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Authors: Frey Ortega

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Daniel shook his head and exasperatedly turned to Cece.
It was Nick who seemed a little confused at what was happening, so it was he
who spoke out. “Are you sure you should be putting dead guy flash drives into
your computer? This could be one of those things that don’t work anymore after
one use. A burner flash drive, if you will.”

Cece chuckled like a kid at a candy store. She plopped
onto the couch, flipped open her laptop, and pressed the flash drive into one
of her USB ports. “There’s only one way to find out.”


So many warning signals in my head right now,” Daniel said, sighing.


I agree,” Nick said. His eyebrows furrowed. “Not to rain on your parade
or anything, but you could go to jail for bringing home police evidence.
Obstruction of justice, right? Not to mention the shit you could get into if
something illegal is in there.”

Plus, if this was from a guy who died at Langham and
Durr, the flash drive might’ve been very important evidence. Not that Nick
needed to know if it actually
was
important
evidence. It was more just a desire to know for curiosity’s sake, at this
point, especially considering the fact that if the dossier was sent to him, it
meant that all he needed to do was take care of the problem.

Still, if something this woman did was going to put
her in the crosshairs of the Langhams, or the other more dangerous people
around them, then this was definitely not something she should be anywhere near
doing
.


I’m getting in trouble for bringing this home anyway,” Cece said. “I
might as well see what’s inside.”


Haven’t you ever heard of curiosity killing the cat?” Daniel shook his
head and sighed.


God, why are you both being such huge horses?” Cece immediately pressed
the flash drive into her laptop.


Horses?” Nick blinked in confusion. “What do horses have to do with
this?”


Yes. Quit with the nay-saying.” Cece smirked. “Get it? Nay-saying?
Saddle up. We’ve got a flash drive to look through. And probably more horse
puns.”


You really like your puns, don’t you?” Nick said, offering the slightest
of smiles at Cece, who was busy pressing her fingers against the track pad.
Even though he was smiling, he didn’t really think this was anywhere near a
good idea.


Nah, I’ll quit horsing around,” Cece said, right before clicking on the
contents of the flash drive. Suddenly, her whole computer froze, before the
screen blanked out.

There was a tense moment of silence as Daniel plopped
over beside Cece. Nick followed suit, sitting down on the other side of Daniel
before he spoke. “Well, that can’t be good, can it?”


Ah, look. The computer’s starting up again. But this doesn’t seem
normal.”

All three of them moved their heads closer to peer at
the screen. The entire screen was black, except for a single sentence in the
middle of the screen.


Invalid protocols, invalid parameters, extraction team request completed?”

Well, fuck.
Nick could actually feel his face grow pale. He didn’t
have any weapons on hand. He wasn’t expecting to be thrown into something
dangerous like this so quickly. Maybe he should have brought a gun, or a knife,
or
something.
He thought today was
just gonna be an ordinary day, for crying out loud!

One thing was for certain, though, if the words on the
computer screen were right, they needed to get out of there.

And fast.

Chapter Five

 

Daniel was worried, and not just because of the
foreboding message on Cece’s computer, but because Nick was visibly pale.

Cece, on the other hand, just had a confused
expression on her face. And though Daniel felt horrible for this, he was
actually more concerned over Nick, who looked like he was about to bolt out of
the door right then and there.

Invalid protocols. Invalid parameters. Extraction team request
completed.

What exactly could those words have meant, that they
spooked Nick like that? Was it some sort of military code? Nick
was
an ex-Marine, after all. Did he know
something they didn’t?


Hey, you don’t mind if I make a quick phone call, do you?” Nick suddenly
asked, turning toward Daniel.

Snapped out of his reverie, Daniel blinked. “Sure.”

Nick nodded grimly. He took his cell phone in his
hands and tapped on the screen before heading towards the doorway, and taking
his call outside.


Cece,” Daniel turned to his best friend. “Maybe you should turn off your
computer before something crazier happens.”


I can’t. It won’t let me,” Cece replied. “I think I’m screwed, Danny.”


Then why didn’t you listen to us telling you specifically about this
earlier?” Daniel said, frowning.


You know when there’s something juicy like that, I can’t let it get away
from me! I mean, this is all my fault, but…” Cece sighed and flipped a hand
through her hair in irritation. “You think maybe Dad can help pay bail, or
something?”


Jail should be the least of your worries! We don’t know what an
extraction team is, and I’m pretty sure they’re not going to be pulling out
your pimples like in those YouTube videos you like to watch!” Daniel exclaimed
in a harsh whisper. “Maybe next time you shouldn’t do horrible, illegal—“

A red dot appeared right in the middle of Cece’s
forehead. Daniel blinked. “Cece, there’s something…” He slowly raised his hand
to point at the red dot dancing around Cece’s head.

The doorway opened just in time for Nick to see what
was happening. Daniel’s hand was close to Cece’s head. Cece was wobbling
slightly from side to side, trying to peek out the window.


Get down, the both of you!” Nick shouted.

Daniel’s eyes widened. He didn’t know why he had to
follow what Nick said, but if it was as imperative a command as that, then he
knew to trust the freaking ex-Marine. Daniel immediately pulled himself and his
friend down just in time to hear the sound of something breaking into the
window, and then the vase nearby, smashing it into a million little shards.

Without warning, there was a volley of shots from
somewhere outside. The windows crashed and clattered, and Nick jumped down,
crawling towards the pair of them and throwing his body on top of both Daniel
and Cece.


Shit,” Nick cursed to himself. “Their team’s fast.”


Oh my God,” Daniel said, feeling the panic rising up inside of his body
like bile rising up his throat. “What is happening?”


The both of you stay down, okay? As soon as they stop to reload, you run
out into the hallway and away from any of the windows,” Nick said. “I’ll give
you a signal and we’ll all run for it. Don’t look back, okay? We have to go
fast.”


This is nowhere near where I imagined things were going to go, today,”
Cece said, but she nodded. “Let’s get out of here.”

Daniel didn’t know if he responded just then. He was
too busy feeling the adrenaline kick in. The tips of his fingers went cold. His
heart started to pound harshly against his chest. He closed his eyes and took a
deep breath.

This was just supposed to be a normal get-together. A
date. He was supposed to get lucky that night, and maybe do some fun stuff with
a guy who was probably a solid ten out of ten, whereas he was teetering more
around a six or a seven. Instead, they were being shot at, and the only one who
knew what to do in this situation was the same guy he was supposed to get lucky
with.

Which, of course, made Nick all the more attractive,
if it weren’t for the fact that Daniel was focused on not dying right then.

After what felt like forever but was probably closer
to about a minute, the shooting stopped. Daniel scanned the room, seeing so
much of Cece’s living room shattered and broken all around them.


Go!”

The three of them immediately stood up and ran out of
the room. First went Cece, then Daniel, and just as Nick got out of the room
they heard the soft
thwip
sound of
another bullet lodging itself into the door.

They ran down the hall with Nick ushering them from
the elevators and towards the stairs. Thank goodness there were only about four
flights down to the basement car park level.


What are we going to do? Are we going to die?” Daniel asked. His panic
was bubbling up once more now that they had a moment to just talk about what
was happening.


Calm down. No one’s going to die, not if you follow my instructions
carefully, okay?” Nick said, placing both his hands on Daniel’s shoulders. The
feeling of warmth and slight pressure against his body was enough to make him
take a deep breath. Nick cupped his cheek, and their gazes met. Daniel was
nowhere near calm, but this was helping, at least. “We’re heading back to the
brownstone. As soon as we get down to the basement, head to the car and jump
in. The most important thing is to get the both of you out of here safe.”


What about our apartment? What about the computer?” Cece asked.


Fuck that! Fuck the apartment, fuck going back in for the flash drive.
Let’s just focus on getting out of here,” Daniel said. He was probably
basically screaming at his best friend, but considering what had just happened,
it was probably warranted.

Nick turned toward Cece, slowly removing his hands
from Daniel’s shoulders, to cross his arms over his chest. “Daniel is right. I
have no doubt they’re going to be sending in sweepers to clean up the mess.
Steer clear of your apartment and your work for the next couple of days while
we get things sorted out. Meanwhile, you should be safe back with the boys.”

Cece nodded. “I guess there’s no use in arguing now,
especially since we’re not in the clear just yet.”


Damn straight. Let’s get you out of here. If we’re lucky, I’ll have some
back-up to escort us since I’m unarmed.”


And there’s also the matter of the flash drive,” Cece drawled slowly.
She raised one hand, revealing that she had the godforsaken thing in her palm.
“Pretty sure I shouldn’t have left it there.”

Nick frowned, but he said nothing. “Let’s just get out
of here. We’ll deal with your habit of getting into inconvenient shit later.
You should give me that flash drive, just in case.”

Cece nodded, placing the little black thumb drive in
his hands. “Keep it safe, I guess.”

Daniel cursed underneath his breath. “Here’s to hoping
we don’t get shot on the way down.”

Nick nodded. He had a grim expression on his face, and
his eyebrows were twitching in what seemed like annoyance. “The longer we stay
here, the higher that possibility, so let’s get moving.”

Daniel didn’t really want to think about how messy
things were about to become. It was actually surprising to admit that life away
from home had been much more peaceful and much more stable than the single
month he been back home. Not only did he find absolutely no job, but he had to
live with a friend who took risk-taking to a whole new level.

Who knew his life would come to this?

****

That had to have been the most emotionally exhausting
ten minutes of Daniel’s life.

Figuring out the coast was clear, sprinting into a mad
dash towards the car and making sure their heads were down so that there
weren’t any untoward accidents—like someone’s brain splattering all over the
fucking windshield, for example—made Daniel feel like he’d aged decades in a
day. As soon as they were all calm, safe, and on the road, heading back to
Nick’s home, Daniel turned to Cece and immediately smacked her on the arm.


Ow!” Cece groaned, smacking Daniel right back. “What the hell was that
for?”

Daniel stared her straight in the eyes. “Are you
seriously asking me why I had to smack you? You literally could have gotten us
killed! If Nick wasn’t around, your brains would be a fucking canvas all over
the wall right about now! I don’t know why you’re always doing this. I told you
it was only a matter of time before your cavalier attitude towards work was
gonna bite your ass!”


Yeah, I’m definitely sorry about all of this,” Cece said. For the first
time in a long time, there was just the slightest tinge of emotion in her
voice. “I figured it wouldn’t be as bad as it could have been.”


You’re a medical examiner, Cece. You work with the police down at the
morgue. You
know
people regularly get
killed from knowing too much or being at the wrong place at the wrong time. I
still can’t believe you’d be so reckless.” Daniel sighed and leaned back
against the car seat. Lord, he was feeling his blood pressure rise.

There was a tense silence that followed. Daniel knew
that Cece honestly thought it was going to be something cool, like maybe
information about a murder that she could take note of, or just being the first
to figure out something intriguing. She didn’t expect to get shot at by some
unknown sniper mere minutes after possibly wrecking her own computer. Who
would, after all? Human nature was inclined to believe that the worst possible
scenario didn’t include snipers shooting you to death from a rooftop.

And if Daniel were in the same situation, he knew his
curiosity would have gotten the better of him. Just that he might have had a
better sense of self-preservation than his best friend did.


You’re awfully quiet,” Cece said after a few minutes, turning towards
Nick. “Your quick thinking helped us out. Thank you.”


Don’t thank me just yet,” Nick said, his eyes focused on the road.
“There’s still a lot we’re going to need to discuss. Captain Hennessey is going
to want to speak with the both of you once we reach the brownstone.”


You live with your old battalion captain, too?” Daniel asked.


Well, technically no,” Nick replied. He shifted uncomfortably in his
seat. Daniel raised a single eyebrow in suspicion. “I mean, we were all from
the same battalion, and we’re all ex-Marines, but we’re not quite inactive.”

Daniel blinked. Surprised didn’t really even begin to
cover the spectrum of emotions he was feeling at the moment, but he realized he
didn’t really have any room to judge.

The car slowed down to a stop as the light turned red.
As soon as it did, though, the moment of peace turned to shit.

Daniel saw something small and compact fly past and
drop right in front of their car. Two canisters of some sort dropped in front
of the car doors.


Fuck. Get down and cover your eyes! Flashbang!” Nick shouted yet again.
Daniel reacted just in time. Now, he didn’t know exactly what a flashbang was,
but experiencing it firsthand was pretty bad.

Suddenly, a flash of light exploded in front of them,
disorienting Daniel just enough to force him into closing his eyes. When he
felt like he could finally open his eyes, there was smoke all around the car.

Someone jammed the butt of a rifle into the side of
the car and then the window, breaking in and flooding the inside with smoke as
the doors were pried open. Cece screamed. There was the sound of a gunshot
close nearby. Daniel felt his heart lurch at the sound.


Help me! Get your hands off me, you—” Cece shouted. Daniel turned just
in time to see a man tugging harshly on Cece’s arm and pulling her out of the
car. “Danny! Nick!”


Fuck!” Daniel’s eyes were closed and he was coughing, wheezing at the
lack of oxygen in the smoke. He heard the sounds of a scuffle before a foreign
hand placed itself on his shoulder, urging him out of the car. Cece was still
screaming in the background. Daniel fidgeted and pulled away. “No! Shit, Don’t
take me—”


Relax, it’s me! We have to get out of here!” Nick answered, tugging on
Daniel’s arm.


What about Cece?” Daniel asked, wheezing.


One thing at a time!”

Unceremoniously pulled out of the car, Daniel ran
towards the sidewalk just in time to see Cece screaming and struggling as she
was being pushed into a van. He took deep breaths, coughing and wheezing, as he
tried to get the smoke out of his system.
I
really need to start exercising again
,
Daniel thought to himself as he finally managed to catch his breath.

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