“Just keep walking.” Jackson ushered past the bakery truck parked on the curb outside the old apartment complex and the men who jumped from it.
I hadn’t taken a relaxed breath since the first shot spoiled the normal club atmosphere.
I entered the apartment and immediately headed to the window to turn on the small air conditioning. The room felt as if someone had set it on fire, perhaps it was the weather. Or maybe the near death experience.
I pulled off the jacket Jackson had placed around me when we exited the club and flopped down on the couch.
Jackson stared, his hand clutching the waded up shirt I’d given up to slow the bleeding.
“Did all that blood come from your brain?” I glared with irritation. “Snap out of it … are we with Bolivar now … just like that?”
“Possibly.” He grimaced, unable to hide the pain behind his usual bad ass attitude. “I’m not sure. He’ll want to keep you around. I’m sure of that.”
“So what do we do?”
“Get the hell out of here.” His breaths came out in labored huffs. “This guy is going to take everything Sean’s got.” His eyes fell on me, exposing a hint of worry, but the thoughts behind it he kept locked away.
“Oh, what the hell?”
We turned toward the opening door and the hurried voice coming in with the visitor. “You have to get out of here.”
“Is that Harkins’ order?”
“It’s my order.”
“Your order? I’m too damn tired for this shit!” I slapped a hand on the sofa and stood.
“I’m just trying to protect you…”
“Protect me? Oh, so that’s why you guys just sat in the truck! While me and another agent were in there – with bullets flying at our heads?”
I stomped into the bedroom, opened and slammed drawers, snatched a tee-shirt and slid it over my head.
“I could have lost you tonight!” He dropped, grasped my hand and touched it with his lips. “I can’t lose you. Please say we can work this out.”
“I don’t want to work it out!” I slapped away his hand. “Get off of me!” The sight of him begging on his knees turned my stomach. How could I deal with Josh Tucker on top of everything else? I’d made my feelings clear. We could barely stand in the same room together, yet there he was, hoping to use another stressful situation to manipulate me.
“I was hoping that you missed me. I know I’ve missed you.”
“What is there for me to miss? The bullshit? The lies? How about your hands on my throat?”
“I didn’t mean any of that,” he whined. “Jessie you know me. You know I would never purposely hurt you.”
“And I guess the bruises you left behind were just accidents. Forget it!” I stomped past him. Unwilling to allow myself to be alone with him behind closed doors.
“Please Jessie, tell me what to do?”
“There’s nothing you can do. The damage is done.”
“How can I fix our relationship if you won’t tell me what I did wrong?”
“Is this guy serious?” Jackson stood back. His eyes watching Josh’s every move.
I shook my head in disbelief. “I am not in the mood to play this game with you.”
It hurt so much that Josh had not been there in the beginning when he was the one I had needed support from the most. He made my job even harder, causing mixed emotions and insecurities when I needed to focus on the task.
“Give it up, Tucker.” Jackson seemed almost amused by his co-worker’s begging.
“Stay out of this – have you moved on – with him now?”
“Maybe she has.”
“You’re not helping,” I spat. “I thought you were hurt?” Yet, he could still manage his sarcasm.
“Jessie,” Josh whined in a soft almost pathetic voice.
“Oh, don’t use that sweet voice.” I shoved him away.
“I’m not talking any different,”
“Yes, you are.”
“How can you stand there and tell me what happened tonight didn’t make you think.”
“Not about you.”
“Dude, seriously.” Jackson sat at the chipped table with an open medical kit. “We’ve had a rough night. Neither of us is in the mood. Just get out of the woman’s apartment.”
“And you’re staying?”
“I’m her bodyguard,” Jackson spoke through gritted teeth while he pried the bullet from his shoulder. “Gianetti’s orders.”
“Well, I can’t go anywhere. My orders. The rest of the team will be here shortly.”
“How convenient.” I crossed arms over my chest.
“Let me make it up to you.” Josh began to open cupboards. “To both of you. I’m hungry. I’m sure you are too.”
“I could … use … some help here … Cupcake.” Jackson laid a knife on the table and took a deep breath. “I can’t pop it out.”
I ignored Josh and focused on Jackson’s shoulder. It was a clean wound, but the angle made it hard for him to doctor it himself.
“Better?” I asked after I’d placed the last bandaged.
“I’ve had worse.”
“He’s finished cooking and still no one.” I nodded over my shoulder.
I had guessed Harkins had realized the mission had become too dangerous to continue. Both his agents had barely made it out alive and one was sitting with a fresh bullet wound, but as the minutes ticked by, I wondered if anyone else was coming.
“This entire situation stinks.” Jackson lowered his tone, his eyes mindful of Josh’s every move. “The club should have been swarming with cops – even hours later – nothing? Nah. Something doesn’t sit right.”
Josh set the table. Handed both of us a beer and sat down like he lived there.
And I just counted the minutes, unable to wait for Harkins and his goons to show up, say what he had to say, and leave. The thought of that worn out mattress had never seemed so appealing before.
Josh chewed. Smacking his lips on each bite. His eyes glued on me in that wild, angry way.
“What?” Josh questioned, his mouth full of food.
I groaned in disgust and tossed my napkin on the table.
“What the hell did I do now? I thought we were having a good time?”
“Is anyone else coming or not?” I questioned. “Because I’m really sick watching you chew with your mouth open.”
“Enough.” Andrew Harkins walked into the room, ending the argument. “This is why The Bureau doesn’t allow dating between its agents.”
“We’re not dating,” I reminded. “And never will be again.” I added to make my point.
“We’re not scrubbing the operation.” Harkins spoke up quickly.
“Did you not see what happened tonight?” Jackson chuckled. “The shit is getting deep.”
“But you like putting yourself in the middle of shit.” Harkins purred. “Just like you did a few weeks ago. Right Callaway?”
“You’re going to get us killed because we bruised your ego?” I didn’t understand the way the agent in charge’s mind worked. Throughout my training, I’d heard the same thing from every teacher - check your personal feelings at the door, but it seemed Harkins didn’t attend the same classes.
“You’re going to get yourselves killed because you don’t follow orders. Let’s go Tucker.”
“I just came for Tucker.” He chuckled. “What’s your next move? Oh, wait – you like to surprise me.”
Josh followed the boss, placed one foot out the door, and paused. “Oh, and Jessie, you might want to keep your door locked.” I saw the devil in his eyes. Evil knowing sparkling with a devious smirk.
“Pack your shit. You can’t stay here.”
In the middle of the night, we fled. Running from what, we weren’t exactly sure. The Bolivars. The Bureau. With Josh Tucker’s last words, we weren’t sure who our allies were, or who we were fighting for.
I moved quickly. Filled my backpack, grabbed my purse, my gun, and followed Jackson down the hall.
“We have to get Tina.”
“We don’t need to put her in the middle of our crap, Cupcake.”
“She’s already in it. She knows.”
“How much does she know?”
“A lot about Sean and a lot about me.”
“I don’t talk about you.”
“Damn, I feel special.”
“You should feel special.” I impishly grinned. “I hold your secrets dear to my heart.” I jokingly touched my hand to the center of my chest and rolled my eyes.
“I’m glad today’s events hasn’t killed your sense of humor.”
“I wouldn’t want to bore you. You going to tell me your plan or do I have to keep playing follow the leader.”
“You’ll know when I know.”
“Wonderful.” We stepped up to Tina’s door and I knocked.
Jackson stood to the side, in a cop’s stance. Gun drawn. His eyes down the hall.
“Who is it?” I could hear the annoyance in my friend’s voice. “I don’t have any change. I don’t do drugs. And I don’t have any … Jessie?”
“We have to get out of town. Now.”
“I didn’t stutter, girl.” I walked into her apartment, crossed the room, picked up a large duffle bag and pulled out her work clothes.
“Make it quick in there.” Jackson called from the door.
Tina didn’t argue and in a few short moments, she’d packed two bags, slung one over her shoulder, one over mine and hugged a small child against her chest.
“Take the stairs,” Jackson commanded.
“Make yourself useful.” Tina slapped the large heavy bag against his chest and adjusted her child.
“My cars in the lot.”
We took the stairs two at a time, exiting into the darkness quickly.
“We’ll take a cab.” He held up his arm, hailing a passing yellow car easily.
“Where to?” Tina settled the child in her arms, then sat forward. “I’m all up for an adventure, but I’d like to know the destination.”
“He doesn’t know yet,” I giggled, trying my best to think of the situation as a fun getaway. We had a child to think about and I didn’t want anything to cause him a moment of fear.
Jackson gave the driver an address.
“That’s Sean’s place,” Tina noted. “Why? He’s not home.”
“No. But he has plenty of guns. And we need to borrow a car.”
“We’re going to rip off a mob boss? Great start, Jackie.”
“You’re not ripping off nothing. He’d give it to you, girl.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it,” I mumbled.
“What in the world is going on here?” Tina mused as the cab stopped.
Immediately loud music flowed from inside the large house.
“Sounds like a party,” I stepped out.
“No one’s supposed to be here.” Jackson growled, paid the driver, then lifted the child out of the backseat. “Mickey’s supposed to be at a safe house, with her mother.”
“Looks like she came back.”
The door was slightly ajar. I pushed it open and stepped cautiously over the threshold. The lights were out. I heard rustling beneath my feet and I kicked a can. “It’s trashed.”
“Hold on,” Jackson whispered, placed the little boy carefully inside the back of a SUV sitting in the driveway.
“You can’t just put him anywhere,” Tina snapped in a whispered.
“It’s Gianetti’s.” Jackson pulled his revolver and slowly made his way inside.
I walked cautiously. Feeling along the wall for light switch and nearly tripping over what felt like person lying on the floor.
The body emitted a deep, masculine moan, then rolled over, unaffected by my accidental kick.
Jackson flipped on the light.
“Son-of-a-bitch.” He complained, tucking his weapon into his waistband. “It’s just a bunch of kids. Go check out that room – hey! Hey!” He kicked at the young boy on the floor. “Get the hell out of here!”
Tina and I walked toward the far room. Flickering lights and loud music flowed from the open door.
“Who the hell is that?” A man’s voice asked the moment I appeared in the doorway.
I looked toward the voice. I could barely make out a silhouette with only a few candles lighting the room.
“Oh, the hell with this!” Tina felt along the wall flipped on the light.
Mickey Gianetti sat on a white leather sofa on the lap of her male companion and the young man had a beer in his hand.
Young couples littered the room. Some half-dressed with busy hands. Others stared with no emotion. Their eyes glazed over.
“Who is that?” The man repeated.
“My brother’s girlfriend,” Mickie told him. “I thought you broke up?”
“Something like that.” I took in the mess in complete shock. There were beer cans and discarded snack food wrappers everywhere. Spilled beverages and brown handprints on the wall that I hoped were chocolate.
“Bubba’s not home. He’s out of town …”
“Yeah, you’re a little too old for this party, sweetheart, so get…”
Mickie looked down at her lap when her male friend interrupted her. He flung his hand in an attempt to shoo us out of the home.
“Oh, I know you are not talking to us like that.” Tina laid a hand on her hip. “I got a crazy feeling that Mickie is not too crazy about all this?” Tina whispered to me. “How much you want a bet that demon took it upon himself to throw this party.”
“I’m sure you would win that bet.” I narrowed my eyes as a man ran down the marble staircase naked.
“This party is over!” I crossed the room and turned off the stereo. “You have officially warn out your welcome.”
The man chuckled. “Does she live here?”
“No,” Mickie replied meekly. Her eyes remained on her lap.
The boy stared my way defiantly.
“In that case, lady we’re not going anywhere.”
Mickie tried to get off his lap and he held her tight forcing her to remain. He leaned forward and grabbed another beer from the case sitting on the couch beside him.
“Oh, you’re not?” I had an unexplainable urge to protect Sean’s little sister and his home. The boy’s smart ass expression irritated me and his brash tone pissed me off. Not the greatest end to an already stressful night.
“You heard me.”
“Oh, no. I am not hearing this. Hold that thought,” Tina held up a finger as she stomped across the room.
She flung open a door – to an office – made her way to a cabinet on the far wall and pulled out a rifle. She checked the chambers, then opened a drawer and searched.
She stuck a handful of shells into her pocket and returned to my side. I gazed at her with bewilderment as she slapped shells into the barrel.
“What? I’ve been here before.”
Mickie’s eyes landed on Tina and grew wide.
Her boyfriend continued to laugh. “This chick thinks that’s going to scare me. Please, you won’t use it.”
“No, but she will.” She tossed it to me.
I smiled. Pulled back the hammer and sent a shot flying through the air. Hitting the sofa just inches away from him.
“Oh shit!” The man yelled, dropping Mickey to the floor as he scrambled and tripped toward the exit. I fired shot after shot after him.
People seemed to appear from every corner. Screaming. Panicking and making mad dash for the door.
“What the hell?” Jackson rushed to the door and stood with a drop jaw. “You put holes in the walls!”
“He’ll get over it.” I placed the rifle on against the wall. “I got one gun – how many more you need?”
Mickie stood horrified. Her eyes filling with tears. “I’m so sorry.” Mickey spoke in a childlike tone.
“Are you alright?” I put my arms about her shaking shoulders.
“Oh, don’t go soft on her. What the hell were you thinking Mickey? Look at this place! It’s totally trashed.” Tina lectured Mickie. “Your brother has a shitload to worry about right now and look what he has to come home to.”
“Why? What happened?”
“The Bolivars happened.” Jackson growled. “Why the hell do you think Sean told you to keep your ass underground? Why the hell did you come back! Damn it, Mickey!”
“She’s not a child, Jackson,” I snapped. “We’ll just have to take her with us.”
“As if I don’t have enough to worry about.”
“Oh, stop complaining. You love a challenge.” I gave the young Gianetti a squeeze. “I think your brother is going to shoot me when he sees the holes I put in his walls.” I laughed, trying to lighten the mood.
“You could torch this place and Bubba wouldn’t care,” Mickie slouched on the couch and folded her arms over her chest.
“I doubt that. I’m Jessie,”
“I know who you are. We met, briefly … and my brother has a picture of you beside his bed.”