This wasn't the first time I'd had a gun in my face. I was a cop, it came with the territory. Usually though, it gave me some sort of flutter in my heart or some nervous thrill. This time, it didn't do anything but piss me off.
It was after midnight as we stood in the old warehouse. The October night was overcast and chilly, and the inside of the warehouse was dimly lit. Very dimly lit. The little light that was in the room seemed to gleam off the barrel of his pistol, and the shadows made it seem bigger than it was. Somewhere in the distance, I heard a siren wailing and the unearthly howl of one of LA's resident monsters. That sound, more than the gun in my face, sent chills down my spine.
“Are you going to pull the trigger or not?”
The man with the gun before me giggled. “That anxious to die, pig?”
I shrugged. “Being dead only means I won't have to share the air around here with scumbags like you. I call that a win.”
Armand Castillo was a disgusting waste of a human being who had a jacket that was thicker than a Russian novel. Robbery. Multiple counts of rape. Human trafficking, even murder. But he also had friends in high places – friends with deep pockets and high powered lawyers. Even though we'd collared him a number of times, we had never been able to get any of the more serious charges to stick. We knew he'd done the crimes we'd busted him for, but he always managed to wiggle out of it one way or another.
That was one of the benefits of being one of the top guys in LA's Russian crime families, I supposed.
“Let me ask you something, pig,” Castillo said. “Why do you have such a hard on for me? I mean, there are far worse things in this city than me. Why not focus your attention on the real monsters like those...those...animals, instead of a simple businessman like me?”
There was no humor behind my laugh. “Simple businessman? By my count, you've raped at least a dozen women, extorted more people than I can count, sold young girls into the sex trade, and even killed some folks. From where I stand, there's no distinction between you and those – animals.”
“You can't prove any of that,” Castillo said. “As my multiple exonerations have proven. In fact, way I heard it was that after the last time you unjustly arrested me, you were told to back off and leave me alone. And yet, here you are. Again.”
That part was true. After the fourth time we failed to put Castillo away, my captain had told me to focus my attention elsewhere. Said that we'd get Castillo in time, but my energy and focus was needed on other cases. Though I didn't argue – mostly because in LA, there was no shortage of cases that needed attention – I still couldn't in good conscience, walk away from the evil that Castillo was.
After we'd walked out of the courthouse the last time, he'd had the balls to stand right in front of me in his five thousand dollar suit, with his solid gold cufflinks, and his Rolex, and give me a smile. Better luck next time, he'd said. When he gave me that smirk and had thrown out that line, something inside of me just snapped. I vowed right then and there that I was going to take Castillo down, no matter what. One way or another, I was going to take him down.
And there I was. With his gun in my face.
“Unjustly arrested, my ass. The only reason you're not rotting in prison right now is because of who you work for,” I snapped. “Them, those fancy three thousand dollar an hour lawyers you have on retainer, and our fucked up justice system. So don't even think you get to play the falsely accused martyr card here, Castillo. You're nothing but a piece of shit in an expensive suit.”
He looked down at his well tailored suit, smiled, and nodded. “This is an expensive suit, thanks for noticing. A businessman always needs to dress for success. My pops told me that a long time ago. Well, that and I always like to look my best for you, Kate. I keep hoping that one day, you'll have dinner with me.”
“I'd rather cut my own throat.”
“You're far too beautiful to be so angry,” he said. “You try to dress down and hide it, but I can see what a knockout you are. A little make up, maybe get your hair done, a nice dress – you could be on a magazine cover.”
I was getting tired of this little game. My gun was on the ground about five feet away, but I had a back up in a holster at the small of my back. I just needed a distraction to give me a chance to get it. Castillo had the upper hand at the moment, but he wasn't trained like I was. I'd spent more time than I cared to admit practising getting to that back up – just in case I ever found myself in a position like this – and only needed a second.
“This is boring and I'm tired of it. I'm tired of you, Castillo. Are you ever going to work up the balls to pull that trigger or are we going to sit here and chat like girlfriends all night? My money says you're too much of a pussy to actually do it.”
I saw his jaw clench and the anger flash through his eyes. But just as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone. The one thing about Castillo was that he was intelligent and was able to hold his emotions in check. He wasn't one of those hotheads who simply reacted without thinking. Castillo was usually two moves ahead of the game. Which is why he was a rising star in the Fydorov crime family, and it's what made him so dangerous.
“You know,” he said. “I'm not going to kill you.”
“I didn't think so. You don't have the balls.”
He smirked. “Actually, I do. But I also have the brains. Why waste a beautiful woman like yourself, when I can ruin you instead?”
“Ruin me?” I scoffed.
“Exactly. You live for your job, yes?”
I stared daggers at him, a nervous knot beginning to form in my belly. I didn't like where this was headed.
“You were told to leave me be,” he continued. “When I call your captain, and maybe some of our friends in the department, to tell them you continue to harass me, what option will they have but to fire you?”
“They're not going to fire me for trying to rain down hell on a scumbag like you.”
“Oh, I think they will. Especially if I file a lawsuit against the city claiming that you've violated my civil rights. Again. They'll really have no choice.”
I racked my brain, trying to think of a way out of this mess I'd created. He was probably right. If he did everything he said, I was probably going to lose my job. I'd defied orders and was continuing to harass the man, trying to goad him into something I could arrest him for. They wouldn't care that he's an evil piece of shit that preyed on young girls. They wouldn't care that he was responsible for some of the most ruthless acts of violence in the city. And to be perfectly honest, they wouldn't really give a damn about his civil rights. All those suits and pencil pushers down in City Hall as well as the Glass House – which was cop speak for Parker Center, the LAPD's main headquarters – would care about was the fact that my actions would be a PR mess and cost the city money.
“And once your reputation is destroyed and you're out of work with the LAPD,” Castillo said. “I would be more than happy to have you come work for me.”
“You're kidding me.”
“We'll have to clean you up a bit. Maybe get you into some nicer clothes. You must dress for success, after all.”
I slid my hand down to my waist and waited for my chance to go for my gun. I just needed a couple of seconds to turn the tables on this creep.
“It'll never happen.”
“Oh, I think it might,” Castillo smiled. “And not only will I save you a job, I would be gracious enough to save you a spot in my bed as well.”
I laughed out loud. “Your arrogance is astounding. You not only expect me to work for you, but you expect me to fuck you as well?!”
“Out of gratitude for giving you gainful employment, of course.”
I shook my head. I could see by the expression on his face that he actually believed things would go down just like he was saying. He actually thought that I'd not only be his employee, but his arm candy too.
“You're a joke, Castillo,” I said. “A fucking joke.”
“The more I think about it, the more and more I like this plan. This is going to happen.”
And then he gave me the chance I needed. Castillo lowered his gun and with his other hand, pulled out his cellphone. He had a smile on his face as he turned the phone on. A million things flashed through my mind in an instant – the faces of his living victims, the faces of the dead ones, his smiling, arrogant face. The anger inside of me rushed up like a tsunami and overwhelmed me, pulled me under into it's dark, shadowy, murky depths. I almost felt outside of my body, like some unseen force was controlling me.
I felt like a marionette on the end of some cosmic puppet master's strings as with the speed of a rattlesnake strike, I reached around, yanked my back up piece, and fired three shots in rapid succession. I watched Castillo's body jerk and dance as the slugs impact his body. His gun and cell phone hit the concrete floor with a clatter as he clutched his stomach. Blood, red and viscous, flowed between his fingers and began to stain the ground red at his feet. He looked at me with an expression of shock and fear. He was dying and he knew it.
I lowered the pistol, smoke still wafting from the barrel and walked over to him. I kicked both the phone and gun out of reaching distance as Castillo fell to his knees. His face was growing pale and he let out a wet, gurgling cough. Blood poured from the corner of his mouth. I looked down at him, not feeling an ounce of pity or compassion. No, I felt righteous and justified.
“I guess your plan isn't going to happen after all, is it?”
His breath was becoming shallow and ragged but when he looked at me, he smiled. He actually smiled. I tensed and raised my gun as Castillo reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and withdrew something. He tossed it to the ground at my feet. It was a key.
“What is that?” I asked.
“Figure it out,” he gasped. “Not everything is what it seems, K – Kate.”
Castillo slumped to the side and fell over. He was dead. And I was left with a body that I needed to explain and a mess that I needed to figure out fast. As well as a mystery. I put my gun back into the holster, knelt down and picked up the key he'd thrown at my feet. I turned it over and saw that it had been engraved. 13B had been etched into the key, but that didn't tell me a whole lot.
I sighed. “I have bigger fish to fry at the moment.”
I stood up and slipped the key into my pocket. Looking at Castillo's body, I pulled out my cell phone and tried to steady my nerves. I was about to make the most difficult phone call I'd ever have to make and needed to have my head on straight. Captain Hall wasn't going to be happy. Not in the least. And I was more nervous about speaking with him than I was having Castillo's gun in my face.
There was no way this was going to be a pleasant conversation, and part of me did fear that I'd lose my job anyway. I'd not only defied orders and had continued hounding Castillo – though, it was on my own time – now I'd killed him! I knew how it was going to look and needed to somehow beat that perception. Or at least massage it enough that this didn't look like a cold blooded execution.
I took a deep breath, punched in the number, and put the phone to my ear as the other end of the line began to ring.
Three Weeks Later
“You really stepped in a big, steaming pile of shit this time, Kate.”
I sat in Captain Hall's office with the door closed. I could see the faces of some of the other cops in the squad room looking in without trying to look like they were. They were curious to see if I'd leave the room with my badge and gun. And knowing some of those assholes, there was probably an office pool about it.
“I know, Cap,” I said. “Trust me, I know.”
I'd been on administrative leave for the last three weeks and was anxious to get back to work. I was somebody who needed to be doing something and sitting at home wasn't going over very well with me. I was going stir crazy. I'd been cleared by IAB. They'd accepted my story about the confrontation with Castillo and ruled it a good shoot. It had been the fourth time over the last two years they'd had to make such a ruling, which made them a little edgy about me. Which was understandable, I supposed. They didn't like cops with itchy trigger fingers because it made for bad public relations.
But it wasn't like any of the guys I'd shot were good guys. They were scum. Criminals. And though I wasn't the “shoot first, ask questions later” type, I never hesitated to pull the trigger when I thought my life, my partner's life, or the life of a civilian was in jeopardy. Still, even though I'd never come out on the wrong side of a ruling by IAB, and I had a solid reputation as a good cop, they didn't want gunslingers in the streets; and some of the assholes in City Hall did everything they could to force me out.
Fortunately for me, I had friends in high places too. People who thought I did good work.
“No, you don't know,” Captain Hall said. “I've got the Chief of Police and the mayor kicking my ass up one side of the street and down the other about this. I've even got our god damn state reps breathing down my neck.”
“I know, Cap. And I'm sorry. But I was cleared by IAB. It was a good shoot.”
“For whatever that's worth.”
“It should be worth a lot. It means I didn't do anything wrong.”
Hall looked at me evenly. I could see the anger and frustration in his eyes. Captain Hall had been my biggest supporter since I'd entered the academy. He'd been friends with my parents for a lot of years and was my “Uncle Lou.” With the mussed hair, bushy eyebrows, bushier moustache, sparkling blue eyes, he'd always had a grandfatherly air about him, and he'd watched me grow up.
Even after all these years, he looked exactly the same – except for the fact that these days, his mussed hair, bushy eyebrows and moustache had gone mostly white and there were more lines in his face. Time has it's way with us all.
After my folks had died and I'd gone to live with my aunt, Hall had always kept tabs on me. He never failed to send cards and gifts on my birthday and holidays – he'd even come to my high school graduation. The day I followed in my father's footsteps – and his – and entered the academy, I thought he was going to burst with pride. He hugged me and with tears in his eyes, told me just how proud of me my parents would have been.
“It's not that easy,” Hall said. “You know it isn't.”
“Why isn't it? IAB said it was a good shoot. Which means I did nothing wrong. I should be back on my desk, catching cases. End of story.”
“You know it isn't that easy because of who you are. Because there are people rooting for you to fall flat on your face. And you keep giving them reasons to keep rooting.”
After I'd graduated from the academy, Uncle Lou had shepherded me through the waters of police life. It was under his guidance – and perhaps even his considerable influence within the department – that my star began to rise. I'd made detective after three and a half years on the force. Some of the old timers in Homicide and in the LAPD power structure didn't like it and didn't like me. They thought I'd used my connections – namely, Lou Hall – to get up the ladder and didn't earn my detective's shield. Which was fine. I wasn't there seeking their approval anyway.
But I did have some fans among the department's younger generation. I guess some of them saw me as sort of a beacon of hope that they could climb the ladder as well or something. They seemed to think that I enjoyed thumbing my nose at the powers that be, that I enjoyed defying authority, and challenging rules and conventions. Some of the younger kids on the force had turned me into some sort of cult hero. But the truth of the matter was that I was just a cop, doing my job just like them. It was bizarre.
The fact was that neither side of the equation – my fans or my detractors – knew the first damn thing about me. They didn't know what made me tick. Didn't know what drove me, why I did the things I did. For me, it wasn't about challenging authority or becoming some sort of anti-hero. I wanted to do my job and do it well. The bureaucratic bullshit we sometimes had to deal with made doing that job infinitely more difficult than it should have been – so I tended to bypass that bureaucracy when I could.
There was more black and white, and fewer shades of gray in this world than people thought. Everybody seemed to be so busy trying to be so politically correct and to not offend anybody, that they were complicating things far more than they needed to be. And the basic lines between right and wrong were getting twisted and distorted beyond all recognition.
But people didn't understand that. All they saw was that I was a polarizing figure within the department, and people loved choosing sides.
“Yeah, but I'm not falling on my face so let them keep rooting,” I said. “IAB cleared me, meaning I've done nothing wrong. The people who are waiting for me to screw up have nothing to hang their hats on. I was cleared, they can go fu – ”
“Do you even realize how much you sound like Castillo right now?”
I sat back in my seat, Hall's words feeling like a slap in the face. How in the hell could he compare me to some hump like Castillo? There was no comparison to be made and it pissed me off that he was trying to make one.
“That's not fair, Cap,” anger colored my voice. “Castillo was a god damn criminal and I – ”
“Yeah, he was a god damn criminal who liked to throw the fact that he was exonerated each and every time you collared him in your face,” Hall snapped. “Or did you forget that part?”
“I still don't see it.”
“Of course, you don't. But you're just as busy throwing around the fact that IAB cleared you...again...do you see it now? What is this, the fifth or sixth time you've been investigated and cleared?”
“Fourth,” I snapped defensively. “And each time was a good shoot, Captain.”
He waved his hand dismissively. “Yeah, yeah, I know.”
“Captain, this – ”
Though he looked the part of the jovial grandfather, when he was pissed, Captain Lou Hall had a stare that could freeze lava in its tracks. Even at his age, when he needed to be, he was one of the most intimidating people I'd ever met – which was the general consensus around the squad room. Nobody ever wanted to land on the wrong side of Lou Hall.
“I need you to level with me, Kate,” his voice was as icy as his gaze. “This is just between you and me. I just need to know. Did things go down exactly the way you told IAB they did? Or is there something else? Something you held back?”
Hall's gaze was penetrating and it felt like he could see right through you, see your darkest secrets, see your lies. It was like my Uncle Lou could see your very soul and knew exactly what you were hiding. Logically, I knew it was all nonsense. I knew that he couldn't actually see any of that. It was all intimidation tactics and psychological ploys – and he was incredibly good at both. Which is what made him such a good cop.
I swallowed hard and shook my head. “No, it went down just like I told IAB, Cap.”
“My biggest problem here though, is the fact that I specifically told you to stay away from Castillo. I told you that there were other cases that needed your attention.”
I nodded. “You did. And I have stayed away from him while working other cases. I was on my own time.”
Hall slapped his desk so hard, it knocked over one of his picture frames – a photo of the two of us on vacation down in Mexico when I was younger. It made me jump and sent a bolt of adrenaline racing through my body.
“When I told you to stay away from that piece of shit, I meant it Kate!” he roared. “Not only did you disobey a direct order, you put your life in danger! He had the drop on you and could have killed you!”
I shook my head. “It wasn't going to go down that way.”
“Oh, because you're psychic now?!”
No, I thought, because he had a crush on me and thought that ruining my reputation and getting me fired was a better idea than killing me. But I couldn't tell my Captain the truth any more than I could have told IAB the whole truth – that my life was never really in danger.
“No, because Castillo was arrogant. He underestimated me.”
“A lot of people underestimate you, Kate. Not all of them end up dead. It's a problem for me – and ultimately for you – that another hump you had a hard on for is in the morgue.”
I shrugged again. “It's not a problem for me. I've been sleeping just fine at night. He was a bad guy and in the end, bad guys meet bad ends.”
“And you call Castillo arrogant,” Hall muttered. “Do you know that the Fydorov family has taken out a hit on you? Seems they didn't appreciate you taking out one of their top guys. Still not a problem for you?”
I couldn't say that getting on the wrong side of the Russian mob was ever on my bucket list. The idea that Russian gangsters were gunning for me chilled me to the bone. They were ten times more ruthless than the Italian mob and had no problems taking anybody out – cop or not. Knowing that I was on their hit list was terrifying, but I couldn't let it slow me down.
I shrugged. “It comes with the territory, Cap. It is what it is.”
“Pretty cavalier attitude, Kate.”
“If I walk around terrified that somebody wants to off me, I'm not going to be very good at my job. We're cops, Cap. If somebody out there doesn't want to kill us, we're not doing our jobs. You know that.”
He nodded and for the first time in my life, I thought that my uncle Lou looked tired, wrung out. And I noticed something in his eyes that I hadn't seen before because I'd been so busy defending myself. He wasn't telling me something. The idea of what he might be hiding twisted my guts into knots and I suddenly had the feeling that I was about to have my ass pink slipped.
“What is it, Cap?” I said. “What is it you're not telling me?”
He sighed. “There are some people down in the Glass House who want you out, Kate.”
It was nothing new. Some people down there had wanted me out for a long time, so what he was telling me was nothing I hadn't heard before. But something in his demeanor, in the way he was speaking, had gotten my attention. Most of the time, he would just laugh it off or tell me not to worry about it. He wasn't saying it this time and that had me worried.
“Be straight with me here,” I said. “Am I out of a job, Cap?”
He looked down at his desk and didn't answer for a moment, which made my anxiety shoot through the roof. Being a cop was all I knew, was all I wanted to do. I was good at it, great at it. Without the job, I didn't know what in the hell I would do. Yeah, I sucked at the political side of it all, but I was good at what mattered most – protecting the people and saving lives. That was what those smug, arrogant assholes down in the Glass House and in City Hall didn't understand and would likely never understand – what I and all of the cops who worked the streets did matter. It mattered a whole hell of a lot more than what most of those suits did.
“No, Kate, you're not out of a job,” he said slowly. “But certain – concessions – had to be made to make that happen.”
It was one word. One small, simple word, but it had the power to nearly stop my heart.
“Concessions?” I asked. “What in the hell does that mean? What kind of concessions?”
“It means that I and those people who support you had to pull some serious strings to keep you on the streets.”
I nodded my head but had a sinking feeling I knew where this was headed. “So where are they transferring me? Patrol? Archives?”
Hall shook his head. “You've always had a flare for the dramatic, Kate. It's not that bad.”
“But I'm being transferred out of Homicide, I assume.”
Hall fidgeted with a pen on his desk, refusing to meet my eyes. I sat stone still, my anger bubbling just below the surface. It wasn't Hall I was mad at, he'd never been anything but good to me and he was the last person I wanted to lash out at, so I tried to keep myself in check. But it was hard. It was oh so hard.
“Yes, you're being transferred out of Homicide,” he said. “Temporarily. The folks in the Glass House want to let things cool off for a bit and get you out of the public eye. And hopefully out of the Fydorov family's eye as well.”
“Cap, I'm not afraid of the backlash,” I said. “From anybody.”
“I know. Your fearlessness is one of your greatest strengths. It's also one of your greatest weaknesses. Sometimes you just don't know when to stop pushing.”
“It's how I do my job,” I said. “It's why I'm good at it.”
“That's true. But it also hasn't earned you a lot of friends in the Glass House. And it very well could get you killed one day.”
I sighed and shook my head. “If it gets me killed, it gets me killed. At least I know I will have died doing something honorable.”
“But you'll still be dead just the same.”
I shrugged. “I knew and accepted the risk when I signed up for the job. Please don't take me out of Homicide, uncle Lou. This job, doing what I do – it's why I get out of bed in the morning.”
Hall gave me a small, sad smile and looked entirely defeated. “It's out of my hands, kid. I did all I could. Called in every marker I had.”
I felt my heart sink into my shoes as he spoke. “Where are they sending me?”
“Supernatural Affairs Division.”
He said it quickly, as if by rushing the words out, he was hoping that I either wouldn't notice what he'd said or that it would somehow lessen the impact. I not only noticed what he'd said, it hit me like a sledgehammer upside the head.
“You're kidding me. The SAD? You are fucking kidding me,” I said, my voice rising. “Please tell me that you're kidding me, Lou!”
“Look, kid, this is the best I could do. It's the only deal I could make that allowed you to keep your shield.”
“It's a deal with the devil,” I spat. “You know how I feel about those – people. You know what they did.”
My anger came rushing to the surface and exploded like a volcano. The Supernatural Affairs Division – the SAD – was created in 2011 after the passage of the Greene-McKeon Act. Supernatural beings were required to register themselves, but once they did that, Greene-McKeon granted full rights of citizenship to supernatural beings, or shifters as they were called – werewolves, werebears, weretigers, and whatever other fucking were creatures existed out there.
And I hated them all.
Long before the shifters were required to register and announce themselves, they existed in secret. They lurked in the shadows and most people refused to accept that they were real. They were legends, fairy tales, scary stories told around the camp fire. But then a group of them began to get organized, they began to get political. And when they announced themselves to the world, they had an entire infrastructure built to support them. There were shifters in government. There were shifters in schools, teaching the kids of America. There were shifters working as doctors and nurses. There were shifters everywhere, in every walk of life, and in every profession.
There was a fierce debate about them. Some of our elected officials were all for integrating them into our society. Others wanted to segregate them, put them on reservations just as they'd done with Native Americans. And still others – mostly, the gun owning citizens of the South, wanted to declare war and wipe them out.
I'd originally been on board with integrating them into society. What can I say? I was young and stupid. After a group of shifters killed my parents though, my thoughts changed. I grew up, and tended to side with southern Americans in how to deal with them.
Ultimately the debate, lobbying, and influence peddling culminated with Greene-McKeon. And the fabric of American society was forever changed.