Steven and Conrad have a weird relationship, one Steven can't figure out no matter how many times he looks at it. After weeks of hot sex and sweaty grappling Steven finds himself taking a romantic stroll on the beach with a woman, and the confusion he feels about his life overwhelms him.
This story appears in the author's print collection, Rough Cut.
Steven grabbed her hand and ran his thumb over hers. Her nails were short and her hands had strength, strength enough to put a suspect down, handcuff him and haul him into a squad car. She was smart and fun to boot.
Steven needed the laughs. The botched undercover op two months before still bothered him. He woke up some nights, gasping, halfway between frightened and hard.
He realized he’d drifted away when she nudged him and said, “Hey, Pershing, you still with me? You ever do any undercover?”
“Yeah, sorry.” His half-smile felt false to him. And he couldn’t bear the thought of starting off with someone new based on lies -- again. “I did a couple of pot busts at the college last year. You know, getting in the dorms, then calling in for a bust. The only real undercover I ever did was in March. It went bad. Real bad.”
“The meth ring, am I remembering right? And two civvies dead. That was your team?”
“Yeah.” Steven nodded. It hit the media, of course, but quicker than the news was the cop’s communications system. “We didn’t shoot the kids, that was the Feds.”
“Was one of them your contact?”
“No, but I knew the one of kids who got popped.” Popped. Tough-guy cop talk as if dying were just another brightly colored party favor. “Jason. I tracked a blood trail up the stairs and found him -- dying.” Steven shut his eyes, afraid that his thoughts would somehow spill onto the beach, afraid the sand would turn crimson.
Jason was one of the rave crew who had hero-worshipped its leader, Conrad, the most. Or maybe it was something more than that -- Steven never knew. Jason must have crawled up the stairs, like a wounded animal. Sixteen years old and gone.
“So now, I’m back on the streets. To tell you the truth, I’m surprised they let me attend this seminar. It’s not like I’m gonna make detective any time soon,” Steven said.
“Maybe. But you can always use the info on the streets. Question someone the right way and he might confess right there.”
“Maybe so. I just know my sargent has been taking a lot of heat for sending in 'that surfer dude.'”
“Did you tell him what happened?”
I haven’t told anybody what happened.
“Not everything. He’s the one who let me go in so now management is riding his ass,” Steven said. “It feels like I let him down.”
“Things don’t always go as planned when you’re under. You just have to do the best you can.” Lupe clasped his fingers in hers and eased closer. Her breasts pressed against his arm, soft and full. An invitation for more. Or a promise.
The scent of her grassy perfume wafted up him. Steven imagined himself nuzzling in her soft cleavage, her mocha skin against his tongue. Salty or sugary?
Lupe spoke. “You look so sad. What’s wrong?”
“Can I ask you something? About your undercover work with Hunter’s crew?”
“Sure. I guess.”
“Did you sleep with him? Was that part of the deal?” The questions pinballed in his brain; he knew it was too much to ask, but he couldn’t stop. To reassure himself?
Lupe looked off, tried to pull away. Steven kept her hand in his, kept her close to him. She took a shaky breath and looked at the ocean’s ceaseless waves, gray now in the twilight. “I did what I had to in order to survive -- and do my job.”
Her dark eyes met his, stormy now, full of fire and anger and hurt.
“I’m not judging you. Believe me, I’m not,” he said.
There was so much he didn’t say during the Internal Affairs investigation about his work on the Stalton crew’s undercover operation. So much he kept secret, hidden.
Even from himself.