Oath of Honor – Lynette Eason

Officer Izzy St. John plopped down at the table of one of Columbia, South Carolina’s, finest Chinese restaurants and opened the fast-food carton of General Tso’s chicken and white rice. The bell above the door rang and she glanced over her shoulder to see Chloe and her K-9, Hank, enter. “Hey. Here’s yours.” Izzy pushed the unopened food to her sister. “Great. I’m starving.” Chloe took the seat opposite her and opened her carton. Hank settled on the floor at her feet, while Chloe took a bite and sighed her enjoyment. “Pork roast and mushrooms,” Izzy said with a grimace. “Nasty. How are we even related?” Chloe, one of Izzy’s five siblings, was two years older. “You don’t know what’s good,” Chloe said once she swallowed. “I know what fungus is and there’s no way we’re meant to eat it.

” “I beg to argue with that,” a voice said. Izzy turned once more to see Ruthie, another sister, standing there, still decked out in her scrubs. At least they didn’t have blood on them this time. Ruthie sat in the third seat and opened the food Izzy slid in front of her. “Mushrooms have many redeeming qualities,” Ruthie said. “They have selenium. It’s good for your bladder.” Izzy rolled her eyes. “I don’t care. I’m not eating them.

” “How about they’re rich in vitamin D and boost your immune system?” Ruthie took a bite. “There are other ways to do both without having to eat fungus,” Izzy said and opened her can of Coke. This time Chloe wrinkled her nose. “You won’t eat something healthy, but you’ll pour that into your system. You make no sense at all.” It was an old argument. A comfortable one. The door swung open once more and Brady, Izzy’s brother who was a former underwater criminal investigator turned homicide detective, joined them at the table. “What’s up, brats?” Ruthie raised a brow. “I finally break away from the hospital where I’m saving lives and this is the respect I get?” “From the head brat, no less,” Izzy murmured.

Brady was the eldest of the St. John siblings. He shot her a wink and dug into his sweet and sour chicken. “So, Rude Ruthie, you cut anyone up today?” “Yes, two down, two to go.” Izzy caught the startled gaze of the customer just leaving the booth next to their table. “She’s a surgeon,” she hurried to reassure her. The woman’s obvious relief made Izzy giggle. Once she was out the door, Izzy threw her napkin at Brady. “Seriously, you’re rotten. You’ve got to realize not everyone gets our morbid St.

John family humor.” “Sorry.” He didn’t look very sorry. He took another bite. “Who decided it was Chinese day anyway? I was kind of in the mood for Mexican.” “Derek decided,” Chloe said. “Remember? Every second Thursday of the month is Chinese. He insisted.” “And yet,” Brady said, “he’s not here.” Izzy frowned.

“Anybody seen him lately? I’m kind of worried about him. He wasn’t at Mom’s this past Sunday.” Her siblings stopped eating and looked at one another. Chloe shook her head. “I haven’t seen him, now that you mention it.” “Me either,” Ruthie said. Brady leaned back. “That’s kind of weird.” Worry niggled at Izzy. “You think he’s all right?” Ruthie’s chuckle sounded forced.

“Y’all need to stop. Derek’s probably on one of his undercover gigs again.” “Or got called out with the SWAT team,” Chloe murmured. Izzy sighed. Such was the life of a family in law enforcement. “You’re probably right. Hey, is Linc coming? I got him sweet and sour chicken.” Brady glanced at the clock on the wall. “He texted and said he was finishing up some paperwork and would be about ten minutes late.” Linc, second oldest in the St.

John clan, had finally been assigned to the FBI field office in his home city. It had been one of his greatest joys to move back to be near his family once again and he never missed a Thursday lunch unless he just couldn’t help it. “So, who’s eating at Mom’s this Sunday?” Chloe asked. “I’ll be there,” Izzy said. The others chimed in their plans to attend the weekly lunch. Sometimes only a couple of them could make it. Sometimes they all could. No matter the number, the food was always there and waiting, thanks to their father, who had most weekends off from his law practice—and loved to cook. Izzy drew in a deep breath and glanced around the table. How she loved them.

And admired them. Her phone buzzed and she unclipped it from its home on her belt. A text from Kevin, her partner. Can you go on a stakeout with me tonight? Yes, I guess. What’s going on? I’ll explain when you pick me up at 6:30. 2 The stakeout was a complete bust. Izzy’s stomach growled and she pressed a hand to it while she contemplated leaving. “I heard that,” her partner, Kevin Marshall, said from the passenger seat of the Ford Explorer. Izzy sighed. “People in China probably heard it.

I’m starving.” “Sorry. Guess you blame me for that, huh?” “Completely.” Kevin had complained so loud and pitifully about his lack of dinner before rushing to the stakeout that she’d rolled her eyes and passed him her brown paper bag. “You’re the one that talked me into this. How is it I had time to fix some food and you didn’t?” “I’m a guy.” “So?” “So, I don’t think of things like that.” “That’s a bunch of nonsense and you know it.” “No, it’s not. It’s why every good man needs a good woman—or a good partner who knows how to cook.

” “Right. We’ll leave that statement right there.” He’d grinned, pulled out her roast beef sandwich, and wolfed it down, followed by her chips and chocolate brownie. And now her stomach was mad at him—and her—for giving the food away. “How much longer do you want to sit here?” he asked. “This is your deal, Kev. Remember?” “Right. Let’s give it a few more minutes. Blackjack got out of prison last week but said the info was reliable.” “When did you start talking to Blackjack? You know he’s my CI.

Why would he trust you?” “Because he trusts you. And you’re my partner. And he couldn’t find you. When he asked where you were, I told him you were indisposed.” “Indisposed?” She laughed, then frowned. “That wouldn’t be enough.” “Well, I might have shown him the picture of us going bungee jumping together and I might have told him the story of how I talked you into it.” “You did what? For real?” “Yeah. He laughed and said if you’d trust me enough to risk that, he’d trust me enough to talk to me.” “How much?” “What do you mean?” The innocent look didn’t fool her.

“How much did it wind up costing you?” “A hundred bucks.” She gaped. “What? I’ve never paid him a dime for information.” “I pointed that out. Apparently you have to save his life to get the free stuff.” That sounded like Blackjack. She sighed. “You shouldn’t be spending your own money on this.” He shrugged. “I don’t mind when I think it’s worth it,” he said.

“He was adamant this was going down tonight. I just need to get the evidence to pass on to the detectives.” “Blackjack. He’s a card shark. What’s he doing hanging out with gun runners?” Izzy murmured. “I don’t know that they are gun runners. He said they were, but it could be anything. He wasn’t sure exactly what was going to happen, just that something was.” “Well, he’s never led me astray before.” She leaned her head against the window and thought about closing her eyes for a minute.

“We should make the bust ourselves and get credit for the collar,” Kevin said. He practically vibrated with excitement. “Calm down, partner. Make what bust? Nothing’s happening. Anyway, we’re off duty with no backup. We’re not making any busts. This is an information-gathering stakeout, remember?” To herself she added, Maybe. It all depended on the situation. He grunted his disagreement. “What are we doing for your birthday?” “That’s two weeks away.

And nothing.” He laughed. “Of course we are. What do you want to do?” “To have enough evidence to shut these guys down if what you say is true.” “Izzy, Izzy,” he said with a groan. “Please do not become such an old fuddy-duddy this early in your life. We’re going to Xtreme Flips, so put it on your calendar.” “That place with the trampolines? Are you trying to kill me?” “I took Lilianna there a couple of weeks ago. She loved it.” “Of course she loved it.

She’s seventeen!” “So what? You act like you’re a hundred years old.” He paused. “Actually, I know a guy who’s a hundred. He went skydiving for his birthday last month.” “Kev—” “You went bungee jumping with me, but you won’t go jump on an itty-bitty trampoline?” “Death by bungee is instantaneous and most likely painless. I could be paralyzed for life if I land wrong on a trampoline. Have you looked at the statistics for injuries in those places? There’s a reason you have to sign a waiver releasing them of any responsibility.” He shook his head, as though completely disgusted with her cowardice. “I’m taking you. End of discussion.

And don’t forget. Only twenty-three years to go.” She rolled her eyes. “You remember?” “Of course. And I’m holding you to it.” “Right.” As a teenager, she’d promised to marry him when she turned fifty if they were both still single. He cleared his throat. “Now. Did I tell you that I told Lincoln about this?” He waved a hand at the warehouse.

“What? No. You neglected to mention that.” “I did.” “What’d he say?” He shrugged. “That he’d look into it.” “And you don’t want to wait on him?” “Nope.” Kevin’s eyes narrowed and Izzy could picture the conversation between the two men. One that would send Kevin out on his own, determined to prove he was right. “He told you there wasn’t anything he could do until you had something concrete, didn’t he?” “Yep.” Of course he had.

She would have told him the same thing. Which was why she now found herself on a stakeout on her day off, allowing her partner and childhood friend to talk her into this. “What is it with older brothers anyway?” Kevin said. “What do you mean?” He lifted the binoculars to his eyes, then set them back on the dash. “They’re so bossy—and arrogant.” “Nah. They’ve just lived more years so they have more experience.” “Linc, maybe. But not Derek. He has no excuse.

He’s, what . three minutes older than you?” “Two and a half.” “But still older. And he rubs it in your face every chance he gets.” She grimaced. Derek really did. “I’ll agree that he likes to share more than I like to listen.” Kevin cracked up. “You can be so diplomatic. You should go into politics.

” Izzy couldn’t help the smile that lifted her lips. “I’ll leave that to Gabby.” Gabrielle Sinclair was her best friend and campaign manager to Melissa Endicott, the woman currently running for mayor. Which still stuck in Izzy’s craw. But that was for another time. “Derek just likes to push my buttons. It’s what brothers do. Especially to sisters. You know you drive Cathy nuts.” “That’s different.

She’s older. Little brothers are supposed to drive their big sisters crazy. But older brothers? Being older also seems to turn them into know-it-alls.” She huffed a low laugh and refused to take up the complaint until Kevin changed course. “Speaking of Gabby, what’s up with her taking that job as campaign manager for Endicott?” “She and Endicott went to school together, then served in the Army together. It’s a good chance for Gabby to make a name for herself.” But Kevin wasn’t listening anymore, he was studying the area, his tension palpable. “Blackjack better know what he’s talking about,” he muttered. “He does if his track record is anything to go by, so chill.” Izzy had met her confidential informant, Louis Harper, the night she pulled him from his burning home.

She’d been patrolling his neighborhood after increased crime reports and had heard his cries for help. Since then, he’d been paying off his “debt” by feeding her information on various criminal activities for the past two years—in between the occasional visit to prison for minor infractions—and he’d yet to lead her astray. Izzy didn’t bother to tell him he didn’t owe her anything, that she’d simply been doing her job. She figured as long as he was willing to help her put the bad guys away, she wouldn’t argue about it. She picked up the binoculars from the dash and scanned the warehouse one more time. She’d found a prime parking spot. Across the street and far enough away not to attract attention, she had a good view of the front door and a partial view of the side of the building with the large sliding door. Right now that door was open, but she couldn’t see inside. Movement to the left caught her attention. A dark green Chevy Tahoe pulled around the curve and followed the gravel path to the side of the warehouse.

It parked next to the black Ford pickup and the low-slung red Mustang convertible. Izzy hit record on the camera mounted on her dash. “You got the other camera?” she asked Kevin. “Charged and ready.” In addition to being her partner, Kevin was a very good amateur photographer. Two men climbed out of the Tahoe and Kevin lifted the camera to his eye. She heard the zoom lens whir. “I see a bulge that looks like a gun to me,” he said. “Always go with that assumption.” “Yeah.

Actually, make that two. They both have them.” The shutter clicked multiple times as he snapped. The taller one walked to the back of the SUV. “He’s taking something out of the back,” she said. “You see that?” “Yes.” A pause. “And that is a mighty fancy rifle.” He gave a low whistle. “Whoa,” she whispered.

“Score another one for Blackjack.” “We’ve got guns too.” She shot him a warning glare. “And we’re not using them, because we’re not going to get anywhere near there. At least not without backup.” “Whatever.” Kevin kept the camera snapping as the men disappeared into the warehouse. He lowered the camera. “I can’t see anything else from here. I’m going to have to get closer.

” Izzy swung her gaze away from the warehouse to land on Kevin. “Did you not just hear me? We’re not taking these guys down alone.” He reached for the door. She grabbed the camera. “You can’t take that, the shutter is so loud, you’ll be discovered before you have a chance to snap the second picture.” “Fine. I’m still going to see what I can see.” She snagged his arm. “Kevin, no.” He shrugged her off.

“Something hinky is going down and I want to know what it is. I’ve got to go now—it’s still light enough the floodlights won’t come on. You saw that weapon. That wasn’t your average hunting rifle.” “They’re probably gun runners and more. I’ll call it in, but you stay put.” “I’m going. With the escalating gang activity lately, we sure don’t need those guns to fall into their hands. I won’t let them see me, I promise. But I’ll be one of the first in as soon as backup arrives.

” Green eyes sparkling, he tossed her a lopsided smile. “Ryan would do it.” Ryan? His brother? “No, he wouldn’t. And besides, Ryan’s a detective with many years’ experience,” she said. “You’re a rookie just two months out of the academy. Is that what this is about? You think you have to prove something to Ryan?” “Of course not. At least I don’t think so. Maybe.” He paused and glanced back at the warehouse. “It’s more like I have something to prove to myself.

” He winked at her and her blood pressure shot up. “Like what?” “Doesn’t matter.” He handed her the binoculars she’d set on the dash. “Do you see any cameras anywhere?” She growled and slapped the lenses to her eyes. Scanning from side to side, she shook her head. “I don’t see any, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there.” The door shut with a quiet snick. She dropped the binoculars to see Kevin sprinting toward the warehouse. 3 Kevin!” But with the doors shut and the windows up, he wouldn’t hear her whispered shout. She should have lied and said the place was covered in cameras.

“You’re not even wearing a vest, you moron.” Izzy sat still for a brief second, muttering under her breath before grabbing her phone and calling for discreet backup. She provided her badge number first. “I don’t know the situation inside the building. I know they’re armed. Come in quiet. I’m dressed as a civilian in jeans, a gray sweatshirt, and black running shoes. I have on a shoulder holster and am armed. For goodness’ sake, don’t shoot me.” Because she wasn’t wearing a vest either.

She hadn’t known she was going to need one. She also gave Kevin’s description. “Don’t shoot him either, okay?” Once she had it confirmed that officers were on the way and they’d been informed of their plainclothes status, she quickly grabbed her weapon, checked it, and went after Kevin. No matter that she was furious with him for his renegade actions, she wouldn’t let him go in alone and unprotected. He was just outside the warehouse door. She ran in a low crouch to the green Tahoe and hid behind it, glancing around the side to see Kevin with his back to the wall of the warehouse, next to the open door. He held his weapon ready, even as he caught her eye and lifted a finger to his lips. She widened her eyes and jerked her head, motioning for him to get away from the door and join her. He shook his head and Izzy wanted to smack him. Hard.

He rounded the sliding metal door and disappeared into the interior of the warehouse. Silence reigned. Izzy looked back over her shoulder and prayed the others would get here soon. Until then . She drew in a deep breath and jogged over to the entrance, taking the spot Kevin had just vacated. She risked a quick glance inside and noted him kneeling behind a pallet piled with boxes. Just ahead of him were three men, each holding one of the rifles they’d seen carried into the building. They stood facing each other, their focus on checking out the weapons. As quickly as she dared, she got a good look at the interior of the building. A plain concrete floor.

Plenty of unmarked boxes piled on pallets identical to the one that sheltered Kevin. To her right, there were metal steps that led to an indoor balcony on the opposite side. It ran the length of the back wall and was packed with crates as well. Dirt-encrusted windows kept out the light and would prevent her from seeing in to get a better picture of the interior. And how badly she and Kevin were outnumbered. She leaned back, trying to decide what to do, when she saw two unmarked cars park across the street from the warehouse. Four detectives headed her way. A rush of relief flowed through her. Then gunfire from inside the building jerked her back around the corner of the door in time to see Kevin fall to the floor, blood pooling on his chest. One man walked toward Kevin, his weapon held in front of him.

“You a cop?” “Police! Freeze! Drop your weapons!” Izzy yelled. She ducked when his gun spat back at her. She pulled back for cover, then waited for the gunfire to end before she once again peered around the edge of the metal door. The three men she’d seen during her brief peek through the door had scattered, firing in her direction as they ran, their bullets pinging off the walls of the warehouse. “Kevin!” She grabbed her radio. “Officer down! Officer down!” Running footsteps sounded behind her and she spared a glance over her shoulder. Their backup had arrived too late. She checked back on Kevin. He lay still, the pool of blood growing in a widening circle. She looked over her shoulder to see officers decked out in tactical gear taking up positions, making sure they were out of the line of fire.

“Three suspects heading out the back!” She gave the name of the street. “I repeat, cut them off at the ba—” Two shots came from up above. Izzy looked up in time to see a body fall over the railing of the balcony. The thud on the concrete floor sounded like another gunshot. And then she caught a brief glimpse of a dark-haired man who was turning sideways and racing out the back door of the balcony to the stairwell. She rushed toward her partner and dropped to her knees. “Kevin!” His eyes fluttered. He gasped. Sputtered. Blood dribbled from his mouth.

She wiped it with her hand. “No, no, don’t do this.” He swallowed and whispered something. She pressed one hand to his chest and one to his stomach in a hopeless effort to staunch the flow of blood. “Phone . ” “What?” “Phone. Look at . ” His eyes fluttered. She looked around. There, on the floor, slid halfway under the wooden crate.

“Promise,” he whispered. “Promise . look . hide it.” “Yeah. Yeah. I promise.” She grabbed the phone and shoved it into the back pocket of her jeans, not caring about the blood she smeared over it. “Okay, I’ve got it. Okay? Now be quiet and just hang on.

” “Good. Have a . good . birthday, Iz.” “Yes. I will. If you’ll go with me, I’ll jump all over that place. We’ll jump together, okay?” “Tell . Ryan . Mom .

sorry . was . stupid.” “No. I’m not telling them that. You tell them.” “Ga-ga-baahhhh . ga . ” He strained, his breathing labored, his eyes wide. “What? Breathe, Kev, just breathe.” His eyes closed. “Kevin!” Detective Ryan Marshall liked football. Especially Gamecock football. He’d been debating whether to head to Williams-Bryce stadium to watch them scrimmage or go into the office and work when the call came over the radio. “Officer needs assistance. Officer needs backup.” And then the details. Details that included his younger brother’s name and Izzy’s. He’d grabbed his vest, badge, and gun and bolted from his home to dive into his vehicle. It should have taken him fifteen minutes to arrive to the location. He made it in nine. Cutting everything off a mile before the specified address, he coasted in behind two unmarked cars. He’d listened to the radio all the way over and knew the situation had gone south fast. Gunshots reported. Officer down. Of icer down . two words that should never have a reason to be used together. Kevin was there. As was Izzy. Izzy, with flashing green eyes and dark hair that he’d seen all his life and just noticed in an I’m-interested-in-going-out-with-her kind of way about three months ago. Izzy, who was his brother’s partner and wouldn’t let anything happen to him. Would she? He threw the vehicle in park and bolted out the door. “Kevin!” The raw, grief-ravaged scream nearly halted him in his tracks. “No,” he whispered. “Oh, please, God, not Kevin.” He flashed his badge to the uniformed officers who had arrived on the scene to indicate he was backup. He had the earpiece in to allow him to hear the progress being made in the apprehension of the suspects. But right now, his only focus was his brother. He dashed inside the warehouse, weapon ready. Only to skid to a heart-jarring halt when he saw Izzy on the floor, covered in blood and demanding that Kevin breathe.

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