Walking The Edge
He pressed his back against the dirty concrete wall, pulling the hoodie further down over his face even though the alley was shrouded in deep shadows. The putrid smell of days old garbage pricked his nose and made his stomach turn over, adding to his edginess. Peering out from between the two dumpsters, he caught the hint of cigarette smoke and saw the tip of one flare brightly in the darkness as two men talked just outside the side door of the auto body shop he’d been watching. He squinted, trying to see if he recognized either man, but the light by the door was too dim, and he cussed silently to himself. Checking his weapon once again, he assessed what he was doing and what it might cost him. He closed his eyes and blew out his breath, his mind flashing with images of Callen’s contorted face when he was stabbed and then pushed out of the fast moving car they’d been in, his cover possibly blown. He wondered how he was still standing, his undercover alias still viable somehow. He’d had no answers for the questions Sam had shouted at him in the hospital, which was why he was here, on his own, trying to suppress the deep stirrings of rage threatening to control him.
The two of them had been undercover as human traffickers, Callen as a Ukrainian player, with him as his bodyguard. The daughter of a high ranking Naval Attaché was a drug user and had eventually gotten caught up with the head of a group of white supremacist drug dealers running a side business in human beings. When she’d told him who her father was and what he was into, they’d started blackmailing him. He’d finally had enough and come to NCIS for help, confessing his own sins and begging them to get his daughter out. If the man’s uncle hadn’t been in a powerful position with the DOJ or had a handful of rich political friends, they probably wouldn’t have been sent in undercover, but SecNav had insisted. Whatever the girl’s father was into, no one wanted it made public, and they were the ones assigned to bring the girl home and discover if the attaché was compromised.
During the initial briefing, he hadn’t been surprised he was assigned to be Callen’s partner, mainly because he was white and looked like the supposedly classic Aryan. Even now that made him want to puke. The attaché had introduced Callen to the man he’d been paying off as Yuri Patrenko, an interested buyer of young girls he’d met while serving in Kiev. The sleazy, white power leader bought it and they were in.
Callen had warned him early on that this assignment would test him, and he had bristled at his condescension, reminding him that he had worked this kind of case before. The senior agent had smirked and reminded him in return that he’d been the one who’d come in to rescue him at the end of that operation. That had been the beginning of their game of one-upmanship, one of the few things that had kept him sane during this assignment. Callen had told him not to hold back, that he would have to appear heartless and be violent, softening the blow by telling him that it wouldn’t be a long undercover. That turned out to be bullshit. They had spent a lengthy, soul-gouging week in the company of degenerates. Callen had gotten the feeling that they weren’t completely trusted, and worried they were being tracked, so he’d insisted they hold up in a fleabag motel for the duration. During negotiations Callen had been a rock, while he’d found himself sliding deeper and deeper into his alias. Charley Hawkins was a man only slightly more appealing than Max Gentry. Hetty hadn’t allowed him to use that old alias, afraid there was too much baggage attached.
The head bigot, Virgil Reese, had only allowed them a brief moment with the girls he was offering, but it wasn’t hard to see how terrified they were. They were so young, all of them Hispanic, and he’d become lost in their pleading eyes, their fear and hopelessness tearing at him as they were led away. Callen had remained stoic, discussing the buying of girls like it was an everyday business transaction, but he had felt his insides go cold as soon as he saw them, desperately trying to swallow his building rage. He’d felt dirty ever since. His disgust made him mean, his dark side erupting when one of Virgil’s men said something about the girls that struck him the wrong way. Callen had helped pull him off the man and had spent considerable time explaining his actions to Reese. Now he wondered if his lapse in judgment was what had triggered Virgil’s distrust of Yuri Patrenko. Why he chose to settle that distrust on Callen instead of him, he didn’t know, but the guilt he felt only added to his simmering anger as he pushed away from the wall and moved out into the alley.
After leaving the hospital, he’d ditched his earwig and shut off his phone. No one knew where he was, not even Kensi. He realized how reckless that was, but he was playing a hunch, one that Sam had disparaged in his rush to anger last night. He hadn’t defended himself because he wasn’t sure if maybe he didn’t deserve the blame. Seeing Callen unconscious, his face battered, his head swathed in bandages and his arm in a cast made him anxious to finish this.
Reese was a careful man, transporting the girls only at night, and moving them so often that Eric had never been able to successfully track them, so they had no idea where they were being kept from one day to the next. Neither one of them had ever seen the attaché’s daughter. She was still in danger, maybe even more so now. Hetty had wanted to pull him out, but he wasn’t about to leave eight young girls in the hands of these bastards, or leave a drug addicted college girl at the mercy of a perverted piece of shit like Virgil Reese. He wanted the man to suffer the way Callen was now. He wanted to beat the bastard senseless for what he’d done to him and to all the little girls whose lives he had destroyed, and that one thought stunned him, suddenly realizing how close he was to giving in to the darkness that had haunted him since childhood. He had always feared what he might have inherited from his father, the violence and the rage, the uncontrollable need to strike out at anyone who looked at him sideways, seconds from erupting at any given moment. It was a part of himself he kept hidden, even from himself at times. He worked hard to keep that part of his nature under control, but this assignment had exposed all of his worst fears, and without Callen to anchor him, that blinding darkness of soul had been unleashed.
He was practically vibrating with adrenaline as he approached the two men by the door. He felt no fear or constraint, and if his hunch was right, the girls were here. When the men reached for their guns as he stepped into the dim light from the doorway, he just stared at them unflinching.
“Virgil here?” He asked coldly.
“Who the fuck wants to know?” the ugly one asked.
“The fuck that’ll kick your ass if you don’t tell me what I want to know,” he replied, without emotion.
“Hey. This is Charley Hawkins,” the smoker said, slapping his buddy across the chest as he holstered his weapon. “He worked for the sonofabitch that Virgil took out. Virg hates foreigners, but he took a liking to Charley here.”
”Whadda ya want?” Ugly face asked, easing his gun back in the holster beneath his arm.
“You deaf or just dumb?” Charley Hawkins asked. “I’ll repeat it real slow for you. Is. Virgil. Here?”
The man took a step toward him and he yanked his gun without blinking and shoved it up under the man’s chin before he could do or say anything.
“Now you got me believin’ you’re just a dickwad with very limited brain cells,” Charley said, his mouth twisted into a cocky sneer.
“Hey now…no need to get all hoppity,” the other one said nervously. “Virgil’s comin’. Bringin’ that hot little blond college girl with ’im.”
“You got those little Mexican chicas here tonight?” He asked, his fist still tightly gripping the ugly man’s shirt.
“Yeah, why? Your buyer’s dead.”
“Why do you think, dumbass,” he said with a suggestive smile. “Anyway…I’m an independent contractor, so Yuri ain’t the only buyer I know. So, why don’t we have a little fun while the boss is away?”
“We ain’t supposed to play with the merchandise,” the smoker whined, tossing down his smoke. “Virg don’t like it. He likes to break in the girls himself.”
“But he ain’t here now, is he?” Charley said as he shoved the ugly man away and tucked his gun behind his back. “Besides, they ain’t gonna say anything. They’re too scared.”
The two men looked at each other and shrugged, sniggering and punching each other as they turned to walk back into the body shop. He shivered as he followed, looking around quickly to see how many others he would have to deal with.
“Where is everybody?” He asked.
“Wicks and Aldo are runnin’ some crystal meth down to a client in San Diego,” Smoker said.
“So it’s just us then,” Charley said smiling widely. “Since we’ll be partying together, wanna tell me your names? Virg didn’t exactly introduce everybody.”
“Call me Stash,” the smoker said, running a finger across a very poor excuse for a mustache.
“Yeah, sure man. You and Tom Selleck could be twins,” Charley cracked.
“Never mind,” he replied quickly, realizing he might have slipped up.
“This here’s Luger…you know, like the gun.”
“I can see the resemblance,” He said, unable to stop his wiseass comment as he nodded at each man, watching for any sign they were suspicious.
He felt edgy, knowing he had to hurry this along before anybody else showed up, so he plastered on a big old nasty smile and clapped each man on the arm.
“Whattaya say we go introduce ourselves to the little chicas?” Charley said. “Lead the way.”
The body shop was long and narrow, and the lighting was minimal, making him even more watchful as they passed by a few disemboweled trucks and a couple of beat up dark blue vans before reaching the back. An old workbench was stacked high with wrapped kilos of cocaine, and stretched along three quarters of the back wall, but he saw no sign of the girls, making him anxious he’d been made and worried that this might be a trap. There was only one industrial light hanging over the far end of the workbench, so it was difficult to see and he put his hand on the butt of his gun. Stash and Luger headed toward the opposite corner and he finally saw a metal door that was barred shut. He felt the hair rise up on his arms and leaned over to spit out the foul taste in his mouth.
Stash lifted the heavy bar and leaned it in the corner. Luger pulled hard on the handle of the door, which screeched loudly as the bottom scraped along the concrete floor. As he stepped closer, the smell of unwashed bodies and urine hit him, and he gagged, his anger flaring at the horrible conditions these girls were enduring. Stash stepped inside and flipped a switch, lighting the single bulb hanging in the center of the room, and illuminating eight girls huddled in the far corner, their hands raised to block out the unaccustomed light.
Deeks was finding it hard to breathe as he fought the urge to beat the crap out of both men who were now laughing as they each pulled a girl from the clutching hands of the others. One young girl with pigtails kicked Luger as he dragged her toward the door, her eyes wide with terror, but defiant all the same. When the man slapped her, he lost it, yanking his weapon and pistol-whipping him to the floor. Stash froze, his mouth open as Deeks pointed the gun at his face.
“Let the girl go,” Charlie Hawkins’ voice was cold and rough and deadly.
“What the fuck are you doin’ man?” He asked, releasing the young girl who cringed against the wall.
“Shut up and go tie up your buddy.”
“Virgil will kill you if you steal these girls,” he said as he backed toward Luger. “I’m tellin you, man. He’ll find you and cut your throat. He don’t like nobody takin’ his property.”
“They’re not property, asshole. They’re little girls who belong with their parents,” he said. “Now…you can tie up Luger or I can shoot you in the head and tie him up myself. Your choice.”
“I don’t have nothin to tie him up with, man,” Stash whined.
“There’s some rope by the door,” the girl in pigtails said softly. “They tie us together when they move us.”
“Can you bring it to me?” Deeks asked gently.
“Did you mean what you said? About our parents?” She asked bravely.
“What’s your name?”
“That’s a beautiful name, Marietta,” he said, smiling softly. “I meant exactly what I said. I’m Detective Marty Deeks, LAPD.”
“You’re a cop?” Stash asked, looking completely stunned. “That dead guy Yuri…was he a cop too?”
“No. He’s a federal agent and very much alive no thanks to your boss,” Deeks said as he took the rope from the girl and threw it to Stash. “Tie his hands and feet.”
The man did as he was told, but never shut up, warning the girls what would happen to them if they tried to escape. When Deeks heard one of the girls whimper and saw the raw fear on all of their faces, his anger exploded and he slammed the barrel of his gun down on the back of the man’s head, knocking him to the floor. Tucking his gun behind him, he quickly tied him up, and gagged them both with strips of cloth from the dirty sheets the girls had been sleeping on.
“You ladies ready to get outa here?” He called out, relieved when the girls hesitated only briefly before moving up beside him.
“I think somebody’s coming,” Marietta whispered as she backed away from the door.
Deeks quickly shut off the light as the girls huddled around him. “Follow me and stay close.”
He led them out and over to the vans. Finding one with its sliding door already open, he signaled for them to be quiet and helped them scramble inside. He could hear distant voices, and realized he didn’t have a chance of getting the girls out of here safely on his own. Pulling his phone, he turned it on and quickly sent an alert that he needed assistance, and then sent a short follow up text to Kensi telling her he was good. He handed the phone to Marietta and then motioned for all of them to get as far back in the van as possible.
He took a deep breath and let the darkness that was Charley Hawkins settle back into his mind. He moved stealthily toward the voices, unsure exactly what he was going to tell Virgil about his missing guards.
“Hey, Virg,” he finally called out. “Where the hell are your guards? I walked in here and nobody was home.”
“What the fuck?” Virgil looked pissed and suspicious, and shoved the blond college student down on the ratty sofa by the office.
“Sorry, man,” Charley said, eyeing the girl. “Didn’t mean to interrupt your party. Who’s the hot blond?”
“None of your damn business,” he shot back.
“My name’s Lizzie,” the girl said, obviously strung out and very scared.
She looked a lot younger than her nineteen years. Her clothes were rumpled and unwashed, her makeup smeared by tears, and she constantly twisted strands of her dirty hair around and around her fingers. Her eyes seem to plead with him and he knew she had to be desperate to try and appeal to someone as unappealing as Charley Hawkins.
“What the hell you doin’ here?” Virgil asked sharply as he looked around, trying to figure out what was going on. “And who told you about this place?”
“Wicks mentioned it once. Thought I’d take a chance you’d be here. Wanted to talk,” he replied.
“About what?” He asked, seeming to relax a little.
“Might have a lead on another buyer,” he replied, stalling for time. “Guy likes blonds. Lizzie here might be worth something to ’im.”
Virgil laughed and turned toward Lizzie as if thinking about it. He reached out and ran a finger across her cheek as she cowered, and Deeks flinched, holding back his anger as best he could.
“She ain’t worth shit,” he snarled, and grabbed a handful of her hair, jerked her head up and hit her in the face with a closed fist.
When she cried out, Deeks snapped, roaring out in anger at the callousness of the man. Reacting instantly, he roughly pulled him off the girl and shoved him down on the sofa, pressing his gun deeply into his cheek.
“You’re a real piece of filth, Virg,” he said, his voice strangled and full of anger as he gripped the man’s throat. “Like to hurt little girls, yeah? Sell them off to the highest bidder who’ll do who knows what to them. But you don’t give a fuck do you, Virg?”
“Hey man, take it easy,” Virgil said, his hands held up in surrender. “Take her, man. She’s yours.”
“You don’t get it do you, Virg,” he said, panting now as his rage continued to build. “I want to pull this trigger really bad, man. Really bad. And there’s no one here to stop me.”
“You don’t wanna do that, Charley. Come on,” he pleaded.
“You’re wrong, asshole,” Deeks screamed in his face and then dropped his voice to a whisper. “And you know what, Virg? No one will question it, because you almost killed a federal agent.”
“What the fuck?” The man asked with surprise before the realization struck. “Yuri was a federal agent?”
“Yeah. And I’m a cop. A very pissed off cop,” Deeks said tightly.
“You kill me you never find those girls,” the man said, smiling as if he had him.
“Already did you sorry shit,” Deeks said, fighting for control as he recalled the fear in the eyes of those terrified little girls.
The man wilted as the words sunk in. He saw the resignation on his face and heard Lizzie softly sobbing at the other end of the couch. The choice was his, and there was no question that this man deserved to die, but what would he be if he pulled the trigger? Would he become Charley Hawkins, or worse, Max Gentry? Would the dark rage he saw in his father rule him now? He’d killed to save another girl once before and it still haunted him. Is a cold-blooded killer what he wants to become? Is that how he wants to start his life with Kensi, giving in to the part of himself he hates the most? Could he be with her if he did?
He slowly pulled himself back from the dangerous edge he was walking, biting his lip as an image of Kensi filled his mind. He suddenly wanted to be anywhere else but in this room with a man devoid of humanity. Virgil Reese wasn’t worth what it would cost him to end his pathetic life, so he pulled his gun back and took a deep breath.
“You’re a lucky sonofabitch, Virg,” he said, pushing away from the man. “Now get on the floor, face down, before I change my mind.”
Virgil hurried to do as he was told, and Deeks quickly bent down to secure his hands and feet with zip ties, breathing easier when he was done.
“Come on Lizzie,” he said as he held out his hand to the distraught girl. “Your dad’s waiting for you.”
“You’re really a cop?” She asked.
“Yeah, I really am,” he replied softly. “Want to help me with some scared little girls?”
She nodded and took his hand, wiping tears from her cheeks as they made their way to the van. They were all standing together when Sam slammed through the door with a tactical squad. Kensi reached him first, her eyes wide as she looked him over.
“God, Deeks. You scared the crap out of me,” she said breathlessly. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I am now,” he said with a soft grin.
“I didn’t tell Callen what you did,” Sam said. “But, you go rogue like this again and both of us will kick your ass.”
“Yes, mom,” he said, surprised at how much he enjoyed the scolding.
He didn’t think he would ever tell any of them how close he’d come to plunging over the edge into the dark side tonight, needing to keep that part of his soul hidden and locked away. But he knew the danger would always be there, residue from his childhood and the darkness in his father’s blood.