Warehouse outside Thibodaux, Louisiana
Parker took a couple of quick steps and hopped up onto Eliot’s cupped palms. Eliot tossed Parker up to the third story roof of the warehouse. Parker landed as lightly as possible, barely making any sound at all. Eliot slouched against the side of the building wearing an old army coat and a brown knit beany. He looked every inch the homeless vet. Parker slinked low across the roofline making her way to a large vent at the west end of the building.
Hardison was across the yard in Lucille VII point five. This van was actually a rental but Hardison had almost all of his usual equipment and supplies in this one for now. The van was hidden from casual view from the street by several large culverts that were stacked in rows across the yard. “Okay babe, once you get into the vent take your first right, then fifty feet, and down to the next level, and twenty feet back the other way and that should put you right over Yellott’s office.” Hardison was monitoring things from Lucille, and even though he knew that Parker knew the layout of the ventilation system, probably better than he did, he couldn’t help coaching her a bit.
When the team had first formed years ago that kind of coaching would have irked Parker. She would have seen it as Hardison doubting her, and her abilities. Now she could hear the concern in Hardison’s voice and it made her smile to know that he cared.
After a few minutes Eliot noticed two cars pulling up. “Parker make it quick. Looks like Andrini and Mendoza just showed up.” Eliot hunkered down near the corner of the building keeping eyes on the men as they parked their cars and headed for the main entrance to the warehouse.
“Almost done.” Parker whispered just loud enough for the earbuds to pick it up. Hardison could tell that most of the spyware that he had Parker install on Yellott’s machine was already up and running. His computer screen started to light up with new windows that were streaming data.
“I’ve got control of the cameras now. You’ve got forty-five seconds until they’re on your floor.” Hardison was trying not to nag or ramble because he didn’t want to distract Parker. His Nana had taught him to use his words, and he most definitely had the gift for gab, but somehow he ended up with two people whose main method of communication was body language, and that just flummoxed him sometimes.
“Hush. She’s almost got the safe cracked.” Eliot grumbled.
“How can you tell?” Hardison tried to whisper in an attempt to not distract Parker.
“I can hear her turning the dial on the safe. She must have her ear pressed to the safe cause I can hear a clicking noise. It’s a very distinctive noise.” As he was explaining this to Hardison; Eliot and Parker both heard the click, as the last number dialed, freed the lock on the safe. At Eliot’s explanation Hardison fished out his wallet and removed a dollar. He put the dollar in a small pocket in his computer bag along with several other dollars that had been wadded into it. Looking up at the screen he monitored their coms on, he could see that Eliot actually had the volume on his bud turned pretty low, and even with his own bud turned up much higher Hardison couldn’t hear what Eliot had described. Werewolf hearing man! Got to look into it and see if I can up the sound quality for E. Who knows when that might come in handy. Hardison thought.
“The clicking sound is from the tumblers in the lock. You should let me teach you to crack a safe, Sparky.” Mwwa! Parker kissed the files she had gotten from the safe before she tucked them away in her bag. “You’re coming home with me!”
“Fifteen seconds.” Hardison reminded Parker.
“On my way.”
Eliot moved a little farther out from the side of the building. He didn’t see anyone else near the building and he couldn’t hear anyone approaching, although he could hear the muffled sounds of conversation and activity from inside the building. He started to take a deep breath but began coughing and then had to stifle a sneeze with the crook of his elbow. “Parker hurry up!” He growled.
Almost as soon as he finished saying it he heard the sound of her zipping down her rope behind him. “What’s wrong Sparky? You’re just grumpy ‘cause you didn’t get to hit anyone.” Parker skipped past him and headed for Lucille.
Eliot pulled off his beany, shaking it out, and shook out his hair. He gathered his hair back into a low pony tail as he followed Parker back to the van. As Eliot got in through the side door of the van, Hardison started to drive away. Without being asked Parker handed Eliot a box of tissues. Eliot took one and blew his nose even though he knew it wouldn’t help. “Just get us back to the hotel.” Eliot growled, slouching miserably in the back of the van. Eliot counted the minutes until he could get to a shower.
“I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s not like you stink or anything.” Eliot couldn’t decide if Parker was confused or trying to comfort him, and decided not to answer.
“Seriously man, we’d let you know.” Hardison made a show of holding his nose while he said it.
Eliot rolled his eyes. “Just ‘cause you two can’t smell it doesn’t mean anything. Besides it doesn’t stink it itches. I could probably put up with it better if it just smelled bad.” Eliot growled miserably and scratched at the back of his neck. That morning Eliot had sprinkled his clothes in a powdered aconite and mint concoction. He’d also rubbed it on his hair and skin. Aconite, also called Wolfsbane, was one of the few things that could cover up the scent of werewolf. Unfortunately it also prevented Eliot from being able to smell much of anything else either.
He was a little bit concerned that the reason it itched when he wore it was probably because he was being slowly poisoned by it. Although his friend Ewen insisted that aconite wasn’t poisonous for werewolves. Eliot knew that it was extremely poisonous for humans, and he had been very careful to make sure that Parker and Hardison weren’t exposed to the powder when he was applying it. Now he just wanted to wash it off and change his clothes. He knew from past experience that he couldn’t smell other werewolves that were using aconite and Ewen had assured him that it covered his scent the same way.
“So why is it called Wolfsbane if it isn’t poisonous for werewolves but it is poisonous for people?” Parker asked again. Eliot figured that this was at least the fifth time that she had asked him that since he had bought the powder a week ago. He also knew that she would ask again regardless of his answer.
“Because if a wolf is wearing it I can’t smell them. So that means that I have no warning if I’m dealing with a wolf or not.” Eliot tried to be patient but he couldn’t completely suppress the growl in his words.
“You said it messes with your sense of smell when you’re wearing it, right?” Hardison was still trying to catalogue all the “werewolf trivia” as he called it.
“Yes. It makes it really hard for me to smell anything when I’m wearing it. It’s kinda like having a head cold and it makes me sneeze.” Eliot sounded disgusted.
“So how does it work again?” Parker looked at him in the rearview mirror.
“The aconite completely covers the scent of the wolf that is wearing it. The only give away when someone is wearing it is that they have no scent at all. But if you’re not looking for that specifically it’s easy to miss. It’s easy to track or identify a scent, it’s a lot harder when there is no scent.”
Finally they reached their hotel and Eliot wasted no time heading to his room for a shower. Zoe would be meeting them in a couple of hours for lunch and Eliot wanted to have time to review things with Parker and Hardison before then.
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Two weeks earlier, Portland Brew Pub, Portland, OR
“Hey E! You got a minute?” Hardison held up a folder as he walked toward Eliot. Eliot was standing at a central prepping counter in the Brew Pub’s kitchen.
“Hardison, I’m preppin’ for the lunch rush. Can’t it wait?” Eliot didn’t even look up as he continued to slice carrots at a speed that never failed to impress Hardison.
“Sure it can wait as long as you wanna keep workin the kitchen shorthanded.” Hardison was the owner and technically the boss of the Brew Pub but everyone knew that the kitchen belonged to Eliot.
“Fine what have you got?” Eliot set his knife to the side and wiped his hands on his apron before reaching for Alec’s folder.
“I liked what I found on Brian Walker. He’s on the top there but I put a few other people in that I thought might work.” Eliot knew that what Alec found on Jason was probably the same thing that would have made most employers run for the hills. Almost every one of their employees was someone who needed a second chance or a helping hand of some kind. Though they had never discussed it, Eliot was pleased and proud of Hardison’s unspoken hiring policy.
Eliot scanned the top sheet. He couldn’t help the smirk on his face as he noticed, not for the first time, that Hardison set up their employees and prospective employees with the same kind of dossier that he also used for their marks. “Brian twenty five years old… two years in Eastern Oregon Correctional… Boosting cars… hmm… Prison kitchen…” Eliot was talking mostly to himself as he reviewed the file. “Okay. When can he start?”
Hardison’s smile practically lit up the kitchen. “Well since he slept in his car in our lot last night. I bet he could start right now. I’ll go tell ‘im.”
“Hey Hardison! How come you always get to tell them when they’re hired but I’m the one that’s gotta tell them when they’re fired?” Eliot grinned at Hardison’s back as Hardison headed for the door. Running a restaurant always meant a lot of turn over but because of Hardison’s thorough research before hiring anyone they very rarely had to fire anyone.
Eliot was about to go back to the stack of carrots that still needed to be sliced when he heard the quiet sniffling from the front. Anyone else wouldn’t have heard a thing but with his werewolf hearing Eliot heard it as clearly as if she had been sitting next to him. Eliot knew it was a her and even though he didn’t know for certain who it was he figured that he must know her somehow for the sound to have caught his attention so completely. Eliot walked up to the pick-up window and took a look at who was seated out front. A few customers he knew and several that he’d never seen before. It was pretty quiet since it was still early for lunch. Near one of the windows, he recognized the curly hair over the top of the booth. Eliot readjusted his bandana and went over to see if he could help.
“Zoe is everything okay?” Eliot stood across from her and waited until she motioned before he sat down. Eliot had noticed Zoe in the Brew Pub before. A few months ago the team had shut down a dog fighting ring and many of the dogs had gone to a local shelter that was run by Zoe. While the team hadn’t worked with Zoe, Eliot knew that she was friends with the client. Shortly after that job Zoe turned up in the Pub and had been becoming something of a regular.
“Um, yah, I’m fine.” Zoe wiped her eyes and gave him a watery smile.
“Sure you are.” Eliot held out a napkin for her and she blotted at her eyes and blew her nose. She peeked at him over the hand that held the napkin and gave him a somewhat sad chuckle.
“It’s just, my little brother is in the hospital, and my mom’s been calling me and I don’t know what to do.” She said it all in one rushed breath.
“Is he going to be okay?” Eliot could tell that there was something else to this but he didn’t know Zoe well enough to push.
“Um, well I think so. Mama seems to think so.” She sighed and twisted the napkin in her hands.
“So you haven’t been to see him yet? Did you need a ride? We could call a cab for you, or me or one of my friends could drive you.” Eliot offered.
She made a sound that was between a chuckle and a hiccup. “Thanks. That’s awfully nice of you but my family is back in Louisiana. And well it’s just…” She stopped talking long enough that Eliot thought she might have said all that she meant to, but he could smell something like anticipation coming from her as well.
“Is there anything else I can do for you?” Eliot placed his warm calloused hand over her smaller hands on the table.
She bit her lower lip and raised one eyebrow. “Well a few months ago you guys helped a friend of mine who was trying to stop a dog fighting ring. See that’s how I found out about you guys and why I first started coming here for lunch. I guess I was just curious. But it seems like you guys help people and well…” Again this was all delivered in one rushed breath.
Eliot looked at her questioningly. “What do you need help with?”
Parker was standing in the doorway between the restaurant and the hallway that led to Leverage Inc. She had been headed into the restaurant in search of Hardison when she noticed Eliot sitting with a pretty woman on the other side of the restaurant. The woman had golden brown skin and dark brown curly hair. She was petite but curvy and the way she leaned toward Eliot said she was attracted to him. Parker grinned to herself and went to find Hardison.
“Alec? Are you back here?” Parker called when she got to the back of the kitchen but hadn’t spotted him yet.
“I think he’s in the back office missus.” One of the men working the grill pointed just past Parker.
“Thanks Robert.” Parker headed for the office but paused before she entered since she could hear that Hardison was in conversation with someone.
“Actually your time in the prison kitchen will be very useful here. Oh and I need you to fill out this form here. Yes that’s a voucher for housing.” Hardison had hacked a couple of local, and state government sites to create the housing program and so far it was working better than expected. It allowed him to offer housing for free or cheap to some of his needier employees without them or anyone else knowing that he was behind it. “Okay. So I’m going to advance you this week’s pay but I need you to start as soon as you’re done with this paperwork. Just check in with Eliot. He’s the grumpy looking guy in the red bandana.” Hardison looked up as he slid the last of the paperwork across the desk to Brian. “Excuse me Mr. Walker. I’ll be right back.” Hardison smiled as he crossed the small room to meet Parker at the door. “Hey babe! What brings you back here?”
Parker smiled back as Hardison loosely wrapped his arms around her waist. “Oh you know. I got bored. But when I was coming to get you; guess what?”
“I don’t know. What?”
“I saw Eliot and it looks like he’s on a date!”
“Mmm, I don’t think so momma. I’m not sure anything could keep that man from his kitchen right now. You know how he gets about food. Especially since we been shorthanded lately.” Hardison brushed the tip of his nose across the tip of Parker’s nose, making her giggle.
“Really go look for yourself!” Parker tilted her head toward the front of the restaurant. Hardison grabbed her hand and towed her gently behind him to the pick-up window.
“Well I’ll be damned. But, I bet it’s a client and not a date.” Hardison couldn’t see the woman from this angle but he could see the look on Eliot’s face. Hardison looked back over his shoulder and called out. “Robert, can you get Brian settled in when he’s done with his paperwork? Thanks man!” Still holding Parker’s hand Hardison headed across the room toward Eliot.
Eliot looked up at them as they approached and slid out of the booth. Hardison and Parker took up Eliot’s previous spot across from Zoe, and Eliot pulled a chair up to the end of the table and straddled the seat with his arms resting on the back of the chair against the table. While he wasn’t expecting any sort of trouble in the Pub, old habits demanded that he sit in a spot where he could best defend his team.
“Zoe, I’d like you to meet Hardison, and Parker. Guys this is Zoe Broussard. Zoe can you tell them what you were just telling me?” Hardison held his hand out to Zoe and said how nice it was to meet her. Parker had a very pleased smile on her face and looked just a little too intense. Eliot glared his ‘there’s-something-wrong-with-you glare’ at Parker and rubbed his hand over his face. Parker was so much better at interacting with people than she used to be but sometimes she could still be a little off putting, as evidenced by Zoe’s uncomfortable glance at Parker.
“Okay, um, well. So I was just telling Eliot that my brother is in the hospital in Louisiana. My mama thinks he’ll be okay. But the thing is it wasn’t just some accident that put him in the hospital. It was the local Sheriff that beat him up.”
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Hardison put up all the information that he had gathered for this new job on their big screen.
“Chad Trouille, he’s a Lieutenant in the Sherriff’s department for Lafourche Parish in Louisiana. Been with the department for eight years. Looks like he started getting a little extra income about six years ago. All cash deposits.
This is Alexander Broussard. Zoe’s brother. He runs a veterinarian clinic on the outskirts of Thibodeaux, Louisiana.” Hardison put up a formal portrait of Alexander along with the pictures that had been taken of his injuries on admittance to the local ER.
“Can’t prove from the injuries that it was Chad that beat ‘im but it was definitely someone in law enforcement.” Eliot frowned as he studied the pictures. He noticed the questioning looks on his friend’s faces. “See the mark on his jaw. It matches the ones on his ribs. Those are very distinctive marks. They came from an expandable baton; the kind law enforcement caries. And that shoe print on his back comes from the same style boot worn by the Sheriff’s department and other law enforcement in that part of the country.” While Eliot was talking, Hardison walked over to a mason jar on a side table and put a dollar in it.
“Well ole’ Chad’s cell phone places him in the area at the time of the attack. And the next day when Alex woke up in the ICU he told his mother, and the nurse that was there, that it was Chad that beat him. Now they’ve got Alex on some heavy drugs.” Hardison slid a copy of the medical chart up on the screen. “So Alex hasn’t been awake much and so far no one but his mom and Zoe believe him. The Sheriff’s department says that Lieutenant Trouille was on a routine patrol when he saw something in the parking lot of the clinic and went to check it out. He says he scared off the person that was beating Dr. Broussard and called for an ambulance.”
“So pretty much they’re saying that Alex was confused and can’t remember what happened huh?” Eliot’s shoulders were bunched and he looked ready to hit someone.
“Yep. ‘Bout the sum of it.” Hardison started to move a few more things onto the screen.
“Hardison where are the payments coming from? The ones to Chad’s account.” Parker had a not-so-pleasant grin on her face. Eliot thought he could almost hear the gears turning in her mind as she spun the problem out and back and around trying to look at it from every angle. The team had realized early on how intelligent Parker was and it was no wonder that she had been tapped to be the new mastermind.
“Actually he was pretty smart with the payments. All cash deposits and I can’t track cash in the real world. But I did some snooping…”
“Of course you did. What did you find?” Eliot grouched and thumped a fist on the table top.
“Alright, alright. Don’t worry I’m sure we can find someone for you to hit before the job’s over.” Hardison teased.
“Might start before the job if you don’t hurry up!” Eliot glared at Hardison but Hardison didn’t take him seriously.
“Boys!” Parker called them back to order.
“Okay. So back in the day Chad played football for Central Lafourche High School over in Raceland and he was picked up on a minor pot charge along with Brandon Mendoza and Dylan Andrini.” Hardison slid two mug shots up on the screen. “Brandon aka “Bigs” Mendoza has been picked up several times for possession with intent to distribute. Moved up from pot though to Special K, assault, robbery, and generally hooliganesque behavior. And our boy Dylan or “Mr. D” is right there in the same boat. But suddenly all of this stopped about six years ago.” The smile on Hardison’s face was just a little cocky but he couldn’t help it.
“So Chad is covering for his old pals. Where does Alex fit into this?” Eliot mused and Parker continued to spin the pieces in her head until they started to fit together.
“Were they dumb enough to get caught after he started covering for them?” Parker looked like she was down to the last few pieces of a puzzle.
“Do you still pick locks in your free time? Yes, of course they did.” Hardison slid more files onto the screen. “So it looks like Mendoza and Andrini got picked up together about six years ago but suddenly there was a paperwork snafu and they both got off with nothin’. Since then Mendoza’s been picked up several times but again nothing sticks.”
“Fine. But where does Chad fit into this? If Mendoza’s picked up by city cops that’s got nothing to do with the sheriff’s department. Dammit Hardison! Enough with the dog an’ pony show. Just get to it will ya.” Parker flipped open one of her little notebooks and marked a single tally mark next to a set of three others on a page that seemed to be filling up with five count tallies.
“Actually that’s as far as I could connect them. But Chad’s gotta be springing his boys somehow right?” Hardison crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair while staring at the screens like the information would just present itself if he stared long enough.
“Who’s the officer that signed the paperwork to release Mendoza?” Parker grinned her mastermind grin.
Eliot’s grin almost matched hers. “Bet you’re right Parker. The arresting officer only signs off if they’re keeping you. Someone else signs off if they’re letting you go with no charges.” Eliot chuckled low in his throat.
“Well how in the hell?” Hardison twisted the vowels to exaggerate his surprise. “And you two just know this stuff?” Parker and Eliot both snorted at the same time.
“Maybe we should get Hardison arrested so that he can see for himself.” Parker stage whispered to Eliot.
“Nah we don’t have time.” Eliot shook his head with a small smile.
“Excuse you! Both of you! Nuh-uh. That ain’t funny.” Hardison was already in the middle of pulling up the paperwork for Mendoza’s releases.
“Franklin Tinsley…. Alright give me just a second here.” Hardison muttered while typing furiously. “Yep went through the academy with Chad Trouille. Alright and there’s your connection!”
“And Alex? Is he in on it or is he actually a victim?” Eliot glanced a Hardison.
“What makes you think he’s in on it?” Hardison frowned knowing he was missing something.
“Special K is the street name for Ketamine. Ketamine is a large animal tranquilizer. So is Alex selling it to Chad and his boys and they had a falling out, or were they stealing his supplies and he caught them at it and got beaten for it?” Eliot explained.
“Hardison see what you can find out about Alex. See if he has any reason to work with these guys. I know Eliot likes Zoe but I don’t want to end up with a client that might need to be arrested.” Parker’s tone was completely serious but Hardison thought he might have seen a flicker of a grin playing at the corner of her mouth.
“What?! It’s not like that! I mean she’s cute but it’s not like that.” The first part of Eliot’s exclamation was loud and indignant but the last was almost muttered under his breath.
“I think bru just protested too much!” Hardison laughed.
Eliot threw his hands in the air and left to see how things were going in the Pub’s kitchen. He could hear Parker and Hardison laughing as the door between the office and the hall swung closed and he couldn’t help his smile.