“No hits have been carried out in almost twelve months.”
Sergeant Taya McGovern surveyed the incident room and the dozen detectives and police officers who made up Taskforce Ricochet. No-one was looking at her. She gripped the lectern to keep her frustration at bay. Not even Detective Inspector Mitch Silver, who was leading the taskforce into outlaw motorcycle clubs, had bothered to show up to her briefing.
“We need to double our efforts and prove Alex Riley was the trigger man, acting on orders from The Devils’ hierarchy, in five open homicide investigations.”
She took a deep breath. Taya got that the state police weren’t exactly thrilled to have a federal officer playing on their field, but her instincts told her this was more than a tussle over jurisdiction. Clearly, the rumor mill had preceded her arrival last month.
She raised her voice a notch. “So, we go back to the beginning. Re-interview witnesses. Confirm timelines and reestablish motives. Hopefully, if we shake a few trees, something new will fall out.”
“Sorry Sergeant, there’s been a development that has sidelined your strategy.”
Mitch Silver marched through the doors with a presence that demanded attention. Everyone in the room turned. Taya simmered. He didn't sound apologetic. Not only was he turning up late to the briefing, now he was coming in and stealing her thunder.
Stay cool, McGovern.
Rolling her shoulders back, she waited for the boss to get to the front of the room and explain himself.
"Alex Riley is gone."
"What do you mean, gone?" she asked sharply.
"Gone. Vanished." Silver ran his hand over his black crew cut. "And The Devils aren't happy about it."
This was not a good sign. “What were-”
"I can't imagine they would be. Their enforcer suddenly goes AWOL and it leaves them looking vulnerable to other bikie gangs."
All eyes returned to the door at the back of the room. Taya’s heart beat a fraction faster as she watched the man-mountain making his way to join Silver up the front. Jake Gallen had been undercover for eight months, three weeks and six days with The Devils, and usually he changed into civilian clothes for his fortnightly briefing with the taskforce. Not today.
Today, his shaved head and long beard, dirty jeans and faded Lamb of God t-shirt under the leather vest, or cut, marked with the insignia of The Devils motorcycle gang, had him looking every inch the outlaw warrior.
Gallen was an incredible specimen of a man at the best of times, and Taya usually kept her head down, taking notes, when he was in the room to avoid turning to mush under his hypnotic whiskey-coloured eyes. Or worse, publicly drooling over his broad shoulders and tattooed biceps. But seeing him dressed as the ultimate bad boy had her groin clenching something fierce.
If she ignored the heat flooding her face, it would just go away. She was here to do a job, not look starry-eyed at the taskforce’s undercover operative. Stepping to the side, she leaned on a desk, arms crossed, as she allowed Silver and Gallen to take the floor. Gallen locked eyes with her and gave a quick nod.
"As you know, Alex Riley, a.k.a Hollywood, has no known address other than The Devils Clubhouse," Silver continued. "The last time Riley was seen at the clubhouse was thirty-six hours ago, at approximately one o'clock, Monday morning."
Gallen stood beside Silver; the Inspector was not a small man at almost six feet, but Gallen was at least four inches taller, and wider and certainly more intimidating in his current state.
"The Devils were hosting a meet to celebrate two prospects receiving their cuts. The party got under way at about ten. Riley was present and there was nothing out of the ordinary about his demeanor. He was last seen at approximately one a.m."
"It's only Monday, lunch time," said another cop. Taya was pretty sure his name was Richards. She wasn’t a fan. He looked at her chest when he spoke to her. "Is it possible he's found himself a woman and he's shacked up with her?"
"Possible, but unlikely," said Gallen. "They’ve been no women since he ended things with Sarah Darcy." Taya had to admit that was certainly odd behavior for a bikie.
"His motorbike has been spotted - being ridden by someone else.” Silver paused and looked around the room.
"Which just doesn't happen. The brothers are out looking for the bike - and Riley. That's where they think I am.”
Wow, Gallen had taken a risk coming into headquarters still dressed in his cut. Sexy and dedicated.
"Anyone else go missing?" came a question from the floor.
"All the other brothers are accounted for," replied Gallen. "And yes, there are countless suspects who would like to take Riley out, but he was under the protection of The Devils."
Meaning he was untouchable, unless another gang was willing to start a war. Taya suppressed the shudder of horror at the thought of another bikie war. The last one had turned the streets red with blood.
"What’s your theory?” she asked.
“Taken by a rival gang, maybe," shrugged Gallen. "It doesn’t make sense. But there’s growing speculation amongst the brothers that he's turned informant."
"Which means Gallen's cover may be compromised," interjected Silver.
A stone dropped in her stomach. If The Devils figured out who Gallen really was, he was as good as dead if he went back out on the street.
"You pulling him out?" asked Richards.
"Not at this moment." Silver and Gallen exchanged a glance. They had a plan, she could tell.
"We do need another set of eyes and ears in the clubhouse," admitted Gallen. "Even if my cover is intact, they’ll want me out looking for Riley."
Richards leaned forward in his chair. "A transfer or a prospect —"
“Won’t work,” Taya said, without thinking. “Too suspicious.”
Richards scowled at her. If it had been any other cop, she may have felt remorse for cutting him off in front of everyone. The misogynist bastard wasn’t worth it.
"Which is why we have another cover in mind," said Silver. "Riley grew up in the system; bounced from foster home to foster home. One of his foster siblings is going to come looking for him."
Once Taya would have lobbied hard for this job; but that was before the assignment in Melbourne went to hell. A police officer was supposed to have completed their undercover training before taking on an assignment like this. Taya had no idea how many of her taskforce colleagues had the necessary qualification, or experience.
Richards sat up straighter in his chair. "I'm happy to take it on, boss."
Richards was a climber, there was no doubt about that.
"Not necessary, Senior Constable. The cover will have a better chance of success if the sibling is a sister."
Taya’s blood ran cold. They wouldn’t choose her, would they? Maybe for once it was going to be an advantage being an outsider.
All eyes flew to Rebecca Pascoe. She'd been a Detective for over fifteen years, and a general duties cop for ten years before that. In Taya’s opinion, Sergeant Pascoe might be damn good at her job, but with her almost two decades older than Alex Riley, she was hardly a strong choice.
Pascoe's brow furrowed; clearly, she was thinking the same.
"Yes?" Her throat was so dry the word came out in a strangled rasp.
"I understand you completed the undercover training with the Federal Police and have some field experience."
It wasn't a question. Silver damn well knew she’d been undercover. The outcome had resulted in her sudden promotion to Sergeant and her being seconded to the New South Wales Police Force at the first opportunity. Shipped out of sight and out of mind of her federal colleagues.
She felt the weight of a room full of confused and seriously pissed off cops, and an involuntary blush spread over her face and down her neck. This was not going to help ingratiate her with her new colleagues. She tried to swallow the lump in her throat.
"I did," she said evenly.
"Is there any reason you couldn't take this assignment on immediately?"
She had no family, friends or community connections in Sydney. Not even a cat to use as an excuse. Obviously, the boss knew that. Taya shook her head. "No, sir."
"Good. Detective Sergeant Gallen will brief you in interview room three." Silver gave her a brisk nod and moved on to handing out the other assignments for follow up and action.
People turned their attention back to the boss, but she could still feel the tension in the room. Nobody knew her, and therefore nobody had any reason to trust her. Or worse, everybody knew who she was and nobody would ever trust her.
She looked up and caught Gallen’s eye. He gave her a tight smile. It didn’t matter if the others didn’t trust her, it only mattered that Gallen did. And she really hoped he did.
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