Action is the pebble that splinters the glass. The consequences are what shatters it.
Alexis Cruz should have flinched at the sharpness of the frigid wind that whipped up the dunes and bit at her face. She should have paused to appreciate the vast beauty of the brilliant stars that blanketed the moonless sky. Or, how their radiance contrasted with the endless shadows of the expansive ocean. Instead of reflecting, her focus was on the small light bouncing around the bed of the truck and the contents she needed to pack. She heard the ground crunch beneath the boots of one Katelynn Quinn as she approached. Alex imagined the scowl she wore, but she didn't care to look.
Kate called out before she was fully within range, "You really think you're going to go at it alone?"
Alex side-eyed the woman speaking. The two of them were complimenting contrasts of each other. Alex barely notched out at five-five while Kate towered over her at almost six feet. Alex's attitude and sass juxtaposed Kate's more laid back intensity. They were a balance of quiet demeanor and screaming confidence.
Slowly Alex reached up and removed the small flashlight she had held in her mouth, but made no effort to turn her head.
"Nothing's getting done," she answered, and continued to organize her pack. "So, yeah, I'm going."
"You're not even certain of what Jeremy meant." Kate bent forward to try and capture her eye. Unsuccessful in the attempt she kept talking to try and reason with her. "His message indicated that he uncovered something and that it wasn't guns but-"
A frustrated groan rattled in Alex's throat stopping Kate's words, but it was her hands that came down with force on the bed of the truck that had her stepping back. Kate waited for the objects to settle and a response from the brunette. Alex wasn't one to sit still and she knew Kate was aware of that.
"I'd rather be wrong than risk more lives." Alex pointed to the dark horizon. "This isn't about weapons. We've had suspicion for a while that Manuel was trafficking underage girls. If that boat leaves they could be gone forever."
"I know, but we can't base everything off your hunches."
"We're here because you see my urgency."
"I'm the only one that gets your urgency, Alex," Kate said pointedly. "It's now become bigger than us. We have to pass this on, not take it on."
Alex continued to lean her weight on her arms and stared at the opened backpack in front of her. Slowly she tipped her head to look up at Kate. "Do you really believe that?"
"Do you even have a plan?" Kate asked, clearly sidestepping her query. She crossed her arms and staggered her stance in preparation for an answer she knew she wasn't going to like.
"Of course I have a plan," Alex quipped and displayed the gun she had pulled out to load.
"Damn it, Alexis! Going in guns blazing isn't a plan!"
"Always the safe one." Alex's chin dipped in annoyed amusement.
"You," Alex answered, and turned to fully face her. She mimicked Kate's stance and kept their eyes locked. "With all we've seen and done, how can you continue to think there is any safe way of doing anything?"
"I go at it smart. If you read that as a problem then fine, but at the end of the day I prefer to get home to my son."
"I'm smart," Alex said returning her focus to the task in front of her.
"No," Kate paused and dropped her arms to rest on her hips. "You're reckless with a really lucky success rate."
"It's a good thing that I always have you covering my ass then. We can keep tallies that way."
"I'm not your backup, and you're not doing this alone."
"Right," Alex muttered. She kept her attention away from Kate and exuded an air of indifference to her.
At a sudden standstill, Kate became more aggressive. Anticipating Alex's next move she quickly reached out and snatched up the bag and gun. With them successfully in hand, she stepped back and raised it above her head.
"Hey!" Alex instinctively reached up for it but backed down rocking to her heels. She wouldn't be able to reach it; the gun was now at least another two feet overhead. Alex contemplated kicking her in the shin for good measure but refrained from adding to the childish action already occurring. She didn't say a word but let her eyes read how serious she was.
Kate's green eyes flared darker with the same seriousness. With the response she wanted, Kate slowly handed back her things. "There's no way you're going alone. Give me five."
Alex tore the bag from her hand and grunted a response. "You're going because you know I'm right."
"I'm going because there's no way you're dying on my watch. Tyler needs his crazy Aunt Lexi."
Alex watched her storm off the same way she had approached. The flashlight's beam followed her and highlighted the red tint in her auburn hair as she pulled it back into a tight ponytail. She knew Kate truly understood; she just wanted to be certain that they had all the information right to reduce the unknown. Their scouting had not yielded all of the answers they wanted. Or more specifically, what Kate wanted. Alex hoped more than ever she was right.
A storm was brewing, but it wasn't the kind that Katelynn liked to watch form along the ocean's horizon. It was one that brought pure chaos. Kate breathed out as she watched Alex vanish into the shadows. They were on the verge and at any moment control could spiral out of her grasp and any attempt to cling to it would be futile. Kate pressed firmly against the cold metal of a shipping container. She waited and listened intently to what was just beyond her. The only immediate sound was the breeze that maneuvered through the structures blocking its path and the water rocking the boats secured to the dock. Kate counted her breaths and adjusted the grip on her gun. She tasted the strong salt that hung heavy in the air and felt the condensation created on the rusting steel. Seconds drew out.
She should have pushed at the very least to get back up. Even with the thought, she wasn't even sure what that would look like. But, now there they were, not waiting. She should have expected something like this; Alex had become more vocal in defiance of their covert intel missions. Kate appreciated Alex's outspoken, rebellious, and sometimes unorthodox approach, as a Homicide Detective, but as a part of this specialized team, it was dangerous. A team that on paper didn't exist, and needed to stay that way. One distinctly designed to find the truth and prove corruption within Caleb Sloane's business. He was a manipulative monster that had spent five years slowing making his way through the city of Ridgemont and pressing it beneath his thumb. Most of those in positions to do something were paralyzed to do anything by the fear he induced. She refused to let his intimidation and power hold their city under siege. Alex didn't hesitate and was immediately by her side when she approached her to take on such a risky role.
Shaking off her insecurity, Kate balanced her weight and held tight. When she heard the voices echoing around the space she broke her position. Slowly she peered around to get a view of the situation happening in front of her. The circumstances around the engagement suddenly felt bigger and Kate drew in a calming breath, but couldn't look away from the figures in the distance. Next to known criminal Manuel Aguilar stood Peter Sloane, Caleb's younger brother, and right-hand man. They had followed Manuel for weeks because their inside man, Jeremy Miller, relayed a solid word that Manuel and Sloane were involved with weapons trafficking. Though in their own investigation Caleb never popped up in conversations or in person. Miller hadn't steered them wrong before and their case had grown stronger. Caleb wasn't one to be hands-on with any of the illegal business dealings. His brother being there made the entire situation more curious.
The footsteps along the floating dock halted and were replaced by Manuel's thick accent.
"One last step, Mr. Sloane."
"I don't like the lack of protection," Peter said looking past the darkness.
"I assured you already that there is nothing to worry about." He waved his arms throughout the space around him. "I own this entire dock, no one knows, and cameras are off. You could back out any time. You came to me, remember."
"No, let's just get this done." Peter didn't look to the man leading him to the small boat bobbing up and down with the flowing tide, instead, he kept his eyes moving and his hand on his sidearm.
"You won't regret this."
"We better not," Peter threatened.
Kate fought the urge to move. Across from her, she saw Alex. The brunette nodded, but her eyes grew large to what Kate could not see on the other side of the container. She began to step forward but halted when Alex held up her hand up to stop her.
The shot that rang out released the chaos Kate had dreaded. She looked around in time to see Manuel crumble. The storm had arrived. Peter unholstered his gun and stepped into a staggered stance. A streak of movement from the side caught Kate's attention. Following Alex's lead, she cleared the corner in time to see an unknown gunman find his mark in Alex. Peter spun to see who was hit and raised his weapon to add his own final touch. Kate dropped to a knee and without hesitation released a round into the younger Sloane. Before she could see the damage done Jeremy Miller emerged from the shadows. His gun was raised but aimed at her. She didn't have time to register her confusion as the rounds began to unload in her direction. Kate reacted and ducked back behind the protection of the container and crouched while bullets ricocheted all around her. When the barrage ceased she listened intently. There was a shuffle of feet but no more voices. Her attention turned in Alex's direction. She had dragged herself deeper into the darkness, but knowing she was unseen did little to settle the fear and concern now running through her.
Kate drew in a breath and once again left the security of the metal wall. She stealthily moved along the edge of the open space. There was no sign of Jeremy or Peter, while Manuel lay lifelessly staring into the night's sky.
Kate's entire focus turned to get to Alex; any danger was forgotten for the time. She worried about Jeremy but wasn't sure if he truly was a threat. She didn't see who shot Alex, but there was no doubt Jeremy had shot at her. He was an expert marksman; he could have taken her out but didn't.
As she neared Alex, the brunette's voice called out. "Stop Peter. Jeremy."
Kate ignored her as she landed by her side. Her hands searched cautiously as she tried to find the source of the injury. Slowly she unzipped Alex's jacket and saw she had taken the bullet in the vest.
"I'll be okay, just need a minute." she winced, and with a solid hand pushed Kate away. "I'm right behind you."
Kate hesitated briefly but jumped up in agreement. She quickly curled around the stacked containers and boxes and headed towards the boat. Another gunshot had her spinning, but it was the unexpected impact that had her faltering. Before she could suck in the dust that was kicked up she was moving again and slammed down. The dock swayed in the force and bounced her towards the man that initiated the attack.
His eyes were serious and hard, but she recognized them immediately.
"Miller, what are you doing?"
He didn't flinch and leaned in close, their noses almost touching. "Why?"
"What have you done?" he demanded.
With all her force she tried to push him out of the way. She expected him to give, but he pressed back harder. She fought her confusion to what he was doing. It cleared as he shoved her deep into the splintered wood below. She didn't fight back. She didn't expect he'd actually hurt her, but his one hand gripped and controlled her wrist that held her gun and his other forearm was now pressed with dangerous force against her throat.
"How could you?"
"What're you doing?" she wheezed.
"It's what you just did." He leaned back slightly releasing his hold just enough for Kate to get a solid breath but still not be able to move. She saw a battle raging in him and he was trying to remain composed.
"What are you talking about?"
She studied him and tried to find answers in his eyes, but he was cold and distant. He had taken on a serious task and she wasn't about to judge his moral dilemma, but she worried what side he was really taking. There they stood at the possible end of almost a year's worth of evidence and information gathering. Now all of his actions and words indicated a change somewhere. Caleb Sloane wasn't a man that appreciated betrayals and if Jeremy had been burned, he would have vanished. She couldn't grasp any answer. She stood her ground and tried to understand where the disconnect was coming from.
"What has Sloane done?"
He disregarded her question and once again cut off her airway. With a twist of her wrist, her weapon fell. "Alex needs you."
Kate felt her blood run cold. Alex hadn't been behind her like she said she'd be. He saw the realization wash over her and pushed away. Jeremy turned to leave, but not before kicking her gun into the water. She remained firmly planted in disbelief as she watched him sprint towards the boat. She had no way to stop him as it was fired up.
"Alex," she whispered and turned back in the direction the brunette had been. She moved around the container's edge and saw her leaning against the base of one, clutching her leg.
Alex looked her way. Her eyes were so rich in the deepest pigment that her pupils were lost, and usually held the same intensity that constantly exuded from her being, but now they swam in pain.
Panic began to fully set in for Kate to find the origin to the dark wet stain of blood that was soaking through her pant leg. It puddled and muddied the dry dirt below. An unsettling thought washed over her.
"I can't believe he did this." Alex gasped.
"I can't see if it went through," Kate said as she examined the damage on Alex's leg. Quickly she tore off her own jacket and hastily unbuckled her belt. Alex winced as she cinched the two over the wound. "Sorry."
"It's only a flesh wound." Alex tried to joke but quickly became serious again. "Did Peter see you?"
Kate looked around and beyond the darkness. "I don't know if Peter's even alive, but I can't worry about that right now," she lied, and put more pressure on her handmade bandage.
She had shot Peter, but when she came back into the opening he wasn't there. Maybe the shield of night and the pace of events was enough to disguise their identity. Then there was Jeremy. She couldn't understand his role. If Peter was dead, Jeremy was the only person to have witnessed how it all went down. He was supposed to be on their side, but Kate wasn't sure about anything anymore.
Alex pushed herself against Kate's weight and breathed out. "He couldn't have gotten far."
"Stop it, Alex." Kate gently pushed back and Alex had little energy to resist. "I'd rather lose him than you."
"This is my fault, I'm sorry."
"No, it's not."
Alex grew silent and tried to let her body relax more. Her eyes sealed tightly in an attempt to control the pain that was clearly enveloping her.
The overwhelming need to get out of there tugged at Kate. "Can you move?"
"I think so."
Kate looked at the scene before them. It was a chaotic mess. "We need to call Byron."
Alex shook her head in disagreement. "Do you really think that's smart?"
"Do we have a choice?" Kate countered quickly.
"We always have a choice."
"We do, but," Kate let her voice drop to a more serious tone, "We chose to go rogue and now everything we worked for is in jeopardy."
"Right." Alex's features closed down as she matched Kate's tenor, "Still want to call Byron?"
Kate realized the dilemma they faced was more than one-sided and decided to focus on the most prevalent one. "What we need to do is create distance from this place."
Alex nodded and drew in a breath. Carefully Kate weaved her arm under Alex's and took on her weight. Alex groaned in pain as Kate fully lifted her to a standing position. Slowly they moved. By the time they made it to the dunes that towered over the private dock, Kate was dragging Alex's entire body weight. Every muscle in her burned and screamed for her to release the load causing them to ache. She concentrated harder on the main task to at least get them around the bend and out of view. Exhausted and somewhat satisfied with their progress she slowly lowered Alex down. She looked to Alex's pant leg, and just as she feared gravity and their movement had caused more bleeding.
"I need a better way for us to move."
"The blanket in the truck." Alex quickly suggested.
"I can't leave you."
"You'll be faster without me."
Kate reluctantly nodded then used the incline of the dune to elevate Alex's leg and made sure she was as comfortable as possible before she took off. She sprinted towards her truck and as she moved felt disconnected from her legs. She knew they were moving but felt as though she was floating above the ground. She continued to breath out to fight the ache in her lungs. Despite the burn, she wouldn't slow her pace and steadily pushed forward.
As Kate drove to the edge of the road that led down to Alex she kept her mind on just getting Alex out and trying not to even dwell on the consequences of what had just happened. Throwing the gear to park she jumped out and grabbed the blanket and first aid kit she had in the bed and immediately turned back towards where Alex was.
Sidestepping down the loose dirt she quickly made it to Alex. Using the gauze from her pack she made a better pressure bandage.
As she worked she got Alex's attention. "We just need to get up this and the trucks right there."
Alex didn't fight her and only gave a small ambiguous nod in response. Kate laid the blanket next to Alex and rolled her into it, securing her the best she could. Kate took her position at Alex's head and twisted her hands into the blanket to get a solid grip. Summoning what strength she had left in her legs, Kate dragged Alex up the dune and to the truck. Exhaustion from the physical task began to take its toll, but Kate knew she couldn't rest to recover.
"Can you stand with my help? We need to get you into the truck."
Alex nodded and did her best to not let all of her weight be held by Kate. Alex scooted into the cab and lay across the bench seat. Kate once again secured the blanket around her. She rolled down the window then gently closed the door making sure Alex's legs hung slightly out of the window. It was the only way to elevate and hope it helped with the bleeding. She climbed in and as she started the truck Kate looked down at Alex. The brunette's eyes were shut and her head had drifted downward. The air was cold, but Alex's blue lips and shivering was a sign of something else. Shock was starting to set in.
"Hey, Alex!" she called out, "Keep talking to me."
Alex's eyes opened to slits and with an unfocused stare looked up towards Kate.
"I thought I was," she whispered with a hint of annoyance. She licked her dry lips and closed her eyes again, but forced a half-smile. "This will be a hard one to explain at the office."
"Just another Thursday." Kate tried to banter back, but with each passing second, the situation felt excruciatingly long. She gripped the wheel harder and in an attempt to control her nervous energy she kept talking. "Tell me about all those tequilas we tried down in Mexico."
"You know all about them," Alex forced out.
"I like your version," Kate encouraged and twisted the knob for the heat to full blast. "Plus, you actually like tequila."
"Find me some." Her eyes closed again. She looked as though she was trying to maintain a shred of control.
"I will the second we get you to help."
Kate's voice and heartbeat were the only things that cut the hovering silence. It was a quiet that only brought up fear and panic. Everything began to hold a new level of detail. The wind she had not cared to notice became a constant annoyance. It swirled strands of hair in her face, caused her to shiver without the warmth of her jacket, and contrasted sharply with the balmy sweat that had formed on her brow. Kate's eyes would move from watching the road to Alex. It was only ten miles to get her help and hoped it wasn't too far.