hand as if he’d been electrocuted. His blackish eyes stared through Wes; a haunted stream of emotions blazing through them. Sutton’s son sniffed and cleared his throat in an attempt to regain his composure. Wes knew what Quinton really wanted to do was throw up; the things they’d both seen in Adrian’s head—how was it possible for Adrian to walk around like it never happened?
Neither Wes nor Quinton could possibly forget those memories. Then again, neither of them had actually lived through what Adrian had. But if given the chance to reverse their roles, Wes would’ve spared his mate that kind of pain and taken that night upon his shoulders instead. No doubt in his mind.
Quinton counted down from five in a steady, low voice. “Three. Two. One. You’re back at Elle Franco’s house now, Adrian. No one is trying to hurt you. You’re safe here, and everything is calm.” He nodded to Wes.
Situated behind his mate, Wes held Adrian in his arms. He gently took Adrian’s hands. Wes’s fingers were shaking as he twined his digits with his beloveds. He looked down at his mate. Hoped he was able to form words after the experience he’d been through not minutes before. “You’re safe in bed. You can sleep now, and when you wake up you won’t be afraid anymore.”
Adrian whimpered. His face was drawn tight. He bared his fangs when he opened his mouth in a wordless cry for help. Wes murmured anything that came to mind, any sweet nothing he had stored in his head to make Adrian’s discomfort melt away. “It’ll all be over soon. It’s all right, baby.”
The pet name came quick to his lips, and not for the first time. Naming Adrian as his own in front of the others was the most natural thing in the world, and yet, Wes wished more than saying it, that Adrian was awake to hear it.
Quinton sought out his father for help, being thrust into the awkward aftermath with no amount of training to aid him now. Sutton patted his son’s hand, swooping in to offer what moral support he could. The Captain scooted over on the bed. His eyes bore signs that he was as shaken as the rest of them.
“Adrian, it’s me, Uncle Sutton. We’ll be here when you wake up,” he said. His voice carried a tinge of hesitation. He withheld the part where he feared what Adrian would do when he did in fact open his eyes. The elephant in the room—who would Adrian be as a vampire?—grew larger by the second.
“I’ve got you,” Wes whispered, because it was the only thing he knew to be true at the moment. He held onto Adrian until the last of his mate’s tremors subsided. “Get some rest.”
Adrian went slack with a final murmur as if he understood. Maybe he did, although they weren’t really sure. His head lolled to the side and he relaxed against Wes’s chest, content to press his cheek atop the sound of Wes’s heartbeat. Wes’s eyes fell on Redding, who stood at the end of the bed with three weapons aimed at his head.
It had been four hours since Sutton first arrived to find Redding helping Wes bring a kicking and screaming Adrian upstairs. And another thirty minutes after Sutton showed up for the Queen to arrive from looking around the crime scene once she’d gotten into the city. Yet another hour for Quinton to be called in because Adrian was shouting that he didn’t want to remember something, and what better way to get answers out of Adrian’s nonsensical demands than from a highly trained vampire in the field of psychology.
When Quinton stepped foot into the house, he was given a vague breakdown from Sutton, as it was an ongoing investigation and only imperative details were necessary. Going with his gut, it was Quinton who begged Nina to allow Redding into Adrian’s room to make contact, and to fill in the blanks between Adrian’s screams for help.
And oh did Redding fill in the dark places in Adrian’s memories, throwing all of them for a loop.
Although Redding was allowed in the room, no one trusted him, hence the reason he had guns pointed at his head. Wes never let him touch Adrian. No matter what Redding said, or who he claimed to be, or how much he yapped that he cared about Adrian’s welfare. Had he laid a finger on Adrian, Wes would’ve taken Redding’s head and then dismembered him piece by piece with his bare hands.
Wes stared down one of their prime suspects with all the menace of a mate on edge. Redding frowned and shifted nearer. Wes bared his teeth. “You may have helped me put him in bed, but that doesn’t make us friends. I would’ve put a bullet in you had he not gone down. You remember that.”
“I would’ve taken it. I’m not here to hurt anyone,” Redding replied. He held his head high. His fingers itched to comfort Adrian like he was some long lost brother, but as it was his wrists were handcuffed behind him.
Wes wasn’t buying the doting renegade routine. He hissed and pulled the blankets up to Adrian’s chin, burying Adrian’s clammy upper body under yards of fluffy comforter. He didn’t like the way Redding looked over his mate, especially while Adrian was exposed and defenseless. Even the platonic cast of Redding’s expression gained him no favor with Wes.
Nina walked to the foot of the bed, her heels thudding over the solid maple floor with a regal step. She put herself between the two men and raised a brow at Redding. “Please escort Mr. Redding downstairs and make sure he doesn’t move,” she commanded the men situated along the wall, a mix of both Bureau and Royal Guards.
“Yes, Your Highness.” A Guard bowed with a subtle bend at the waist.
“Is Elle still down there?” Sutton grunted.
“No, sir, she’s been taken to the Manhattan office as you asked. All suspects and witnesses are being held at headquarters until further notice. Separately, of course,” the Guard added for good measure. He tipped his head and continued to hold his hands behind his back.
“Keep me updated.”
“Yes, sir.” The Guard motioned his men forward and they pushed Redding out of the room with his wrists handcuffed behind him. He never resisted. He kept his eyes forward and didn’t so much as peel at the Royal Guards left behind to protect the queen, although they watched him like he had a target on the back of his head.
“Detective Durren, we should let Adrian rest. We’ll talk next door.” Nina smoothed out the comforter on the bed as a mother would for her sleeping child and then smiled at him. “Come.”
Wes didn’t want to leave his mate unattended. Shit, he didn’t even want to lift his hands away from Adrian’s skin, but Nina was right. There was no point in hovering over Adrian if he was unconscious and couldn’t tell them anything else. There was also the matter of what Adrian had seen, and that would take some time to sort out amongst them. Wes needed to keep his wits about him so he didn’t go stir-crazy playing the waiting game. He had to do what he could to help his team out while he had time.
“I want him protected while I’m out of the room. Not some rookie detail either. I—”
“Of course,” Nina assured Wes. “My Royal Guard will see to that. Once in a while you’ll find I’m perfectly capable of stepping a few feet away from them, especially if it is for the protection of one of my own.”
She beckoned two men over with her fingers. One of them was the queen’s mate, Hill, and he was a Guardian, one of the best warriors of their race. The other Wesley knew in passing from the Bureau, but hadn’t seen in about a year.
Malachi Rew, Wes remembered his name in an instant. The guy had caught a lucky break and been assigned to the queen, so that meant he knew what he was doing. Not to mention he was around seven feet tall, had a gun in his hand at a relaxed yet alert position, and his eyes trained on the bed like he wouldn’t let Adrian leave his sight.
The guy was definitely not some rookie. Thank fuck for that.
“You won’t leave this room?” Wes growled to the men.
“I swear on my life,” Hill replied and put a hand over his chest, marking his words as true.
Wes nodded and extricated himself from behind Adrian. It was like ripping his soul in two just moving that far away from his mate. He had to close his eyes when Adrian’s fingers unfurled from a fist and reached for him in his sleep. Knowing he had to leave, even if for his own sanity, Wes tucked Adrian’s hand back under the blanket.
He adjusted his mate’s head on a pillow and pushed his sweaty hair away from his face. Normally, Wes wouldn’t be caught dead showing affection in public, but this was his mate and he would be a tender as he damn well wanted to be. He kissed Adrian’s forehead and inhaled his mate’s scent deep into his lungs to carry with him.
“I’ll be back,” he whispered.
Wes paced with his arms crossed. One hand scratched his chin. “He heard every word.”
Quinton nodded. “Yes.”
Wes stopped. His arms fell to his sides. “He heard us.”
“It would appear that way, yes.” Quinton sighed. “I’ve never seen anything like this in all my experience.”
“And you say you both saw what he saw?” Sutton leaned against a wall, blowing smoke through an open window. His eyes were fixated on the opposite wall, staring at nothing and everything. Everyone in the building had prescribed to a certain brand of numb that made each revelation in this investigation no shocking than the next, and Sutton was no different.
“Not exactly; I was able to picture it in my head, and I certainly felt Adrian’s emotions as if they were my own. It all seemed very real when Redding began to speak to him. I didn’t sense anything untruthful from the man.” Quinton paused to prepare his words as if they were a loaded gun.
“In my opinion, I believe he was there that night to save Adrian. What he said about the other boy and everything else, none of it makes sense to me, but then again I don’t know all that you do.” Quinton took a sip of water and pushed his hair back from his face.
“It felt like there was someone else there with us. I heard another voice and it wasn’t yours or Redding’s.” Wes took a cigarette from Sutton and lit it up. The nicotine hit him hard and he had to fist his hand to keep it from shaking. He had to let it go, the fact that Redding might be on the up and up. But he just couldn’t shake it from his system. Thankfully his answer was a distraction for all of them because Quinton looked up quickly.
He rubbed his lips together before he said, “I didn’t want to say anything at first, but yes, I felt another person with us. Perhaps this thing, I mean Adrian’s ability, isn’t so far out of the reach of reality.”
Wes held out his hands, desperate to get some answers. “So what does this mean, Quinton? Adrian can hear. I can see what he sees. If we both have our guard down, we can let you see too. Am I going crazy?”
Quinton huffed and put his hands on his hips. “Wes, this is a night of firsts for me too. One, I’ve never performed hypnosis to unblock a repressed memory on a turning vampire. And two, I’ve never witnessed a mating like this in my life; the two of you are able to share abilities by being near each other, much like mates are able to mentally contact one another when in distress.
“It’s like… It’s like if the need is great enough your mate’s ability becomes accessible. But I have a feeling that if this sharing capability is possible now, it will only grow once Adrian awakens because in every turning, once a vampire turns their self is magnified tenfold.”
“But I’m already turned, have been for a long time,” Wes argued.
Quinton drew his hands down in a swift motion. He was getting frustrated. “Yes, but you’ve never been mated. You possess the ability to remember everything you’ve ever seen, ever read, ever heard. And tonight you held onto Adrian’s hand and focused with him, allowing him to remember every single element about the night his father died. Even being there, Adrian wouldn’t have been able to recall that night in such detail without your help. And you wouldn’t have been there without his either.”
Quinton regarded his queen. “I thank you for allowing me to be here tonight, Your Grace. I’m grateful for the experience, really, but I’m exhausted, and I need to process all of this before I shut down completely.”
“You’re just gonna leave?” Wes barked. He stomped over to Quinton and got in his face. “You need to—”
Quinton eyed him slowly. “I am not good with violence. Hearing about it and working through it with my patients is one thing, but seeing it firsthand, being there beside him as people with holes in their chests attacked him—I’m not good with that. I’m tired. I’m mentally exhausted. And I need to go home and rest, Wes. I did what I came to do, I got him to talk, but now it’s your turn to play Detective. I’m not a Guard, I’m a therapist.”
“Wesley,” Sutton warned.
Wes took a couple of steps back from Sutton’s son. Nina rubbed Quinton’s shoulder. “Go home, Quinton. Get some sleep and we’ll be in touch.”
“Your Highness,” Quinton said and bowed his head. He turned on his heel and left the room.
Wes sucked on his cancer stick to tame the beast trying to crawl up his throat. “What am I supposed to do now? How do we know what’s what anymore?”
Sutton addressed Wes’s concerns. “We fill in the gaps with what we know and what Redding knows. Your queen didn’t just come here on holiday. She drove all the way to the city to bring us evidence to do just that. We start there. You and me, we start this, we send what we have to our team, and we make somebody pay.”
“Like Redding?—because I am itching to fuck him up right now.” Wes growled. He started to pace.
Nina stopped him on his next rotation and held out a folder for him. “I don’t have all the answers, and I intend to get some out of Redding, but he isn’t the one responsible for these deaths, Detective.”
Wes stopped burning a path in the floor long enough to flip the folder open. A dark haired beauty looked up at him from an old photograph clipped to one side. “Monet Sinclair? This the grandmother?”
“That’s her.” Nina nodded. “Widow of Ezra Sinclair and the recipient of his Royal wages after he was killed in the line of duty.”
“I knew Ezra. I’d worked with him,” Sutton whispered as he pushed away from the window. “I had no idea he was related. I didn’t even know he had a family.”
“He was very tight lipped about personal details, and only left his family’s information to me in a formal capacity in case something happened to him. But his connection to this case goes farther than his family. I got to thinking about the last name he used when I was notified of Camille’s involvement. I hadn’t heard from Monet in a long time, so I called her this morning. After all, she was the one who brought Red to me in the first place.” Nina tapped at the bottom of the first page. “These are printouts of correspondences between Ezra and Monet. Do you see the name there?”
“Leonardo Grant,” Wes read. His heart skipped a beat, recognizing the alias for what it was. “Ezra tells Monet that Leonardo, aka Redding, is a trusted contact. Why would he do that? Hunters don’t do that, do they?”
Nina gave a half-hearted shrug. “Ezra was scared for his family over something he was working on, which was strange to me because his assignment at the time was general watch, intelligence only. But to him, his job was dangerous and he wanted his loved ones protected should something happen and I couldn’t reach them with the network. It’s the only explanation we have, and Monet herself thought the same.”
Wes looked at his queen. “When did he send this?”
“Two days before he was gunned down in Spain. A day later, his assignment contact, Adrian’s mother, was killed in her hotel room. The only evidence we had to go on was a plastic bag of boy’s clothes—a small boy.” Nina’s fingers fell away from the page. Her eyes roamed the window as if she was remembering every detail. “Her connection with children was extraordinary, and it was why I’d tasked her to be Ezra’s aid. She’d been stationed at an orphanage, gaining information from the locals about a string of child kidnappings that led back to an enemy coven. Ezra was following the leads for her…”
Wes wanted to be angry all over again, but this was the biggest lead they had yet. It was like putting a key in a lock to a room he’d been trying to open for years. His heart yearned to step over the threshold and know what really happened. For fuck sake, this was now about Adrian’s family too. “You think they came across Redding and got involved in more than a simple mission, and that maybe they were protecting a witness, a kid.”
Nina nodded. “We weren’t ever able to track the child down. No name. No picture. They were careful to hide him away from whoever was hunting him down. Monet didn’t know about the child, but she does know about Redding. He sought her out and told her what really happened to her mate, what was really happening to her remaining family overseas. That’s when she began to try and coax her son back home, because she’d learned Camille was a monster who took little boys and pimped them out. I believe that when one tried to tell on Camille, she had everyone who tried to protect him killed, taking two of our Hunters out of the game for good.”
Sutton joined them in the middle of the room. His dark eyes glittered like slivers of polished onyx. “And when Monet couldn’t convince her son to leave his mate for good, she convinced Red to avenge her family. Red didn’t become a Hunter to take down enemy covens. She did so knowing she’d have the resources to take her mother down, and along the way she met up with Redding. Who is this guy?”
“I dunno, but we’re about to find out.” Wes dumped the file on the desk near Nina and stormed out of the room. He had a suspect to interrogate.
He couldn’t help it. The anger had to go somewhere. The stress was eating him alive. Wes drew his fist back and let it rip. His knuckles cracked against Redding’s jaw and the man went down without a fight. “I’ll ask you one more time, asshole. Who do you work for?”
“I work for no one,” Redding wheezed. “What I do, I do for myself and for the others.”
Wes wrapped Redding’s long hair around his hand and yanked, exposing the man’s pale neck and lackluster eyes to him. “What others?”
“The other boys she used just like she used me.” Redding stared up at him, his pointy chin like an arrow to the exit he longed to escape through. Submitting on his knees like a monk who had enough faith to carry him through a death blow that would send him to his maker.
Letting go immediately, Wes stumbled back. He caught his balance and planted his feet shoulder width apart. The man on the floor hung his head, shamed by having to reveal his past out loud. It only took a second for Wes to see Redding in a different light; a man who had been dealt a shitty card, who had played a slave to Camille at a point in his life when no child should’ve been touched that way.
When Redding lifted his pitiful stare to Wes, the Senior Detective regretted ever having touched him. “You were one of her…”
“Whores? You can say it. It’s true.” Redding rubbed his aching jaw on his shoulder because his hands were still cuffed behind him.
“Victim,” Wes corrected. “You were a victim if what you say is true.” He signaled the Guards to release the handcuffs from Redding’s wrists. “Have a seat. I sympathize and I’m sorry about the…yeah. But you better damn well tell me what the fuck is going on. And if you lie, I’ll know it.”
He hitched a thumb at the queen. She was perched on the arm of the sofa in Elle’s living room like a model. More than just her refined appearance, the queen had power that only came from being the child of the first vampire to walk the earth. Her father’s power was part of her DNA, and the air around her crackled with it. If Redding lied…
Wes didn’t want to be on the receiving end of that kind of blow.
With the room full of Bureau and Royal Guards, Detectives, their Captain, and their Queen, Redding was still brave enough to show his face and lift his chin like he had the dignity of a gentleman and the courage of knight. “What do you want to know?” he coughed as he was lifted by his upper arms to stand.
“Ezra Sinclair—you were his contact. Why?”
“That was a long time ago.” Redding grimaced as his bruises began to heal. He carefully sat in Elle’s chair and proceeded to rub his aching wrists.
“Why?” Wes repeated, narrowing his eyes.
Redding sighed deeply. “Sinclair and Donohue were working a kidnapping case. Orphans were disappearing, homeless boys were being reported missing by their friends and the cops weren’t doing a thing about it. That’s when they were sent in. Because if it wasn’t enough for the humans to take notice of over fifty boys vanishing into thin air, then it was a job for the Hunters, because obviously there had to be a local coven taking their dinner to go, am I right?”
“Don’t get cocky with me,” Wes warned.
“Fuck off,” Redding finally bit out. He’d paid a price for Wes’s anger, and now he was angry too. Wes couldn’t blame him. He let it slide. “They were never supposed to be there. It wasn’t an enemy coven popping up. It was Camille’s first overseas His Children home taking victims. Donohue and Sinclair didn’t know a thing about it until they caught me on the run with one of the boys. They thought I was kidnapping him, but the kid told them otherwise. Not even four hours before that, the boy had lost his virginity to three vampires who had a thing for tying down their prey. He still had the bruises to prove it, and the DNA evidence dried to his body.”
The venom in Redding’s eyes was enough to leave a sting. Wes had to look away and seek solace from his queen before he could continue. She nodded once, her signal that Redding was completely, one hundred percent telling the truth. Her stony profile spoke volumes of her feelings on Redding’s tale. So did the hairs at attention all over Wes’s body. The fact that Camille’s operation had gone on for so long, with so many victims, and all while right under Nina’s nose left her silently enraged.
“They took the boy into protective custody as a witness against Camille,” Wes said without looking at Redding.
“Yeah, and I went back for the others. I was too late. Camille’s little guard dogs had the place on lock. I couldn’t get in. They knew I’d been there.” Redding rubbed at his eyes when Wes finally faced him. “When I went back to check in with Donohue, to see how the boy was, she was dead and he was gone. Sinclair didn’t pick up his phone, and I knew he was out too. I got out of there and took care of those Johns as a gift to Camille before I went on to the next home.”
“And you’ve been taking care of her people ever since.” Wes shook his head slowly, mentally doing a tally of all the men and women Redding had done in. “Why didn’t you ask for help? Why not enlist the Royals to take down Camille instead of leaving behind a public trail for the humans to see? An ambassador, Redding. A fucking ambassador.”
Redding shot Wes a dirty glare. “So they could what, help me like they did that boy? They were the best of the best and they got their heads blown off over one kid. How the fuck do you think they could manage to protect hundreds, maybe even thousands these days.
“They traffic kids, Detective—not even the humans have managed to snuff that business out completely and look at how many they have on their side. Rats have a way of surviving just about anything, and they breed like wildfire…Just like these assholes.” Redding dug his fingers into his knees. “I know of a few Royals that tried to shut Camille down, high circle Royals with the power to do it, but even they didn’t have sufficient proof that she was doing anything under the table. Just speculation and maybe a little boohoo story from a homeless kid looking for scraps and attention. I’m not stupid. I know how this works.”
“No you don’t.” Wes snorted. “Else you would’ve nabbed Camille by now.”
“How about you, Detective? You have Camille in custody, but do you actually have any evidence to keep her, other than hearsay from people that just don’t like her?” Redding asked pointedly.
Wes was getting tired of Redding’s volleying. He huffed through his nose, somewhere between a snort and a growl. “I get it. What happened to you should have never happened at all. You want revenge and all that goes with it, the satisfaction that she’s off the streets and not peddling any other boys to those perverts. So why not kill her right out then? Hmm. Why not blow her brains out and leave everyone else, like Red Sinclair, out of your personal vendetta.”
The eyes of an animal targeted Wes. Redding snarled. “Because where this is one, there are more. And we wanted to make her suffer like she did us. We wanted to take away her money, her power, her boys, everything she cared about until she was left with nothing but her own fear and the public shaming she deserves. Just like us when we had nowhere to run, no one to call for help, no place inside our head quiet enough to escape their hands and their disgusting desires. We wanted her to beg,” Redding boomed.
His finger’s splayed and a vein popped near his temple to insist his outrage. He sagged in his seat, his entire body bowing over as he dragged in a deep, noisy breath. Wes wouldn’t let Redding give up this early in his statement. He’d gone from throwing punches to stunned, and now desperate to hear more.
“What about Monet? How did you get involved with her?”
“Ezra told me before he went AWOL that if I couldn’t find somewhere safe for the boys I was taking out of His Children, then I could send them to Monet because she had the room and the resources to care for them. At first I never thought I would contact her. That would only bring trouble to her doorstep, but after Ezra was confirmed dead by one of my guys, I did what I had to do. I went to see her.”
Nina stood up and walked over to where Redding sat. “Monet said she never housed any boys. She said the two of you worked on a plan to get Camille.”
Redding’s smile was feral as he graced Nina with his face. “She didn’t have to take them in. We had a better place to put them, somewhere they’d be protected twenty-four seven.”
“And where was that?” Nina glowered at him.
“The Guard Prep School until they were old enough to serve. We gave them new identities and got them the training they needed to get into the academy. The ones who wanted to get their revenge, I mean.”
All the color from Wes’s face drained. “You mean to tell me that Camille’s boys are in our system? Like right now?”
“Who do you think was watching Elle when I was away? The stray mutt in the alley?” Redding scoffed. “They are my eyes and ears. They are my backup. They are the ones who level the playing field when Camille’s dogs come sniffing around to make things complicated.”
Wes wanted to smack Redding until he bled. He felt like he didn’t know what was up and what was down anymore. Then again, what was so bad about those boys being Guards for their queen? They’d earned their stripes and then some if they put up with Camille’s torture for that long. And they were taking care of business on the sly, something most Guards did off duty without giving it another thought. If shit went down, they put their life on the line to protect regardless.
“Is that what Halverson is, one of Camille’s boys gone wrong? You couldn’t control him and he turned on you?” Wes asked.
Redding shook his head. He licked his lips. “No. He’s Camille’s little pet, has been since the beginning. That night he killed my mate, he played the victim and Red and I were going to do a pickup. The guys working with us were supposedly ex-prostitutes trying to help the kid out. Hell, they’d worked with us for weeks to get those boys to that plane and take them to the states.
“Turns out it was all a con. That boy wasn’t a boy at all. He was there to take me and Red out because we were so close to shutting her down she could taste it. And after the fiasco in Spain, she wanted any Hunters working near us out of the picture, so Davide was on Halverson’s radar too. Adrian just happened to be a witness…”
“I’m sorry. Did you say your mate?” Wes frowned.
Redding turned his palms up. His nostrils flared. “Why the fuck do you think I want to take her life by my own hands so badly! I deserve this. I earned the right. Red was my heart, and Camille fucking took that from me.” Redding had a scary temper that quickly evaporated when tears began to flown down his cheeks. He put his hands over his face and sobbed. “I will never get that back. I will never touch her or hold her or hear her voice ever again!”
So about that brand of numb that allowed nothing to faze them anymore? Yeah, that was bullshit. Redding and Red, the misfit duo who rescued children during the midnight hours, they were bonded, mated, and in it to win it. That is until Red died and Redding lost his shit, creating his own little army with the Bureau to cover his tracks. Wes pushed a hand through his hair and sat back in his seat, mulling over the facts he knew.
Red Sinclair was a Hunter. She was Redding’s mate. It was why she strayed from her network, from her queen—to help her man to find the justice he needed to move on. To heal him.
She had sent what evidence she had to Elle, unbeknownst to her friend so that Redding’s men could protect it until the time to use it came. Made sense to Wes—Elle’s house wasn’t on the radar. Elle wasn’t of concern to Camille’s as a person of interest; she was simply a grieving best friend without any say in the matter and she had the sense to stay out of Camille’s affairs.
Halverson was one of Camille’s boys, and not in a prostitute sense. As Adrian had been trained young to kill, so had Halverson, and he had taken countless lives to cover up what Camille was doing, all in the name of being something to someone. Wes had seen it many times; a young victim without legs to stand on brainwashed into thinking they were special, pledging servitude to a criminal so they had a family of their own. When really they were being used…
Redding had crumbled under the weight of his memories. He threaded his fingers behind his head and put his face between his knees, crying his heart out for his love long gone. There was nothing wrong with grieving. There was something wrong with watching a grown man’s heart break, and not a thing could be done about it, and not one person was going to stop him.
Sutton nudged Wes out of his trance and motioned for him to follow into the hallway. Wes pushed up out of Elle’s cushy sofa and tromped behind, the weight of the world on his shoulders and nothing left to do but listen.
“I’m feeling useless. We have everything and yet we have nothing. I’m about to lose it,” Wes whispered to his boss and friend when they were safely out of range.
“You’re not useless,” Sutton assured him. “You’re barely holding it together, there’s a difference.”
“Yeah, well, I’m busting at the seams here, Sutt. I need something—anything on this case. We just keep getting more victims, not answers.” Sutton gave him a crooked smile. His eyes swirled a bit and Wes cocked his head. “There is no way you are smiling at me right now.”
“I didn’t want to tell you until I was sure about it, but I have something for you. Well, something your team’s been working on since I filled them in on Adrian’s episode upstairs, so you be sure to thank them for their efforts.” Sutton produced his phone for Wes to see. “Nina released Adrian’s file to me on her way to the city. I had her send it to Feist to take a look at, see if anything jumped out at him, maybe a connection to the night my brother passed that backs up what we’ve heard.”
“They recorded Adrian’s location that night when he sent an SOS text to Nina. We have coordinates of the house he was found in, Wes. Actual black and white coordinates.” Sutton fingered down the screen to show Wes confirmation that a team was currentlh in route to the outskirts of Surik. “They’re going to link us to video when they arrive. We’re getting answers.”
In a rush of excitement, Wes threw his arms around his best friend and pulled him into a hug. It wasn’t the best news he’d heard, but it was news all the same. That house had something buried in it with Camille’s name on it. It was a step in the right direction.
“Can’t breathe,” Sutton grunted.
Wes sighed and stepped out of the embrace. “Sorry. I just—”
“I know.” Sutton clapped him on the back. “I know, Wesley. Take five and we’ll try to reconvene when Redding gets his shit together. The office upstairs is empty if you need some quiet, and there’s coffee set up in the hall.”
Wes nodded. His fingers slipped from his friend’s arm and Sutton walked back into the living room. The Guard at the top of the stairs didn’t even blink as Wes made his way up. He didn’t look away or move or seem to be breathing. At least the rest of the guys were taking this case seriously, especially when it involved being on Adrian duty.
Wes walked a bit further and got a little Styrofoam cup of coffee from the pot plugged into a hallway socket. He took his Joe to go, and found a chair in the office across from Adrian’s room. With the door closed and his feet resting comfortably on the windowsill, Wes closed his eyes and enjoyed the silence. It wouldn’t last long, but sometimes during intense cases he needed to take a moment to himself, just to breathe if nothing else.
He opened his eyes to find the window beginning to chill over from the cold outside. Snow had started to fall and stick to the angled roof next door, which meant winter, was really here to stay. Not Wes’s favorite season, but he could deal like the rest of the East Coast.
What he found strange about the view from his window was the way the glass started to frost over too quickly for Mother Nature. A delicate crinkling noise joined the rapid trails of ice that swirled over the glass, painting the window with intricate designs that only snowflakes could produce when joined together.
A chill ran up Wes’s spine, and not from the early arrival of winter. Once he noticed the unusual appearance of ice forming on the window, he felt rather than saw someone behind him.
“I’ll warn you,” he growled to the uninvited guest. “I’m armed and pissed off right now.”
“Says every vampire male everywhere,” came an amused female voice that echoed throughout the room. “Must be the testosterone.”
Wes spun around in his chair so fast he spilled his coffee onto the floor. A double door closet had opened in the wall, and a pitch black square that should have held files and supplies only showed an endless abyss. “Hello?” His breathed rolled out of his mouth in a wisp of white. It was then he knew he wasn’t dealing with just any intruder; that was to say if the closet from hell hadn’t offered him a warning to start with.
“No sense in asking pointless questions when you know I’m already here,” the female whispered, yet her voice carried with the force of a drum, and enough boom reverberate down Wes’s spine. “Care to join me, Detective?”
A slender, pale hand extended from the darkness, tethering this world to the next. Whoever was on the other side offered Wes an invitation that should have come with a bottle of pills and a straightjacket, because there was no way in hell this was happening to him. It was like “Oh, hey! You want to go the through closet and grab a beer, see some fucked up shit, and then maybe be so messed up after that you can’t sleep for years?”
No. No, he did not, thank you very much.
Getting a visit from Briggs in the Cage—okay, yeah, spooky as fuck. Seeing into Adrian’s head like he was in a live action movie—that was pretty damn close to his limit of whatthefuckery. But actually seeing a damn hand poke out of a dark closet, a hand belonging to a spirit inviting him to God knew where—yeah…nope. No way.
“I can go if that’s your wish, but it’s you who wants answers, not me.” She laughed; a floating bobble of noise that made Wes want to run for the hills. “If not for you, then for your mate,” she coaxed with exactly the right words for Wes to stand from his seat.
“What’s over there?” he asked without thinking. “Who are you?”
A slip of red hair swished into sight as the hand retreated into the dark. “Why don’t you come and find out, Detective?”
The doors started to close at an achingly slow pace. She was taunting him. Wes had a second to decide, but he knew what he wanted to do from the start, however crazy that made him. Curiosity was a bitch he couldn’t give a wrong phone number to and never speak to again.
Dammit! Wes was saddled with his need to know for the rest of his life, and he wasn’t about to try to shove it down now. He dashed across the room, a thunderous run over the floor that anyone would have heard, and leapt into the blackness before the doors shut for good.
When Wes was able to focus on his surroundings, he was standing in some hallway that connected to a packed ballroom of Royal socialites. A band played atop a white on white platform. Decked out vampires danced the waltz or whatever old moves they had to offer. They sipped champagne and shimmered with diamonds. Eating salmon puffs that looked like shit and probably tasted the same. All for some charity event marked with elegant signs, front and center on golden easels at each entrance.
The silver leaf embossed posters read His Children in some highfalutin curly cue script that not even Princess Diana would have been okay with. Then again, what did Camille Sinclair know about real class?
Wes was graced with a familiar churn of his stomach. He went to grab a bottle of Perrier from a passing waiter’s tray, but his hand went right through it. That was when he remembered jumping through the closet to follow a spirit. This wasn’t the real world. This was a memory, but whose?
“Sucks, doesn’t it? I’d kill for a martini right about now.” A tall redheaded woman wearing skintight ripped up jeans, a fishnet sweater, and pearls around her neck sauntered past him. She walked right through a crowd of Royals enjoying their event and carried on down the hall. “Don’t worry about your stomach. It’ll pass,” she called out.
“Red. Red Sinclair?” Wes held up his hand to flag her down, but she kept going. He gave up and ran after her, sickened at how he could move through bodies as if they were made of air.
Red finally stopped at the end of a long corridor, where the lights had been dimmed and only a few of the waitstaff lingered about with empty trays. “It took him a long time to get her to agree. She had the means to get the dirt he needed to bring His Children into the light,” Red told Wes like he knew what she was talking about. “Not like he was a selfish bastard—far from it actually. He cared about her enough to end it once and for all.”
Apparently Wes was about to find out what Red was going on about. She kept on walking to a service entrance at the end of the connecting hallway. She pushed on the metal bar to open the door to the outside, and there on the rickety steps were Tabitha Sinclair and Redding, arguing like they were in a lover’s spat. However, Wes knew differently as Redding’s dead mate stood next to him in silence, nonplussed by their interaction.
Tabitha wiped the tears from under her eyes. “You don’t get it, Niles. Ulysses might be dead now, but everything in his office went to my mother. Her guys came to clear it all out a few weeks ago. I already looked for the notebook and it’s gone. She has it. She took everything. She knows I know.”
“I need you to look around the house when she’s out. Maybe the staff will help you.” He took her hand in his. “Please, Tabby. You know I can’t get in there.”
Tabby pushed him away and turned her back on him. “Robert is coming around again now that he’s back in the city. If he finds me snooping through her stuff… Jesus, Niles! He’ll kill me, and that’s only if my mother’s guys don’t find me first and take me to her. I can’t,” she whispered. “Please don’t ask this of me.”
“It’s okay, Tabby. You don’t have to.” He pulled her into a hug. His downcast eyes spoke of shame and exhaustion. “I’m sorry for asking. You’ve already done so much.”
“Sometimes I think I’m dreaming,” she murmured and hugged him back like he was the only person she had left in the world, like Redding was her big brother, her knight in shining armor. “Sometimes I don’t know why I don’t just run.”
“Because you loved her. Because you’d do anything for your sister and so would I. Because we’re gonna get you out of here to a safe place, somewhere you’ll never have to run from.”
“When? How? You don’t have the notebook, so we aren’t done here.” She looked up with innocent eyes. Something changed in a split second. Tabby took a deep breath, and then let it out slowly. “I’ll do it. For Red. I can’t be weak now. She wasn’t ever weak. Niles… Tell me what to do.”
Redding, or Niles, whatever his name really was, looked conflicted. A minute ago he’d been ready to send her into battle, but as Tabby fell apart, he was reminded that she wasn’t her sister and had no experience in espionage. “Don’t do anything. Just… Where do you think Camille would stash the notebook?”
“The safe—that’s why there’s no point in snooping around and risking my life for it. I haven’t a clue what the combination is either. I hate this,” she hissed. “I hate having no control.”
“You will, Tabby. I promise you I’ll give you the life you deserve. The life you all deserved.” Redding hugged her one final time. “Touch up your makeup before you go back out there. Keep a brave face, and know that my guys are always watching you. You’re safe.”
A truck rumbled into the service alley and Tabby flinched. “Hurry before someone sees you.”
Redding winked and straddled the railing. “Don’t worry about me. I’m invisible.” He leapt off the railing and his feet hit the cement. He was a blur as he ran away into the fading sun.
Red tugged on Wes’s arm. She gave him a sad smile. “He tried. God knows he always tried to protect them all, and it was his heart that snagged me.” She winked at Wes. “But sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes loving someone so much can’t protect them in the end. There are always people whose hate outweighs the love of others.”
Wes understood her remark when they reentered the service hallway. He caught Halverson retreating into a room marked staff only. He had barely shut the door when Tabby walked inside and headed for the bathroom.
Red didn’t pay Halverson any mind. After all, this was a rerun of sorts, and she’d probably seen this many times. “My mother might be my mother, but her real children are the ones who serve her well. They serve her greed for phony smiles and syrupy words of praise in return. They would do anything to please her, going to the ends of the earth if she asked. Halverson was the worst of all. He still is.”
“He knew Tabby was meeting with Redding, which means Camille knew too.” Wes gripped Red’s chilly arm as the hallway darkened and another black hole came upon them.
“Yes,” she whispered with such anguish it made Wes’s heart break.
Wes was sitting in a taxi next to Tabitha Sinclair when the darkness faded. Red was in the front seat, messing with the cabbie’s radio. Her spirit had to have been with her sister that night, because the cabbie started to bang on the radio to get it to work properly. When it ended on a jazz channel, he gave up and grunted.
“She loved jazz. I thought it would be soothing.” Red looked over her shoulder. “I was drawn to Tabby that night from the other side, the side that isn’t dark and scary; the place not in between. I knew this was her last night alive and I had to stay by her side no matter what.”
That’s when Wes knew where they were headed. He started to recognize the Flatiron District’s landmarks and streets and his stomach bottomed out. This was the night Tabitha Sinclair was murdered.
Tabitha’s phone went off and she answered immediately. “Hey. Yeah, I got away. The date lasted longer than I’d hoped. Just some guy my mother’s trying to pawn me off on, definitely not one of her dogs.” Pause. “I have the notebook,” she whispered, checking the rearview mirror to see if she was being watched by the cabbie. “You’re never going to believe this. She left her pearls in the bathroom after she went to bed, and she never does that so I was just looking at them. The combination is engraved on the clasp, Niles.”
Red fingered her necklace with a wry smile. “I was trying to help Adrian see. If Briggs hadn’t taken away so much of his attention during Adrian’s turn, he would’ve understood. A female never hunts in her fine jewelry, and she especially doesn’t wear pearls like this.”
“The pearls were a clue,” Wes murmured.
“Mm hmm.” Red leaned her head against the rest. “I kept tripping the downstairs alarm that night so my mother’s guards would be preoccupied when Tabby went into the safe. You should have seen her. She was so fearless.” Red’s eyes glittered with tears as she looked at her sister. “Fearless until the end.”
Tabitha gasped quietly on the phone, oblivious to their presence. “I’m leaving tonight?” She bit her bottom lip, a huge grin on her face. “Okay, I’m almost there. His name is Frederick?”
Wes turned to Red in shock. “Frederick?”
“My mate told you he had people on the inside. Frederick was supposed to meet Tabitha that night at one of Maloy’s old properties. He was to take her to the airport to meet with my mate. Niles was going to take her to stay with my gran, who was heavily protected by his men. She would be happy there.”
“Why the abandoned office, though? Why not go straight to the airport?”
“No one watched that place anymore. It was bug free. No street cameras to see the vehicle switch. Frederick would give her something to change into and get ready to go and they’d be off.”
“But she never got to meet Frederick,” Wes concluded.
Red shook her head. “He got stuck in traffic. She showed early. Halverson was waiting inside. He killed my baby sister and left her there to stare out that window like a puppet.” Her eyes darkened to a forest green, and deep golden swirls manifested from within her pupils. “Promise me you will not shut us out when the time comes. Put aside your fears, his fears, and we will honor our own. Even dead,” she growled, “it is our way.”
Wes felt his meeting with Red coming to a close. The cab jerked to a stop at the building where Tabitha had already died. Red’s little sister swiped her phone over the pay screen and smiled at the cabbie.
The cabbie scratched his head and turned to the back seat with a frown. “You sure this is the right place, sweetheart? It’s pretty dark out there. You want me to wait here. No charge, I promise.”
Itching to grab Tabitha and hold her close so she never entered that house, Wes had to sit there and let it happen. Because it had already happened and there was no changing the past. Frederick wouldn’t show up in time. Halverson was already up there, waiting for his prey. And even the sweet cabbie up front could feel something dark in the air.
Tabitha logged a hefty tip onto her bill and smiled at him like she’d won a million dollars. “See that place there?” She pointed to the office space. “That’s where I change the rest of my life. Just because it’s dark out there, doesn’t mean it is on the other side.”
The cabbie sighed. “Deep thinking aside, doll, I can still wait. ‘Scuse my French, but this area at night is a fucking cesspool. I don’t wanna see somethin’ happen to ya. Not on my watch.”
“You’re very kind.” She put her hand to the glass partition like a hug. “But I need to go. Have a good night.”
Tabitha slipped out of the car and clicked up the sidewalk in her strappy date heels. Little did she know she’d never go on another crappy blind date. She’d never find a mate and have 2.5 children. She’d never put those expensive shoes back in the closet either.
The cabbie waited until she was inside before he muttered, “Cute little thing.” He tapped the crucifix air freshener around his rearview mirror as he pulled away from the curb. “Keep a watch on that one, top dog. I got a feelin’.”
“Even if he stayed there on the curb, he wouldn’t have saved her,” Red broke Wes away from staring at the spinning disc with a cross on it. “Now promise me. Promise what I asked of you and you’ll get what you need.”
Without hesitation, Wes said, “I promise. This ends here.”
Red reached through the glass and cupped his cheek. Her swirling eyes grabbed his attention. He watched the small golden spirals until everything else faded away and the dark took him somewhere new.
“Durren,” a male barked. They shook his shoulders with force. “He’s waking up. Shit, he was out cold.”
Wes groaned and leaned forward. Elle Franco’s office chair squeaked under pressure. Wes rubbed the back of his head and opened an eye to see Feist looming over him.
“My God, you’d have thought you’d never slept before. I was about to call a clinic or something. You doing okay?” Feist crouched down and held up a finger. “Follow my finger so I can make sure—”
Wes snatched Feist’s finger in his larger paw. “You get your damn finger out of my face.”
Feist yanked his finger away. “Tsk. Chill the fuck out, man. I came bearing disturbing yet insightful news.”
“So do I,” Wes murmured. He noticed Sutton standing in the doorway. “It happened again.”
“What happened?” Feist looked between them.
“It,” Wes repeated in not so many words.
“You were visited?” Sutton asked cautiously.
“Ah, no way. Again? Man, you sure you’re not just tired and—”
Wes pushed Feist away when he stood to stretch his legs. “I’m not making this shit up,” he yelled. “I just got off the ghost phone with Red Sinclair.”
“I’ll be damned—did she leave you a message?” Feist puckered his lips to hide his laugh and Wes nearly slammed him into a wall if not for Sutton.
The Captain was there to keep them apart. “What did she want, Wesley?”
Wes scrambled to remember the most important elements of the visit in order. “Redding’s real name is Niles. Red confirmed him as her mate and that he was to be trusted. Niles is the one who contacted Tabby before she died, the time Adrian told us about. They were trying to get the notebook back she’d tried to use against Ulysses to now pin on Camille, since Ulysses was already dead and they shared the same contacts as business partners. Camille’s name has to be in that book. A book now in either Camille’s or Halverson’s possession.”
“So Halverson did kill Tabitha according to Red?” Feist put his hands up to ward off Wes.
Wes sighed and let his arms fall to his side. “Yeah and it gets worse.”
“How much worse?” Sutton sulked.
“The night Tabitha died, she was meeting one of Niles’s contacts at the old office to give up the notebook, and then he was to take her to the airport to hop a plane to her grandmother’s place. The contact got stuck in traffic. She arrived early. Halverson knew all about the plan and killed Tabby before the contact could arrive.” Wes chewed on his bottom lip. “The contact is Frederick.”
“Serious?” Feist’s eyes bugged. “Sutton said Redding’s been sending boys through our system, but this… Frederick! He might have been Redding’s at one time, but he took an oath, man. He’s one of our boys now.”
Sutton went into Captain mode on the spot. He rolled his shoulders back and lifted his chin. “This Halverson fucker is dead. Dead, you hear me?”
“I hear you loud and clear.” Wes squeezed his friend’s shoulder.
It didn’t take much time for Sutton’s second boss, Yuri, to pull some strings and get a team to Surik. Since the area was near Yuri’s hometown, he had plenty of connections willing to do him a favor. The overseas GERT team moved in around the house much like SWAT would for the human authorities.
Wes braced himself next to Sutton on Elle Franco’s couch. The living room swarmed with their guys, the queen, and everyone except for the men upstairs guarding Adrian. Oh, and Niles who was in the hallway with his knees drawn up to his chin. Wes didn’t blame him for a second for not wanting to revisit that night again. Once was enough for anyone.
Yuri stood near the big screen television that had been hooked up to the live video footage. He plugged the phone into the Bluetooth speaker system and set it on a shelf.
“We’re all here and we can see you. Can you hear me?”
“Yes, sir,” came a fuzzy echo through the speakers.
Yuri put his hands on his hips, making his impressive stature seem larger. His skull tattoo birthed a fearsome presence, as did his pitch black eyes that narrowed at the screen. “What do we have?”
“No signs of anyone being here recently, but the snow hasn’t let up, so that could hide any real evidence. The two track road next to us has some traffic, but the only people we’ve encountered were locals. Trust me—Grandma and Grandpa “we don’t speak no English” aren’t any threat to us.” The Guard stood up straight with the camera mounted to his GERT helmet. “We’re going in the house now.”
“Take it easy. Slow and steady,” Yuri instructed.
“Roger that.” The camera moved around with the Guard’s head. “Keep your toes light, boys. Could be traps.”
The rustle and shuffle of a pack of Guards descending on the little old house in the snow was much louder with the high tech microphone the Guard sported. Wes was about ready to scream “Get on with it already!”—but that wouldn’t do anyone a bit of good. So far the Guards had made it to the porch, and the camera was now feeding them a view of the front door.
“Porch is clear. No signs of life.” He reached out nand touched the handle. “Even the fucking handle is frozen in place.”
Another Guard handed his superior a thermos from his pack containing hot coffee. The commanding Guard slowly poured the liquid over the handle and gave it another try. The door creaked open to reveal a different side of hell.
“God, do you smell that?” The Guard put his forearm over his nose, obscuring a bit of the screen. “What the fuck is that?”
Wes eyed his new friend Niles near the doorway. “You smell that when you were there?”
“Yeah, I took time to smell the daisies when I was up that way,” Niles spat back.
“I didn’t mean—”
“No.” Niles rolled his eyes and dropped his head back against the wall. “There wasn’t a scent so horrible I had to cover my nose. It smelled like rotting house, like mildew and rat shit. Nothing I haven’t smelled before.”
Ah, so Niles was watching. At least Wes wasn’t the only curiosity whore in the room, although Niles had better reason than most to want to know the whys and hows surrounding the old house.
“Quiet,” Yuri barked. He hissed through his fangs and returned to the screen. “Clear the living room,” he ordered through the phone.
“Entering what looks to be the living room,” the Guard replied.
The screen revealed what appeared to be a space that couldn’t be flipped or flopped, renovated, or even condemned it was so bad. Holes pierced the main walls from where the drywall had given out under constant weather changes. Icicles hung from the windows where a broken pane had let in snow to melt and then freeze with the chilly nights.
What used to be furniture had become part of the house—just as broken, moldy, and ancient as the rest of the place. “We’re clear,” a voice called from somewhere behind.
“Yuri, we’re clear of any electronic signals in the house. Living room is good too.”
Yuri rocked from heel to toe. He studied the screen for anything out of place until he agreed with Command’s opinion. “Fan out. Check the rest of the house. We’re looking for old files, boxes perhaps, a hiding place for things that don’t want to be found. You hear me?”
“Loud and clear. Fan out, boys. You heard the man.” The Guard’s hand motioned the rest of his team into the house. “I gotta tell ya, the smell… It’s like… It’s like the death stench of an army left to die in the sun.”
It hit Wes like a ton of bricks; Adrian’s memory of being in that living room. When the spirits of those boys had come at his mate there had been a fire going. It was one of the scariest things Wes had ever seen; the boys’ silhouettes, fire leaping through their missing hearts.
As with everything in this case, Wes had to think outside the box, just like a creative criminal mastermind would do. Just like fucking Camille Sinclair did. If the pearls were a clue from Red, then those boys had been leaving a clue for Adrian.
“Check the fireplace,” Wes whispered.
Sutton shot him a worried look. “What did you say?”
“Check the fucking fireplace,” Wes repeated. He slid from the couch to his knees just to be closer to the screen.
“Do it,” Sutton told Yuri.
Yuri frowned at Wes and then rolled his eyes. “Command, check the fireplace, would you?”
“Got it.” The camera panned around to the fireplace as the Guard descended upon the crumbling hearth.
The inlaid bricks were disintegrating and the mantle was totally gone to dust. Cobwebs were frozen in place around the hearth. A few discarded tools like a poker and brush were strewn about the floor.
“That smell,” Command whispered and crouched down. “It’s stronger here.”
He put his head into the hearth and coughed. It took a second for a cloud of dust to dissipate and give them a clear view, but when it did, a hole was found in the hearth’s floor, leading to a dark pit that not even the Guard’s flashlight could shed some light on. “That’s not normal,” Command relayed their thoughts exactly. “Need some real light over here.”
“Command, we got another level to this place?” Yuri started to rock his hips, his way of dealing with his building anxiety. Wes could relate.
“Not sure yet.” The Guard turned his head to his team. “Think we got an entrance to a sublevel.”
“You want us to break that shit down and—?” came the replies from Command’s men.
Command’s camera shook from side to side with his head. “Look for a point of entry first. If that don’t fly, we’ll knock it all down.”
A dozen hands shifted in and out of the camera’s view, feeling, dusting off, prying and pushing. And then there was a glorious and equally terrifying sound. A slow hiss had been activated somewhere near the fireplace.
“Back it up, boys. Weapons ready.” A gun appeared in Command’s hands, aimed at the fireplace as the entire brick structure popped out of the wall a few inches. About two feet above where the mantle had been was a plastic covering that looked like just another brick. The covering had been pulled away by a GERT member and somehow an entrance had been exposed.
“Thermal?” Command boomed.
“Other than our own movements near the fireplace, we’ve got nothing alive. Frame of the hidden entrance is reading around forty degrees. Whatever is down there is insulated from the weather,” someone off camera read off.
“Yuri, it’s your call.”
Yuri turned to Nina. “My Queen?”
“Do as you see fit. I want answers, but not at the risk of their lives,” she said with the utmost calm.
Wes’s heart thudded against his ribcage like it was playing one hell of a concert with only him as its audience. He gripped his knees; reminded of a little boy in front of the television on a Saturday morning. He couldn’t wait to see what was next. And this time lag, shit, it was the most god awful commercial he’d ever witnessed.
“Proceed,” Yuri said.
Command didn’t waver; he moved in as he’d been trained to do. His team was with him all the way. His gloved hands reached up to touch the rubber seal around the hidden door’s frame and he said, “Keep me covered.”
“Yes, sir,” came a unified shout.
Carefully wedging his fingers into the rubber lining, Command pulled gently at first and when that didn’t work, he pulled with his otherworldly strength. The door came away quickly, revealing a black hole to nothingness—a rectangular abyss that made Wes quietly gasp in awe.
“Ah, fuck that’s bad,” Command groaned and coughed in the other direction. “The smell…”
The spirits had been trying to tell them the entire time. It was another clue to the bigger picture. Briggs came to them from the shadows. Tabitha pulled Adrian through darkened doorways. Red and her pitch dark portals of hell, in which she dragged Wes from this place to the next.
They had no right to reveal the ending from the other side. It wasn’t their place, it was fate’s verdict and that of their mysterious maker’s to decide what they could and could not say or do. They were just messengers, and Wes heard their message loud and clear.
“The door is a portal from this place to the next,” he whispered absently to himself.
Sutton joined him on the floor. “Talk to me.”
Wes rubbed at his chin as he watched Command test the depths of the hole and search for a way to get down there.
“The doorways…I thought they were portals and they are metaphorically speaking,”
Sutton put his hand over Wes’s. “You’re scaring me, old friend.”
“You should be scared. When those boys crossed through that doorway, they left this world and went on to the next. It’s a mass grave, Sutton. It’s a fucking mass grave.”
Yuri was staring down at them. For an inexpressive man such as himself, his hard eyes softened as the horror sank in. Wes knew the man was a father. He knew what Yuri was thinking, as were they all. Those boys had been defenseless, used, killed—all in the name of what?
Greed. For Camille Sinclair’s greed.
Those boys had died scared and alone, with only the face of their murderer to see them off to their final destination. Only, they would never rest without closure, without justice. They hadn’t been trying to hurt Adrian; they had been trying to save his life that night because they thought he was in mortal danger from the beast that haunted that house.
The man without a name. The man that searched for his precious Sasha in the snow. The man who was really a monster.
The sounds of the GERT team taking turns to vomit off the porch made Wes close his eyes. Tears pricked at his closed lids, wetting his lashes as he opened his eyes to face the discovery GERT had just made.
“Sir,” came Command’s rough voice. “It is with deep sadness,” he began in such a formal tone that died off on a whispery choke. “That I confirm this on video.”
Sutton gripped Wes’s hand in his, bringing it to his chest and never letting go. The team gathered in close around them, every single one of them holding a hand to their mouth or having tears in their eyes. Command signaled his men with two fingers and three thick beams of light illuminated the grizzly scene that Wes would never forget.
“My God,” Nina cried and fell to her knees, forgetting herself in the presence of those she trusted most.
Command slowly panned the camera from left to right.
At least a hundred corpses in various stages of decomposition were piled along the walls, in giant heaps where they had been forgotten after being discarded. Command paused at the sight of smaller body near the middle. They heard the Guard’s sobs as he came across the little boy that couldn’t be over four feet tall.
Yuri shakily exhaled. He closed his eyes and said, “Call in the others. Document the scene thoroughly and then…” He couldn’t finish.
“We will care for them as if they were our own. They will be honored,” Command whispered.
Yuri gave a sharp nod that Command couldn’t see. “I want to know everything about that house. Who owned it or who still owns it. I want to know everything,” he roared.
Command took off his helmet and looked directly into the camera. Tears streaked his wind bitten cheeks. “We will not stop until we have a name. We will not fail them.”
As the feed ended, Wes reached for his inconsolable queen. He pulled her under his arm and huddled next to Sutton. The three of them traumatized to the core.
One thing was for certain, an understanding that had its own scent and taste had been born of the people in Elle Franco’s living room: Camille Sinclair and her little pet Halverson were going to wish they had never been born.
To be continued…