The first thing Brody said to Ellerbee was: “I know how to catch Anikka.”
Ellerbee made a valiant attempt to play it cool. He had stationed himself at the foot of Brody’s bed with Summer on one side and Mitch on the other. Stephanie was by the door with CJ and Ronnie on the far wall, armed with clipboards and pens.
“Okay,” Ellerbee said. “I can pass it along to the new team--”
But Brody was shaking his head. He couldn’t sit upright yet, but someone had propped him up with pillows. Summer’s work, no doubt. It made him look more or less coherent, though the fact that he wasn’t wearing real clothes didn’t help him look convincing. That didn’t stop him. “No, me.”
Ellerbee waited, maybe hoping for some clarification that would make that sound not as crazy as it was. “You?”
“You have to use me,” Brody said, somehow finding enough energy to sound positive, even though his voice hadn’t recovered from the intubation.
Ellerbee was actually squirming now. “This case ain’t wrapping up any time soon,” he said. “We’re still processing the scene, and we think we may have found some hits on some DNA or other circumstantial evidence to link Leeds to the scene, but it’s going to take some time to identify it all, and we’ve got to work to trace the drugs, see if we can suss out any witnesses.”
It was a lot of relevant detail, but Brody was hardly listening to a word of it. “She doesn’t know I’m undercover,” he said. “We can use that.”
Ellerbee looked like he wanted to laugh. He tried to laugh, but no one else joined him. “She tried to kill you,” he said. “You do know that, right?”
“I know,” Brody said. “Because I was a loose end.”
“But she wasn’t the one who was there? In the storage room?” Ellerbee asked.
“No, her goons, Caleb and Terence,” he said. “But Anikka was definitely the one who drugged me. She told me what she was going to do.”
“Still,” Ellerbee said haltingly. “If we push this too soon, we’re going to lose her. We have to wait until we have enough of the right evidence.”
“So not even Brody’s eye witness is enough?” Summer asked.
Ellerbee sighed regretfully. “We could probably pursue something against the goons right now, but with a good legal team, Leeds still walks,” he said. “There was a reason we wanted to catch her with the drugs.”
“But you don’t need the drugs,” Brody said, interjecting himself back into the conversation. “Not if you can get a confession.”
At that, Ellerbee’s protest grew silent. He eyed Brody carefully. “And why would she confess?”
“Because she won’t know she’s doing it,” Brody said.
Mitch felt his skin start to crawl at the insinuation. This case made him nervous; honestly, it made him want to shit his pants a little. Two days ago, Brody had nearly been killed. And here they were, talking about him being in the field again. Under any circumstances, Mitch hated that idea.
The rest of the team was listening intently. Even Ellerbee was all ears now.
And Brody’s face was on point.
If this was a team decision, then Mitch would support it.
But Brody had to make his case. “Look, she wants me gone because I can turn evidence in against her. I know about her plans with the drugs. I can probably even give you a few names of the big players in the club.”
“That’s not enough for a conviction--”
“But Anikka doesn’t know that,” Brody said, and he paused to take a large, grating breath. “If it was enough to kill me once, why wouldn’t she try again?”
Ellerbee chewed his lip, but he had to concede that point.
Mitch wasn’t quite so ready to let it go. “All the more reason for you to lay low.”
“No,” Brody said, as adamant as he could given his current condition. “It’s why you need to use me. She’s going to want to get to me before I can talk and before I can fight back.”
“So she’d do it soon,” Summer said.
“But how do we know for sure she’ll bite?” Ellerbee asked cautiously.
Brody shrugged on shoulder. “Sweeten the pot,” he said. “Give her motivation.”
Stephanie nodded from the doorway. “If she thought you had solid evidence--”
“Records or shipping logs,” CJ added.
“You had access to her office, right?” Ronnie said.
Mitch knew where this was going, and as much as he didn’t want to support it, he chimed in, “We leak it to the press that you’ve got the documents in your possession.”
“Rumors, just like the rest,” Summer continued.
“And we can make it even easier for her,” Stephanie said, stepping forward slightly with an increase of enthusiasm. “We’ve kept the press out of here. There’s been no reports that you’re awake.”
CJ’s eyes were bright. “And the press has loved this story.”
Ronnie bobbed his head with energy. “So we release a statement that you’re coming out of consciousness, but that you’re not there yet. Have the medical team say it’s going to be several days before you can talk.”
“It gives her opportunity,” Summer said.
“But also a limited window,” Mitch said, sighing a little. “She’ll have to act in the next few days to make sure that you can’t turn over the documents or give an official statement about her involvement to the police.”
Brody beamed at all of them proudly. Mitch felt more than a little trepidation, but he couldn’t begrudge the feeling. It was a good thing, having the team together. It was also a much surer thing. This was how they solved cases. Together.
Mitch could hate the details, but he believed in their methods.
No, he just believed in them.
Thoughtfully, Ellerbee seemed reluctant to nod his head. “We could get Brody on a wire, post backup throughout the hospital,” he said. “If she’s bold enough to come in and do it herself, then we’d have her.”
That sounded good, and all. But, Mitch was going to be a stickler about this one point: “But what about Brody?”
Fortunately, this time, it was a question they were all thinking.
Well, almost everyone.
On the bed, still looking like he needed to sleep and not plot undercover operations, Brody did not seem to have come to this question at all.
That was why they were so much better as a team.
As the head of the legal side of things, Ellerbee seemed ready to tackle this question first. “Like I said, no way I’m doing this without full backup on site. I’m talking armed guards on every floor in plain clothes. I might see if I can get a few in as nursing staff too, just to be sure. If I could clear this whole damn ward, if I could.”
That was probably overkill, so even though Mitch liked the sound of that, he wasn’t going to push it.
Ellerbee wasn’t done yet. He was thinking on his feet, which made his level of commitment to this even more impressive. “They have call buttons in these rooms, but that might be too obvious. We can rig something into the live wire system, give Brody another panic button.”
Mitch liked that. A lot. “So the instant shot goes down, he can make sure we know.”
“And we can get him out,” Ellerbee agreed. He turned a stern gaze to Brody. “But you have to hit it the instant shit gets bad. We’ll be able to hear everything, but we won’t have video access. We’d be counting on you to know when to bail.”
Mitch looked at Brody as well, and it hit him again just how outrageous this scheme was. Brody was still barely conscious. He looked ready to fall back asleep, and despite being propped up by pillows, he was already listing to one side. If they did this, Brody would be the perfect bait mostly because he was completely vulnerable. Mitch had no doubt that Leeds would be able to overpower Brody if she wanted, and the fact that they were in a hospital at all proved she had the desire and gumption to try.
The difference this time was that Brody wouldn’t be alone.
Mitch reminded himself of that one more time.
He glanced at Ellerbee. “He’d be safe, right?” he asked not because Ellerbee had left that point unclear, but because Mitch needed the affirmation.
Ellerbee scoffed. “You think I’m taking any risks I can’t mitigate this time?” he shot back. “In fact, I’m making sure we have an armed presence here starting now, and I’ll stand down the hall myself just to be sure. No one is dying for this. Leeds is not worth it.”
His conviction was solidifying. In its face, Mitch could make no further argument. The resolve of the others only cemented things. As a team, and only as a team, was this mission going to happen.
From the bed, Brody finally gathered enough strength to speak again. “We need a full confession, right?” he asked. “For the drugs?”
Ellerbee raised his eyebrows. “And for trying to off you, while we’re at it,” he said. “Those two charges combined can ensure she doesn’t get out.”
“And if. We don’t do this,” Brody rasped. “She’ll get away?”
“Maybe not forever, but the case will take a lot longer to build,” he said. “Best case scenario, weeks. Worst, maybe months. Years.”
Mitch knew what Brody was doing. More importantly, he knew why Brody was doing it. He was reminding them that this wasn’t a reckless fancy. This was an important case. Important not just for the bay, but for the team itself. He was trying to remind them that the risk was justified.
He was making sure they said yes.
Brody needed their approval. Not out of emotion necessarily. No, Brody needed it more fundamentally. If he couldn’t sit up on his own, there was no way he was working an undercover operation without their help.
For Brody, this was about finishing what he started. It all went back to the choice he’d made. Not just the plea deal, but the choice he’d made to accept Baywatch as family.
In a lot of ways, Mitch knew this was still a bad idea. He knew it was a risk they probably shouldn’t take. But Brody’s choice had galvanized the rest. Stephanie looked resolute by the door. CJ and Ronnie were hand in hand, gazes steady. Across the bed, Summer met Mitch’s eyes and she nodded.
Mitch finally looked at Brody again.
Over the last day, he had watched Brody struggle to survive. He’d watched his lungs stop working, and he’d heard his heart stop beating. In the two weeks before that, he had watch Brody consistently destroy every relationship he’d worked to build.
But before that. In the time since Brody had come to Baywatch?
He’d watched Brody become a better person, a part of a team. He’d watched Brody become dependable, reliable, likable, and real.
He’d watched him come to life.
Now, even after the brink of death, Mitch would not deny him that life again. Not when Brody was finally ready to embrace it.
Lying there, Brody was not just determined. He was also hopeful.
Mitch, in the end, knew there was only one choice to make.
“Fine,” he said, speaking for all of them. “We’ll do this thing.”
Brody grinned on the bed.
“But,” Mitch said, holding up a finger in warning. He looked at all of the before his eyes locked, unyielding, on Brody. “We do this together. No exceptions.”
Brody expression was eager; it was ready.
From the foot of the bed, Ellerbee provided his support. “You guys can tell me how you want to play it,” he said. “I’ll make sure there’s full police backup on site within the hour.”
“And we’re in,” CJ said, smiling at Ronnie.
Ronnie was smiling back. “We’re obviously in.”
At the door, Stephanie gave a small roll of her eyes. “There’s no way I’m letting you attempt this alone this time.”
On the other side of the bed, Summer took up Brody’s hand in her own. She waited until Brody looked at her, squeezing his fingers. “Let’s finish this.”
As weak as he looked, the effect was somehow galvanizing on Brody. “Together.”
It was a hell of a moment, all of them, to a man, rallying to the cause. Their conflicts, their differences, it was all gone now. Now, they were united in spirit, in purpose and in all practical application. Was it possible that someday such sentiment wouldn’t be enough? Not even for Baywatch?
Maybe, Mitch conceded to himself as he looked at his team.
But it certainly wasn’t going to happen today.
The sentiment was critical to making this operation work, but that didn’t mean this was entirely driven by emotion. No, Mitch’s team was better than that. This wasn’t about feelings and guesswork. Instead, the passion was channeled into real and practical components, each of which was crafted to support the whole of the operation.
In other words, they all had to play their part.
And this time, unlike before, they all knew what that part was.
Mitch made sure of that himself.
First, he had Stephanie handle the press side of things. Official statements were useful for communicating with Leeds without her realizing that she was the intended target. Stephanie arranged for a small official statement to be released from Baywatch, merely acknowledging that Brody was no longer a member of their team but that the Baywatch team wished him a speedy recovery. Then, she worked with the hospital staff, taking time to bring the doctor up to speed on the nature of the undercover operation. Due to increased inquiries, the hospital released a statement that Brody’s condition was still critical, and that no further information would be provided on private patient matters.
This was a start, but Leeds would need more motivation to act. This was where Summer came into play, and she worked the press with her own machinations. Though she was the slighted girlfriend in the previous weeks, she made no secret of visiting the hospital at unnecessarily frequent intervals. This was tedious in some regards, but it guaranteed that the press caught sight of her frequently, and when she was cornered by a mob of press, she gave a terse but touching interview that Brody was doing better that he was waking up. “In the next two days,” she said, convincingly wiping a tear from her eye.
That established a timeline for Leeds, but it was up to CJ and Ronnie to develop a sufficient motive. This was the part of the operation that had the highest likelihood of failure, if only because it relied exclusively on rumors.
However, Brody’s efforts over the last two weeks had shown just how viable the gossip on the beach was. And CJ was a pretty damn good actress in her own right. With some highly public conversations from her post on tower two, she was able to tell the beach’s most notorious big mouths that Brody had confided in her that there was something going on at the Huntley.
“He came to me and apologized, if you must know,” CJ said with an air of confidentiality that was betrayed by how loud her voice was. “He said that he had evidence that the new ownership at the Huntley was back at it. He said he had proof.”
“Proof?” everyone asked her.
She shrugged, perfectly demur. “Beats me, but he asked me if I could sneak him into HQ to make copies,” she said. “I didn’t, because I didn’t want to lose my job either, but I have to wonder. Maybe his overdose wasn’t an accident at all, if you know what I mean. If he wakes up, he’s sure going to have a story to tell.”
To make sure the story got around, Ronnie surreptitiously recorded it and posted it to social media. Then, he drummed up several fake accounts to speculate on it, suggesting that Brody surely had copies of shipment orders.
As for Mitch, he oversaw the police set up at the hospital, making sure they were present but not noticeable. This allowed him to stay close to Brody, who continued to improve but still looked to be a far cry from his normal self. It had only been less than a day since Brody woke up, and Mitch was facing the uncomfortable reality that Mitch was going to have to leave him soon.
All that talk of doing this together was great, but the reality was that Brody still had to do this part alone.
Mitch hated that.
“Maybe I can hide under the bed,” Mitch said.
Brody gave him a quizzical look. “I know you’re trying to be serious, but I don’t know what to say to that.”
Mitch harrumphed softly. “I just don’t like it. You doing this alone.”
“You’re going to be in the next room,” Brody said. “You’ve replaced my nurse with a cop.”
“Which I also don’t like,” Mitch said. “What if you have another heart attack?”
Brody didn’t seemed willing to consider that outcome. “Then one of the other two dozen nurses on the floor will help me,” he said. “Besides, you said the doctor cleared me.”
“Under pressure, sure,” Mitch said. “He had half of the bay’s police force and its entire lifeguarding staff telling him that this was an essential operation. We basically made him sign you off as collateral damage.”
Brody regarded this statement skeptically. “I’m really feeling a lot better.”
“Can you sit up yet?” Mitch asked him caustically.
“Yes,” Brody said. “I think. Look, I can’t sit up if Anikka’s going to think I’m still not fully conscious.”
“But if something goes wrong,” Mitch said. “Can you move? I mean, I saw them try to get you out of bed this morning. You nearly face planted, taking out that little nurse with you.”
“But I didn’t,” Brody said.
“Because I caught you, dumbass,” Mitch snapped back.
“So I’m weak still,” Brody said. “This part of the operation doesn’t require me to be physically sound. I just have to lie here and get her talk. In fact, the worse I look, the better this plays.”
Mitch hated that point.
He tried another one. “How do you know for sure Leeds will come?”
“I guess I can’t be sure,” Brody admitted. His voice sounded a little better today, a little less like he had tried to eat gravel. But he still sounded smaller than he used to. “But she’s a lot more hands on than Leeds. And she takes shit personally. She’ll want to finish this herself.”
She’d want to finish Brody herself, in other words.
Mitch sighed heavily. “You can still take an out here,” he said.
“You wouldn’t, not if you were in my place,” Brody replied. “Neither would anyone else on the team.”
That was the most difficult incontrovertible truth of this whole thing. After hearing the truth about the case against Leeds, no one else doubted that this was the right thing to do. Even Mitch didn’t doubt that it was right. He was just struggling with what he was more willing to compromise: Brody or his principles.
Neither was the obvious answer, hence all the failsafes embedded into the plan.
But standing here, looking at Brody in that hospital bed, it didn’t feel so obvious. Because he could still see Brody’s pale face as he breathed for him back in the shed. He could still see Brody’s broken features when he confessed the truth about his mom. And he could even see the face of the jackass who’d arrived on the beach. Brody was all of these things to Mitch.
He had told Brody that family was a choice, and that was a definition he still stood by. But somehow, when it came to Brody, Mitch doubted whether he’d ever actually had that choice. Brody had won him over at some point, so completely, so incomparably, that Mitch felt helpless against it.
The irony was that Brody was the one insisting on doing the right thing this time.
And that was something he had learned invariably from Mitch himself.
Hating him was impossible.
Admitting that he cared about him, however, wasn’t exactly easy.
“Just remember that this is a team effort,” Mitch coached him. “The first sign of trouble, you press that button.”
“I got it, Mitch,” Brody said.
“Do you?” Mitch asked.
Brody didn’t balk at the question. “I know I’m not alone this time,” he said. “I know that.”
That was the critical difference, of course.
Mitch had to believe that anyway.
Finally, he drew himself up and nodded at Brody. “I need to leave,” he said. “Leeds has to think you’re alone. We’ve got Summer poised outside to make a dramatic exit. We’re hoping that Leeds will use that as her window. Ronnie says she’s kept the Huntley closed to day; no sign that anyone is home, so she’s clearly got other plans.”
“Good bet,” Brody said. “She probably likes the idea of being Summer’s competition.”
“She sounds like a strange woman,” Mitch observed.
Brody’s eyes went wide. “You have no idea.”
Mitch thought he might want to know, but it was probably a story they couldn’t fit in today. He nodded at Brody, one last time. “You’ve got this?”
Brody smiled, not as big as before but more confident somehow. More secure. “We’ve got this.”
Mitch grunted. “Let’s do it, then.”
The whole point was for Mitch to leave.
Mitch had to leave or Brody couldn’t finish the job.
If Brody didn’t finish the job, then Baywatch would still be at risk.
If Baywatch was still at risk, then all of this was for nothing.
Brody hadn’t enjoyed a single part of this. He hadn’t liked pissing his friends off. He hadn’t like breaking up with Summer. He hadn’t liked smoking weed with Anikka’s goons. He hadn’t liked having Anikka grope him. And you know what? He really hadn’t liked nearly being killed. That all sucked. A lot.
But that didn’t mean that Brody would take any of it back. He understood in very practical ways how sacrifices were worthwhile. Like, you didn’t get to the Olympics without knowing that sometimes going through shit was worth it when the end result was good enough. Gold medals had been pretty cool, if Brody wasn’t honest. He was proud of that.
He was way more proud of Baywatch.
So yeah, any sacrifice for Baywatch, was worthwhile.
But shit, watching Mitch walk out that door almost made Brody call the whole damn thing off. Last time he’d tried to go against Anikka alone, she’d legit tried to kill him. And really, she’d almost succeeded. Brody wasn’t about to forget that horrible sensation of passing out in her office, and he really wasn’t going to forget what it was like to wake up in that stupid little storage shed while Caleb and Terence bantered during his would-be death. That shit scarred you for life, and the only consolation was that Brody was already so messed up that it probably didn’t make much difference. What was a little PTSD on top of his abandonment issues and reckless tendencies?
He needed to calm down.
He really needed to calm down right now.
If for no other reason than Anikka expected him to be barely conscious. If he was an anxious mess, he’d blow his cover.
It was hard to be calm without Mitch here, though. Sure, Brody knew he was in the next room with Ellerbee and that there were cops everywhere. And he knew that Stephanie, Ronnie, CJ and Summer had all pulled their weight in this. Brody wasn’t alone this time.
Yet, here he was.
Lying in a hospital bed.
Shitting in a bed pan.
Anxiously, he glanced at the oxygen clip on his finger. It had been replaced, with the doctor’s permission of course, with an emergency button. A panic button, Ellerbee had called it, even if he’d given Brody instructions not to simply use it in panic. Brody had his permission to use it when the bitch weirded him out or, at the very least, when she started to make physical contact. Ellerbee and Mitch had made a big deal out of that.
Brody, however, was more concerned about the wire he was wearing. In truth, he was wearing a lot of wires. He was still in an ICU ward, after all. That made the police wire easier to hide. It was this wire, Brody knew, that would provide a concrete recording of Anikka’s confession.
Assuming Brody could get her to confess.
Assuming she came.
Assuming Brody didn’t die of a heart attack first.
Forcing himself to lie back, Brody tried to control his breathing. He had mixed luck, and he could actually hear the uneasy rhythm of his heart on the monitor. That was weird. He wondered if Mitch could hear it too from the next room.
That was reassuring in some ways. Mitch was there.
It was also unsettling in other ways. Mitch was literally there. If Brody’s breathing got too erratic, Mitch would probably know.
Of course, once he started trying to control his breathing, he couldn’t do it at all.
Suppressing a groan, he flopped back on his pillow and stared at the ceiling. The lights were dimmed, and he was supposed to try to sleep. Or pretend to sleep. Whichever worked.
It was funny. Knowing that he had backup meant that it was okay if he screwed up. They’d be there for him.
But it also made him want to fail even less. Because they were all there, watching him.
That was the thing, though. That was the point Brody could finally make peace with.
They were there, watching out for him.
That meant that Brody didn’t need to worry about his own ass.
He had to worry about the case.
The team would take care of the rest.
The team would take care of him.
At that thought, Brody finally began to relax. He was tired, after all. As Mitch liked to remind him, he was recovering from a minor heart attack among other things. He let his eyes close because he didn’t need to see what was coming next.
Whatever came, Brody knew his job.
And he trusted his team to know theirs.
The minute Mitch got in the commandeered ICU room, he hated this.
“I hate this,” he said in no uncertain terms to Ellerbee.
Ellerbee was perched anxiously at the table that had been set up, laid full of equipment that two other cops were actively monitoring.
“I hate this, too,” Ellerbee said back to him, barely sparing him a look. “You’re the one who called me this time, remember?”
Mitch scowled as he sat in one of the vacant seats. “Is the wire working?”
“We’ve got it on speaker,” Ellerbee said. “If you shut your trap, you can hear his heart monitor.”
Mitch sat forward with interest. “How’s it sound?”
“Like a heart monitor,” Ellerbee snapped, giving Mitch a sideways look.
“I meant does he sound nervous,” Mitch clarified, though he did feel somewhat chagrined. “I don’t want his heart under too much pressure.”
“Then we probably shouldn’t have approved him for undercover work,” Ellerbee said.
It was Mitch’s turn to cast a sideways look.
Ellerbee held up his hands in innocence. “I may have helped talk Brody into this the first time around, but this time? This time it’s all on you and your little Baywatch buddies.”
“No, this time -- and last time -- it’s on Brody,” Mitch said. “His choice.”
Ellerbee scoffed, but he sounded somewhat fond. “It sure didn’t take him long to take after you. When he first got here, I thought we might have a shot with him.”
“Hey!” Mitch said, not sure which part of the statement actually offended him.
Ellerbee grinned at him. “You can’t figure out how to be offended at that, even if you want to be.”
Mitch leveled him with a tired glare. “This has been a long two weeks.”
“For you and me both, brother,” Ellerbee said. “But hey, we’re down to the wire here. We’ve only got what? One day? Tops?”
Mitch sighed, settling back and trying to get comfortable while the other cops adjusted the dials on the devices, turning up the sound just loud enough that the steady cadence of Brody’s heart was audible.
“I know you’re trying to make it sound like that isn’t very long,” Mitch said.
Ellerbee nodded in commiseration. “Yeah,” he said. “It feels like an eternity to me, too. There’s nothing we can do about it now, though.”
“Of course there is,” Mitch said. “We wait. We’re ready.”
That was all; that was everything.
Way too much.
All there was.
Mitch nodded grimly, utterly resolved in this: “We wait.”
At first, it had been pretty nerve wracking.
After about fifteen minutes, though, Brody got kind of bored.
Actually, he got kind of tired. Apparently, this whole drug overdose thing wasn’t a joke. It really did cause problems for your body. Brody made a mental note of that as another reason to never do drugs again.
(Really, he had never been huge into drugs; alcohol had always been more his thing, but still. Drugs = shit.)
This resolve lasted about ten minutes.
Then, he fell asleep.
Technically, this was falling asleep on duty, which was a big no-no for a lifeguard. Fortunately, he was undercover. Sleep was the perfect cover for, well, sleep.
He dozed on and off, until an hour or two had passed, and he was just slipping into REM sleep when he heard a sound at the door. He stirred, expecting it to be Mitch making sure that he hadn’t accidentally gone and had another minor heart attack, but when he finally got his eyes open -- it took him longer than it should have, but he was still recovering, okay -- he realized that it wasn’t Mitch.
It was Anikka.
Just sitting there.
Like she’d been sitting there, watching him sleep for hours.
Even minutes was creepy.
Brody couldn’t help it.
He kind of started to panic.
It was a natural reaction, given that she had tried to kill him.
Also, she was just a scary weirdo.
And he had been asleep on the job.
And oh, shit, this was happening now.
“I know I’m supposed to be mad,” she said, and she reached across Brody, turning his monitors off. She did it in a super casual way, like she just wanted privacy. Not like she was here to finish the job of killing him. “I mean, I went to some trouble last time, but seeing you here, I just can’t help myself.”
She was still grinning, and she placed her hand on his arm almost lovingly. Brody flinched. Really badly.
She didn’t notice. Or, she noticed, and she liked it. “It makes me think, maybe I was wrong before,” she continued. “Maybe you and I could still have something.”
He swallowed, and it wasn’t an act when he sounded shaky. “In business?” he croaked.
Anikka laughed like that was the funniest joke she’d heard all day. “You haven’t had enough drugs yet?” she asked. “And no, not the drugs. I meant pleasure. But see, right there, that’s why you and I are not going to work out.”
There was also the fact that she was crazy and murderous.
She traced a finger up his bicep, looking disappointed. “Besides,” she said. “You have made this exceptionally inconvenient.”
“Sorry,” he choked out. “I didn’t mean not to die.”
“Oh, not just that,” she said. “The documents you took.”
Brody forged a look of confusion.
She did not look impressed. “The rumors are all up and down the beach,” she said. “And I know you had complete access to my office these past two weeks, and I admittedly am not the best housekeeper. This is why people have secretaries, apparently.”
Brody had to play this was right. Not to save his life, like Anikka thought. But because getting her to confess was key. “Documents about what?”
She tweaked his nose, like she thought he was adorable. “I’m honestly not sure,” she admitted. “Everyone thinks it’s shipping manifests or something like that.”
“Why would I want your shipping manifests?” Brody asked, straining for enough air to speak steadily.
“Because they show that I’m moving drugs into the bay, not fish or booze or whatever else we need for a nightclub,” she said. “I mean, those kind of documents link me to drugs -- and me alone. I don’t share well, and I don’t have the patient for dummy corporations and all that shit like my sister did. I mean, I want to start a drug monopoly on the bay, and if you have documents to prove it, then you’re a lot more of a problem than I thought you were.”
That was...good. Wasn’t it? Was that a confession?
It occurred to Brody belatedly that he didn’t know what a full confession would sound like?
If they had enough, would Mitch and Ellerbee come charging in here?
If they were still waiting, then did Brody need more?
With a ragged breath, Brody glanced anxiously at the monitors that she’d shut off. She’d come here for the documents, but that wasn’t the only reason she was here. Brody could get one more confession out of here. One that would finish her for good.
“Why would I give you anything?” he asked gruffly.
“Because I’m asking so nicely?” she asked, and she actually batted her eyelashes.
Brody shook his head. “You tried to kill me.”
That was maybe a little on point, but Anikka liked stuff like that. She was hands-on. She didn’t like pretense. “Well, okay, I tried to kill you,” she said. “But in my defense, you were no longer useful to me.”
Brody made a face. “How is that a defense?”
She shrugged, now looking vaguely annoyed. She dropped her hand, and sat up a little straighter. “I don’t know,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t care.”
It was clear from her demeanor that the whole pleasure part of the equation had been voided.
Now, she was all business.
“So,” she said. “I’d really like it if you told me where the papers are.”
“Why?” Brody asked, mindful not to exert too much energy. She was supposed to think he was still barely awake. And, well, he was still barely awake. “So you can kill me for real this time?”
“Oh, baby,” she said, and there was a twisted softness in her expression again. She reached up a hand and tangled it through his hair. “I’m going to kill you either way. And I’m going to continue the drug operation either way. And I’m going to take apart Baywatch and take over the bay. It’s just so much easier if you give me the documents.”
“Screw you,” Brody hissed.
“Well, that was the plan,” she said. She leaned forward, and Brody had nowhere to go as she pressed her lips forcefully against his. He struggled, squirming against her for the first time.
This only made her seem to enjoy it more.
When she pulled back, Brody was gaping for air, and she gave him one last smile. “But I should have known you would never put out.”
He felt himself panic, more than a little this time. He thought about the panic button. But then he was too panicked to hit the button and what if he still didn’t have enough? What if he needed more? What if she killed him before he got the chance?
“I didn’t take any documents,” he told her, the words trembling.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said cloyingly, and she patted him arm one last time. “But baby, please, try to die for real this time?”
Was she going to smother him with a pillow? Was she about to take out a gun to shoot him? Shit, if there were drugs, then when was she going to pull out the syringe? Was she just going to scare him into having another heart attack, because that one might be working.
Amused, she got up. As she made her way to the door, Brody decided to forget the rest. He needed backup.
However, the instant he decided that was the same instant something cold swept over him, spreading out from the IV access point on his arm. He stared at it dumbly, realizing that he no longer had use of his hand.
Soon, he could no longer lift his arm -- or his other arm for that matter.
His lungs seized on him, and stars flashed behind his eyes.
She’d drugged him.
But when had she drugged him?
Frantic, he opened his mouth to yell, but no words came out. From the doorway, she turned back and waved at him.
He gasped, trying to yell, trying to talk, trying to do something, anything.
She turned on her heel, and Mitch could hear the stilettos on the tile as she disappeared from view.
The thing is, he’s done everything he could.
It’s probably not going to be enough.
When Leeds showed up, Ellerbee had to remind Mitch that this was part of the plan. Mitch gritted his teeth when she started talking, loud and clear on Brody’s wire. He flinched when she turned the monitor off, and his fists balled up when he heard the weak lilt of Brody’s voice against her own smooth confidence.
When she confessed to dealing drugs, Ellerbee shushed him. “We want her to confess to the attempted murder, too,” he whispered. “And whatever the hell else Brody can get her to say.”
When she confessed to the murder, Mitch was practically jumping out of his seat as Ellerbee pulled him back down. “He hasn’t pressed the button yet,” the cop argued.
“So? Haven’t we got what we need?” Mitch hissed back.
“More is always better with this shit,” Ellerbee said back. “Just give him a second; he’ll push it--”
But Brody didn’t push it.
Not as she threatened his life while simultaneously flirting with him.
Not when Brody went very, very silent.
Not when they heard her footsteps, moving toward the door.
Mitch cursed, and he was on his feet again. “Tell me we’re going--”
Ellerbee was on his feet, too, gun drawn as he made his way to the door. “Hell yeah, we’re going.”
In the hall, it was all Mitch could do not to take the lead, remembering that he was in fact unarmed. He was pretty sure that, given the circumstances, it wouldn’t matter if he was armed. If Leeds had hurt Brody, then he’d rip her apart with his bare hands.
As it was, Leeds was in the hall, and Ellerbee gave chase immediately. When she tried to run, she was immediately confronted by the rest of the undercover staff, who seemed to come out of the woodwork in a textbook fashion, just the way Ellerbee had promised they would. She was apprehended quickly and without incident, not a single shot fired.
Quick, simple, all according to plan.
Mitch blinked, feeling suddenly.
His heart pounding again, Mitch barged into Brody’s room, all pretense of self control gone. He crossed over to the bed in two large steps and reached down, taking Brody by the shoulders.
“Brody,” he said, not sure why Brody’s eyes were closed. “Brody!”
But Brody’s eyes didn’t open, and Mitch looked to the side. The monitors had been turned off.
He shook Brody again, the whole precariousness of his condition be damned. “Brody!”
From outside, Ellerbee came crashing in. “Shit, she dosed him,” he said. He held out a syringe.
Mitch let Brody go, instead pressing his hands roughly into the pulse point on his neck. His heart was still beating, fast and erratic, thumping too hard. “When?” he said. “Why the hell wouldn’t Brody hit the panic button?”
“Maybe she did it before he woke up,” Ellerbee said. “There was about a 15 second gap between when she entered and when Brody started to speak.”
Mitch was leaned over, pulling the pillows out so Brody was lying flat and Mitch could adjust his airway. “He’s going to arrest again,” he muttered. “Get a doctor.”
“What?” Ellerbee asked, and it wasn’t that he couldn’t understand what Mitch was saying; it was that he didn’t know how to understand what Mitch was saying. “But--”
“Call the doctor!” Mitch growled loudly now. “Or we’re going to lose him again!”
Ellerbee turned, skittering as he ran out of the room, screaming for help.
Mitch kept his eyes on Brody, hand resting on his chest now.
“If you survive this, asshole,” Mitch whispered fiercely at him. This couldn’t be happening again; this couldn’t be happening at all. “I swear to God, I’m going to kill you myself.”
This started with his choice.
Brody knew it was a lot more complicated than that, but really, in his mind, it came back to that.
Mitch had offered him a family.
Brody had taken it.
All the other choices, they really stemmed from that one, first choice. Everything Brody did, everything Brody was -- had become defined by that singular choice. It changed him.
More than he could have thought.
Mitch had offered him bedroom furniture, and it had seemed like some huge, grand gesture.
In return, Brody would give him everything.
Every moment of every day. Every ounce of his strength, every bit of his resolve. His friendship, his commitment, his trust.
The very breath in his lungs.
The last beats of his heart.
Because Brody had chosen family.
The thing was, though, that family had also chosen him.
There was a reciprocity there that was still hard for Brody to grasp, harder still for him to understand. It didn’t always make sense to him, the give and taken of it all. Sometimes it seemed too complicated; other times, it seemed overly simplistic.
Brody was sure he wasn’t always going to get it right. In fact, he was pretty sure he’d screwed it up as often as he got it right.
But that was part of family, too. It was about second chances. Making amends. Learning how to forgive.
Sometimes it meant you stood your ground.
Sometimes it meant you gave in.
The last few weeks had taken their toll on Brody. Honestly, he’d had to give up more than he knew how to acknowledge. When the darkness took him this time, he thought maybe it didn’t seem that bad. He’d done what he set out to do. He’s saved his family. There was nothing more he wanted.
Somehow, even in the darkness, Brody could still feel Mitch pulling him, calling him. This time he wasn’t given orders or even making offers.
This time he was asking.
For Brody to stay.
Give and take. Knowing when to compromise and when to stand your ground. Learning to forgive. And learning to be forgiven.
Brody made a choice, to accept this family.
Now he had to respect their choice to accept him, too.
It started with his choice.
It would end with theirs.
Medical support had always been one of the contingencies of the plan. It was one of the few perks to actually conducting the remainder of the operation in the hospital.
Of course, Mitch hadn’t wanted to rely on that.
Brody was supposed to hit the damn button.
That part of the plan had clearly gone to hell.
And worse, the whole part about the doctor knowing what to do? Yeah, that wasn’t going quite as well as Mitch wanted either.
“You don’t know what he’s been given?” the doctor demanded, looking vexed as one of the interns started mechanically ventilating Brody again. The monitors were on and blaring again, and Mitch could hear the wild beat of Brody’s heart as the doctor ordered more tests to be done.
“How the hell would I know?” Mitch asked, wishing like hell Brody would move, wake up, something. He couldn’t do this again. He couldn’t.
The doctor blew out a curt breath; he wasn’t pleased about this. And why would he be? He’d invested time and energy into saving Brody’s life, and the second they let the kid go back undercover, he’d undone it all. “He’s going to have another heart attack if we can’t calm him down.”
“So give him something,” Mitch said, gesturing at Brody like that helped.
“If I don’t have any idea what he’s been given, I’m making blind guesses,” the doctor shot back. “I’m just as likely to kill him as I am to save him.”
Mitch growled, this time at no one in particular.
The doctor shook his head. “Rush the blood work,” he said to a nurse. “Let’s run him on an EKG, see if we can get some kind of indication what he’s got in his system.”
“Oxygenation stats are still falling, we’re at 85,” the intern reported.
“We’ll watch it,” the doctor said distractedly. He looked at another nurse. “Did someone get back to you yet about the IV?”
“It’s going to take some time to process--”
There was a loud wail from the monitor and the doctor cursed. “His rhythm is all over the place,” he said. “We’re going to lose him--”
It was happening again, was the problem.
Brody was dying right in front of him.
And there wasn’t a damn thing Mitch could do.
She’d killed him.
Leeds was still here.
Leeds was in custody.
Abruptly, Mitch turned, running out of the room and down the hall. He caught up with Ellerbee, who had Leeds in handcuffs back in the room with the equipment. Ellerbee looked pissed.
Leeds looked pretty pissed, too.
None of them were as pissed as Mitch.
Charging past the other cops, Mitch all but pulled Ellerbee out of the way. Forcefully, he grabbed Leeds. She yelped as he dragged her to her feet, and the officers crowded in on him, but Ellerbee kept them at bay.
“What did you give him?” he demanded, and he was aware how terrifying he probably was right now. And he wasn’t even trying. “What did you put in his IV?”
Like a stubborn child, Leeds recovered her shock quickly. She held up her nose defiantly and sneered at him. “Why would I say anything about that?”
The cops were still crowding around them -- apparently they were afraid he might actually kill Leeds, which Mitch couldn’t rule out as an impulse right now -- but Mitch ignored them. He also ignored that murderous impulse because it wasn’t as important as this: “Tell me what you gave him.”
She seemed to be solidified by the second asking of the question. “I can’t imagine what you’re talking about,” she said with a diffident air.
He loomed, resisting the urge to squeeze her shoulders and shake her like a rag doll. “Look, Brody was working for us this whole damn time,” he said, low and deadly as he held her gaze and refused to relinquish it. “Add that to the fact that he was on a wire today, and we’ve got all the evidence we need to put you away--”
With a laugh, she almost pulled off a look of indifference. “You’re not even a cop, Buchannon,” she said, because of course she knew him. “You’re a lifeguard.”
“Working my case,” Ellerbee interjected.
She slid her eyes toward him, expression deadly.
“Just saying,” Ellerbee said. “The man ain’t lying to you.”
“You’re going away for a very long time, and no defense attorney can change that,” Mitch said. “But think about this, because you have one more choice that you can make that might change your future.”
Her determination faltered, though she didn’t dare give voice to it.
Mitch didn’t hesitate. He didn’t have the patience; Brody didn’t have the time. He could already be dead in the next room, and that thought just made Mitch even more terrifying when he spoke. “You get to choose: attempted murder or murder. You decide.”
He could see her working through it, considering the reality of that statement. He had made a lot of assumptions about the case, but he knew that under pressure, people didn’t always think things through. Choices become overly simplified, and that was how you got people to agree to unfair plea deals.
He had to hope -- for the sake of Brody’s life, he had to hope -- that Leeds was just as impulsive as Brody made her out to be.
She searched Mitch, and found him unyielding.
She weighed her future.
And, unlike Brody, she made the selfish choice.
Mitch was more than fine with that.
“My pocket,” she said, nodding down at her minidress. “I vial is still there with the label. I honestly don’t know what it is. I stole it from the nurse’s station and simply gave him as much as I could.”
Mitch reached down, working to worm his fingers into the skin tight dress. She grimaced as he extracted it.
“Does it count if he still dies?” she asked.
Mitch snorted. “Lady, if he dies, then you’re going to want to be in prison,” he said. “Because it’s the only place where you’ll be safe from me and my team.”
Whether or not she believed him -- whether or not he meant it -- Mitch didn’t have time to pontificate. Vial in hand, he raced back to Brody’s room, skidding on the linoleum as he entered. “I got it!” he yelled.
The doctor looked up, surprised. Beneath him, Brody was intubated again and his hospital gown had been freshly sheared open. “What?”
“This,” Mitch said, and he held out the vial. “This is what she gave him.”
Perplexed, the doctor took it. His eyes widened. “Did she say how much?”
“All of it, I figure,” Mitch said.
This time, the doctor didn’t try to muffle his curse. He handed the vial to the nurse. “I need to neutralize this now--”
Mitch lost track of the conversation. He lost track of the movement as the medical staff moved in and out and around. His world narrowed; his entire existence dwindled to a singular point.
Brody was colorless now, face blanched of its color as the tube down his throat delivered oxygen directly to his lungs. The lines on the heart monitor were frantic and wild, and Mitch could hear them whining above the din.
He could still remember Brody, sitting in Mitch’s house -- two days ago? Three?
The time had lost meaning to him; he didn’t know.
But he could still remember the look on Brody’s face, the sound of his voice when he said this time he’d do it alone.
When Mitch had let him.
It wasn’t like this now.
It would never be like that again.
Mitch had to make a choice to stay.
And pray to God that Brody made the choice to come back.
Suddenly, the world zoomed out again, and Mitch realized that the whine was gone. In its place was a steady heartbeat. Surprised, Mitch saw the doctor. He was smiling now.
“Thank God you found out what it was,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Wait,” Mitch said, surprised by how hoarse his voice was. “He’s--”
He couldn’t finish, eyes flitted to Brody again.
“We were able to counteract it before it got too far,” the doctor said. “You probably saved his life.”
Probably, Mitch’s ass.
Of course he did.
Of course he did.
That was what families did, after all.