eLit Book Awards - Bronze Medal, LGBT Fiction
Independent Audiobook Awards Nominee - Thriller (Narrator - Michael Ferraiuolo)
It’s day one of Darren Corliss’s career as a detective, and not only has he been assigned a notoriously difficult partner, but the guy might also be a pill-popping dirty cop. Internal Affairs needs proof, and Darren gets to be their eyes and ears whether he wants to or not.
Detective Andreas Ruffner doesn’t play by the rules, and he doesn’t play well with others. With bodies piling up and a list of suspects who are way above his pay grade, the last thing he needs is a wet-behind-the-ears kid for a partner. Or babysitter. Not even if that partner is easy on the eyes.
As Darren gains Andreas’s hard-won trust, they both realize there’s more than just mutual suspicion simmering beneath the surface. But their investigation is heating up as quickly as their relationship, and Darren has no choice but to go along with Andreas’s unorthodox—and borderline unethical—methods. As IA puts the squeeze on Darren to give up the man he’s falling for, he has to wonder—is Andreas the only cop left in this town who isn’t dirty?
“I don’t need a goddamned babysitter.”
From across a desk covered in reports and folders—any number of which were probably about me—Captain Hamilton shot me a look I’d seen way too many times. Narrow eyes, tight lips, tilted head. The “I’ve had enough of your shit” look.
“He’s not a babysitter.” The captain folded his hands in his lap and leaned back in his giant leather chair. “He’s a damn good cop and a newly minted detective.”
I groaned. “You’re sticking me with a rookie?”
Hamilton rolled his eyes. “For fuck’s sake, Ruffner. What part of ‘newly minted detective’ wasn’t clear? He’s not a rookie.”
I snorted. “He knows how to be a beat cop. Call me when he’s cut his teeth as an actual—”
“This isn’t up for discussion, Detective.” He sat up and pressed his elbows onto his desk. “I’m partnering you with Detective Corliss.” He inclined his head and stabbed a finger at me. “And I expect you to treat this one as an equal. None of the bullshit like the last two.”
“How long am I stuck with him?” I asked through my teeth. “Until he’s ready to take off his training wheels?”
“Until I’m good and ready to reassign one of you.”
I studied him for a long moment. Long enough to make him twitch and fidget. Then, “What’s this about, Captain?”
“It doesn’t need to be about anything, Detective.” He glared at me. “You have your orders. Follow them.”
Aside from clenching my jaw, I didn’t move. “You want to tell me why you keep pairing me with new—”
“Well for one thing, if they can put up with you, then they can put up with anyone.”
“Isn’t that considered hazing?”
He exhaled. “For another thing, I’m assigning him because detectives work better in pairs. You might see things he’s missed. He might see things you’ve missed. Two heads are better than one. All right?” Before I could call bullshit on that, he said, “Dismissed.”
There was no point in fighting him now, so I got up and left without another word. Grinding my teeth so hard my jaw ached, I headed downstairs. Might as well get some work done on my last afternoon as a free man.
This “partner” idiocy was going to drive me insane. On the other hand, Detective Corliss probably wouldn’t be a pain in my ass any longer than Detectives Schaeffer and Phillips before him. Schaeffer had held out until he’d heard that one night, instead of staying at my desk to wrap up some paperwork like I’d told him, I’d gone out and collared a suspect we’d been hunting for the past three weeks. Neither he nor Hamilton had been impressed when I’d said I’d known where the suspect was hiding, but didn’t trust Schaeffer not to compromise things before I could get close enough to arrest the fucker.
Then there’d been Phillips, who’d insisted at every turn that my refusal to tell her anything was the result of being a misogynist who didn’t respect female cops. Hamilton himself had admitted to her that I was just an asshole who didn’t like working with any cops, and that I gave my male partners the same shit. She’d immediately requested a transfer, and we were both happier for it. And for the past couple of months, I’d been doing quite nicely on my own.
Until now. Couldn’t fucking wait.
I glanced at my watch on my way back to my desk. It was quarter after four. Shit. I doubled back and headed for the locker room instead.
When I walked in, there were a few beat cops talking about last night’s game over by the sinks. They ignored me, and I ignored them as I continued to the opposite side of the room and opened my locker, all the while keeping my attention trained on them in case one of them came my way.
They didn’t seem to be moving, but I worked quickly as always, pulling the small pill bottle from the shaving kit I kept in the back of the locker for those extra-late nights. Checking again that I didn’t have anyone looking over my shoulder, I opened the bottle, tugged free the wad of cotton tha kept the pills from rattling, and slid one out. Then I replaced the cotton and put the bottle back in its hiding place.
After making double sure no one had materialized nearby, I threw back the pill and washed it down with my water bottle.
There. Now I could get back to work.
This time as I walked past the other officers, they noticed me. Their conversation dipped just briefly, pausing midsentence while all three heads turned. I didn’t have to look at them to feel them watching me leave, and I wasn’t imagining it either. Not when it happened almost every time I left the locker room without being in there long enough to change clothes or shower.
In the name of flying under everyone’s radar, I’d kept the pills in my desk for a while. I still had a few there in case I absolutely couldn’t get near the locker room, but it was harder to be subtle about popping pills when I was out in the open like that. Especially when the whole goddamned place seemed to be on a low-level alert at all times, everyone poised like bounty hunters to be the one who caught Detective Ruffner red-handed. Sneaking off into the locker room at regular intervals raised suspicion, but I never let anyone actually witness the existence of the bottle or the consumption of the pills.
I kept some on me, of course, but those were strictly for when I couldn’t get back to the precinct in time. Lesson learned the hard way.
Properly medicated, I returned to my desk and picked up my coat. I didn’t bother telling anyone that I was leaving or where I was going. Never did.
Without a word, I left the precinct.
* * * * *
Two hours later, I parked in the weedy gravel in front of an abandoned warehouse about twenty miles west of town. When I stepped out and slammed the car door, it echoed in the stillness. In the distance, the last remnants of rush hour traffic ground along, but otherwise, no one and nothing moved.
To be sure, though, I scanned my surroundings. No cars. No people. Good.
And not surprising. I’d taken the most indirect route possible. I’d backtracked. Gone around blocks. Pulled over from time to time. Turned without signaling or even slowing down. Anything to make sure Captain Hamilton hadn’t decided to get cute and put some officers on my tail again.
Today, no one had followed me. Well, that cleared one thing up: Corliss was definitely coming along to keep an eye on me. No need to put someone on my ass when there’d be a rookie detective in the fucking passenger seat. Fabulous.
For tonight, I was still on my own, and taking full advantage.
Gravel crunched under my shoes as I followed the familiar pathway through the overgrown weeds toward the crumbling, graffiti-peppered brick building. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. All my senses went to high alert, searching for the faintest signs of life.
On the surface, this was a stupid, dangerous place for a rendezvous. That was exactly what I was going for, though. Something that looked like the last place any idiot would want to do business.
For one thing, there were dozens of places where a sniper could set up shop, but I’d know if anything bigger than a pigeon tried to make a perch. I’d combed this building from top to bottom long ago and had placed motion sensors in strategic locations. A lot of shady things happened here, but nobody was getting the drop on me.
Tonight, I knew exactly how many people were inside the warehouse besides me—one. His presence had tripped a sensor, and a message had come to my phone. Ten miles away, I’d remotely checked one of the cameras, and verified that only my contact was here. No one had followed him. No one was waiting to ambush him, me, or both of us. There weren’t even any drifters who’d happened by in search of a place to sleep.
Still, I kept a hand on the butt of my pistol as I stepped into the decrepit structure. No such thing as too much caution.
To my left, something crunched under a shoe.
“Jeff?” My voice echoed, even though I didn’t shout. “That you?”
“Yeah. Right here.”
I turned around just as the kid stepped out of the shadows. His face was partially hidden by a faded red hoodie, both hands tucked deep in its pockets.
I relaxed a little, taking my hand off the gun.
He stayed tense, eyeing me uncertainly. “You got the money?”
“You got what I came for?”
He slid a plastic-wrapped, finger-sized pack of white powder just far enough from his pocket to show me. “Pure. Just like you asked.”
“Good.” I made a slow, deliberate gesture of reaching into my coat pocket for a wad of bills. We’d done business before, but he wisely distrusted me. A seventeen-year-old who made narcotics runs for gangbangers and conducted clandestine transactions with cops was smart to trust absolutely nobody.
I handed him the cash. He tucked the brick back into his pocket, and we both stood in silence while he counted out the bills. I wasn’t worried he’d try to take off—he wasn’t stupid enough to believe he could outrun a .45. Not that I would ever shoot a kid, never mind in the back, but I didn’t stop him from believing I would.
He shoved the money into one pocket, pulled the brick from the other, and thrust it at me. “It’s all here.”
“Perfect.” As soon as the drugs—pure heroin—were in my possession, Jeff jogged toward the back of the building just like he always did. His boss was not a patient man and would be chomping at the bit by now for that cash.
I gritted my teeth as I headed for my car. Jeff’s boss wasn’t my top priority right now; there was an even bigger monster with a lot more blood on his hands who needed to go first. That motherfucker wouldn’t even make it to jail if I had any say in the matter.
All in good time, though.
I opened my passenger-side door and tucked the heroin into a compartment I’d built into the underside of the seat. It was sealed, insulated from anything that might detect narcotics, including the most sensitive K9 nose. Even if Detective Numbnuts dropped a pen and had to feel around under the seat to find it, he’d never be the wiser.
The thought of him made my blood boil. I was sick and fucking tired of Captain Hamilton assigning me “partners” under the guise of mentorship, making my investigations more efficient, or whatever other excuse he came up with on a given day.
Just say it, Captain.
Just come out and admit they’re reporting back to you so you can confirm I’m a dirty cop and a junkie.
Just fucking say it.
But so far, he hadn’t said it, and none of my “partners” had provided him with anything damning. So I kept on doing my job.
Tomorrow, I’d get a bead on Detective Corliss and figure out how to fly under his radar until I annoyed him enough to request reassignment. Tonight, with no one in the world aware of the heroin tucked safely away until I needed it, I drove back into town.