DIRTY BLUE

chapter one

My lips purse as I stare down at the smartphone in my hand. The total amount due to the online lingerie store is a lot more than I can spend tonight. Payday is still a week away, which means I’ll have to remove a few of the items from my shopping cart or not have money in the bank when my electricity bill gets automatically drafted on Tuesday. And then I’d have to tap into the savings account my father set aside for me years ago. 

Hell would have to freeze over first.

Adulthood blows.

My salary blows even more.

I force out a hard stream of air through my mouth as I scroll back up, looking at each piece of lingerie and clothing, analyzing which ones are my least favorite. 

None! I want them all.

Harboring a clothing addiction while living on a cop’s salary . . . impossible.

Dammit to Hell.

Allowing my thumb to land on the screen where the “x” is, I remove the black see-through lace bikini panty, then do the same with the matching bra. My only justification being I have a set almost exactly like it. Of course, the other one doesn’t have the cute little bow on the bra like this one has, but oh well, maybe next time.

Huffing, I also delete the yoga pants and two sports bras. Before I talk myself out of everything, I hit the checkout button to wrap up my order. Once finalized, I only ended up buying one red and one light blue bra and matching panty set. Both killer. Both will look great on my tan skin.

I’m giddy with anticipation already. I can’t wait for them to arrive next week. I have that kid in a candy store feeling but with no candy . . . yet. All smiles though, and that’s enough for now.

“Hey, Andrews.”

My smile wanes.

After setting my phone on my desk, I look up, seeing the cold, hard eyes of fellow detective, Lance Houston, staring down at me.

“Yes?” I can’t help the annoyance my voice is laced with.

“Need you to take a statement from a girl in room two.”

He firms his stance from across my desk then crosses his arms over his chest. His gunmetal gray gaze slides down, eyeing my phone like he wants me to know he’s caught me doing something I shouldn’t. Like shopping while on the job. I don’t care what he thinks. I do my job, and I do it well—unlike other people.

Detective Houston has been in the unit five years longer than I have. He loves to sport his seniority around to anyone with lesser years than him. I don’t know what it’s supposed to prove. I couldn’t care less.

“Can’t you handle it?” It’s obvious he started it if he placed her in one of the interview rooms.

“No,” he spits out in a way that grits on my last nerve. “It’s five after seven.” He shakes his head. “I’m not on call.” A slow smile curves up his lips, showing his coffee-stained teeth. “You are, sweet tits.”

Sexist pig.

I don’t react to his remark. I never do. That’s what he wants. That’s what all of them like him want.

Weakness.

Show it, and they’ll pounce.

Well, what they perceive as such; being a woman.

“Okay. I’ll take care of it.”

After pushing my chair back and away from my desk, I stand. I should have waited. His dirty eyes roam down my body in slow motion. It’s sleazy and about as unprofessional as you can get.

Lance is a beefy guy but looks more swollen from steroid use rather than a man who’s worked his ass off to get fit. This type is not a turn-on. It’s gross. And the way his perverted eyes climb back up my body only makes me want to vomit.

I grab the blazer hanging from the back of my chair and pull it on, covering my red button-up blouse by fastening one of the buttons. Luckily, the bulletproof vest I wear when I’m out in the field helps to smash down my breasts. They aren’t huge, but they aren’t small either. I fill out a C-cup to the point they’re almost spilling out.

Too bad for me the dirt-bag standing across from me already thinks he knows what’s underneath my clothes—thanks to our deputy chief making everyone in the unit, that wasn’t on duty during the 10k Marathon last month, take part to raise money for children with cancer. Spandex shorts, a sports bra, and a loose tank top did little to hide the body I’ve worked hard to get and maintain. Two hours in the gym five days a week plus healthy eating takes dedication, discipline, and willpower to stay out of the ice cream aisle at the grocery store.

Something tells me Lance doesn’t know one thing about dedication. 

“Was there anything else?” I ask the man who has a wife, for crying out loud. I wonder if she knows her husband is a douche-prick?

“Yeah, I’m out.” He turns to leave, making me momentarily relieved until he pauses, then pivots back around to face me. “Take a notepad. Make sure your shit’s right. No fuck ups on this one.”

He walks off before my mind catches up with his words, not giving me a chance to question him.

What the . . .?

I don’t screw up. The fact that Houston wants to imply I have pisses me off. There has been more than one occasion when he’s been in a sling with our boss because of something he failed to do.

Not me.

Snatching my notepad and a pen off my desk, I march toward the interview room.

When I walk in, I find a girl with medium length, wavy, golden blonde hair who can’t be more than twenty years old slouched back in one of the four plastic chairs around the table playing on what looks to be a smartphone. My eyes cut to the table. There is an infant’s car seat parked on top, facing away from me. By the sounds coming from it, there’s a baby softly crying inside.

When I close the door, she briefly looks up then goes back to paying attention to her phone.

I have a feeling this is going to be a fun interview.

One thing I’ve learned—it’s always best to play “good cop” first. You usually get more information from people when they think you’re on their side. You catch more flies with honey.

I can’t tell you how many times that has paid off—thanks to Detective Michael Manning. Since becoming detective two years ago, Mike has taken me under his wing and helped make me the detective I am today. Honing my interviewing and interrogating skills has been one of the best things he has done for me.

“I’m Detective Brianna Andrews, and you are?”

I approach the chair closest to the young woman, pull it away from the table, and then take a seat facing her.

“Chasity.”

“And your last name?” I inquire.

She stops playing with her phone, straightens her posture, and then looks up, but doesn’t direct her eyes at mine. She’s looking to the side of my face, and her expression is forced. It leads me to believe this is the last place she wants to be. But there is obviously a reason she’s here.

“Carlisle,” she finally admits. “Chasity Carlisle.” She blinks in rapid succession.

“Is it Miss Carlisle?” I ask not assuming by her young age that she wouldn’t be married.

“Yes.”

“What is it I can do for you, Miss Carlisle?” I jot her name down on my pad while I continue. “Detective Houston said you needed to make a statement.”

“Riiight,” she draws out.

I glance back up as the baby’s cries increase. My eyes cut over, expecting its mother to get a handle on him or her, but she doesn’t budge. She’s not even acknowledging the baby. It’s as if it is not a thought at all, not even an afterthought.

My attention returns to Miss Carlisle, and apparently, I’ve been eyeing her questionably a little too long when she rolls her eyes. “He’s fine.” She sighs, blowing out an irritated breath.

After a moment, she narrows her eyes, looking me into mine for the first time. It seems I might have struck a nerve without meaning to. And that gives me a semblance of joy.

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to imply he wasn’t.” Yes, I was. And she knows it. “May I turn his seat around so I can see him? I adore little ones.” I try to smooth things over with her. None of that was a lie. I do like kids. I have two nieces and a nephew I adore. The two oldest are teenagers in high school and the youngest, Carly, will turn ten at the end of this year.

“Oh. Sure, okay, I guess.” She forces another expression. This one is a smile that’s as fake as her blonde hair.

Slowly I rotate the car seat, so it faces me.

He’s a little thing, can’t be very old; he’s tiny. When I tip the car seat backward to make it rock back and forth, his crying subsides.

He’s such a cute little guy. I smile, but it quickly fades as his face contorts, and his mouth opens followed by a sob that breaks free as the rocking comes to a stop.

“What’s his name?” I inquire, then begin the rocking motion once again. It’s obvious to me the baby needs something. To be fed, a changing, attention maybe—something his mother isn’t attempting to give him.

“Gabrielle.”

“Huh?” I question without thinking how dumbfounded it sounded coming out of my mouth. But surely, I heard her wrong.

“Not that.” She shakes her head, waving her manicured hand in the air. “Um . . . the boy version of it. The name that’s like an angel’s name or something.”

She stares at me, and I’m guessing she’s expecting me to know who she’s referring to.

“Gabriel,” I respond slowly.

“Yep!” She snaps her fingers. “That!” She smiles big, perking up in the chair.

I attempt to mirror her expression as red flags start to go up. This girl doesn’t know her child’s name?

“Is this your son?” I question.

“Well, yeah.” Now she has that dumbfounded look marring her perfectly made-up face. “He’s why I’m here.”

“Okay, then why don’t we get to that. Why don’t you tell me about the statement you told Detective Houston you need to give? What brings you to the station tonight?”

“Right. The statement.” She oddly nods her head as if I’m supposed to know some secret of sorts.

“Yes. The statement. You tell me what it is. Then I’m going to need you to hand write every detail you can down on paper. Okay, Miss Carlisle?”

“Sure. Whatever you need.”

“Great. Let’s get started then. Just start from the beginning.”

“Well, I hooked up with a bad man one night. An evil man—Drago Acerbi.” His name sends chills rolling down my spine. It’s rare anyone can do that to me, but the Acerbi family has a reputation no one should take lightly. They’ve been known for their evil, cruel ways for generations and not just in LA—Italy too. “The result was him.” She waves her hand nonchalantly.

“Why do you say he’s an evil man?”

Her head drops a few inches, as does her bottom lip in what I perceive as shock. “Do you not know who Drago Acerbi is?”

“That wasn’t the question, Miss Carlisle. I’m trying to establish why you think he’s an evil man. Whether I know who he is or not is irrelevant right now.”

“Yeah, but c’mon . . . You do know who he is, right?” Her eyes are wide, and her bottom lip hangs open as she waits for my response.

“Yes, Miss Carlisle, I know of him,” I tell her after a beat.

“Oh, good,” she breathes, seemingly relieved.

“Why don’t you tell me exactly why you’re here and what it has to do with Mr. Acerbi?”

“He wants to kill me!” she shrieks as her eyes go wide. “And my baby,” she adds as if an afterthought, her tone doing a one-eighty. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, she rises, moves toward the car seat, and lifts the infant out. And none too gently sits back down in her chair with him.

She’s young, cut her some slack.

But I know from watching my sister-in-law and other mothers that is not the way you handle a baby. Inwardly I’m cringing. I have to bite the inside of my cheek to stop myself from taking the child from her when she doesn’t cradle him or do anything to support his head.

What in God’s name is wrong with this woman? Are they not offering baby one-oh-one in high school anymore? Jeez.

“Why do you think he wants to harm you and Gabriel?” I ask, trying to stay on task.

I need to wrap this up and get her out of here. I’ve never once come close to wanting to hurt a person I’ve interviewed or interrogated before. And I’ve met some extremely fucked-up individuals that deserve a trip to Hell rather than the penitentiary.

“He doesn’t want to harm me—us, I mean,” she corrects. “He wants to kill. Cause death! Do you understand my words?” Her hand flies into the air for dramatics, but the first thing that registers in me is that she removed one of her hands from her hold on the baby. My eyes glance down as one side of his body falls forward a little.

Everything inside of me is screaming something about this is off. Way the fuck off. Not right, and not adding up.

The one vital thing I’ve learned in law enforcement: trust your instincts.

God, I wish she would put the child back in his seat, where he’s safe—from her.

“Hello. Did you hear me? The monster wants to kill us,” she ends on a sob.

“Yes, Miss Carlisle, I’m listening to you.” I take a breath—a deep breath. “Tell me. Why does Mr. Acerbi want to, using your words, kill you and Gabriel?”

“Because,” another sob breaks out, but as soon as she breathes air in, and then back out, magically, she’s all better, her tone now even, “I had his baby.” She points to the tiny boy in her lap that can’t possibly be more than a month old.

About the same time I look down at him once more, he begins to cry again. Only this time it’s louder and harder cries. My heart is starting to crack for this little man.

When I look back up, I witness irritation crossing the mother’s face before she stands, and with fast, jerky movements, puts him back into his seat. Doesn’t even bother giving the baby anything to soothe him like a mother typically would.

One part of me is relieved he’s out of her hands. The other wants to tie up with her on a mat and teach her a lesson in the ways you don’t handle a baby. God, I feel sorry this kid has to leave with her.

Monday cannot come soon enough. Tomorrow, I may have to go to Knocked Out—the MMA gym I frequent, to train with the owner—just to work off the tension that is steadily building.

Shitty parents are a sore spot for me.

Get this over and done with, Bri.

“Why would you having his child make him want to commit murder?”

Her head snaps to the side, toward me, then she peers down from her standing position in front of Gabriel’s infant seat. Her eyes skate to the side for a brief second or two before her hands fly up. “How should I know?” She plops back down into the plastic chair. “We probably don’t fit in with his drug smuggling lifestyle.”

Drugs.

Smuggling.

Two words that pique my interest and have me eyeing her a bit harder. Is she telling me the truth?

It’s rumored the Acerbi family has a long history of importing drugs into Los Angeles, but there has never been any hard evidence to prove it.

Any Law Enforcement Officer to ever get close, whether local police, FBI, or the DEA, have either quit their job or had an unfortunate accident that resulted in death. None have actually infiltrated the family successfully.

Makes for suspicion.

Makes for a lot of suspicion.

“Do you know for certain he smuggles drugs, Miss Carlisle? Have you witnessed any shipments or handoffs? Any conversations?”

What would be the odds that I would have a cooperating witness to help bring down a crime family?

“Of course not. Drago isn’t that stupid, lady,” she huffs.

“Then what makes you so sure he’s a drug smuggler?” I hear the irritation in my voice and do what I can to tone it down. I’ll never get the answers I want if I let her affect my attitude. “And what has he done that leads you to believe you and Gabriel are in danger?”

She closes her eyes, pulling in a long stream of air before blowing it out through her mouth. When she opens her brown eyes, I’m met with what I perceive as aggravation. Why? I’m not sure.

“I was just a one-night stand. When I told him about the baby, he became . . . angry. Grabbed me and said, ‘you’ll regret getting pregnant by me, bitch.’ Because, yeah, I’m the one that got knocked up all by myself.” She rolls her eyes. “Then he told me to bring the baby to him. When I asked why, he shoved me against a wall and said, ‘Do what you’re fucking told and learn not ask any questions if you valued your life.’”

Sounds like a real charmer.

Why any woman would sleep with a man like that is beyond me.

“Do you have any bruising?”

“Huh?” Her perfectly made-up face looks confused.

“Bruises,” I say again, thinking maybe she didn’t hear me clearly, but when she still doesn’t seem to understand, I try again. “Marks on your body from where he grabbed you and from where he shoved you against a wall. If we have something . . . anything to photograph, it’ll go a long way in corroborating your story.”

“My story?” She pulls back. “You don’t believe me?” she spits outs in shock.

“Miss Carlisle,” I call her name out as calmly as possible. “I didn’t say that. Besides, it doesn’t matter what I believe. It matters what a jury believes.”

“A jury!” Her voice rises to an almost shout. Or maybe it’s panic. “What do you mean a jury?”

I take a moment to look at her before speaking. Honestly, I’m trying to keep my mouth under control.

I lick my lips, buying myself more time.

“Are you not planning on pressing charges against Mr. Acerbi for assault? Don’t you want a restraining order?”

“Are you kidding?” She doesn’t wait for my response. “Hell no!”

I shake my head. Now I think I’m the one confused.

“Then why are you here?”

“Duh . . . So you can take him down for dealing drugs and—”

“You never mentioned he was dealing drugs.” I shouldn’t have cut her off. Pouncing and being too eager has never served any officer well. “Do you have proof?”

“Well . . .” She looks down towards her lap. After she pulls her cell phone out from under her legs, she looks back up and flashes the black screen at me then turns it back to face her as her fingers roam the screen. “I followed him last night—Drago that is. And I took a photo of him doing a deal. Is that proof enough for you?” She flips it back around, only this time it’s a photo displayed on the screen.

“Can I see your phone?”

“Sure.” Chasity hands it over to me.

It’s a close-up shot of two men. One I recognize as Brandon Marino. He’s Sebastian Diaz’s—a dangerous criminal in the business of trafficking drugs—second in command. Marino is just as bad as his boss.

The other man in the photo I assume must be Drago Acerbi. I’ve never seen him in person or a picture of him before.

“Can you tell me who the men in the photograph are?” I glance up as I flip the phone around to show her.

“You don’t know?” Her tone turns condescending.

“It doesn’t matter whether I know or not. That’s not the reason I’m asking. I need you to identify them for me.” This woman is a piece of work. Sadly, woman isn’t the right word to describe her. Girl fits her much better.

She huffs out air then looks at the photo on the phone I’m holding up.

“The one on the right is Drago. The other . . .” She pauses and then glances away. “I don’t know who he is,” she finishes in rapid succession.

She’s lying.

But why lie about knowing who Marino is I wonder?

“Are you sure? Maybe take another peek to be certain.”

She turns her head to face me. “I’m certain. I took the picture after all.” Cold, flat eyes bore into mine.

“Okay then.”

I flip the phone back around to look at the photograph once more. I can’t tell if Acerbi is handing Marino a thick envelope or if it’s the other way around. Hmm . . .

“Do you have any other photos of them or from this night?”

“Um . . . no.”

Who snaps just one fucking picture after going through all the double to follow him?

As I analyze the photo, I conclude that Marino, who I know is half-Hispanic and half-Caucasian, looks pissed as he stares at Acerbi. Acerbi, on the other hand, looks calm.

The resolution of the photo this close-up makes me question if it was taken using a cell phone camera or another type of camera. The cameras on phones these days have sound quality, but from a distance, I don’t think they’re this good. I can see the sweat on Marino’s temple for Christ’s sake.

I make a note on my pad to ask one of the techs in forensics if they can tell what type of camera was used.

Looking at Drago Acerbi, I think about what I know of the Acerbis, which isn’t much. His father is Italian; born in Italy. And from the photo, I see Drago takes on the dark features of an Italian with his olive skin. He has brown hair that’s cut short; almost to the scalp, and the way his dark brown eyes are peering down at Marino makes him look like the dangerous one.

Then again, with the name Acerbi, maybe he lives up to his family legend.

Cruel.

Heartless.

Vile.

“And did you take this photo with this phone?” I finally ask her.

“Duh.”

“Can you email it to me?” I reach out, handing the phone back over.

“I guess.” She doesn’t sound so sure, as if she doesn’t want to do it.

“That would be great. Can you do it now, from your phone? I can give you my email address.” Better to get her to do it right this moment, because if I write my email address down and ask her to do it later, the chances are high that she’ll never send it.

“O . . . kay.”

“Great.” I force a pleasant smile. “Go ahead and pull up an email and tell me when you’re ready.”

She chews on the side of her lip as her fingers roam the screen.

“Go . . . go ahead.”

“It’s B C Andrews at pacific dot lapd dot com. I appreciate you sending it so quickly, Miss Carlisle.”

“It’s . . . sent, but what do you need it for? I’m not testifying or anything. That’s not the reason I’m here.”

“Okay, let us get back to that. You said you aren’t going to press charges, but you are here because you believe he’s dealing and smuggling drugs into LA. The photo may help us establish a case but having a witness would be better.” I pause, hoping that might have changed her mind. When she doesn’t speak, I ask another question. “Do you know what was inside that envelope?”

“What envelope?” She shakes her head as if she doesn’t know what I’m talking about.

“The one in the photo; the envelope either Acerbi or the other man was receiving.”

How does she not know what I’m referring to? The girl can’t be this dumb.

“Oh.” She scrunches her face. “How the hell would I know that?”

“Okay, then can you tell me who accepted the envelope?”

She has to know that much at least, but when her eyes go wide, I’m confident she doesn’t.

“I . . . I don’t remember.”

“Is there anything else you want to tell me?” Or not tell me.

“Yeah, actually there is.” She sits up straighter. “So like, I read online that you can’t arrest someone if they leave their baby at a police station or a hospital, right?”

No, she is not . . .

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