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“OYE, CABRÓN, those aguacates your mami gave me have been sitting in my oven for weeks, and they’re still hard as bricks.”
Here we go. Quinn shook his head in amusement as his teammates bickered. Why did every conversation his team had on the way to a scene involve avocados?
Their commander had already briefed them on the situation, one that they’d dealt with a hundred times over and that unfortunately seemed to be happening far too often lately: armed subjects barricaded inside a house. Quinn had been on SWAT seven years now, and in that time he’d watched his beloved city slowly sink into the swamps it was built on. He used to love Miami, loved the part he played in keeping it safe. It was once a beautiful city filled with people relieved to see him, thankful for the service he provided. Now they spit at his boots and cursed him out in several languages. Things had changed drastically in ten years, and lately he was having trouble keeping himself from getting caught up in its downward spiral.
Santana kicked at Javier’s boot. These two were going to drive him crazy.
“What do you want me to do about it, bro? Sit on them?”
“Fuck no,” Javier growled, and kicked back in retaliation. “Keep your stank ass away from my food.”
“Bitch, then stop complaining about my mom’s aguacates.”
Quinn braced himself as Manny replied. “You can ask Quinn to sit on your aguacates.”
“Don’t,” Quinn warned, refusing to laugh when Manny put his arms up and did a little ass wiggle on the bench, his bottom lip between his teeth, followed by a moan.
Javier’s grin made Quinn want to punch his friend in the face. He knew what was coming. It was always the same. “Yeah, you like sitting on hard things, don’t you, Quinn?”
Quinn returned his friend’s shit-eating grin. “You know who else likes sitting on hard things, Javi? My cousin Miguel. But you already knew that, didn’t you.”
Manny and the rest of the team broke into laughter and catcalls, with the exception of Javier, who always got pissed whenever Quinn brought up Miguel. His cousin used every opportunity he had to intimidate Javier with his “gayness,” as Javier put it. Quinn enjoyed Javier’s discomfort far more than he should.
“Fuck alla you. Dude was dressed like a chick, and I was drunk.”
Quinn did his best to hold back a laugh. “Yeah, okay. You keep telling yourself that.”
“Fuck you and your tutu-wearing cousin, man. Who the fuck wears drag to a quinceañera party?”
Manny pursed his lips in thought, but Quinn saw the gleam of mischief in his eyes. He turned his attention to Quinn. “Didn’t the same thing happen at your brother’s birthday last year?” He turned back to Javier, a wide grin on his face. “Guess you were drunk then too.”
Quinn joined the others in laughing while Javier pouted and continued to curse them out in Spanish. Matthews and Moore kept to themselves, and Quinn couldn’t help the pain still left in his heart. He did what he always did and pushed the annoying ache aside.
Two years after joining SWAT, Quinn had come out to his team. Two years of constant excuses about why he didn’t have a girlfriend, pretending to be straight, and earning a reputation for being a ladies’ man despite never doing anything to garner the title besides talking to women at bars when out with his team. Two years of pretending he was only interested in one-night stands so he wouldn’t have to come up with excuses for his lack of girlfriends or why he wasn’t bringing a woman along to any of the numerous barbecues or parties. It had eaten away at him, turning him into someone he wasn’t. He’d been through enough with his family, and even they had accepted him after his mother had shed tears and mourned the loss of grandbabies that never existed. He’d fought to tear through his claustrophobic closet, through his fear and all the shit that came after. It was still a struggle sometimes with family members, but he continued to move forward. One thing he hadn’t been able to do was carry on the charade at work.
Quinn had done his best to prepare himself for the fallout. It took a while for his team to come to terms with it, and some of the guys on their rotation refused to so much as acknowledge him. That was fine. Quinn could deal with the asshattery of the others. They were teammates but not his friends. He’d already lost some old high school and college buddies over it. If they couldn’t get over him being gay or recognize he was still the same guy he’d always been before coming out, then he didn’t need them in his life. His commander didn’t approve, but he was professional and continued to treat Quinn as a viable member of the force. He also did his best to smooth things over with some of the other officers.
Moore and Matthews had taken it the hardest on their team, and both refused to come around. They had his back but wanted nothing to do with him outside of work. It hurt, but he respected their decision. Javier was an asshole, but aside from the stupid jokes and comments, his attitude toward Quinn hadn’t changed. Manny was Quinn’s closest friend and said he didn’t give two shits. Santana, Cooper, and Joseph eventually came around; they just needed time to process. Cooper wasn’t down with Quinn being into dudes, but as the only black guy on the team, Cooper remained brothers-in-arms with Quinn, their camaraderie one of respect and mutual understanding of the stupid shit they had to put up with on a daily basis because of who they were. Five years later and with the exception of Matthews and Moore, everyone had moved on.
They arrived on scene, and everyone pulled down their goggles while some of Quinn’s teammates said a quick prayer for everyone’s safety. No one knew better than they did how ugly these things could turn in the blink of an eye. When they jumped down from the back of their BearCat, the negotiator was already there, along with a dozen or so Miami Gardens police cruisers. They’d secured the area and cut off incoming traffic for blocks on all sides. News helicopters circled above them, a police helicopter soon joining in. It was eighty-six degrees out, but the humidity made it feel more like ninety-six. He was used to it by now, but fuck, it was still hot as balls.
Quinn and his team stood back as their commander spoke to several officers, the negotiator, and their supervisor before returning to brief them.
“Area’s been secured and neighbors evacuated. Negotiations have fallen through. They’re not listening. Shots have been fired, and police have identified one of the subjects. There’s a warrant out for his arrest. He fled the scene a few months back when Team One busted that grow house on First Street. Looks like he set up shop here. These guys are heavily armed.”
Quinn glanced over at the house where the perps were hiding before he noticed a brightly colored children’s day care center located at the end of the block. What the fuck was wrong with people? Then again, these bastards didn’t care who got hurt in the course of their illicit business ventures. They set up shop where they thought the cops were least likely to look. Residential areas, close to schools, churches, across from police stations. With every one of these houses they took down, another two popped up, bringing more violence and bloodshed. With a sigh Quinn turned his attention back to his commander.
“We’ve got six windows, all secure with burglar bars. Three points of entry: front, back, and side. The front and back doors have bars. The side belongs to the efficiency. No bars on that one.”
“Do we know if there’s anyone inside the efficiency?” Quinn asked.
“Efficiency’s secure. We have confirmation. Neighbors said the couple renting it moved out a few months ago after the husband got into a fistfight with the owner. Owner threw one too many parties, tenant got fed up, went to call him on it, things heated up. You know how it goes. The guy had no idea what was really going on in there.”
Cooper chimed in. “Did the guy call it in?”
The commander adjusted his Ray-Bans, the sun’s rays glaring off them. “My guess is the tenant didn’t want to draw attention to where he was living. From the looks of the efficiency, it’s nowhere near up to code, much less legal. I’m surprised it hasn’t collapsed during a thunderstorm.”
Quinn took a quick look at the addition on the side of the house. His commander was right. The roof was a strong summer breeze away from flying off. Luckily, unless there was a heavy rainstorm, strong breezes were usually smothered by the humidity.
“What’s the plan?” Javier asked. They all gathered close to the commander, with Matthews swapping places with Manny so he wasn’t pressed up against Quinn. Quinn ignored it, though a little smile crept onto his face when Manny gave Matthews a dirty look, the word “asshole” coming across clearly without having to be said. Manny was a champion at cursing someone out without saying a word and often with a smile on his face. Apparently he’d learned it from his mother.
“Matthews, you hook up the bars on that door to the BearCat. Pull that shit off. Moore, you’re breaching the front with Cooper and Joseph as backup. Quinn, you and Manny breach through the efficiency. Javier and Santana, you take the rear. Watch your backs.”
Quinn nodded his acknowledgment with the rest of his team before taking off with Manny beside him. Once the assessment was made and the commander gave his orders, it was go time. Everything moved at breakneck speed. Quinn checked the efficiency through the window. With the area clear, he checked the door. Luckily for them, the homeowner had chosen the cheapest piece of crap he could find. A couple of strong kicks from Quinn and the flimsy door splintered. He tore through the broken door and climbed through with Manny at his back, their rifles aimed and at the ready. Over his radio he heard his teammates’ shouts and orders for subjects to lower their firearms.
Gunfire broke out, and Quinn hurried toward the main part of the house with Manny close by. Moore, Cooper, and Joseph had the subjects secure, and the rest of the team scurried around, checking each room.
“I’ll check the bathroom and closets,” Manny said.
“Copy that.” Quinn checked a bedroom, which was empty except for a couple of filthy mattresses on the floor. Broken and crushed tiles crunched beneath his boots as he moved swiftly around the room. The closet and en suite bathroom were just as filthy and empty. He moved toward the next room.
Quinn edged up to the doorframe. He made a quick assessment of the small room before slipping inside. The room was a shithole, with only a small bed containing a filthy mattress. Mounds of dirty clothes were stacked around the room along with grocery bags full of discarded food containers and wrappers from various takeout restaurants. Quinn breathed in through his mouth to keep the stench of rotten food out of his nostrils. Carefully he checked the room and the garbage bags, grateful for his gloves. The wallpaper was peeling, the tiles on the floor cracked, and the fan on the ceiling hung precariously from its exposed wires, sadly displaying one burned-out lightbulb.
He declared the room clear and was about to leave when he heard it. A tiny sniffle. Walking to the foot of the bed so he could keep an eye on the door, he got down on his hands and knees. There was no way an adult could fit under there. He stared at watery big brown eyes.
“Hi,” he said softly to the small boy flattened against the tile floor, his dirty cheeks stained by the trails left from his tears. “It’s okay. Don’t be scared. I’m not going to hurt you, okay? My name’s Quinn. I’m here to help. I’m a police officer.”
The young boy shook his head, his eyes wide and filled with terror.
“What’s your name?” Quinn asked, listening to his earpiece for any signs of an incident. If things took a turn for the worse, he’d have to get the child out, even if it meant against his will or scaring him. His safety was a priority. Again the little boy shook his head and shrunk farther away from him. Slowly Quinn reached into his back pocket. He pulled out his wallet and smiled. Inside it he kept a photo of his sister’s kids. After taking it out, he returned the wallet to his back pocket. “My nephew’s about your age. His name’s Julian.”
Quinn gingerly slid the photo toward the boy. “That’s him there with his sister, Teresa.”
The boy looked at Quinn, then the picture. He slowly reached out and then snatched it. He looked down at the picture and put his small finger to it, a smile coming onto his face.
“Sí,” Quinn replied with a smile. “A Julián le encantan los gatitos. A ti también?”
It looked like the small boy loved kittens as much as his nephew. It also looked like he didn’t speak English. Quinn continued to speak in Spanish. He asked the boy for his name. It was Paolo. With a warm smile, Quinn extended his hand, telling Paolo he wanted to help him. Paolo said he didn’t have a mommy and didn’t know where his daddy was. His uncle was taking care of him. After a few words, Paolo finally came out from under the bed. He gave Quinn the photo, and Quinn returned it to his pocket.
Lifting the small boy into his arms, Quinn was informed the house was clear. All the subjects were cuffed and on the ground.
“I’ve got a little kid. I’m bringing him out.”
He left the room, holding the boy close to him, one gloved hand covering his head as he quickly headed for the front door.
“Hijo de puta!”
Quinn spun on instinct, hunching his body and using it to shield Paolo. The kick from the AK47’s bullets hitting his vest sent him reeling just as a searing heat tore through his calf in several places. He called out, twisting his body as he fell so as not to land on Paolo. The side of his body slammed against the tiled floor, his helmet immediately following.
The room burst into a symphony of noise and gunfire. Paolo’s uncle. Quinn rolled over, covering the boy’s ears. He fought the encroaching darkness, refusing to give in until he knew Paolo would be safe. His ears were ringing, but he could hear someone’s muffled voice shouting his name. His calf was burning, or so it felt like. The sudden pressure had him crying out. Someone dropped to their knees beside him, frantically calling his name. Manny?
“Quinn? Can you hear me?”
Quinn’s vision blurred, but he struggled with a fierce growl when someone gripped his arm and attempted to remove it from around Paolo. It was only when he saw Manny nod to him, his nearly inaudible words assuring Quinn, that he released the child in his arms, and then the darkness came for him.