“Update, Mr. Beale.” Hetty stopped directly in front of the large monitor in Operations as the team finished assembling behind her. That is, all of the team minus the LAPD detective currently out on the streets of LA.
While Sam and Callen took up their usual spots close to Nell and Eric’s work stations, Kensi held herself back slightly, leaving a gap between herself and her teammates… a gap that her partner would normally have occupied. It hadn’t even been twenty-four hours since they had dropped him off on a darkened alley where he would begin his trek to the homeless camp that he was to infiltrate. And she missed his presence dearly.
The screen in front of them blinked as Eric shuffled several files into view, some in text format while others were smaller pictures of streets and faces. When they turned to the display, the analyst cleared his throat before he began.
“As you all know, Deeks is now under in the camp that’s close to where the deaths have occurred. We’re hoping he can find some hint as to where this drug is coming from before it spreads and we can’t contain it.” He finished, standing up with Nell as she typed away on the pad in her hands.
The red-haired tech inclined her head toward the screen. “The lab has preliminary identified the concoction as a combination of cocaine along with several prescription medications typically used in the treatment of depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and even PTSD.”
“But why is it killing? This doesn’t sound like it should be all that dangerous.” Sam folded his thick arms across his broad chest.
Nell pulled up another report. “The forensic reports show that the anti-psychotics were already in the victim’s systems before the cocaine was introduced. It was also discovered that the cocaine hasn’t been refined… it’s almost 100% pure… way more potent than anything that LAPD narcotics has seen in some time. It makes its consumers feel that they’re on top of the world, nothing to worry about, and lowers their ability to realize that something isn’t as it should be.”
Kens felt a rush of longing as her thoughts turned to something her partner and boyfriend had mentioned just after their first briefing on the drug deaths. “Deeks said something about that… the purity of the coke.” She waited until she had everyone’s attention before she continued. “When dealers move into a new area or are just getting started up with pushing, one of the ways that they get their clientele ‘hooked’, is by providing really powerful stuff the first time around… the folks who use it are addicted from almost the very first hit.”
“So, we might be dealing with a new and upcoming pusher…” Sam leaned back against the center console.
“…or one that’s been in the game for a while but is broadening his territory.” Callen finished his partner’s thought while pointing to the screen. “But we’ve seen pure content coke on the streets before and it didn’t kill like this; it just doesn’t make sense.”
“It does when you take into account the victims who have died.” Hetty folded her hands in front of herself. “All of the ones that were brought to our attention were people who had been living on the streets, long-term.”
Callen nodded in understanding. “Poor nutrition, possible dehydration, vitamin deficiency… their systems just couldn’t handle the strain.”
Nell pointed to the screen. “Exactly. The causes of death were listed as ‘Asphyxiation by extreme depression of respiratory system function’.”
Sam cocked his head to the side. “Could I get that in English, please?”
Kensi’s background in forensics prompted her to answer in a low voice. “It means… it means that they took the drug, went to sleep… and simply stopped breathing.”
All of them fell into silence for a few moments, their thoughts going out the ones that had already been lost and the ones that could possibly die before they could find the source and plug it. As they contemplated the consequences of failure, Hetty inclined her head toward the screen.
“Ms. Jones, the second victim, if you please.”
A few finger taps later and the screen filled with the face of a man in the uniform of the United States Navy. “Petty Officer Second Class, Daniel H. Preston; thirty-two, served in Operation Enduring Freedom and other operations as a bomb disposal technician; Purple Heart, Bronze Star… diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder four years ago and given a medical discharge soon after.”
“And he ended up homeless and dead in a cardboard box in the City of Angels.” Sam let out a disgusted grunt as he spoke. “His country let him down.”
“An oversimplification for certain, Mr. Hanna. We do not know all of the factors that led to his fall from society… but I cannot argue with your assessment.” Hetty turned to face the agents and analysts in front of her. “But let’s not let his death or the deaths of these others, be in vain. Let us use it to save the ones that we can. Agreed?” She received a series of firm nods in response; her team focused and intent, just like they should be. “Since the pharmaceuticals are primarily centered around the treatment of PTSD, the LAPD narcotics division have ascertained that the source must be someone with access to those particular items and with the fact that all of the recorded deaths have occurred in the same general location… we must focus our investigative efforts in that area. And since some of the victims aren’t veterans and shouldn’t have access to the drugs used in the treatment of PTSD, we have to discover how they are obtaining those as well.”
“If the source continues to operate and deal out this stuff… Deeks will find it.” Callen’s confidence in the detective caught them all a little off guard, no one more so than Kensi. When the senior agent chanced a look in her direction, he gave her a half-hearted shrug. “What? We all know that no one could play this better than Deeks.”
Sam couldn’t let the serious moment pass without some snarky comment. “Yeah, who else has a jacket that’s so close to being some kid’s freaky science experiment?”
When Kensi shot him a dangerous look, the good-natured smile on his face let her know that despite the jabs and jokes, the big SEAL would move heaven and earth to protect her shaggy-haired partner. That thought caused her glare to morph into a look of amusement. “See? I knew he’d finally wear you guys down.”
Both Callen and Sam shook their heads in disagreement, the blue-eyed leader speaking first. “Nah… we just don’t want anything happening to the only person on this planet that can keep you in a good mood.”
Sam leaned over and bumped her elbow with his arm. “Yeah, no one likes a pissed-off Kensi… there just aren’t enough Twinkies in the world to fix that.”
Out on the streets of LA…
By the time the two men and the dogs had made it back to where they had spent the night, all of the cardboard from Gunny’s makeshift dwelling had been ‘appropriated’ by some of the other dwellers of the dusty lot. Deeks waited to see what the older man’s reaction would be and was relieved when it seemed to roll off the man’s back like water off a duck. They simply continued to walk along the concrete barrier until they exited onto another dirty side street that would take them toward some of the better parts of the neighborhood they were in.
After walking a few yards down the sidewalk, Deeks chanced a quick look over at the man beside him, finding his expression neutral, as if nothing was amiss.
“You’re not upset that someone took your stuff?”
The old Marine smiled down at the ground. “Nah… no big deal. There’s a recycling place a few blocks over and those who are willing to make the trek can get all the cardboard that they want.”
As they continued on, Deeks was again impressed once more by the dignity and poise with which the older man carried himself, the years of military drill and professionalism hammered into the man’s character as well as the way he handled himself. The incident back at the tables revealed that the man beside him not only had the respect of those who he shared the streets with, but almost everyone else he’d met had a high opinion of him. Especially the beautiful Carmen.
When they came to the end of the street, Deeks began to wonder exactly where they were headed and took a moment to adjust the worn shoes on his feet. “Mind telling me where we’re headed?”
Gunny inclined his head in the direction that they had been traveling. “I always take Short Round to the park on Saturday… let him run around, feel the grass under his paws for a little while.”
The man’s kindness toward the animal at his side touched the detective; not many men would think about the welfare of others before himself, but especially not of a dog. There was a bond there that went beyond a simple master and his pet.
“You and he are pretty tight.” Deeks commented as the light changed and the four of them began to cross the street, then suddenly, Gunny was shoving against his back, causing him to shoot forward along with Monty. He was just getting his feet back under him when he heard screeching brakes and a loud horn right next to them. When he looked up, there was a large black Cadillac Escalade angled across the right hand lane with pieces of the driver’s side mirror scattered across the pavement at their feet. When he glanced over to check on his friend, the older Marine was rubbing the bicep of his left arm, a slight wince on his face.
Before Deeks could say a word, the vehicle’s driver was stumbling onto the street, his face red and his eyes livid. “You idiot! You broke my mirror!” He stepped up to Gunny and for a moment, it appeared as if he was about to put his hands on the other man. “I’m going to kick your ass!”
Gunny continued to massage his arm where the mirror had struck him when he was shoving Deeks out of the vehicle’s path, his face remaining calm and passive. “We were in the crosswalk and we had the light.”
“Screw you… you homeless piece of shit!” He made the mistake of actually reaching out and grabbing Gunny’s injured arm. In a blink, the stranger’s face was curled up in pain as his hand was now grasped in the injured man’s other hand and his wrist was bent backwards at an awkward angle. “Hey… what the… get your nasty hands off me!”
Gunny’s response was to apply a bit more pressure to the back of the man’s hand with his thumb, sending the man to his knees. “Sir, the best thing you can do, is get back in your vehicle and leave before this gets serious… and painful.” His tone, demeanor, and everything about him exuded calm and control as he applied steady pressure to the angry man’s median nerve.
The man on his knees reached around and attempted to tug his cell phone from the pocket of his jacket. “I… I’ll… I’ll call the cops.”
In order to prevent Gunny from actually doing something that might actually require the cops… or an ambulance, Deeks cleared his throat and stepped forward. “Go ahead, see how that works out for you.” When the stranger glanced up with both hatred and confusion in his eyes, the detective explained. “You failed to yield the right-of-way to two pedestrians in a marked crosswalk who had the signal after you didn’t come to a complete stop on a red light.”
The man’s lips curled up into a smirk that came across as more of a snarl. “I doubt the cops are going to take the word of a couple of homeless bums over the owner of an Escalade.”
Deeks gave him a simple shrug of his shoulders. “You might be right… but I am sure that the traffic camera right over there… “ He pointed toward the cross beam the held up the traffic signals, and winked at the small camera perched at the right angle to catch everything that had happened on the street. “…could be used to clear up the entire mess. Don’t you think?” When he looked back at the man on his knees, the scruffy blonde was the one wearing the smirk.
As the man’s brain finally caught up with the facts of the situation, his shoulders slumped and he stopped trying to wrestle his hand away of the man standing over him. Gunny relaxed his grip, but both he and Short Round maintained a careful watch as the businessman pulled himself up from the ground and dusted off the knees of his dress pants. He turned quickly and stomped over to the Escalade, uttering a curse as he kicked the broken mirror against the curb before climbing into his vehicle and peeling away with the screech of tires.
As the dust settled and they were able to finally finish crossing the street, they paused for a moment to catch their breaths. “Whew… that was close.” Deeks leaned over to pet Monty who still seemed a bit confused as the what the entire hullabaloo was all about. “How’s the arm?”
“Just a little bruised… nothing major.” If he was in any pain, he managed to hide it well. “I’m just glad I didn’t have to actually kick that guy’s ass.”
“You could have just ordered Short Round to bite his nuts off.”
Deeks’ comment made both of the men chuckle at the mental image that popped into their minds.
“Been a while since he’s dined on that particular body part.” Gunny tapped his thigh and the dog side-stepped to lean against his friend. “That was quick thinking back there with the traffic cam… he was a pretty big guy and I would have hated to ruin that very expensive suit he was wearing. You a lawyer in a past life?”
Time for the cover story that brought Stretch to the streets. “You know, actually… I was.”
That brought the other man to a quick stop. “Really?”
“Passed the California Bar exam on my first try.”
The other man let out a long whistle before commenting. “Well, slather me in butter and call me a biscuit.”
Deeks dropped his head, maintaining the ruse as he stiffled a laugh. “Yeah… hard to believe, huh?”
Gunny shook his head. “No, not at all.” When his blonde companion glanced over at him with a strange expression on his face, he let out a soft sigh. “I’ve been out here for a while… met all kinds of people from every walk of life… every status… every position. Sometimes the fall into this, isn’t as far as most folks imagine.”
There wasn’t much more to say about that, so they continued to walk to wherever Gunny was leading them. For a few moments, the only sounds came from the city life around them but then the next question came from the old warhorse. “So, what happened?”
Deeks sighed heavily, then gave the answer to his troubled past. “Got prospected by one of the large firms in the city and things couldn’t have been better… started living the life, you know? Cars, parties, women… some drugs on the side.” He caught the hardening of the Marine’s eyes and waved off the accusing look. “Just the light stuff, nothing serious… but it got ahead of me and I… I just… I lost my perspective… and felt like I was drowning… I lost everything.”
Something brushed against his leg. Hard. “Everything but good ole Monty here.” He petted his faithful friend between his ears, exactly where the animal wanted it.
Gunny, ever looking to lift others up, gave a simple word of encouragement. “But you’ve stayed clean, right?”
“Twenty-six months and counting.”
The smile that curled itself across the older man’s aged face was breathtaking. “That’s my boy.”
Deeks spirit smiled within itself, happy to have met a tender yet strong soul out on the rough streets of Los Angeles. He considered it for a moment, but decided that it wouldn’t hurt to know the same thing about the veteran walking beside him. “So, what’s your story Gunny? How’d you end up out here?”
For two men to share so much so quickly was unheard of, but the bond that was being forged between them had started off well and it should only continue to grow in strength. When Deeks looked over and caught the blank slate that Gunny’s face had become, he began to wonder if that bond hadn’t shattered into a million, irreparable pieces. “Hey Gunny… sorry… I didn’t mean to…”
A strong hand came up to stop the detective’s rambling apology, but Gunny still didn’t make eye contact. “No kid… it’s okay.”
While their pace had slowed, the two men and their animals continued to amble along the broken concrete of the sidewalk. After a few blocks, Deeks wondered if the conversation was over, but then Gunny started talking, but he didn’t begin by talking about himself.
“My son, Wyatt, joined the Marines right out of high school, just like his old man. Graduated from boot-camp at the top of his class… aced AIT (Advanced Infantry Training)… became an outstanding Devil Dog…” The man paused, seemingly to collect his thoughts… or emotions… before he went on. “He was stationed at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan, working as a combat tracker helping the EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) units hunt down the bastards planting IED (Improvised Explosive Device) along the roads and blowing up our guys and gals.”
It was like Deeks could see the shoe about to drop, and he was powerless to stop it from happening.
“Wyatt and his team got attached to a Marine Recon unit sent out to hunt down the Ace of Hearts… the man responsible for over one hundred and fifty civilian and thirty-two military personnel deaths in IED detonations.” The man’s shoulders squared and his chin remained parallel to the ground. “They found the right house but it was the wrong night and no one was home… but the place was wired.”
Ahh… shit. Deeks let his head fall, whatever Gunny was going to say was superfluous at this point, but Gunny kept talking, making it just all the more worse.
“Wyatt was helping clear the last rooms on the second floor when his dog signaled that something wasn’t right. He managed to get the entire squad out of the building before it remote detonated.” A lone tear slipped from the older man’s eye and left a wet trail as it slipped down his cheek. “His partner… his ‘Short Round’… survived the blast…” He patted the dog along his ribs, ruffling the fur at the last moment and Deeks finally saw a set of nasty scars in front of the animal’s rear leg.
“…but my son did not.”
To be continued…
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Thanks to Lindy AKA Sweet Lu for the wonderful feature image.