He flicked the ashes from the end of his cigarette onto the floor while looking into the face of his captain with his steely gray eyes.
"You want me to do what?" Gauge Remington's voice was cold and flat. He could not believe his ears. Coming back from what should have been a life ending injury...and they wanted him to be a babysitter. Not a chance.
"We have to protect her. She's going to testify against her father and we need the best on it. You are back just in time for the job."
Tossing his cigarette on the floor, Gauge took his worn work boot from where it rested on the edge of the desk and ground it out. Looking up at the captain with a weary expression covered in black 5 o'clock shadow and overgrown black hair flopped over his forehead, he swiped the hair from his eyes. "Find someone else. I won't come back for this."
"You won't have another choice, Remington. You are too recognizable in the field. It's play protector to the drug lord's daughter, take a desk job, or retire for good."
Gauge was taken aback. The captain and the department was not playing around this time and he instinctively knew he would not be in the field again. He was angry and at the same time unsurprised. His face would ruin any important investigation at this point. Could he live with being a glorified bodyguard when he was capable of so much more? Squeezing his eyes shut, he thought for a moment about the media coverage and his face being plastered across every media outlet in America, let alone the greater Chicago area where an average citizen recognized him in the grocery store. Coverage of him unconscious on a stretcher, draped in bloody white paramedic sheets, was still everywhere 6 months later.
"How am I going to effectively protect her when I can't go to the toilet without being recognized?" Gauge's voice was bitter and angry. Reaching into the pocket of his flannel, he pulled out a pack of cigarettes and put one in his mouth. A fist slammed down on the metal desktop and the captain reached over and pulled the cigarette from his mouth and knocked the pack out of his hand into the floor.
Gauge stood up in fury and the captain stood tow to toe with him. "Stop smoking yourself into the grave. It was a miracle that you survived and you should be thanking all the people that worked their asses off to save your life. This is not the end for you unless you want it to be. We still need 12 Gauge on the force. Mia Monsantos needs you to keep her alive until she can testify. That is the most important job here right now. I can't put Paulo Monsantos away without her. She saw him shoot Terrance Church and Douglas Barrowman in the head and watched while his henchmen dumped them into the back of a Cadillac and drove away."
Considering the case instead of his anger for a moment, Gauge thought out loud. "Why would she testify against her father? She grew up in Colombia on a drug lord's compound, surely she saw these types of crimes before?"
"She was raised on the compound in the horrors of her father's drug business and hated it. Her father never had anything to do with her and kept her contained her entire life. He was basically selling her into an arranged marriage with an associate in Morroco as part of a deal to expand his drug cartel. When her mother protested, he had her mother held prisoner on the compound until Mia agreed to the marriage. No one knows what has happened to her mother now."
Gauge thought about the facts and what could be done. A drug lord the caliber of Paulo Monsantos had far reaching power. Where could his daughter be taken to keep her safe until she could testify in 3 months?
"I'll do it. Do you have a place chosen for this? Both of us will have to disappear for this to work. We will have to leave the country to even have a shot at keeping her alive."
"I have a place. I will be your only contact and I have everything you need already drawn up. Alternate identities are provided but you will be in an area where you will spend most of your time alone together and you will need to do a lot for yourselves to prevent bringing people in that could recognize one or both of you."
"We'll manage, give me the information and we'll leave today."
The Captain slid over a metal ammo box to him and he flipped the lid open and found two passports, driver's licenses, two burner phones, and $20K in cash.
"My number is already programmed into the phones and the address to where you are going is on yours. The house is loaded with food, and groceries will be brought to you once a week but the cleaning, cooking, and caring for the house is on you two, we can't have too many people going about the house that could recognize you."
"You will pick up Mia and go to the airport where you will board a private corporate jet that I've arranged that will take you to the Venice Airport where you can arrange a cab to take you where you need to go. I have to send you somewhere that if the Colombian drug cartel is trying to find you, you can see them coming and they won't blend in."
"Mia won't blend in either in that case, she's Hispanic, remember?" Gauge said in an annoyed tone.
"She will blend into Italy perfectly, she's small but she takes after her mother and while she has olive tone skin, her eyes are blue and her hair is jet black and wavy. She can speak Italian and French fluently, and there is no reason the locals would not think she isn't native to Italy."
"Hopefully, that little nuance will help me save her life." Gauge was a little surprised. "Where is her mother now? With Mia on the run from her father, I can't imagine things are going well for Mama Monsantos."
A shadow passed through Captain Chase's eyes. Gauge saw the worry. "Do you know where she is?"
"No, I don't, and we have no idea where she could be or if she is alive." Captain Chase was talking with a far away tinge to his voice like he had been thinking about it for a long many hours.
"I'd say she is alive." Gauge picked up his mashed cigarette pack from the ground and lit a fresh one, taking a long drag.
The Captain looked at him sharply but said nothing about it. "Why do you say she is alive?"
"Because...the best way to get Mia to conform to her father's wishes, is to use her mother against her. They are very close, right? I am getting that just from what little we have discussed."
He could see that Captain Chase had forgotten why they called him, 12 Gauge...it was a play on words. Not that he could just shoot a 12 gauge spectacularly, he could shoot any gun with superior accuracy and speed than any in the department, but because he was considered the big guns. He was effective and deadly, not just in one shot, but in intelligence. It came with fifteen years of experience as an undercover detective and an uncanny perception that was natural to him.
"There is a car in Evanston, outside of the Chicagoland Area at Bridgeton Rentals. The owner is former police and has a very normal SUV for you with a direct line to me instead of on-star."
Captain Chase cleared his throat. "If it is not me on the other end of the line, then do not speak. Disable it, ditch the car. We will get you another one."
Gauge thought that was unnecessary unless they wanted him to destroy the car too. "Once you have ditched the car in a safe area, wire it with a small amount of C4, and detonate it from a distance. Leave something in it of Mia's and make it look like someone got to her first."
Ah, there it was. That was the part that made sense after ditching the car. Gauge laughed internally. Chicago was really going all out for this case. Paulo Monsantos must really have come up on the radar during the months he was recovering from his death bed.
"Leave that car at the airport and once landing in Venice and a cab takes you to the house, another SUV will be waiting there for your use for you do what you need to, wired with the same system."
He was so glad that he brought a pack of cigarettes with him while he took a long drag and closed his eyes. He felt the cigarette get yanked from his lips and he popped his eyes back open.
"What the hell, Chase? Seriously? When have you become so against smoking?"
Calmly leaning over the desk and looking into Gauge's angry face, he said, "Since Mia Monsantos has severe asthma and I can't have you killing her with cigarette smoke." He sat back at his desk and grinned a little while averting his eyes from Gauge's.
"You lying dog, Chase, you have got to be kidding!" Gauge rolled his eyes and cursed under his breath. "You had better be working to get this trial going and get the testimony done so witness protection can take over."
"Of course we are trying to move it forward as quickly as possible. I'd hate to cut into your new bad habit."
Gauge was annoyed at the sarcastic tone of Captain Chase...and even more annoyed at his amused expression at Gauge's discomfort.
Huffing and scraping the ammo box with his cash and passports from the desk, Gauge tossed his mangled pack of cigarettes into the Captain's trash and thought about what new habit he was going to pick up to replace his smoking.
"So where do I pick her up?"
Captain Chase smiled briefly. "You can pick her up here. She's waiting in the break room. Go get her and pick up the car and go straight to the airport. There is clothes at the house for you both and essentials."
Wavy black hair and blue eyes. He didn't even need the description, she would be the only new face in the break area without a uniform. Turning from the Captain's office, he made his way to get this assignment started.
Pushing through the double doors of the break room, he stood with his shoulder holding the door open as he scanned the room for Mia Monsantos.
It was not her.
It could not be her...
...It was her.
There was no one else fitting the description. Sitting on the old couch in the Police Department break room, in a white tank top, faded jeans, and worn converse...was a blue-eyed beauty with black wavy hair and the very woman Gauge had spent the better part of the last month, trying to get into his bed.
He was going to find out why Paulo Monsantos daughter was slumming it in a downtown Chicago bar every night as a bartender...and why she was going by the name, Annie Johnson.
Annie, well...Mia, looked up at that moment and locked eyes with Gauge. Bright blue with steel grey, and at that moment, Gauge felt a familiar stirring in his gut. Sighing...he ran his hand through his floppy black hair and wondered how the hell he was going to live with her and keep her safe, while keeping his hands off her, and prevent himself from getting involved anymore than a cop should.
This was a cluster, indeed.
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