Vradin, Chapter Twenty-Two

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The waves of Zoe’s distress rolled around Tank, inciting his wolf to snarl and snap. It took a great deal of restraint to lead the two strangers into his kitchen and pretend that everything was under control.

He didn’t like the burnt under tones of the coffee’s scent, but it was likely not going to be noticed by a human tongue and, as he had estimated, there was just barely enough coffee for three more cups. He grabbed his mug out of the dish washer and gave it another rinse, then pulled down two black mugs.

The creamer tray was still in his room, with the girls, so he pulled the creamer pint box out of the refrigerator and the sugar canister down from the shelf where he kept baking supplies, setting both out on the island. Then he poured out the last of the coffee, serving himself last. He set the black mugs on the island, and the detectives had not needed to be invited to sit down. Snagging three spoons, he offered one each to the detectives and proceeded to doctor up his own coffee, adding more cream than he usually liked in hopes of countering the burnt under tone.

All this was done in silence, the two men observing him in much the way he watched potential recruits, clients, and those whom he considered potential threats to his pack.

Tank waited until taking his first sip of coffee, and seeing the detectives take theirs, to ask, “So, what do you need to know?”

Detective Abrigo leaned back while his partner leaned forward. Detective Lewis said, “How about we start with your given name and your relationship to Ms. Fergusson.”

“Jeremy Theodore Griswald. Zoe and I are friends.” The detective gave Tank a buddy-buddy look, a “you can tell the truth” kind of silent statement. “Oh, I’m not saying I wouldn’t like to be more than friends, but, first, most of the time I’ve known her she’s been in one kind of distress or another. Given the situations, I did not feel it would be … ethical to place any sense of sexual obligation on her just because I chose to help her out.”

When Tank paused to make sure that sunk in, Detective Lewis said, “You said ‘first’. What’s ‘second’?”

“Second,” Tank answered. “Second, is that as attractive as Zoe is, and none of us are blind here, the greatest appeal she holds for me is that she’s one of only a handful of people I’ve ever met that I could simply relax around. She has a peaceful presence. That is worth a lot more to me than simple sex. So, as I explained to Fergusson, I’m not going to push her into anything that might push her out of my life.”

“How well do you know Sergeant Fergusson?” Abrigo asked.

“We met last night, or maybe very early this morning, when he brought Zoe home.”

Lewis asked, managing a quizzical look, “He brought Zoe here?”

Tank shook his head. “It might be easier if I gave you my statement about the events last night.”

“All right,” Lewis said, his pad in his hand, pencil poised.

Tank began. “Brawnley was going to treat his crew to the movies, but we had as small urgency come up at one of our job sites in Steilacoom. His boys are our most experienced crew, so I sent them to take care of it. Brawnley, in addition to being a friend, is one of my supervisors, despite his preference for the foreman’s role, and he’s been busting his ass a hell of a lot lately. So I ordered him to enjoy the night off. Besides that, Davy is the actual foreman for that crew, and I need him to know we have confidence in his ability to handle his crew. So I kept my hands off the situation.”

Tank paused to take a pull off his coffee. “Brawnley said he was still planning on seeing the movie, maybe try to talk Jody and Zoe into going with him, so I decided to join him, and maybe find out why he has been in such a workaholic mode. I was pleasantly surprised to see Zoe there with two ladies I hadn’t met, because I figured she would have declined what with having a concussion and all, and I approached her to say hello. She had spotted this heavily pierced young man watching them and starting to walk toward them, and she was frightened. I locked gazes with the man and stepped between him and the ladies, and advised the ladies to get into the theater.”

After taking another long sip of coffee, Tank asked, “Did Fergusson fill you in on G.S.I.?”

Abrigo shifted, and Lewis said, “Why don’t you assume he hasn’t?”

Tank nodded. “The Griswald family has several companies we hold in common, among them a private security firm, Griswald Security, Incorporated. Most of the work G.S.I. does is over seas, in politically destabilized areas. Convoy guards, courier protection, body guarding, that kind of detail. We are rather particular in stressing that we are guards; we are not soldiers. We will defend, but we will not fire the first shot, nor otherwise take aggressive action on our clients’ behalf.”

“That emphasis come out of the Qatar debacle?” Lewis asked, with an alert brightness.

Tank shrugged. “We had to stress that difference between security and mercenary before then, but we’ve become much more, mmm, blunt about it since then. Now, the family is very big on hiring quality to do quality work and don’t short change the quality. Part of ensuring G.S.I. continues to be the preeminent private security firm is ensuring that the quality we hire stays top quality. We require more on-going maintenance training than any SWAT or Mobile Reserve team in the United States, and we don’t have the impediments to dropping the ass of any damn son of a bitch who can’t keep up. You cannot effectively lead men of that caliber if you don’t at the very damn least show up for the training. While I was running G.S.I., I gave the added bonus that any man of them who could beat me in the training sessions got to heckle me for it for so long as he kept beating me at training. No one ever heckled me when it came to spotting concealed weapons.”

He gave them a moment to let that sink in. “The man who was approaching the girls before I showed up had a knife in his left boot, wrist sheaths on both arms, and moved like he had a small caliber firearm at the base of his spine. He was a scrawny fuck, and shouldn’t have worn such a tight shirt if he wanted to keep the folding knife in his front pants pocket a surprise. He watched the women leave, then approached me. He was Caucasian, naturally pale and wearing powder make up to look even more so, near five foot ten, give or take an inch for the heels on his boots. He had facial piercings and good quality fake fangs that he hadn’t yet figured out how to talk in. He asked if I was dating ‘one of them’ and I just stared at him with my arms crossed. He waited for me to answer him, and when he realized I wasn’t telling him shit, he slunk off. I watched him head to the parking lot, and his shirt was bulging out in the back, and then I bought my ticket and met the women and Carl inside.”

“So you let a guy with a gun walk away and didn’t call the police or report it to anyone?” Lewis asked, looking disappointed.

Tank gave Lewis a wry look. “One, my impression was that he was a small time hood who took a shine to one of the ladies, but I could have easily pegged him wrong. State side, there are a lot more wanna be young punks than there are real thugs and gangstas. I did not assess him as a big enough threat to cancel the evening’s plans.”

Tank held up his first two fingers. “Two, just because a man is armed doesn’t mean that he’s carrying illegally. There’s the AFB and McChord just down the road, and several semi-rural areas within a stone’s throw of Tacoma where the NRA can preach to a choir full of young idiots who might could qualify for a concealed carry permit.”

Adding his ring finger to the upright position, Tank continued. “Three, I am not a cop. I have no business trying to do your jobs, and what am I going to tell your dispatcher? A boy barely old enough to pop his own pimples has a suspicious bulge in the back of his shirt, and lumps under his clothes. Oh, and now he’s leaving the theater, so even if the police get over here in a decent amount of time given that there was no brandishing, no threat, nothing more than a lump under cloth, where’s the kid?”

Tank set his hand down and gave Lewis a level stare. “Four, why would your dispatcher even think I knew what I was talking about? Hell, I’ve gone over that with you, and you’re still going to have to double check my credentials before you have any business believing I know what the hell I’m talking about.”

The wave of Zoe’s resolve stiffening changed the tension in his wolf, sending a shiver down his spine. He hid the movement by propping his elbows on the counter and clasping his hands, closing his eyes for a moment. When he was sure that he wasn’t going to reveal his wolf with his gaze, he turned that gaze to Abrigo. Softer voiced, Tank concluded, “My threat assessment was off, obviously.”

Abrigo asked, “That sticks in your craw, doesn’t it?”

“Like splintered bones,” Tank agreed, thin lipped. The jingle of bells sounded down the hallway and Tank turned his head to the kitchen door.

Zoe came in carrying the condiment tray. “Where would you like me to put this, Tank?” Instead of his robe, she was wearing a pair of foot-less tights and a short, short dress with a zippered jacket. While less skin was showing, every curve of her leg was on display and he could feel his body react at the sight of those curves.

The Peace radiating from her was held in close, tight, and he could practically taste the resolve and embarrassment that flavored that Peace.

Tank closed his eyes while he concentrated on not showing his wolf. “On the counter is fine. I apologize if I made you uncomfortable, Zoe. You didn’t have to change. I just didn’t want you to get chilled when you’ve been feeling so poorly of late. That and I was afraid if I didn’t say something first, your cousin would have said something prudish, and you’re right that he’s an ass hat. I think he genuinely means well where you’re concerned, but, yeah.”

There was a clink and a roll of nervousness. Then a pause, filled with her nerves, and then the soft jingle as she took two steps back toward the door. Tank opened his eyes to slits, and said, “Zoe, Detectives Abrigo and Lewis. Detectives, Zoe Fergusson. The detectives work with your cousin.”

Some of the tension changed in her, and she turned back at the start of his words. By the end of the introductions, she was coming toward the two men, extending her hand for a handshake. They both took the hand when it was proffered to them, murmuring niceties.

Zoe leaned a hip against the island counter and asked, “Has that guy been found yet?”

Lewis shook his head. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but we can’t make that claim just yet. We are still gathering information that may help us to locate him.”

Zoe rolled her bottom lip through her teeth, her eyes rounding with worry, and shifted closer toward Tank. “That sucks. Not that you’re doing your job! But, that creepy guy got away.”

Lewis had an expression that made it clear to Tank he didn’t know how to take that, but Abrigo just nodded his head and said, “Yep, it always sucks when the bad guys get a running start. Do you mind if I ask why you chose to stay with Mr. Griswald last night?”

Zoe turned her head to Abrigo and said, “Well, because he’s safe and he offered. I might have been too damned tired to care if someone broke through our apartment door, but Jody was quietly freaking out, and all.”

“How was the offer made?” Abrigo asked.

“Tank and Carl were waiting up with Jody. She said Carl had texted while we were at the station house to see if we got home all right and when she texted back, he called, they talked and she invited them to swing by our apartment.”

“Them?” Abrigo prompted.

Tank answered, “Carl and I had been shooting the sh- the breeze, discussing the matter I mentioned earlier, when he got the text back and called Jody up.”

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