Authors: JC Coulton
Jason is standing there watching me pull Carrie away from the scene. He’s doing absolutely nothing to help either of us. And he didn’t stop her from getting hurt from that junkie woman Carrie thinks is April. What an asshole, this Cooper guy. Part of me wants to look back at Carrie and say, ‘See? Look at this dick. He doesn’t even care you’re in danger right now. He’s getting off on all of this!’ It would be childish, so I keep it to myself. My resentment towards him is not her concern.
For starters, she doesn’t have any of the inside information on Cooper that Ryan gave me. In fact, if anything, she probably trusts Jason Cooper more than she trusts me right now. I can tell by her body language she’s been with him. I can just tell. I understand this woman so well. It hurts me to admit it. Fuck! How did it come to this? How did she run off and fucked him so fast? It can’t just be Neon. There has to be something more. Not knowing what it is makes me feel so powerless. Especially seeing her here right now. She’s vulnerable and messy, and I want to take her pain away.
“Carrie honey, please come with me. Let’s talk this through.” I’m literally begging her to step away from the building. I just need to get her away from here; away from these prostitutes. Who knows what could happen.
Just then, Jason pipes up. “Carrie, what are you doing out here?”
His tone is accusatory, and she stiffens up. To my surprise, she doesn’t even look at him when she speaks. Instead, her eyes are locked on the doorway where the woman disappeared. She’s desperate and still tugging her arms to get away from my secure hold.
Her outburst and the look on her face are what shock me the most. “Both of you just go. Leave me alone! I’m making more progress here than either of you have in two weeks.”
She shakes her head and give both of us a disgusted look, before pointing a finger at Jason.
“All you care about is your career. You’ve known where she was the whole time! I’m the only one willing to put my ass on the line. You’re weak!” The last word comes out as a hiss before she turns towards me.
“And you, Blake. My oldest friend, I can’t trust you for a minute. You’re a liar and a cheater. You’ve been with Neon this whole time. I don’t believe a word you’re saying and frankly, I know everything that’s been going on. If there’s ever a chance to help take you down, I’m doing it! I’ll testify, I’ll write stories, I don’t care what I have to do but I swear you’ll regret ever messing with me. I trusted you.”
That’s when her face falls and her body crumples. She’s crying again. All the emotion is in her eyes. I’ve hurt her badly, and it looks like I’m not the only one. Whatever Cooper has done sounds just as bad. And he obviously didn’t know she was coming here. Something’s happened between them. She almost looks angrier with him right now than she is at me. She’s furious.
I look back and forth between her beautiful face and Cooper’s self-righteous mug. She’s put on way too much makeup. It’s steadily disintegrating under the tears. I wish she would stop. Jason Cooper has done something to hurt her. She looks like an angry little thing, trapped between two wild animals that are about ready to throw down. What’s important is her happiness. I’ve never seen her so upset.
The tears flow steadily down her face. She’s unable to hold back the sobs.
“Carrie,” I say, “The woman is gone. Come now. It’s best you come with me. We need to talk.”
That’s when Jason moves towards me with eyes of steel. He’s on a mission.
“Stand down, Detective,” he orders. “She’s not going anywhere with you.” He pushes me back, and says, “Blake Anderson, you’re under arrest. You’re going to need to come with me now. I don’t want to handcuff you, but I will if I have to. It’s up to you what happens next. I suggest you take this like a man, for once in your life.”
The nerve of this guy is outrageous. I want to knock him out. He needs to pay the price just for daring to be such an asshole in front of the woman I love.
“And what exactly are the charges?” I add a mocking tone into my voice. How dare he stand there and try to humiliate me. I’m the only one who’s actually looking out for Carrie right now. He’s bent on attacking me for being what he could never be to her.
“We’ve got evidence of ongoing corruption, Detective. Your partnership with Neon Lips is common knowledge, so give it up. You’re being arrested on charges of aiding and abetting a known criminal, but that’s just the beginning. By the time I’m finished with you, there will be nothing left.”
Now he’s the one mocking me and I can’t stand it for a moment longer.
We’re on a busy street and his words have turned my insides to molten liquid. Rage is burning through me; all I can see is his face in a flare of red. He’s gone too far this time. As far as I’m concerned, it’s over. I’m going to pound his head into the ground, and take total pleasure in it.
Right now is when Mark would tell me to think, think, think. There’s no room for AA slogans in my head right now. All that exists is rage. I need to get it out. I make the decision in an instant. My body is moving before I know it. I move in first, smashing him in the jaw with a closed fist. The crunch is deeply satisfying. Cooper stumbles backwards at the impact on his jaw. He doesn’t fall, though. Carrie darts out of the way, thankfully. This is between Cooper and me. I’m not backing down for anybody.
I’m expecting to be tackled at any second by Cooper’s FBI thugs. I’m sure he won’t be travelling alone. These guys always roam in packs. But no one seems to be jumping from the sidelines to assist him. I set myself up for another shot. I learned a long time ago not to give in to my anger, but this is different. This has become too personal.
Jason comes at me again. He’s fast and low, trying to throw his body weight at me. I see it coming though and instead of flinching I step forward. I sense the surprise when I meet his thrust with equal impact. Homeboy looks shocked. Game meets game! I’m taller and broader, but our training puts us on equal footing. I want this guy to regret ever taking a shot. I pull him into the most powerful headlock I can summon.
We hold and wrestle, but he gets in a sneaky uppercut. My chin splits. Cursing him, I pull away and wipe the blood off, my anger swelling in my chest with every second. We may both be bleeding, but it doesn’t stop me from tackling him. I pound him in the ribs, throwing punch after punch. Just then, Carrie steps forward and says something. Cooper gives her a rough push. From the corner of my eye, I see her stumble.
“Carrie, stay out of the way!” he shouts. “Get back in the c—”
Cooper’s instructions are cut off when I throw another punch that makes contact with his jaw. Blood flies as he falls back against the concrete. The force of his push on Carrie wasn’t necessary. He’s intentionally being rough and I’m so angry he just did that. I was the one trying to make sure she didn’t get hurt when this asshole stepped in.
I’m going to wake up with bruises and so is he. That’s good enough for me. I go for his throat. I’m physically exhausted and breathing hard, but there’s no way I’m giving in. The chokehold I manage to firm up will soon stop him breathing enough for him to pass out. I tighten my grip. My wrists ache but I persist. You’ve got to take what you want in this life or it’ll be taken from you.
“Come on, you fucker. Tap out!” I hiss it in his ear. It makes him struggle more. He’s a fighter. Jason Cooper won’t be surrendering anytime soon. I’ll give him credit for persistence at least. He may have been sitting behind a desk, but he’s got balls; that and some kind of training. The man is all muscle and tendons.
I instinctively glance up to check on Carrie. I want to see she’s okay after that. She’s the most important thing here. I look in each direction while holding Jason down. I can’t see her anywhere. I glance around again checking between the cars and the sidewalk. Where is she? With a final shove to his throat I let go and stand up. I’m tempted to lay a lethal steel cap boot to his ribs, but the most important thing is to find her.
“Carrie, where are you?”
Fuck! She was just here.
“Where is she?”
There’s still blood dripping from the cut on my chin, and my shirt must be covered. I’m wild-eyed, running up and down the rows of parked cars. She has to be somewhere.
“Cooper!” I shout. “Get your ass up and help me!”
I direct this at the man who I was intent on doing some damage on just moments before. He’s now crouched in a crumpled heap clutching his throat.
The panic rises up in my gut. Carrie’s not hiding anywhere. I eventually head over to where Cooper is on the ground.
“This is on you, asshole!” I tell him.
“Fuck you, Blake.”
His voice is almost unintelligible from my choking and regret washes over me. Fuck! If we weren’t fighting like kids, she would still be here not off walking the streets alone, wearing that dress.
“She probably went back home,” Cooper manages.
I ignore him. “Carrie where are you?” I can hear sirens in the background. Shit is getting real again. I let my anger take over back then. I need to back it up and breathe before I do anything more. I need to make a plan, but everything feels too big. More than anything else, I need to see Carrie’s face, but the woman I love is nowhere as the blood soaks down my shirt and shame comes over me.
Cooper scrambles to his feet and straightens out his suit.
“This is not on me Blake.” He looks around. “She can’t have gone far. I’ll go this way. You go down to the coffee shop and look.”
Together, we form a reluctant team and begin searching the empty streets. She’s not here. She’s not anywhere. Something is very, very wrong.
After fifteen minutes, we regroup, and I suggest we expand the search. “She could have taken a taxi. We should alert the hotel so they can let us know if she turns up there. And if she ran away on foot, we need to send a team through the apartment complexes in this block.”
“We?” He shouts. “There is no we, Detective. You’re off this case, remember? I’ll call my guys and get a team in here. You’re just lucky I’m not in the mood to arrest your ass instead.”
His scathing tone makes me want to finish the job, but I hold my tongue. I’m seconds away from knocking this motherfucker out, but I need him. And more importantly, Carrie needs him. He must be thinking the same thing. Even though his fists are clenched, his voice is calmer now.
“Detective, you have my word on one thing. When this over, I’m coming for you. I’m coming harder than you’ve ever seen and I’m not coming alone.”
I look away. There’s no point giving his threat a moment of acknowledgement. The truth that neither of us is admitting right now is that we lost a valuable witness because of a conflict that never should have happened in the first place.
“We need to get moving.” He says it with determination, and gets on his phone to call in the troops.
“I’ll head back to her hotel. I say, “See if she shows up there.”
For a second I think he’s going to argue with me about going to her hotel. He doesn’t. He turns away; he’s already deep in conversation with whoever it is that answered the phone at the FBI.
I make my way back to the car. My shoulders are already starting to tighten up. My ribs ache badly. For a second back then, I thought he had me. But in the end, even fancy federal training can’t top the skills you learn growing up close to the streets. My instincts for fighting were developed long ago. They still serve me well, even if I haven’t used them for real in a long time.
I do a final check around. I walk down to the coffee shop. She’s not there, and the place is now closed. I take the few blocks to get to my car and head out in a hurry, wishing I had my squad car to speed all the way back to Manhattan. I speed all the way there, anyway. I need to see her face. I park at the entrance of the hotel. It looks the same as it did earlier. I give the keys to one of the valets and tell him not to go too far with it.
I’m getting familiar enough with the floor staff that when I arrive breathless at the front desk they’re already ringing Carrie’s room. “No answer sir. I’m sorry.”
“Do you remember seeing her leave?”
“Ahh yes sir,” says the girl behind the desk, hesitating and blushing. “She was a little dressed up.”
“Did you see her come back?”
My panic starts to kick in again.
“Please call this number immediately if she shows up here. It’s urgent.”
The girl’s eyes go wide as I pass her yet another copy of my card, but as I don’t have my work cell, I write down my personal mobile number.
“Of course sir. If we see her, we’ll call you immediately. Is there anything else we can do?”
“No thank you,” I tell them. “Just be sure the rest of the staff keep an eye out for her as well.”
I scan the lobby, check the bathrooms and then pop upstairs to the restaurant. There’s no sign of Carrie James. My guts clench at the thought of where she could be, especially dressed up in that little outfit. She looked incredibly sexy, but trying to track down April by herself was the stupidest move ever. Why did I have to fall for such a stubborn woman? Fuck! It’s as if she purposely puts herself in danger.
I could hang around here and wait, but I doubt she’ll arrive. My gut tells me something worse has happened. Instinctively, I want to head back over to the scene where it happened, but it’ll be swarming with feds by now. That’s bad news for me after choking one of their own.
I drop into the men’s room in the lobby of the hotel. Seeing myself is a shock. The mirror shows I’m a bedraggled, tired-looking wild man covered in blood. My face isn’t swollen as bad as I thought. Still, he got in some powerful body shots. My ribs ache. I pull up the side of my shirt to check and see my side is already swelling and red. I wouldn’t be surprised if he cracked a rib or two, but now is not the time to think about that.
I clean up and make an effort to get all the blood off my chin and neck. I look better, but not much. The last time I felt like this was when I was drinking. I’d been out partying, got into a fight, and woke up in a warehouse apartment somewhere in Greenwich. And here I am, years later, a man with his career in shreds, feeling completely alone and covered in blood. Life has a funny way of going in circles.
I think about scotch. The smell, the taste on my tongue. It’s been so long since I felt that burn in my throat. Right now I wouldn’t mind escaping from the insanity of this situation—from the pain I saw on Carrie’s face and the realization that I helped in causing that pain. Drinking is not the answer. It’ll only make things worse. I need to find her. More than anything I need to save Carrie from the danger I’m sure is following her right now.
My phone is buzzing with notifications. I check it, and Lieutenant Jacob has been trying to get hold of me. I ignore her for now. I can accept whatever punishment they decide to dole out, but I don’t want to hear anything about her being sorry she had to do what she did. It’s bullshit. We all make our own choices. She needs to recognize that when push came to shove, she chose not to back her guy. Whatever she has to say to me know won’t change that. If her phone call is about trying to keep things peaceful between me and her, I don’t want to hear it. Besides, biting the bullet is something I know how to do well. If I lose my badge over this, so be it. I wouldn’t take back anything I’ve done on this case. It was all for Carrie. She’s worth it.
I splash a little water on my face and stop indulging myself in this line of thinking. There’s nothing to do now, except the next right thing. If she’s not here, maybe she’s gone back to the club to talk to Jessup. I’ll check there before going back to Jersey. With one final scan of the lobby and the street outside, I climb back into the car. The valet guys are super understanding. They’ve let me pull up just outside here more than once, even if it does get in the way of their operations. If only everyone gave cops the same respect, we’d be able to do our jobs like we’re supposed to.
I make my way to the club with care, cruising to scan the streets for her wherever I can. The chances are low she around here, but it’s all I can do. Stay alert. In my gut, I’m sure that someone took her. Carrie wouldn’t just bolt from the scene of a fight. She’s spent too much time in training, too many hours in the dojo to do that. If only I’d been more alert instead of fighting with Cooper, maybe it wouldn’t have happened. Fuck! I came out to get her back on side once and for all, and now she’s disappeared. I couldn’t have fucked this up any more.
Driving calms me as usual. The familiar path between the hotel and the club doesn’t require much focus. It gives my brain a chance to digest what’s happening and seek solutions. I don't know why, but I still have the feeling Jessup is behind this. It’s something to do with his attitude about April. He treated her like a piece of meat, and he held Carrie against her will before. Maybe he has her now. I need to get in front of him and demand answers.
The club is open and not busy. I head down past the security team and right out the back office. I know where to go now. There’s no need to fuck around. I’d put money down that he’s expecting me. I’m dead right. He’s sitting there as if he’s been waiting for me to walk in to his office. I look around. He’s trying to be such a kingpin, with the flashy equipment and the expensive suits. It’s all so obvious, it’s tacky. Even the smell of his cologne sickens me as I enter his lion’s den.
“You know why I’m here?” I say, not bothering to start with hello.
“I know your little ladies have been causing problems. You cops always have your heads up your asses when it comes to women. You need to shake off the pussy fixation and think. Women are so much craftier than you think.”
“Sure. Whatever you say.” I goad him on purpose, hoping I can push him to say something important, wondering why he said ‘my ladies’, in plural.
“I’m telling you to stop hanging around here and start looking in your own backyard.”
“What's that supposed to mean?" I bark. It's more of a demand than a question.
"Wake up. Stop being a fucking idiot. Check your old lady before you show your face here again.”
Shit. It smacks me hard in the face. He’s talking about Neon.