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Things We Left Behind: Chapter 43

The Takedown


No one leaves here until we have a game plan,” I announced.

Sloane sat contentedly in my home office, dressed in pajamas, eating the burger and fries I’d had delivered. She’d tamed her “sex hair” into a long, loose braid that she wore draped over one shoulder. With her legs tossed over the arm of the chair and her bare feet wiggling, she was the picture of relaxed.

Meanwhile, behind my desk, I was a roiling cauldron of rage.

The team I’d assembled wasn’t helping my mood.

“This’ll be fun,” Nolan said, plowing into a platter of chicken fingers.

“Speak for yourself,” Lina complained. “My fiancé had just invited me to join him in the shower when I got the summons.”

“So what kind of dirt are we looking for?” Nallana the private investigator demanded, shoveling two pieces of pizza onto her plate. She was dressed in a cocktail dress and leather jacket. I realized I had no idea if this was her off-­the-­clock look or another undercover getup.

“Yeah. It would help to know what we’re looking for,” the only member of the cybersecurity team who’d bothered answering her phone asked around the mouthful of Twizzlers she’d just shoved into her face. She had platinum hair worn long on top and shaved on the sides. Her name was something like Pasture or Great Plains.

“Anything that will force the FBI to move on Hugo now. Not a month from now or a week from now or even forty-­eight hours from now. I want him in custody by noon tomorrow.”

Nallana let out a low whistle. “That’s a tall order. Prairie’s right. We need some kind of direction.”

Prairie. So close.

“Your ‘direction’ is to do whatever it takes to get me something we can use. I don’t care if you get arrested in the process. Find me something,” I said on a near snarl.

The doorbell rang.

“Want me to get that?” Sloane asked tentatively.

I shook my head. “Grace will get it.”

I wasn’t letting Sloane out of my sight until Anthony Hugo and his entire organization were nothing but rubble. And then I was going to force her down the aisle. The woman had defended me not just to a crime boss who threatened our lives but to my own mother. And when this was all over, I was going to show her exactly what that had meant to me.

The door to my office opened, and in walked Maureen Fitzgerald, still in her dress from earlier. “Well, this looks like an interesting party,” she observed.

“Is that…” Prairie began.

“The most successful, notorious madam in Washington, DC?” Lina filled in. “Yep. I like your shoes.”

“Thank you,” Maureen said with a feline smile. “Here’s a little party favor for your team.” She dropped a two-­inch-­thick folder on top of the pizza box. Nolan reached for it, but Maureen laid a manicured hand on top of the folder. “I trust I can count on your discretion.”

“Oh yes, ma’am. Absolutely nothing but discreet around here,” Nolan promised.

“Good,” she said, removing her hand and sliding her arms free of her wool coat. “Are there any chicken fingers left?”

“So we’ve got three more shell corporations nailed down thanks to Maureen’s girls’ intel,” Nolan summarized, stifling a yawn. “First two have about $2 million apiece scattered in offshore accounts. Prairie is digging into the third now.”

“Keep digging.” A few million dollars wasn’t enough to have the FBI knocking on Hugo’s door in the morning.

Lina joined us. “Update time?”

“What have you got?” I asked her.

“Security has informed everyone the offices are closed for the next two days. Petula is rescheduling all in-­person meetings and shifting what she can to virtual. Grace beefed up security everywhere, including your mother’s and Sloane’s mom’s. Nash and the Knockemout PD are on high alert and keeping an eye on things back home. Nallana called. She’s squeezing a few street-­level sources, looking for intel. Rumor has it he’s got a big shipment due in from South America by the weekend.”

“That’s too far out,” I reminded her.

“Maybe Hugo was just yanking your chain about the forty-­eight hours?” Nolan suggested, yawning again.

“Is this crisis interrupting your beauty sleep?” I asked dryly.

“A, it’s four in the fucking morning. And B, the wife got me up for a 6:00 a.m. yoga class today… Yesterday. Not all of us run on no sleep and the tears of frightened children,” he pointed out.

“You got up before dawn because your wife asked you to. Hugo said I had forty-­eight hours to deliver everything the feds had on him or he’d start with Sloane.”

“Start with as in…” Lina trailed off, and we all turned to look at the little librarian who was sitting on the floor frowning over fanned-­out paperwork.

“I’m not letting that happen,” I said.

“Does Blondie believe you’re in it for the long haul yet?” Nolan asked as Sloane shoved her glasses up her nose.

“Not yet. But if it takes killing a man in cold blood to prove it, I’ll do it.”

“Let’s keep that as option B,” Lina said. “I hear they’re not as lenient with conjugal visits anymore, and judging from Sloane’s sex hair, you two have a lot of ground to make up.”

I left them and crossed the room to her.

She looked up at me as I crouched down. “You have that line between your eyebrows you get when you’re concentrating,” I observed, running my finger over the spot in question. “You should get some sleep.”

“And miss all the fun?”

“When this is over, I’m taking you to a private island where we can drink piña coladas naked on a beach so I can teach you what fun is,” I decided.

Sloane grinned at me. “Since when is Lucian Rollins an expert on fun?”

“Since he almost came in your mouth when you were on your knees.”

“Very flattering. But I need you to put away your party hat for a second and get out your broody-­master-­of-­the-­business-­and-­political-­universe beret for a second, Lucifer.”

“What do you need?”

She wet her lips and glanced down at the papers in front of her. “Something Hugo said tonight has been bothering me.”

“Everything the asshole said should have bothered you.”

She shook her head. “The thing about the fire. About me not learning my lesson from the arson. At first I thought it was just him letting us know he’d been watching me. But I started thinking what if he was connected somehow?”

I sat next to her and helped myself to a swig of her lukewarm root beer. “Connected in what way?”

“We think the fire was retaliation for me working on Mary Louise’s case, right? I was threatened by Cinnamon Man, who specifically mentioned her name on the same day Mary Louise was attacked. Mary Louise dropped it, but I kept pushing. You got her moved to a new facility where she’d be safer and got Allen protection. I kept digging. So someone decided to let us know they weren’t happy by setting fire to the library while I was in it.”

Her recap of the situation was raising my already dangerously high blood pressure. “What’s the connection? Why would a sociopath crime boss in DC care about a wrongfully convicted female prisoner?”

Sloane bit her lip. “What if it’s the prison?” She handed me a sheet of paper. “Fraus Correctional Center is a private prison owned by a corporation called Civic Group, which is owned by two other corporations. Which then made me think about all your sneaky underhandedness hiding grants and donations in entities named after cherry trees. And while I was thinking about your sneakiness, this one caught my eye.” She tapped the page above the words Rex Management. “Rex is Latin for king,” she explained.

“Which Hugo fancies himself to be,” I mused, following her drift.

“Exactly,” Sloane said, beaming at me. “So I did a search for other private prisons in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina and found three more facilities owned by Civic Group. All rundown. All with overcrowding and understaffing complaints. But all providing profits to Civic Group and its owners. I can’t tell what kind of profit we’re talking, but each place has a contract with the government providing them money for each inmate housed. The more people in the facility, the higher the profits.”

“When I threatened to have Duncan Hugo moved to another facility, he panicked,” I recalled, scanning Sloane’s research. “He said he wouldn’t be safe.”

“Was it one of these three?” she asked, rising to her knees in excitement.

I pointed to Lucrum. “That’s the one.”

Sloane threw her arms around my neck. “I knew it! I did good, didn’t I? Two-­time convicted felon Anthony Freaking Hugo is part owner of four private correctional facilities. That’s got to be seriously illegal.”

“Not to mention the fact that he can have anyone in one of those prisons eliminated if necessary,” I pointed out.

Sloane pulled back, looking horrified. “Holy shit.”

“This is good, Pix. Really good,” I said, giving her a squeeze.

She cupped my face in her hands. “Take him down, big guy.”

I gave her a hard kiss on the mouth and deposited her on top of her research. “Pasture!” I snapped at the hacker.

She looked up and pointed at herself. “Me?”

Sloane leaned in. “I think you mean Prairie.”

“Right. Prairie. That’s what I said. Stop what you’re doing, and give me everything you can on Rex Management and Civic Group.”

I gave Sloane’s shoulder a squeeze as I dialed Special Agent Idler.

“It’s 4:00 a.m. This better be fucking good,” she rasped.

“How soon can you put a team together to drag Hugo into the nearest cell?”

I hadn’t slept or showered in thirty-­six hours, but Anthony Hugo looked worse than I did, I thought smugly as I took the chair across from him.

Gone were the slick suit and the diamond pinkie ring, and in their place, he wore a baggy orange jumpsuit that only made him look more sallow.

“You come here to gloat?” he demanded as the guard cuffed him to the table with a satisfying snap. “Because I’ll be out of here within a day. They can’t keep me.”

“Ah, but they can,” I said, leaning back on the metal chair. “I just came from Special Agent Idler’s office.”

“That bitch will be the first to go.” He sneered cagily. “Well, maybe the second after your little blond girlfriend.”

“Here’s the thing about that, Anthony. These are just the beginning of your charges. The other officers in your little Rex Management have all been arrested. Coincidentally, they’re also most of your inner circle. And they’re singing like their lives depend on it. The feds have already talked to a dozen of your crew serving sentences in your facilities, and they’ve confessed to an astonishing number of crimes, including assaults and murder. Most of them weren’t afraid of pointing the finger at who gave the orders now that you’re behind bars, especially after they were promised deals and sentence reductions.”

Anthony went even paler.

“You listen to me, you son of a fucking bitch—­”

“No,” I said stonily. “It’s your turn to listen. In less than two days, I’ve dismantled every piece of your business. Everything you worked for your entire life. It’s all gone. Your assets are frozen. Your men are sitting in interrogation rooms around the city. Including the ones you had dump Felix Metzer in the Potomac. You have nothing left. Do you know why that is?”

“Fuck you.”

“Wrong answer. I took everything from you because you tried to take from me. You threatened my family. No one walks away from that.”

“I’ll get to you. And when I do, I’ll finish the job I started with that list your police chief friend was on. I’ll take out every single one of the people you love, and then I’ll make you bleed.”

I smirked. “Good luck with that.”

“You think seein’ your friend pumped full of lead and that library fire were bad? I’m just getting started. I’ll come for you personally. I got guys watching you and that FBI bitch. One call from me and you’re both dead like Metzer. No one crosses me.”

I stood up and buttoned my suit jacket. “I wouldn’t be so sure of that. That FBI bitch had your ‘guys’ arrested yesterday. Third strike for quite a few of them, which made them surprisingly cooperative. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have someplace I need to be.”

I strolled out of the room and left his snarled threats behind me.

“Tell me everything!” Sloane pounced the second I opened my front door. “Does he know he’s cooked? Did he threaten you? Did you laugh in his face? Is there surveillance footage of him freaking out that I could watch?”

She was wearing pajama pants with palm fronds on them and a tight black tank top. Her hair was damp from a shower, and her eyes were sparkling.

Something warm and bright expanded in my chest. It felt like I’d swallowed the sun.

I gripped her wrist, bent at the waist, and tossed her neatly over my shoulder.

“You two are free to go,” I said to Lina and Grace, who had been on Sloane guard duty for the last twenty-­four hours.

“Woo-­hoo!” Grace said.

“Have fun, kids,” Lina called as I carried Sloane down the hall to the bedroom.

I tossed her on the bed, making her laugh. “You’re awfully frisky for a man who hasn’t slept in two days.”

“Ruining the life of a bad guy does that to me,” I teased, stripping off my jacket and tie.

“My hero.”

The words from her did strange things to my insides. And I knew I’d treasure them just like every “attaboy” I’d earned from her father.

Sloane crawled higher up the bed and propped herself on the new mound of pillows I’d had delivered. She patted the spot next to her. “Come tell me all about it, big guy, and then we’ll get naked and do naughty things to each other.”

I made it a quarter of my way through my retelling of Hugo’s arrest before I passed out with Sloane in my arms and proceeded to sleep the sleep of a hero for the next ten hours.


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