Kade slouched in the chair across from Sergeant Tackett in the bookstore's coffee lounge as he waited for his new partner, Paul Sullivan. Sixteen minutes had passed and the guy was still a no-show. Kade didn't do lateness. He shifted in his seat. This new partnership was a mistake.
"Our best here in New York trained Paul, but we lost Smith when he tore his ACL playing basketball. We brought you on to help with this case to find out why a thief is targeting Westridge. If we can find out why, it may lead us to whom." Tackett's leather chair squeaked as he leaned back. His ruby cheeks contrasted with his greying hair. He didn't have a beer belly as some elder desk cops did. "Your sergeant in Texas sent your endorsements. Said you were the best detective over there. I'm happy to have you working with us. Though, I was expecting someone different."
Kade scratched where his tattoo of mirrored flames licked the side of his neck, then remembered he forgot to take out his diamond stud earring. "I get that a lot." What would the sergeant say about his old gang tattoo or other piercings? "Never been much for suits or uniforms. Don't see a purpose for them since I work undercover on most of my cases." He flicked a piece of lint off his jeans. "How long has Paul been in training?"
"About eight months." The sergeant scratched his grey-speckled chin.
A rookie in Kade's book. After graduation, Kade started as a street cop, moving up the ranks to detective in less than ten years. The sounds of steaming milk, people talking softly, and the ding of the register hummed in the background. Kade broke the staring match with Tackett and glanced at the bookshelves lining the square area of the lounge. A woman was on her cell phone, and by the way she twirled hair, she could be chatting with a love interest or spouse. A man juggled three plastic cups steaming with coffee and dodged a toddler running from her mother. Keeping with his style of investigator work, Kade suggested he and Tackett meet here at this bookstore slash coffee shop in Long Island, instead of the New York precinct.
Kade spotted a man in a pressed suit weaving through the maze of people and bookshelves. When he bypassed the growing coffee line and headed toward them, Kade knew this must be Paul.
A file tucked under his arm, his leather shoes squeaked across the vinyl floor as he hoisted a wooden chair from another table and sat it next to Kade.
"Here he is now." Tackett's waved a pale hand. "Paul, meet Kade Hernandez, the contract police investigator we brought in to work with you. Kade, this is Paul Sullivan. He will be filling you in on the Westridge case."
Paul offered Kade a polite smile, though his narrowing eyes scrutinized him as if he was under interrogation. Truth was these New Yorkers didn't know about his past. No one did.
Thankfully, it had been sealed.
Kade cocked back in the wooden chair, analyzing Paul. Typical inner city cop. Clean shaven, blond, blue eyes, in a pressed suit and an eagerness that oozed off him. Kade didn't need another partner. Back in Texas, his previous associate had died in a high-speed chase. If Kade hadn't lost control of the car, Sid would still be here, harassing him about his attitude. Without Sid, he'd prefer to be on his own, but if this is what it took for a new start and a permanent position as a detective rather than a fill-in, he'd put up with a beardless city-slicker.
Sergeant Tackett flipped through the file Paul handed him and huffed. "Did you bring a copy of the Westridge case like I asked? I forgot mine on my desk this morning. Ah, there it is." He handed a stack of papers to Kade. "Paul, the Westridge case is going nowhere. Last weekend, there was another robbery."
"Another one? Why wasn't I told?" Paul inched to the edge of his seat. "I had the president's house under surveillance the whole time."
Kade leaned forward, his heel tapped against the chair's leg. How much information did they have on the case that the public wasn't aware of? Westridge Inc. was a billion-dollar company, and lately, professional thieves had targeted its board members - if the news he'd heard from his Captain in Houston was accurate.
"Just found out about it an hour ago when they called my cell back at the office. I grabbed the wrong file on my way here because of it. Another board member and his wife were on vacation in Hawaii." Tackett waved his hand as if an invisible fly buzzed around his round head. "They forgot to call us and let us know. I suppose they didn't want to interfere with the head honcho's surveillance."
Paul adjusted his tie. "So why are we here instead of at the station?" Paul pointed his chin in Kade's direction. "What's going on?"
Tackett stood and leaned against the back of the high back leather chair. The mismatched chairs around the coffee shop were supposed to add charm, Kade guessed, but it spoke volumes that the Sergeant picked the largest available chair and the tiny table in the back corner. The man reminded Kade of a trapped lion. "We're meeting here to keep anyone except us three from knowing he's on this case. Kade's from Houston. No one knows he's a police detective and he comes highly recommended. His cover with Westridge is he's a salesman. That'll give him access to their office and files."
Probably because Kade's old boss wanted him gone, especially after Sid's death. Kade wasn't surprised that he was recommended. Internal Affairs had called it an accident, but if he had done something differently, would his partner still be alive?
"Kade will remain undercover. Consult with him about everything you know. Don't tell Westridge he's under investigation. Kade will partner with you for this case behind the scenes. I want to know why Westridge has been targeted and if he's hiding anything."
"Partner?" Paul's shoulders shot back and he paled even more. Was he worried Kade might take over this high profile case?
"I expect you two to crack this. You'll live, eat, and investigate together."
Kade didn't know about Paul, but he wanted this assignment. If he solved it soon, it would resurrect his reputation. He needed this - a fresh start where no one knew his past or judged him for it.
"I don't need a partner or a roommate." Paul jumped to his feet, shaking his head. Two customers and a barista looked their way and Paul lowered his voice. "You think I can't handle the case on my own? That's it, isn't it?" Man, the guy was needy.
"Westridge wants results, but he feels sleazy to me. Kade came highly recommended from the Chief Detective in Texas and he's bilingual. Speaks Spanish fluently - your dad, right?"
When Kade nodded, the Sargent continued. "It's time we got new blood in here, anyway."
The Westridge robberies were a big deal, and when they were closed they'd be all over the news. This case would seal lead detective status for him and Paul if they solved it.
"But I promised to take my fiancée out to dinner tonight." Paul rubbed his neck. "How do I explain a shadow trailing us?"
"He'll pose as your cousin. Don't tell Westridge that Kade is one of us. I'm sure you can work with that."
Paul glanced over at Kade, a frown capturing his brow. "What does that cover have anything to do with him following me around?"
"If you want to stay on such this high-profile case, you need to cooperate." The sergeant leaned forward, his chair scooting forward until it hit the table. "And the sooner this thief is caught, the better."
"Have the precinct put him in a hotel room. He can still be my cousin without also rooming with me."
"There are no available hotels within seventy miles between the Jehovah Witness and the ComicCon Conventions this week and weekend. Besides, he needs to play the part of your cousin."
How long did Tackett expect Kade to live with this cocky suit? He wanted to prove his skills, not become somebody's shadow.
"It's the perfect cover."
For the rest of the day, Paul and Kade poured over the details of the case. Kade admired Paul's quick mind noticing nuances within the files.
"Aside from the safe-" Kade stood and stretched. "-only these other items were stolen? A vase, gold coins, and a set of DVDs?"
Paul glanced at his watch. "That's all they reported missing."
"Strange." Kade knuckled his low back. "These other objects aren't worth as much as what was in the safe."
"Thought about that too. The homes had more expensive items, so why didn't the thief take those as well? Did he run out of time?"
Kade lounged in the wooden chair. It was after lunch and the coffee shop crowd had dwindled to a few stragglers.
"But with this last case-" Kade shuffled through his papers and drew out the newest report. "-the place was empty. They had plenty of time to take more; like the fancy paintings, gold coin and stamp collection, but why didn't they?"
Paul glanced at the wall clock. "You're right."
"I'm thinking this whole case is personal. Ya know? This thief has a grudge against the Westridge group. An ex-employee?"
Paul flipped through the file again, his brow furrowed. "I'll arrange a meeting for Westridge and his board to come down to the station. You can observe from behind the mirror."
Working with Paul wasn't going to be as bad as he supposed. The guy was knowledgeable even though he was strictly by the rules.
Growing up, Kade never liked rules, too many to remember. But his disregard for them led to a gang and disaster. A gang brother dead, his best friend shot, and Kade landed in juvie. He tried not to break the rules, but if he had that night of the chase, he might have saved Sid.