a head of the matter

I should have known that, one day, my lineage would come to bite me in the ass.

But Lt. Naemes knew where my head was at. At least, where it was going. Which was probably why he held up his hand before I could so much as open my mouth. Old bastard; he knew just how to play me right, like every other man in my life. And with the suit-and-tie stranger standing alongside him, angular face hardened in cold apathy, it looked like another would be added to the list.

"I know as well as you do that desk work isn't your thing, Shannen. It's not what the hell you're good at." My lieutenant leaned back in his chair, potbelly bulging against the buttons of his starched blue long-sleeve as his graying eyes fixed on me. I hadn't exactly earned this, an audience with the 15th Precinct commander-in-chief, nor the pompous hard-lip at his side. But for what it was worth I was damn well grateful, if ever I could be. Because he was right; paperwork was the worst form of discipline in existence. It was worse than the three-month suspension I'd just come off from. Another day of sorting everyone else's bullshit and I wouldn't have another few dead bodies on my hands.

"You've brought shame and downright embarrassment on this precinct, Detective. If I had it my way, regardless of whether it's what you're good at or not, you'd be stuck in that back-corner desk pushing papers for the rest of your miserable career."

My jaw tightened. Someone else cleared his throat, Lt. Naemes echoing. "Despite your recent debacle, however," he went on, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "The ATF seems to disagree with me."

Go figure.

"Timeout is over for you, detective. With what intel we need and how quickly events have progressed, we don't have the luxury of waiting until your probation is over."

The agent extended a firm hand to me, countenance rigid as we exchanged a cordial handshake. I looked back and forth from him to my boss, brows furrowed as Lt. Naemes continued to speak. "This is Detective Thalia Shannen. Shannen, this is Agent Fitzeroy of the FBI." With a strained tongue he finished, "He's here to give you your new detail."

"Detail?" The excitement was difficult to contain, though for my life I couldn't imagine why I'd be chosen to work alongside a federal agency when my precinct didn't dare return my own gun to me until just this morning. "What'mi needed for?"

Agent Fitzeroy slid over the manilla folder on Lt. Naemes' desk, revealing a small stack of crime scene photographs atop other stamped papers. He spread a few out for me to take a look at. At first all I gathered was the severity of the corpse's butchering; ragged hunks and finely severed chunks of flesh, their scattered placement upon a blood-drenched kitchen table a dismally familiar sight. From the looks of things a head was nowhere to be found, the toes and fingertips having been torn away with peculiar sloppiness judging by the frayed sinews. But it wasn't the vivid mutilation that swept my breath away in a sudden freeze. In the fourth photo I caught sight of the bluish wrist, the faint razor slashes still visible despite being splattered with crimson droplets, propped in a bucket of ancillary limbs. They had healed in the course of time, giving reason for the scripted ink just below the marks: muitin go brĂ¡ch.

I clasped my own inked wrist, growing cold. Family forever.

"We were able to identify the body when the head showed up on her boyfriend's doorstep. Quite honestly, the head we found first. The drug raid we finished a few days after had this massacre discovered, and this corpse was the first to be matched with its head."

"All her tattoos."

The agent and lieutenant glanced at me, but I couldn't make light of their attention. It didn't register quite yet. My vision began to blur with saline as I attempted to make sense of it all, my wits struggling to wrap around the evidence. Just as quickly I inhaled sharply, realizing I had forgotten to breathe. "All her... her fuckin'... jeezis."

Agent Fitzeroy grabbed at my arm as I stumbled back, helping me into one of the chairs before LT's desk. He knew, the way he looked at me with distant pity. He knew exactly how this would pull at me.

I looked up at him, jaw tight. "You need me to find who did this to her. To my cousin."

His shades came off as he leaned down above me. "She isn't the first, Shannen. This is just another blatant show of Saxon power. And we have every reason to believe Bruns Barkow called this hit on your cousin."

"He wouldn't whack his own wife's flesh and blood!" I was shouting now, shooting up to stand. "You don't know how the Saxon Horde works. No fuckin' idea. You put your Saxon family above everything else, no higher than your bike and your patch. The day its own president calls a hit on family is the day pigs fly, you hear me? Bruns would never do that to my mother. Never!" I turned away, my desperation striving for the door despite my twisted feet. He took my arm again despite my refusal. The LT even lumbered up and over to my side.

"Come on and sit, Shannen."

"I don't want your sympathy," I warned my lieutenant, lungs contracting and gaping with fervent attempts to maintain some form of oxygen. "And I-I can't do what you're a-as... dammit! I can't go into Saxon Horde territory like you want me to. That's what you want from me, isn't it? To go undercover?"

Agent Fitzeroy nodded without words, not having left his impromptu seat at the edge of the desk. It was LT that filled in the void with his newfound empathy: "Agent Fitzeroy's team already has a mole on-site, but as a prospect he isn't privy to nearly as much as you would be. You know these slimeballs like the back of your hand! Your going back to Darming would be less suspicious and wouldn't be subject to the same hostility. All of your intel would come easier, not to mention none of the Saxons would trouble to trust you."

"Orders are orders, Shannen. But you can look at this as your opportunity to figure the assailant out for yourself. I know it's Bruns; putting all the dots together, it makes sense. But I can't put the bastard behind bars on the faintest of evidence. Everything is circumstantial right now. If you would just be an ear for a few weeks I'll have what I need to close this case on her perpetrator."

"Yeah, well those 'slimeballs' have been coming to my mother's house for Sunday dinner since I was in diapers." I glared to the FBI agent. "And I don't care what my orders are. I won't be your fuckin' rat."

"Alright. Then let your cousin's murder go on unsolved," Fitzeroy allowed. He pointed nonchalantly to the array of crime scene photos, his eyes fast upon me. "Because it's clear who is responsible, Detective. You know as well as I do this is what the Horde does to their traitors. Now, I'm assuming you don't know any more than I do as to why your own cousin landed herself on the Saxon shitlist. According to our information you left at nineteen and haven't looked back since, because no one knows where you are. No one but this guy right here," he paused, brow furrowed and he went back to that manilla file. I waited with dubious breath until he pulled out another photograph for my view. At the still of the restaurant front on the rainy street I was embraced by a tall, broad, flaxen-haired man in his simple black hoodie and dark jeans. He was holding the umbrella in one hand and my waist in the other, our lips sweetened in the candid moment of laughter as we smiled at one another. The simplicity of his rugged attire contradicted my sharp, chic ensemble while we stood just beside his parked Harley Davidson.

I grunted, looking away again. Fuck me.

"Ross Mahan, otherwise known on the streets from Houston to Anaheim as 'House'. Is he your boyfriend, or does he come up every other weekend just for fucks and giggles?" He took a look at the photograph himself, grimacing. "A pretty decent age difference, too. How old is he, thiry-five?"

"Thirty-three."

"I'm guessing your father the VP know his little girl is playing a cock-sleeve for his Sergeant At Arms?"

"Alright now, Brad." My lieutenant held up his hand, but I had already brought myself to my numbing feet. I knew what Fitzeroy was getting at. And even if my cousin had seemingly died a traitor's death, I wouldn't stoop to a rat just for the possibility of nailing someone the FBI wanted for a scapegoat. I would find this out for myself.

I managed to the door of Lt. Naemes' office before I turned and asked if there was anything else he needed of me. My lieutenant took a troubled breath, his belly widening as he rubbed the back of his hairy neck. "I'm putting you on the detail, Shannen," he told me. Agent Fitzeroy chuckled from behind him, tucking the crime scene photos back into place. "You start on Monday with a briefing before the team moves you back to Darming as a sleeper."

My grip on the door handle tightened along with my jaw. "And if I don't?"

"Come on now, Shanne-"

"What if I don't accept the detail, Lt. Naemes? Oh, you know what, how about this...?"

From under my pinstripe jacket I retrieved my glistening gold badge, my Glock 22 swept out from my waistbelt. In two swift strides I slammed both down upon the desk beside my now ex-boss. "There. I've made it easy on you. And you." I pointed directly to the FBI agent, his arched brow juxtaposing Lt. Naemes' look of bewilderment. "Don't you ever- ever- use my family against me like that. And you'd better hope to Christ I don't find out who that mole is."

"Oh, Ms. Shannen." That frosty gaze bothered to smirk at me as he replaced his shades. "I would absolutely love to see you try."

I spared Lt. Naemes a glare before slamming the door behind me, the visors rattling against the glass window of the frame. And while the precinct itself suddenly seemed to bustle back into action I knew the sideways eyeballing that snuck my direction. I kept my angry stride down the lobby until I reached my cramped little desk, every inch piled high with reports and other files. All of them needed processing done yesterday.

While I initially intended to walk straight by, my wits thought better; If I'm leaving, I told myself, it's on my own terms. And I'm done with this dump.

I grabbed at the stacks and ripped them away from the desk. Papers whisked into the air as I snatched up and threw out more, my arms spreading as I swept everything off the surface in one furious swoop. The crashing of pens and paperweights sounded as music to my ears despite the protests a few, but I didn't stop until I had cleared my old desk completely. And when it was I reached into the top drawer to grab my wallet, took up my keys, and flipped a pair of obstinate birds high in the air.

"Don't fuck with a Shannen," was all I shouted. I made sure the door didn't hit my ass as I stormed out.