One Sugar or Two

Submitted into Contest #99 in response to: Write a story about characters going on a summer road trip.... view prompt

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Crime Fiction

"Only if I can bring my books and we get a lot of ice cream," Steven announced at the dining room table as he rolled his peas around his plate.

"Then it's settled." Rylee pushed himself up from the table. "Let me put those peas out of their misery and you can start packing."

"Love to," he said, nearly tipping his chair over while running away.

Rylee smirked as he grabbed the plate and everything that went with it. In busperson style, he carried them into the kitchen.

"Steven still not eating his vegetables?" Jaxon asked from the far corner of the kitchen where he stood next to another man in a black.

"Only the peas." He slid them into the trash. "He only eats them for Beverly and your wife."

The man in black rolled his eyes. "What about tomorrow?"

"I don't like lying to my baby brother, Agent Sharp. Omitting the truth or just plainly throwing out an 'I said so' but this crosses the line."

"Oh. Yes, let's just tell him one of your arrestees got early parole and threatened to have his revenge."

"And that's the only reason I went along with your silly little plan… And because I’ve always wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge."

"How are you going to deal with Steven and the motel beds before you get to San Francisco?" Jaxon asked, with a laughable grin.

"Borrowin’ the cot from Han and Ace. They’re dropping it off before their next flight tonight." 

"Is he some kind of germaphobe?" Sharp asked.

Jaxon and Rylee looked at each other before Rylee answered "just a bit," emphasizing with his fingers.

"Great!"

"Now, if you want to use my guest room, agent, you better get while Steven’s too busy to notice."

Sharp opened his mouth and raised his finger in obstinence.

"Sharp, I’m not your mother, don't make me repeat myself or I’ll kick you out right now."  

Jaxon and Rylee smiled at the sight of the agent’s back.

"I applaud you Rylee, but is it wise to bite the hand of the FBI agent who protects you."

"It’s the FBI, ‘protect’ is stretching it."

"Well then, good luck. Send me some postcards. Take care of your brother. And don’t kill anyone."

"No promises to the last one. See you in a few weeks."

●●●

Steven sat at the opposite side of the table then dinner, with his reading rainbow mug and Dragon Tales plate. He was devouring his eggs and potatoes when Rylee and Agent Sharp appeared. "Good morning?" he said, putting his fork down when he made eye contact with Sharp.

Rylee put a hand on Steven’s shoulder. "We’re giving Agent Sharp a ride to the FBI on our way to Vegas."

"Vegas? You two?" Sharp laughed.

"Just to see the strip," Steven squeaked.

"There’s coffee above the stove to make if you want to be useful," Rylee shouted, sending the agent on his way.

"You know," he drawled, picking himself and dishes up. "We could go to Vegas Vegas if you wanted. I won’t mind."

"No way, my little card counter-" he bent down to ruffle Steven’s hair - "they’ll find you out in a second. And I’d like to keep all of my appendages," he said, flexing his fingers. 

"Do you want me to go get-" Steven started when a cladder smashed into pieces in the kitchen.

Another cladder came when Steven dropped his dishes as he clinged to his brother. They both tumbled down as Sharp yelled, "Sorry, just a glass!"

"How much sugar did you put in your tea?!" Rylee asked from his place under Steven.

Steven balled up. "Is it that obvious?"

Shaking his head, Rylee answered, "Why don’t you go get your bags and we can go. And not more sugar until Sharp’s gone."

"Only if he gets shotgun." He pointed towards the kitchen.

"Sure, Bud." He gave Steven’s hair one more tussle.

"Fine-" he swatted at the hand - "I’m going. I’m going." He scrambled to his feet before his brother could ruin his hair any further.

"Leaving in five," Rylee called out, getting to his feet.

"Coffee?" Sharp said, handing Rylee a cup.

"Thank-" he coughed down his sip. "That's very black," he said, wandering into the kitchen with Steven’s dishes in tow.

"If only you knew," Sharp laughed under his breath. 

He tipped his cup to his lips when something bashed into his ankle. He glared down at a backpack leaning against his leg. 

"I’m sorry," Steven squeaked, rubbing his eye.

He picked up the bag. "It’s alright. I can take this one"

"Backrow, please." He covered his yawn, wrenching his luggage closer.   

Sharp wrapped his arm around Steven’s shoulder. "Sure. Let’s go." He pressed him forward.

Rylee was already in his Jeep, fiddling with the radio and air like a pilot doing preflight checks.

Sharp set the backpack down on the bench. When he turned, Steven was yawning again. "Here-" he picked Steven, helping him into the car - "I’ll get the other one."

The trunk was full with a ratty old duffle and a foldable cot. After shoving Steven’s bag in, the radio blared alive with the Beatles yelling help.

In no time, they were down the driveway and down the block. They passed houses with tile roofs and yards of succulents and flagstones. Those turned into store fronts that popped out of a western film.

Likewise, a man in boots and a cowboy hat rushed out of one of the store fronts, making Rylee stop. 

"Howdy, agent." He tipped his hat.

"Howdy, Jed."

"Your party started? I thought you could use these," Jed said, handing Rylee a bag.

"You didn't have to do that."

"No I didn't," he laughed. "But it looks like Steven already partied out."

Rylee's head spun on a dime: Steven was curled into a ball, snaking around his seatbelt. "I don't think he got any sleep last night and he's hitting a sugar crash."

"Do you mind?" Sharp interrupted.

"Bye Jed. Gotta keep a schedule."

"Happy trails. Watch out for 'em dust devils. They're wicked today," Jed said, patting the door before going back to his store.

Out of ear shot, Sharp asked, "Who's cowboy?"

"Jed?" Rylee said, jostling over the speed bump at the end of the road, at the edge of town. "He owns a general. And helps stock everything the Octagon needs. Coffee, donuts, everything but office supplies."

"That's not what I meant." He tugged on the handles of the bag Jed gave them.

"His youngest just went to college so he's trying to compensate."

"By doing things for Steven?"

"Yeah…" Rylee faded, swerving a bit.

"Rylee, you alright?" Sharp asked as Rylee pulled off onto the shoulder.

Rylee got out of the car without answering. Sharp followed, leaving Steven asleep in the car. He found him hunched over, bracing himself against the car.

“What’s wrong?!” Sharp asked, putting a hand on Rylee’s shoulder. 

Rylee straightened just long enough to look Sharp in the eye and say, “The coffee.”

“What are you talking about? Do you need something?”

“What did you do to the coffee?” Rylee muttered.

Sharp stood with an annoyed squeezing of his eyebrows together. However, with a laugh, he tipped Rylee's chin up. “It was actually the sugar!” He shoved Rylee back, making his back bash into the car. “Now, make things easier for me and get in the back before you lose consciousness.”

●●●

“What do you mean he’s dead?” Jaxon exclaimed, trying to keep up with a man in a naval uniform. 

"I didn't leave my crewmate and best friend's funeral to play riddles with you. Fallon, the ex-con that threatened Rylee, was found dead this morning and Doc just called to say he was killed before the FBI said he made the threat.”

“Sharp lied?”

“Yes,” he sniped.

“Why would he do that and why would he want the Ross’ out of town?”

The naval men stopped as a young woman handed him something. “Your guess is as good as mine,” he said, opening the note, “but now we should be more worried about why they didn’t show up to the FBI. Charlotte gets an APB out on Rylee's car and a warrant for Agent Albert Sharp.”

●●●

Like a bad morning after a good night of drink, Rylee woozed awake. His hand first went to his forehead then to the weight around his belly. 

Steven squeezed tighter when his brother touched his arm. “Rylee?” His eyes were shut tight. 

Wiping away the tears escaping Steven’s eyelids, he crooned, “It’s okay.”

“I’ll make sure of that,” Sharp interrupted.

Rylee sat up and reached for his hoister.

“Looking for this?” Sharp said, waving Rylee’s gun.

“What do you want?”

“It’s what we need, agent!” another man said, looking out the blinds of a nearby window.

Sharp dug in his jacket pocket. “This was our partner, Sandra Costa-” he showed them a photo of a latina woman with boxer braids, an FBI tank top, and an infectious braces full smile - “she was killed five years ago and nobody has done anything about it.”    

“And?”

“You have the highest clearance rate anywhere.”

“But,” the other man added, “not everyone knows you need your little sidekick to do that.”

Steven clenched to Rylee closer.  

“Thomas, shut up!” Sharp yelled, making Thomas look back out the window and keep his eyes that way.

"Nothing will happen to you while you're here. In 48 hours we'll send you on your way. And you can either sit here on the dirty floor or help us find a murderer."

Rylee looked down at Steven. He had loosen his grip after Sharp's offer.

"If we're going to be here anyway."

"There's some chairs in the next room. The files are on the table."

Rylee grabbed Steven’s hand. “He’s going to need his glasses. Backpack. Front zipper. White case.”

“I can do that. And thank you,” Sharp said, taking Thomas with him out of the room.

"Rylee?" Steven squeaked, squeezing his brother's hand.

Rylee picked him up, lifting both of them out of the dust. "Everything will be okay. The faster we figure something out, maybe the faster we get to San Francisco."

"Just home. Home to Bridget and Jaxon and Jed."

Rylee pressed his forehead to Steven's. "Home to Bridget and Jaxon and Jed. Then we have to do what we do best. Yes?"

"Aha," he mumbled as Rylee carried him into the next room.

Rylee sat Steven in his lap, reading aloud the file. He wouldn't let Steven see the file until Sharp came with the glasses. 

Steven slinked off Rylee's lap when Sharp came in. With frostbitten red cheeks, he flopped up a file before his brother made him lower it and take his glasses.

“Excuse me,” Sharp apologised, turning to leave.

Steven’s eyes flew left to right. “Wait!”

“What?!” both Rylee and Sharp said, stopping in their tracks.

Steven laid the file down, pointing to an unhighlighted section. “Agent Costa bit her nails. They were chipped, cracked, and close to the bed. However, one was long enough to get skin from her attacker.”

“Hold it right there,” Sharp interrupted, “There wasn’t enough to test for DNA.” 

Steven stuck up his index finger in protest. “There wasn’t enough to test for DNA for both CSU and the defense.”

“But that was five years ago,” Rylee added.

“Doc could do wonders with this.”

“Doc?!” Sharp asked, shaking his head.

“Doctor Daniel David (deɪvɪd), the medical examer for the Octagon.”

 “And how am I supposed to get him to look into this?”

Rylee slapped the top of the table. “Are we supp-”

“Call it in as your ransom for us! Or something.” He started erect in his chair before cowering back into the depths of it.

●●●

“Director West,” a man knocked.

“Yes,” the man in the naval uniform answered from behind his desk.

“I’m supervisory special agent Mark Sousa.”

“Sousa? Come in. Come in.” He dropped everything. “This is Agent Jaxon Brown,” he said, pointing to the chair in front of his desk.

Sousa shook Jaxon’s hand. “I’m sorry to hear about your partner and his brother.”

“How could this happen, Agent?!” West pressured.

“Sadly, it’s been a long time coming. And that’s not the worst of it: both the agents under me haven’t shown up for work in the last few days.”

“Both!” West sneered.

“Yes-.” He was interrupted by West’s landline ringing.

“Director West,” he answered. “Agent Sharp! I want to talk to Agent Ross.” 

After a few ums and okays, West hung up. “Brown, I needed you get everything on the murder of FBI Agent Costa down to Doc. And Sousa, your goin’ to give me all the information on how this happened and why.”

●●●

Sharp was pacing the length of the table while Steven laid his head on the table, hiding his face in his arms. Rylee rested a hand on Steven’s upper back as he flipped through the file again.

“How many times are you going to do that?” Rylee asked. “They’ll call when they get any results.” 

“How many times are you going to read those files!” he sniped.

Rylee rested his head on the hand on Steven.

“I’m sorry.” Sharp sat across from them. “I already made this hard enough on you and you’ve given us the best chance to help Sandy.”

“You should be more grateful, shouldn’t you?”

Sharp stood, planting his hands on the table top. “I made you promises and gave you a timeline. Nothing is going to change my plans.”

The ringing of his phone ended his statement.

“Do you have what I asked for?” he answered.

Rylee lowered his face to mimic his brother as the room went silent for the other side of the phone conversation. He flinched as something bashed onto the table. The cool of a familiar steel on his arms relaxed another flinch for the door slapping the wall.

He looked up to find his service weapon at his fingertips. His eyes went wide with a twinkle of what was going on. “Stay here!” he whispered to Steven before grabbing his gun and fleeing after Sharp.

“You bastard!” Sharp yelled, throwing a right cross at Thomas. “How could you!”

On the ground, he spazzed, “What are you talking about?”

“Your DNA under her fingernails, Thomas!” he yelled, kicking him.

“I can explain!”

“I don’t care!” he sneered, pulling his gun.

“Woah! Woah,” Rylee said, pointing his gun at Sharp. 

“This doesn’t concern you, Rylee. Get out!”

“You gave me back my gun and there is only one reason for that. You wanted me to stop you.”

“I was returning it. You held up your end, now get out!”

“You haven’t held up your end. You promised everything would be okay and shooting your partner - murderer or not - while my baby brother’s in the next room isn’t keeping that.”

Sharp looked at Rylee and lowered his gun. 

Taking advantage of the moment, Thomas wreched the gun out Sharp’s hand. In the next moment he spinned kicked him, knocking him to the ground with the most ear-wrenching crunch.

“Put it down! ‘Cause I don’t care who’s here.”

“You should!” Jaxon yelled, guns blazing.     

June 25, 2021 23:44

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