El Jefe

Please find below an except of El Jefe by Tiffany Christina Lewis
© Tiffany Christina Lewis 2020

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Chapter One

            The 20-something year old sat straight up. It should have been a hard task, considering he had just been pummeled in the face repeatedly. He was bleeding from his broken nose and practically drowning in the waterfall of blood rushing into his panting mouth. What is the first aid protocol for a bloody nose? Head up? No, head down—to prevent choking on your own blood.

            He was doing great keeping his head down. It was easy because every time he lifted his head, he was punched. His head bobbed back on his neck and then his chin came back to rest on his chest. He was still sitting up straight, however. As bad as he wanted to slump over and roll into a ball, he couldn’t. He was attached to his high-backed chair with rope all the way up to his shoulders, wrists bound to the arms.

He also couldn’t escape his torture chamber. Lit by nothing more than three hanging lights, the room he was in was the size of a classroom with a dirt floor and no windows. He had been brought there blind folded and he couldn’t see a way out of the room to his safety.

This young man of a proud upbringing had been in and out of trouble as he grew up, but at that moment he felt like he was in the worst trouble of his life. He felt like he was shaming his mother, again, and maybe for the last time. He felt all of her hard work trying to raise him, spending all her money to send him to a private, Catholic school, and all her tears meant nothing now. He had failed her again.

            The man beating him was 30 years his senior. Lean and strong, the attacker stood with no shirt on. His slacks were pressed with a crisp crease, and his dress shoes were clean. His muscles rippled as he cranked his arm back and slugged his victim again. He shook his hand after bringing it back from the collision. He was conditioned to take the pain of recoil from his punch. Nevertheless, he dunked his hand in a large glass bowl full of ice water sitting on a long banquet table. He left it there for an uncomfortably long time, the blood rinsing from his fist and slowly turning the water pink. He watched the young man flicker in and out of consciousness. When their eyes met, the abuser spoke in Spanish.

            “When I was your age, I was in America. I was humble, hard-working, and smart.” He continued to linger near the table, hand in the bowl. The glass was covered in condensation and the 20-something could imagine how cool and refreshing the water could be, if his blood weren’t in it.

The water was North Pole cold, but the elder didn’t mind. He looked down the table and smiled. “I was working my way up in power, thinking on my toes and making connections.” He removed his hand.

“Why?” the captive croaked.

            “Why what?” the elder roared, irritated by the interruption. He clinched his fists to bring his anger down. “Be specific.”

            The young man didn’t respond. The attacker rushed forward and clenched his victims bruised and swollen face between his cold, wet hands.

“Why what, Carlito?” he asked in a placid tone.

Carlos was terrified as the abuser pulled his head forward. When their foreheads touched, he grimaced in pain.

“I know what you want to know,” he comforted, “but you will never understand why.” He stood, releasing his young victims face. He clenched his fists and struck him in the nose again.

“Because you.”

Punch.

“Are too.”

Punch.

“Stupid to…”

When he noticed his victim was losing consciousness, he stopped and began observing him.

“I’m in control of your destiny now. Don’t try to die on me.” The elder turned back to the table and iced his hand. “I have a meeting to get to, so I guess we should finish up.”

He waited for his fist to become numb. Carlos moaned awake and coughed up blood.

“Before I moved to America, I studied boxing. I was born in Mexico City. My mom took me and my siblings to live in Tepito after my father abandoned us. That fucking coward. When I was twelve, I met Carlos Zarate. You know, the famous boxer.” He smiled staring off at the memory, then became stoic. “Well, I won’t lie. I didn’t meet him. He passed us in the streets during a parade in his honor. I knew I could be a better fighter than him, so I started practicing, watching bouts on TV in the local cafes and beating the shit out of the neighborhood kids.” He laughed a little. “I was the best boxer in Tepito at that time.”

He pulled his hand from the water and curled his fingers into a fist.

His victim shuddered.

The elder put his hand back in the water. Still speaking in Spanish, he continued. “I never went pro. Never had a chance to beat the shit out of Zarate. With his record, though,” he laughed, “I would have been destroyed. He was the greatest.” He pulled his hand from the ice bath again and shook off the lingering water. He walked down the table and looked over his tools.

Gold, silver, platinum, and titanium were just a few of the metals represented. Each shiny item had the standard four holes needed for the fingers to slide inside. Brass knuckles were a standard bad guy item, but these were extravagant. From knife to gun attachments and everything in between, the collection was grim to those who had to face it. His favorite was the corkscrew model. The silver piece had a single four-loop corkscrew on the plate, and it was angled perfectly for plunging into soft areas of the face and body. Although it was his favorite, he had never used it. The ones he used most were those with the gold-plated spikes. He had them in small, medium, and large and that day, he felt medium would be the best.

He slid on the weapon and turned to his victim. The young man saw his fate. He closed his eyes and as the spikes entered his face, he prayed for a swift death.

After an uncountable number of punches, he was dead. His face and head were mulch on the dirt floor and his neck had been shredded. The elder slipped off the knuckles and dropped them in the bowl. He was covered in blood. He rinsed both of his hands and dried them on a pristine, white towel from the table. He pulled his phone from his pocket and started a call.

“Yes, I’m done.” He hung up the phone and a team of four men came into the dank room. He wiped the blood from his chest and arms as best he could and slipped on his shirt as the men cleaned the mess, packed the weapons, and removed the dead body as fast and efficient as a NASCAR team.

“Did you get anything?” one of them stopped to ask him.

The killer slipped on his sports jacket. “Of course not. That kid had no sense and apparently, no power in the organization.” He headed for the door. “But he was an excellent warm up.”

Chapter Two

            Azlynn Matthews owned a small condo in Berkeley, California. The neighborhood was in a busy area, but at this hour of the night the white-collar workers, seniors, and college students were resting quietly. Yellowed street lights were disrupted by the occasional bright white light, down both sides of the street, giving walkers a sense of safety. Grass patches dotted the walkway with the occasional dandelion sprouting between the cracks of the concrete for good measure.

Out front, Det. Michael Taylor’s Kia was parked next to the curb. Perpendicular to that, Azlynn’s car was nestled in her parking spot attached to the condo. To the right, a path lead to her front door where a big pot of purple dahlias guarded the entrance. Azlynn kept a wreath on her door year round. From thanksgiving to new year’s, the wreath said “Happy Holidays”. Any other time, it had the cheerful greeting of “Hello” among the faux flowers.

Inside, the home was modest. Azlynn was a minimalist at heart so her living room had only an entertainment stand, a large rug, and a couch along with two lamps on each side of it. Art was framed on the wall in vibrant colors, given to her by a friend, but outside of that, the room was bare. From the living room, the full kitchen and dining room could be seen. The upside to ownership was that Azlynn was able to upgrade her whole kitchen, outfitting it in the best and most advanced appliances. She had only a small table with two chairs in the dining area. The table was dressed with a vase and fake sunflowers. To the left of the kitchen a stairway lead upstairs.

Upon arriving to the landing on the second floor, a twelve-foot hallway lead to three doors: a linen closet, a bathroom, and a bedroom. From the hall, the faint sound of sex could be heard along with the booming voice of Samuel L. Jackson, accompanied by gun fire.

Inside the bedroom, a mounted TV was playing Die Hard with a Vengeance. Mixed with the distinguishable sound of love making, Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson engaged in a shouting match. On the bed, the two lovers were connected at the hip, quite literally. Michael held Azlynn’s legs up with one arm wrapped around them. She gripped the sheets as their bodies came together again and again. Michael’s face was calm, his eyes closed, intensely focused while Azlynn’s face was distorted with a spasm of pleasure.

“Don’t stop,” she demanded between jerks of breath.

Michael had no intentions of stopping before she asked.

Their sounds of passion continued to mix and mingle with the movies dialogue until Michael decided to close out the session. He knew everything about Azlynn’s body so he was well equipped to finish the job. He knew that his kisses helped her relax and release. He knew that she loved it when their bodies were close, so when he repositioned and laid down on her, she wrapped her arms and legs around him and gripped him like a vice.

Azlynn knew how to please Michael just as well as he knew her, but Azlynn was never required to please him. It was more than enough for him to satisfy her. No matter how hard she tried to put his needs before hers, he always had a way of outperforming her in bed.

As the movie came to an end, they rocked in each other’s embrace. Azlynn called out to Michael and now in the silence of the room, her voice could be heard as clear as a bell. Michael took that as a sign that they were where they needed to be and as he finished her off, she changed her tune and begged him to stop.

Panting and bare chests heaving, the two lay next to one another, keeping their distance. The ceiling fan dried their sweat and sent a chill over Azlynn’s body. She shivered and wrapped her arms around her ribs before sitting up and leaving the bed.

“Where are you going?” Michael asked in a whisper.

“I have to pee.” She looked back at him and they caught eyes. Michael gave her a weak grin. The light from the moon beamed through the thin cracks in the blinds and washed over him. He was stunning, well-built from head to toe and the sex was still in his eyes as he began to drift into a fully relaxed position. As she turned towards the door again, Azlynn couldn’t stop her heart from skipping a beat.

Michael felt the same as he watched her leave. Her petite but strong body was flawless and the tiny smile she gave him before leaving the room was beautiful. He loved the way she walked on her tippy toes at night, as if she was disturbing someone with her footfalls. When she returned from the bathroom, she did something else he loved. She cuddled up under his arm and put her head on his chest.

They breathed together for a moment.

“Wake me up in an hour?” Michael asked.

Azlynn smiled. With their busy schedules, they didn’t always have time to sleep over, so they liked to make the most of it. She sidled up closer to him and hummed her approval.

***

They slept longer than they were planning, but at 2:00 a.m., Azlynn woke up and mounted Michael’s lap for round two. Sleep was a rare commodity for officers, and Michael was used to working with little to no sleep, and he was more than happy with being waken up for something like this. Azlynn took her time, rising and falling while Michael laid on her comfortable mattress and relaxed under her weight. He rested a soft hand on her thighs.

Thirty minutes into another successful attempt at love making, Michael’s work cell phone rang.

“No,” Azlynn said before Michael could react. She moved a little faster, knowing her good time might be over any second.

Michael pulled up onto his elbows and sucked in a little breath as he began to speak.

“No, baby.” Azlynn purred.

“You know I have to take it.” He took a deep breath and bit his lip.

Azlynn did not stop grinding her body against his even as he attempted to lift up. When he felt her resistance, he put his hands on her hips and gave them a tight squeeze, showing her he was serious.

“I need to take it, Az.”

She let her head fall back and groaned, then she lifted, as slow as she could without catching another squeeze. She moved to her side of the bed and pouted. She slipped under the sheet. Michael hopped up and took a few long strides to the dresser where his phone was ringing and vibrating with urgency.

“Taylor.” His voice was a croak as he brought it to a non-sensual volume. He cleared his throat and repeated, “Taylor.”

            “Detective Taylor, we have a 187 and a possible 261 on Hedge Lane near Joaquin Miller Park,” the operator said in a flat tone. “Lieutenant Vega requests you and Detective Jamison on the scene.”

            “On my way.” Michael hung up and rubbed his forehead. He shot a text out to Alexander Jamison, his partner.

            Got the call?

            As Michael slid on his boxers and then his jeans, Alex responded to his text.

            You know it. See you in 20.

            Michael threw on his shirt.

            “Don’t leave me.” Azlynn threw her line out, but Michael didn’t bite.

            “I have to. I got a case.” Michael sat next to Azlynn on the bed and slipped on his socks and shoes. “I’ll hit you when I get a break.”

            “What break? I’ll never hear from you again,” Azlynn teased.

            “You’ll hear from me.” He leaned down and kissed her cheek. “You can’t get rid of me that easy.”

            Azlynn giggled. “Be safe out there,” she said as Michael headed towards the door.

“I will.” Michael took a last look at her as he lingered by the bedroom door. The outline of Azlynn’s body under her sheets was alluring and Michael had one last twinge of desire as he grinned like a school boy and left the room.

He dismounted the stairs, snatched his jacket from the couch, and headed out into the night air, turning the lock on the knob and slamming the door behind himself.

Chapter Three

            The quick drive from Berkeley to the Lincoln Highlands neighborhood in Oakland was peaceful. Michael rolled down his window to take in the cool, fresh breeze. The area was covered with tall redwood and pine trees. It was piercing dark in the lush forest and the only light pollution was from porch lights and occasional headlights on the highway. Stars could be seen for light years in the cloudless sky. Michael exited the freeway and headed up the mountain towards Joaquin Miller, a large open space park where Oakland natives traveled to hike, bike, and experience nature. He whipped his car around the steep curves with precision and took a quick right onto Hedge Lane. Slowing down as he approached the address, he rolled down the street until he saw the crimson and blue lights signaling police work. Neighbors lingered on the street a few feet from the police tape. Michael parked close against the curb and hopped out of his car. As he approached the scene, he looked for Alex but did not see him or his flashy Mustang.

            Michael stepped up to the crime scene tape and an officer approached him. He looked over the young officer, his eyes flat and weary. He was keeping even more distance from his co-workers than he usually did. Michael had always been cool on his coworkers but his last case had brought many attempts on his life. Although he downplayed the severity, he was unnerved after being attacked by a fellow officer. He was straight to business with the cop who lifted the tape for him.

            “Officer—” Michael said before being interrupted.

“Detective Taylor,” the officer stammered. He put out his hand. “I’m Officer Pines.”

            Michael shook his hand. Professional courtesy. Before he could ask what was going on at the scene, the officer spoke again. “I just want you to know, I am impressed with your ethics and morals.”

            Michael looked at him with furrowed brows.

            “I heard about everything that happened to you and I am disgusted by what’s going on at the PD. I can’t believe how many dirty cops there were, or still are.”

            Michael turned to face Officer Pines directly. He was a head shorter than Michael and withered a bit as Michael cast a shadow over him. Michael remained silent so the officer gathered himself and spoke again. “The corruption in the PD is inexcusable and I’m really glad you’re a good guy.” Pines showed his teeth in a half smile.

            Michael wasn’t impressed. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to be an asshole, or a kind and gentle, more experienced officer who could give this young man some advice. After a tense second, Michael spoke.

“After what I went through, I don’t really want anyone kissing my ass or trying to appear less conspicuous around me. Any good officer would know that you’re throwing salt in my wounds by bringing up my ordeal. A good officer speaks with his actions. Talk is cheap, young man.”

            Officer Pines stood staring with big, confused eyes. He began to bumble when Michael interrupted him.

            “Were you the first officer on the scene?”

            “No,” he said, “Officer Javier is inside.”

            “Thank you,” Michael said. “Secure the perimeter.” He turned and headed into the house.

            The home was modern in its build as well as décor. In front of the entrance were the stairs that led to the second floor. To the right of that was the living room. It reminded Michael of a picture from a home decorating magazine. Everything followed perfect parallel lines. The couch had accent pillows, the mirror was framed, and the living room was peppered with plants. The plants were both real and fake which Michael discovered when he gently rubbed the fake leaf of a calla lily between his finger and thumb. From the living room, you could see into the kitchen with its steel appliances and marble counter tops. Behind the middle island, there were three huge windows that showed a lush, green backyard. No pool, but there was an abundance of quirky garden gnomes and rose bushes. Michael took a pause to think about who might have all those gnomes.

As he finished surveying the living room, he caught eyes with the first officer on the scene. Officer Doug Javier. They were not friends, but Michael was not friends with a lot of people on the force—especially now. Nevertheless, Javier left the kitchen and approached Michael. He extended his hand, and as they shook, he greeting Michael.

            “Good morning, Taylor.”

            “Javier.”

            “So, the victim is upstairs.” He spoke in bursts, a thick Spanish accent making it a bit harder to understand. He pointed to the kitchen where a hoard of CSI team members were dusting and inspecting the back door. “That looks like the point of entry, footprint on the door from the break in, so I had CSI start on the forensic stuff. The rest of downstairs looks clear. I can lead you upstairs now.”

            Javier turned towards the stairs and Alex flew through the front door, nearly knocking Javier down as they collided.

            “Holy shit,” Javier reacted. “Slow down, Jamison.”

            Alex responded by raising one hand. He was panting and couldn’t respond with words before taking a few quick breaths. “My bad.”

            “Late as usual,” Michael said.

            “Starting without me as usual,” Alex replied.

            “If you’re going to be late to every scene, why should I wait?” Michael asked, rhetorical.

            Javier had better things to do than wait for them to hash it out. Without speaking, he turned for the stairs. The men followed.

            “The scene is pretty weird,” Javier commented as they made it to the landing.

            “Of course,” Michael scoffed.

            “Not like you usually get. Not gross necessarily, but weird.”

            He led them to the end of the hall where they approached a set of five steps and a door. They climbed the short flight. Officer Javier opened the door and the men entered.

            The room was equally as modern as the downstairs, with perfectly straight angles on every item including twin side lamps and night stands, a dresser, more plants, and a king-sized bed. The wall to the right of the door was completely covered in mirrors. They were all different shapes and sizes, some framed, some unframed. The wall magnified the ceiling dome light and doubled the brightness in the room.

As the men put their eyes on the bed, they observed a woman lying on her side, curled up in the fetal position. She was naked from the waist down, except for her socks. Her upper body was dressed in a flannel pajama shirt, buttoned up to the neck, and her blond, curly hair was tied in a messy ponytail.

            Javier said what they were all thinking. “We do suspect a sexual assault but until the coroner checks everything out, we can’t know for sure.” He paused. “We identified her as Mia McDowell.”

            Mia McDowell was very pale. Her legs and arms were well toned even though she was petite. Her big, brown eyes were open and her thin lips were parted.

            “How was she discovered?” Michael asked as he stared at the body. All three men stayed near the foot of the bed.

            “Nine-one-one was called when a night owl neighbor heard the back door being broken down. Officers responded immediately. We got here within fifteen minutes. No one answered the front door but the back gate was open so we made entry and found her up here. She was D.O.A.”

            The men stood without speaking a bit longer, as Michael thought.

            “Me and Jamison will have a look around. Thank you, Javier.”

            Javier nodded and left them in the room. Before he got any closer to the body, Michael walked around the room. He kept his head down, looking for anything on the floor that could help them. Alex, on the other hand, headed straight for the bed. He stood on the right side and slipped on his gloves.

            “She’s got bruising around the neck. Looks like ligature marks. Thin. Extension cord or shoe string, maybe.” Alex leaned closer to the victim. “That’s a fucked-up way to die. Not being able to breath.”

            “Strangulation is pretty bad,” Michael said in a casual tone as he continued his slow walk. “You could have a heart attack or stroke during strangulation which is even more scary than just not being able to breath. If you’re lucky, you’ll just run out of oxygen and pass out. Then it takes about five minutes to actually die.”

            Alex held a look of disgust on his face as he looked at his partner. “How do you know that?”

            “How do you not know that?” Michael came back. “As a homicide detective, understanding manner of death also helps you understand the killer.” Michael finally approached the body. “Strangulation takes a long time. You have to really want a person to die if you are willing to sit over their body for four or five minutes and just watch them die.”

            “Right, I understand it’s a very personal way of killing, but—” Alex said.

            “So, this person maybe knew the victim, or they are just a sick, twisted person who loves to inflict pain on other people. Not every strangulation is done by someone who knows the victim.”

            “I’m leaning towards the latter since the door was kicked in,” Alex said.

            “Don’t jump to conclusions just yet,” Michael said.

            CSI Juan Mercado entered the room on his tip toes. Always the jokester, he was crouched down, preparing a surprise greeting for Michael, but when he saw the body, he stopped short. Michael and Alex looked over as Juan stood rigid.

            “What the hell happened?” he asked.

            “I thought you were already here,” Michael said.

            “No, I was running behind.”

            “Join the late boys club,” Michael teased, taking a peek at his partner. “Jamison ran in here late too.”

            “Well, my team was here already. I think I get a pass,” Juan said with a toothy grin.

            “Yeah, you were here, Taylor,” Alex said in his own defense.

            “Okay. Moving forward then, don’t complain when I start without you.”

            Alex again was speechless. He returned his gaze to the body.

            “So, you know what to do,” Michael addressed Juan. “Preliminaries.”

            “Yes, sir.” Juan saluted Michael. “Is North coming?” He asked, referencing the coroner.

            “Good question,” Michael said and then left the room without warning.

            Alex and Juan looked puzzled.

            “What’s up with him? He’s barking orders. No small talk for me today?” Juan asked.

            “I don’t know what’s on his mind today,” Alex mused. “I mean, it hasn’t been that long since all that shit went down with Schlep, but I thought he would be well rested and much happier after he got back from Vegas. He said he had a good time, but he is getting more belligerent every day.”

            “You’re taking all the hits on that, too.”

            “I could help more, be more efficient.” Alex sighed. “I’m always late, which pisses him off, and I don’t have nearly the same focus and concentration as he does.”

            “You do good work, man.” Juan slapped Alex on the back. “Taylor will recognize that. Everyone works differently, you know? I don’t think he expects you to be like him. He just wants you to do a good job. We’ll blame his bad attitude on the new trust issues he developed after damn near getting killed a few times.”

            Alex decided to agree. His self-depreciating talk stemmed from a faint feeling of helplessness. The more he reflected on Michael’s near death experiences, the more he felt like he could have done something else to help or protect his partner. He did feel it was his responsibility to keep his partner safe, just like he hoped Michael would protect him if the need came up. Alex also wanted the best for his partnership because it greatly affected their work. If Michael wasn’t in a good mood, it was much harder to communicate.

            Downstairs, Michael checked in with Officer Javier.

            “Hey, is Dr. North coming?” Michael asked hurriedly.

            “No, he’s out of the city, speaking at a conference, but his assistant, Tillie, is coming with a few technicians in order to collect the body.”

            “Okay.” Michael left the officer downstairs and rejoined Alex and Juan.

            Juan was leaning over the bed with tweezers. He wore a face mask as he worked in his normal, methodical fashion. Alex jotted down notes.

            “Got a lot of hairs here,” Juan remarked. He picked up a strain and put it in an envelope. “Definitely not the vics hair.”

            “Good.” Michael paced around the room but didn’t inspect anything. He alternated rubbing his chin and his head. Alex watched for a moment before speaking.

            “What’s up, Taylor?”

            “Nothing. What’s up, Jamison?” Michael responded from oblivion.

            “You good?”

            “I’m good. Just thinking.” He paused. After a long while, Michael slipped on a glove and approached the body. He attempted to lift Mia’s arm, which was resting over her legs. The arm was in rigor mortis.

“You guys got this covered?” Michael asked. “I think I want to take a look downstairs.”

            “Go for it,” Alex said.

            Michael hurried off. Alex and Juan exchanged another uneasy look then returned to work.

            When Michael got downstairs, he watched the CSI team working. When they cleared the doorway, Michael headed outside. He looked at the back door from the different vantage point offered by the backyard, taking a careful look at the footprint, and then went around to the gate that was used by the killer to access the house. He checked out the neighbors’ homes on the left and right sides and the homes directly behind Mia’s house. After a bit of contemplation, Michael entered the home again and went back to the bedroom.

            “Okay—” he started but was interrupted by Alex.

            “Hey, is Dr. North coming?”

            “No.”

            “No?”

            “No. Tillie’s coming.”

            “When?”

            “I don’t know.” Michael dismissed Alex’s questions with a shake of his head.

            Alex looked at Michael with flared nostrils.

            “I think our suspect is someone who knew the victim.”

            “Okay,” Alex said through grit teeth.

            “This position.” He motioned to Mia’s body. “Was I the only one thinking that she looked, almost…serene?”

            Juan came to Michael’s side and looked over the victim again from the foot of the bed. “I can see that,” he responded.

            “Positioning is a big deal. A person who didn’t care about the victim, a stranger, would have left her as she was after the assault, he wouldn’t take the time to place her like this, cover her dignity… or,” he emphasized, “he would have made her look more provocative or shocking. A stranger… a monster, would leave the body ravished. This though. This is angelic.”

            Everyone in the room listened in.

            “Plus,” Michael snapped his finger. “The door was kicked in maybe forty-five minutes ago. Max, forty-five minutes. Javier said that the officers arrived here within fifteen minutes of the neighbors call. The neighbors are close. They heard the actual killer kicking the door in.” Michael approached Mia’s body and gently tried to lift her arm again. “Rigor mortis.”

            “Takes about four hours to set in,” Alex said.

            “Yes.” Michael pointed, excitedly. “There’s your brain.”

            Alex smiled. “Okay. So, the killer committed the assault, posed the body, angelically, and came back over four hours later to cover his tracks.”

            “He is someone who’s close to her. No doubt. This was not a stranger,” Michael claimed.

            “That’s good,” Alex said, “So then we can…”

            The men heard the front door slam. Feet hurried up the stairs and before they could react, Lieutenant Bruce Vega was standing in their crime scene. His eyes pierced Michael’s. Michael returned an icy stare. With a smirk, his demeanor changed and Vega adjusted his jacket and tie with one smooth motion. He was dressed sharply in a grey suit, white shirt, and a red tie. The wispy grey hair on his temples was gelled back. Even though it was stuck to his head, Vega still ran his hand past the greys before he spoke.

            “How’s it going team?” Vega asked.

            Murmurs washed over the room but Michael and Alex did not speak.

            “What do we have here?”

            Juan explained the scene and waited for Vega to react.

            “Yeah, I thought this would be strange enough for you two to investigate,” Vega quipped.

            Michael scoffed.

            “Well, get back to work guys. This one isn’t just going to drop into your lap.” He turned away.

            Michael reacted before Vega could take a single step away from them. “What are you trying to say, Vega?”

            Vega spun on his heels and stepped up to Michael. “I mean, do the fucking work. This victim isn’t going to journal you all the got damn answers.” Vega pulled no punches. His reference to Michael and Alex’s last case in which the victim left a detailed journal that helped them solve the crime was not lost on Michael.

            “We always do the work,” Michael said through clinched jaws.

            “Bullshit. You got lucky with the Gooding case and had they not been related, you would have never discovered who killed Richard Minx. Period,” Vega spat. Attorney Richard Minx, a victim in the same case, was close to Vega and he still seethed about his death.

            “We had proper intel to lead us to Perseus—” Michael started.

            “But you almost had to get killed in order to even find him.”

            Alex stepped in and parted the men. They were like dogs preparing to fight—barking, gnashing, and snarling.

            “Okay gentlemen, stand down,” Alex soothed. “This argument is senseless.” He looked to Vega. “You know how tirelessly we worked both of those cases and even if we did slack off, which we didn’t, we solved them. Just like we’ll do this one. Just like we always do.”

            “Is that what you came down here for?” Michael roared at Vega. “It’s three o’clock in the fucking morning, and you’re down here on a simple, neighborhood murder case, harassing us? Don’t you have something better to do?”

            “Managing you is my job. It’s the best thing I do all day long if you didn’t know, you arrogant bastard. Trying to keep you in line is a full-time job.”

            Michael could imagine his hands around Vega’s neck, choking the life out of him for those necessary four to five minutes, but instead of committing murder, Michael left the room brushing past his superior. He headed down the stairs and out the house. He slowed in the front garden contemplating returning to the scene to do his job, but then continued to his car. He sat there for a moment.

            Michael was holding onto a secret that was vexing him. After he returned from his Las Vegas vacation, he met with Laila Shatner, the deceased Richard Minx’s secretary. Laila gave him documents from an investigation, started by Minx, that focused on Lieutenant Vega. His own police supervisor was being investigated for drug trafficking and conspiracy to commit murder, as a start. As Michael dug a little deeper, he found things among Minx’s files that even Laila hadn’t discovered. The investigation was being worked with the district attorney at the time that Minx was killed, so it was indeed a serious and relevant case.

            It could have also been total bullshit, considering that Minx was also involved in drug trafficking, but within the short amount of time that Michael had been keeping his eyes on Vega, he had seen a consistent rise in conspicuous behavior from his supervisor. All of a sudden, Michael was noticing how much time Vega spent away from the office and how many secret meetings he had every week. Not to mention, Michael was doing his best to be unseen in his inquiries but Vega was becoming more and more hostile towards him, as if he knew something was amiss. Michael needed more time to think but he was afraid that he wouldn’t get it.

            Michael secured his seat belt. When he looked up from the buckle, he spotted Vega on the lawn. Vega looked in his direction with his hands on his waist. He exuded confidence and arrogance, a smirk spreading on his mouth. Michael started his car. The men peered at one another as Michael put his car in drive and peeled out the neighbor.

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