Chapter 5: The Witching Hour
Central Station. Getting ready for roll call. My second night on Midwatch, and I’m fired up to get out there and get to it. My God! This heatwave is going to kill me! It’s hotter than last night! 106 degrees! What the hell is going on? I’m scared to death of when I get my electric bill for this month. It’s probably going to equal my rent payment! The power companies must be jumping for joy. They’ve got to be making a fortune from this shit!
One of the worst things about a heatwave when you’re a cop is that your uniforms don’t last for more than one night. After last night, I could practically wring the sweat out of my shirt. And don’t even get me started on the vest! Having your torso wrapped in what amounts to almost a half-inch of plastic traps the body heat and makes you feel like you’re cooking in your own juices! I have to wash my vest carrier every night! Too bad they don’t let us wear any of the newer wash-and-wear uniforms. I know they don’t look as good as the wool ones, but still! I’d sacrifice a little of our polished appearance for a uniform that I could throw in the washer. And speaking of polish, the shine on my leather gear doesn’t seem to last for more than an hour before it melts. I’m going to have to stock up on shoe polish if I want to keep it shined. You never know when the sergeants are going to hit us with an inspection. I guess I should just thank my lucky stars that I’m not on Daywatch. Those poor suckers must be one step away from heatstroke. I don’t know how they do it. I know that some of them are living dangerously and not wearing their vests, but that’s just too risky. Especially in this division.
One of the nice things about being the only woman on Midwatch is that I get the whole locker room to myself. Oh, I’m not freaking out about having to change in front of other people or anything. No, it’s just that when I was on Nightwatch, I occasionally got some strange looks. Strange looks and whispered conversations. You know, the “Is that her? Is she that Officer Lynott? The one from the Reid shooting? Jesus, how is she still on the job? Shouldn’t she be in prison?” Yeah, that kind of shit. I knew it was going to happen. You can’t be that infamous and not have it happen. I’m just tired of it. When are they going to let it go? I was investigated and cleared, for God’s sake! I was cleared by a Grand Jury and by the department! Isn’t that enough? Apparently, it’s not enough for some people. Not even for some people on my own department. It makes me want to start screaming, and I can’t do that. It’s not easy to just pretend that it doesn’t get to you. Believe me, it gets to me. Big time.
When I first got transferred here, I got called into a meeting with the captain. I was so nervous about it that I downed two glasses of bourbon before I went in. I needed it. Hey, it wasn’t like I was working that day anyway. Captain Mayones seemed pleasant enough, but I got some mixed signals from him. It was all very formal, very dry, very “I hope we can all put the past behind us” kind of shit. But there was something in his voice that had me worried. I got the feeling that he wasn’t happy that he got stuck with me. How could he be? I’m the last officer left from one of the biggest scandals in the department’s history: a bad shooting that put the department on the map in the worst possible way. Everyone else is gone, but I’m still here, like a living reminder of that whole hellish year. I’m not surprised that he felt like he drew the short straw by getting stuck with me. Still, I haven’t had anyone come up to me and say that I’m a disgrace and that I’ve got no business being on the job anymore. Believe me, I got plenty of that from every direction, including from within the department. I want to trust the people here. I want to feel like I did before all fucking hell broke loose. I want to feel like it’s all behind me. But I can’t. After what I went through, trust is in very short supply with me.
I think I can trust Harper. I really do. Not only is he sharp, but there’s something about him. He’s got this quality…I don’t even know how to describe it. You trust him. You know that you can rely on him. I knew that I lucked out by getting him for a partner, but I’m beginning to think that I lucked out in more ways than one. That’s a load off my mind like you wouldn’t believe. If you can’t trust your partner, then you can’t do this job. It’s as simple as that. And if I can’t do this job, then I don’t have much of a reason to live. It’s not like I’m any good at anything else. And I love this job. When I thought I was going to lose it, I just fell apart. I was a basket case. I had no idea what was going to happen to me or what I was going to do with the rest of my life. Trust me, you don’t want to know what that feels like.
All right, let’s get going. My gear’s shined, my uniform’s clean, and I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. I need to get out in the field. If I’m in a car with just Harper, I’ll feel a lot better. I’ll know that nobody’s looking over my shoulder. Nobody’s looking at me and thinking I’m damaged goods. All right, stop thinking like that! I need to put that kind of thinking behind me! Even if others won’t, I can! I’ve got every right to be here! I earned everything I’ve got! And these people seem like good people. Not just good cops, but good people. I’m exactly where I need to be. I just need to put the rest of the shit behind me and get on with doing the job.
The roll call room. Here we go! Everybody’s here, already. Well, everybody except the sergeants. They’ll be here any minute, now. There’s Harper, sitting alone in the front row. I really wish I could invite him back here with me. It must suck beyond belief to be the only boot on the watch, but you wouldn’t know it to look at him. He looks strong and confident, just like the rest of us. You know, I’m not going to do it tonight, but if he works out as well tonight as he did last night, then I think I’m going to start sitting in the front with him. Partners should sit together. Not all of them do, but I think they should.
Here come the sergeants. Damn! Sergeant Gellar doesn’t look too happy! I wonder what happened? As long as it isn’t about me, I really don’t care.
“All right, Midwatch! Roll call! Lieutenant Hagan is the Watch Commander. I’m Forty Central. Sergeant Alfaro is Sixty Central. Ruiz and Rosen, Eight Central. Lynott and Harper, Sixteen Central. Lynott! Are you ready to quit yet?”
“Not a chance, Sarge!”
“Good! A lot of officers spend one night out here and go running back to their old division! I’m glad to see you’re not one of them!”
Yeah, like I could really go back to Woodlawn Division after what happened! Not that I want to, of course. I never want to set foot in that place again.
“Kursteff and Vinell, Twenty-Two Central. Goren and Signolo, Forty-Four Central. Does everybody have a job?”
There’s only eight of us. I’m pretty sure he didn’t overlook anybody.
“Listen up, Midwatch! It’s gone completely ape shit out there today! This heatwave has turned up the insanity level to record heights! We had two Daywatch officers assaulted by a couple of homeless psychos over on 7th Street! No serious injuries, but it could’ve gone to shit in a hurry! Watch your backs out there!”
Sound advice at any time. I’m glad to hear that our guys are in one piece.
“Furthermore, because the goddamned junkies are out and about all night long because of the heat, it seems that some of the dealers have raised the price of heroin. We all know what that means! A goddamned drug panic! The junkies have to steal more so they can afford their dope. They’ve become busy little beavers, judging by the burglary reports our detectives got this morning. Kursteff and Vinell! Your area got hit the hardest! Start jacking these assholes up and let them know we’re watching them! We had a tunnel job over on Markland big enough to drive a truck through! A garment place. They stole all of the sewing machines. For those of you who don’t know, those industrial-grade sewing machines bring a small fortune at the swap meets. I don’t want these assholes thinking they should try for a second haul! Is that understood, Vinell?”
“Roger that, Sarge. Well get on it.”
“See that you do. I’m not going to keep you guys any longer, seeing as the whole division’s going to shit as we speak. Does anybody have anything? No? Good! Go to work!”
Talk about short and sweet! The division must really be going crazy if he’s tossing us out that fast! This, I’ve got to see!
Out on patrol, halfway through the shift, and cranking the air conditioner full-blast. I wonder how many cars we’re going to lose because the air conditioners are so overworked? Probably a lot. Last night was productive: good arrests, good calls, and I got to learn some of the hot spots out here. But this has definitely been one crazy-assed night! Four psycho calls in a row! Skid Row head cases howling at the moon and lashing out at anyone who gets within striking distance of them. What gives? I guess it’s the crazy heat. Seeing as these people have been outside with the sun beating down on them all day long, I guess that and being homeless and living in hell takes a toll on you; mentally as well as physically. It must really suck when there’s no way to escape the heat. It must be like living back in the 1800’s. You know, before they invented electric fans and air conditioning. For these guys, there’s nowhere they can go. It’s not like they can go to a movie theater or a restaurant or someplace to get out of the heat. They’re trapped. They’re trapped in this place. It’s as much a prison as any real prison. I never really thought about that before, but it’s true. They traded one prison for another. Most of them have been locked up at some point, and then they get out and find themselves imprisoned in this place. I’m beginning to wonder which one is worse.
“Well, Harper, it’s twelve o’clock. The witching hour.”
“You would know.”
“Is that a Salem joke?”
“I’ve heard it before.”
“Growing up in Salem, you’ve probably heard them all before.”
“That’s probably true.”
“So if you weren’t working right now, you’d be what? Stirring a cauldron?”
It appears my boot isn’t afraid to be a little snarky with hit training officer. Good. It makes the partnership more enjoyable. It also means he won’t be surprised when I punch him in the balls.
“We only do that on Halloween.”
“Oh, so you’re saying you really are a witch?”
“Keep making jokes and maybe you’ll find out.”
I don’t need to be a witch to word-fuck the shit out of him on his last rating. Not that I’d do that, of course. But I don’t want to tell him that.
“So why the observation about the witching hour?”
“I forgot. You’ve never worked Midwatch before.”
“So it’s the same in every division. The assholes know that Nightwatch is over. That gives them about half an hour to pull their shit while the streets are almost clear of police. They know the Nightwatch units are all heading back to the station, and the Graveyard shift isn’t out on the street yet. It’s just us, and they know it.”
“You’re right. I didn’t think about that. They actually know when our shifts change?”
“One of the cardinal rules of police work: never underestimate the opposition. Believe me, they know a lot more about our procedures than you might think. And they definitely know when there aren’t many of us out here. I’m guessing that in this place – with all of these people on the street – they take advantage of that.”
“You’re right. When I worked Graveyard, it was pretty busy right out of the chute.”
“Sixteen Central, Code 30 ringer, 656 Vanguard, handle code two.”
A Code 30 is a burglar alarm. And I’ll bet ten bucks that it’s a good one. It just better not be the same assholes who hit on Vanguard the last time! If it is, and we catch them, they’re going to get my foot right up their asses!
“There you go! See? Someone’s done their homework.”
“You called it, Dani. That’s practically around the corner form here. Let’s go catch us a burglar.”
“Let’s do it. Sixteen Central, show us en route. Hit it, Harper!”
I’m betting this is a good alarm. These warehouses on Vanguard get hit all the time. That was one of the first things I learned when I got here. Lots of tunnel jobs. Only out here, they take tunnel jobs to a whole new level. My second night here, I saw a hole in the side of a place on 8th Street that was big enough to drive a truck through! Literally! The hole had to be at least ten feet wide!
“There it is. Sixteen Central, we’re code six at 656 Vanguard.”
“Sixteen Central, code six at 656 Vanguard; Code 30 ringer.”
This is a pretty big place. It’s definitely out of the way. Just the sort of place a couple of burglars would target – depending on what’s in there, that is.
“Hey, Harper? Do you know what kind of place this is? What do they do, here?”
“It’s some kind of warehouse. I don’t know what they’ve got in there. It could be almost anything.”
“I’ve got to start learning about these places. I like to know what they’ve got in there before I go inside.”
“It’s not a garment place, I can tell you that. Not this place.”
“The place across the street is a document storage place. I’m thinking it’s got something to do with offices. You know, you’re right! I should know this shit!”
“Well, when we find out, then we’ll both learn something. Right now, I don’t see anything out front.”
“The loading doors look intact. So does the west side of the building. There’s no door there. No tunnels, either. Hell, there’s no windows, except at the very top of the building. And that’s got to be at least two stories up.”
“Let’s check the east side and the back.”
“You want to do a diagonal?”
“No fucking way! That’s how you get yourself killed!”
“I just thought…”
“I know a lot of guys still do that. I know it’s popular in this division; especially with so many old-timers. But as far as I’m concerned, you never lose sight of your partner. Not ever. Not under any circumstances. We do it together or we don’t do it at all. Got it?”
Diagonal deployment. That’s how some cops cover a building with only two officers. It’s how they used to do things way back in the day, but some officers still hang onto it for some reason. It works like this: each officer takes an opposite corner of the building. That way, each one can observe two sides of the place. The only thing they can’t see is each other. Bad idea. If something goes wrong, you’re on your own. That can get you killed. I know. It’s happened before, and not just on this department. I never liked doing it when I was a boot, and I sure as hell don’t do it now.
“All right, Harper. The east side’s clear. No windows except near the top, no doors, no tunnels.”
That figures. There doesn’t look like there’s much room in the back. That block wall is really close to the building. If this is a good alarm, I’ll bet they went through the front door. Or the roof.
“Head down to the edge and do a quick peek around the corner. But don’t go around it. Stay in sight.”
“Roger that. Stand by.”
I don’t hear anything. If he doesn’t see anything, we’ll get an air unit to fly over and check the roof. That’s the one place we can’t search on our own.
“Dani, the back of the building’s clear. No doors or windows. No holes. It looks like they cemented over everything a long time ago. I guess they don’t need it anymore.”
“That leaves the front and the roof. We’ll check the front, and if that’s good, we’ll try to get an air unit to do a flyover and check the roof. Ask the RTO if they know what kind of business this is. I want to know what’s in there.”
“You got it. Sixteen Central, do we have the type of business on file for our location?”
“Sixteen Central, records show it’s an office furniture warehouse.”
“Sixteen Central, roger. So now we know. The place is full of shit they can sell to the recycle plants.”
“Yeah, I heard that scrap metal’s a big business out here.”
“Like you wouldn’t believe. Let’s try the front door.”
I’d heard about all of the shit that gets ripped off out here for scrap. I couldn’t believe some of the things that get taken. Some of these guys take a couple hundred pounds in one haul. Don’t ask me how they get it to the recyclers. Maybe they steal a big rig to go with it?
All right, Harper’s trying the front door. Shit! It’s open! And it doesn’t look like someone left it unlocked!
“Are you seeing this, Dani?”
“I see it. This is definitely a good alarm.”
The door’s been pried open. I can see the broken frame by the lock. They pried the door without doing too much damage to it, and then shut it behind them. Whoever did this knows what he’s doing. From a distance, the door looks fine. No one would know unless they walked right up to it. A lot of cops just drive past these alarm calls and don’t check too closely. That’s because in most of the city, the calls are bogus. These alarms go off all the time, particularly on windy nights. But out here, well, things are very different.
“Harper, call it in. Let them know it’s a good alarm. And see if anyone’s available to back us up on this.”
“Roger. Sixteen Central, be advised, this is valid alarm. Repeat: alarm confirmed. We have a confirmed break-in entry into the building. Are there any units available to respond to our location?”
“Sixteen Central, roger on the valid alarm. No Central units available to respond at this time.”
“Busy night. I guess we’re on our own.”
That’s the one problem with Midwatch. During the change of shift, you often find yourself with no additional units available. You just have to live with it.
“What do you think, Dani?”
Standard procedure is to wait for backup. This is a pretty big place. But there’s no telling how long it will be before another unit shows up. The longer we wait…
“If we get an air unit, anyone inside will know we’re out here. And there’s really no point, seeing as we know how they got in. All right, we go in. I know it’s not the safest move, but I don’t want to give those guys time to plan an ambush. I don’t suppose you know the layout of this place?”
“Sorry. I’ve never been in here.”
“There are no windows except along the edge of the roof, so I’m guessing there’s no second floor. It’s probably all one big cube. I’ll break left, you break right. The door opens to the right, so I’m guessing the light switches are to the right of the door as you’re going in.”
“Do you want to turn the lights on?”
“Yeah, I do. If they’re in there, then they’ll know we’re there as soon as we turn on a flashlight. After that, they’ve got the advantage in the dark. We might as well have the lights on and make it even.”
“I agree. Now, if they’re in there, they might take off as soon as we hit the lights. How do you want to handle that?”
Good man. Thinking ahead. Not just waiting for me to think of everything. A lot of boots do that, even when they’re almost off of probation. It’s nice to know Harper isn’t one of those. Boots like that make me feel like I’d be better off working by myself.
“Just remember that the only way out is through this door. That means that if they want to get out…”
“They’ve got to come through us.”
“Exactly. Be ready for that. We don’t know how many people are in there. If any. Remember: clear the doorway as soon as possible. You don’t…”
“You don’t want to get silhouetted in the doorway. They can see you.”
“Exactly. And who says they’re not armed?”
“OK, let’s do it.”
“Turn your radio all the way down. On three: one, two, three!”
We’re in! And this place is fucking pitch dark! Not even an emergency light. Fuck! How can a burglar see anything? Our flashlights really light up the place. No way did they miss that. If they’re in here, then they know we’re here, too.
“Dani, I’ve got the lights.”
“Hit them all.”
That’s better. There’s plenty of light, now. No shadow areas, either. We can see them and they can see us. When it comes to tactics, pretty much everything’s a trade-off. You just have to make the best possible trades. If they’re in here, they’re hiding somewhere. They would have rushed us right away if that was their plan. But there are a lot of places in here to hide. So we keep our voices down and search it slow and methodically, by the numbers. At least I was right about one thing: there’s no second floor. This place is just one big box. That makes searching it easier – and just a little bit safer.
“Harper, take a look: ten o’clock.”
“I see it.”
A pile of file cabinet drawers, desk drawers, shit like that. All of it metal. And all of it right near the front door. We were right about the scrap metal recycling. That’s their haul; all of it stacked in a big pile. Which means they’re probably still in here.
“Dani! I’ve got candle wax on the floor. Still warm.”
That explains how they were able to see anything. When you can’t afford a flashlight, you go primitive. Our burglars are resourceful.
“Then they’re probably still in here.”
“That’s what I think.”
“Let’s move that desk in front of the door. It’ll slow them down if they get past us. Just try not to make too much noise.”
Since we can’t secure the door, we do the next best thing: block it. It won’t stop anyone from getting out, but it should slow them down just enough so that we can catch them.
“We’ll clear the center first. Slow and easy, hand signals only, unless you see a suspect.”
“Roger that. I’ve got the right.”
“Let’s do it. Guns up, and stay sharp.”
Damn! There are a lot of good hiding places here! And we don’t know how many people we’re looking for. I have to figure there are at least two, but it could be half a dozen. That’s a pretty big pile of shit they put together. Take it nice and slow, clear every possible space, keep your eyes and ears open, and expect the unexpected. That’s a building search for you; slow, methodical, nerve-wracking, and dangerous as hell.
OK, we’ve got a row of desks here. Good place to hide. Give Harper the hand signal to halt. I need to check these desks out. Good. He’s paying attention, and he knows the signals. I wish I had a nickel for every cop who forgot the hand signals for a search one week after they got out of the academy. I don’t hear anything. Move in a semi-circle, light it up with the flashlight. Slice the pie, as they call it.
It’s clear. Nothing here. Moving right along. There’s not many places to hide around that pile of chairs. They’re clear. No signals from Harper. He hasn’t come across anything, either. A little further down…oh, shit! We’ve got a few cubicles here! Ten bucks says if these guys are in here, then that’s where they’re hiding. Harper’s focused on the other side. He might not have seen them yet. I’d better signal him to stop.
“Harper, check it out. Those cubicles.”
“I’ve got your back.”
“We go left to right. Be ready.”
Stop. Wait. Listen. Just like a hunter in the woods. I don’t hear anything. If someone’s in there, they’re either behind the filing cabinet or under the desk. Take a quick look. Don’t give them time to get a bead on you if they’ve got a weapon. In and out, fast. Here we go! Oh, fuck! We got one! There’s a guy in here!
“Police! Don’t move! Hands where I can see them!”
“Let me see your hands!”
“Don’t shoot! I ain’t got no weapon!”
“Come out of there slowly! Hands where I can see them! Move!”
One guy. I don’t see a weapon. Harper should be focused on anyone trying to jump us from behind. That means I need to secure this guy myself. Shit! I need to hook this guy up fast! He’s got to have at least one partner in here!
“Come out of there now! Hands where I can see them!”
“Just don’t shoot me!”
“Don’t try anything and you won’t get shot!”
This guy’s a mess. He looks homeless. He also looks pretty tough.
“Drop to your knees! Now! Hands in the air!”
Harper’s moved to a better position. Good. From there, he can cover this guy and anyone who jumps out. Coming in here by ourselves was dangerous to begin with. Thank God I’m working with someone who knows what he’s doing.
“He’s hooked. Harper, check your six. Hey, you! Where’s your friend?”
“Don’t fuck with us! You’re not in here alone! Where’s your partner?”
“Lady, I don’t know what you’re…”
“Hey! I said don’t fuck with us! We saw that pile of shit by the door! You didn’t carry it all there by yourself! Now, where’s your partner?”
I can see it in his face: he knows it’s over. There’s no way out now. He’s going to give him up.
“Jamie! Come on out! They got us!”
There he is! Under those tables over there! Shit, I didn’t even see him! I was maybe ten feet away from there and I didn’t fucking see him!
“Harper! Three o’clock! To your right!”
“I got him! You’re caught! Nice and slow! Let me see your hands!”
“Don’t shoot! You got me! The shit’s not worth getting killed over!”
“Drop to your knees! Hands above your head!”
And that’s two! There might be more, but this guy only called one name. It’s probably just these two, but there’s no way to be sure until we get some help in here.
“Sixteen Central, we have two in custody, 656 Vanguard. We need an additional unit for a building search. There might be other suspects in here.”
“Sixteen Central, roger.”
“Is there anyone else with you guys?”
“It’s just us. Ain’t nobody else.”
“You won’t mind if we don’t take your word for it. Let’s take these two outside and wait for the additional unit.”
“You heard her, guys. On your feet.”
“Harper, search them both. I’ll check the other cubicle.”
Nothing. But that doesn’t mean that someone isn’t hiding somewhere else. Hell, I walked right past that second guy and didn’t see him! I still don’t hear anything. If there’s anyone else in here, they know we’ve got these two. That usually gets anyone still hiding to start freaking out. Their heart beats faster and they start breathing harder. You learn to listen for that.
“Dani, they’re clear.”
“No weapons on either of them?”
“They’re both clear. They’ve got nothing on them. How did you guys pry open the front door?”
“Where is it?”
“Over by the door, sir.”
“Stay with them, Harper. I’ll get it. We’ll need it for evidence.”
Where the hell is our backup? Everyone in the goddamned division knows we’ve got a good burglary here, with two in custody. Maybe they’re all stuck on radio calls? The way it’s been going lately, I don’t doubt it. But we need more people for a proper search. Actually, we should get a K9 unit here, but I doubt that there are any available. It’s too crazy out there tonight.
One of our suspects looks a little perturbed about something.
“What’s your problem?”
“Hey, who done put this desk here? It wasn’t here when we came in.”
“We did. In case you guys tried to run out.”
“Are you crazy, ma’am? You think we want to get shot in the back for a bunch of junk?”
It never ceases to amaze me how many bad guys don’t know that we can’t just shoot a fleeing felon. On the other hand, I like the idea that they think we will. It comes in handy in situations like this.
“I guess you two are smarter than most.”
“Yeah! Smart enough to not want to get shot in the goddamned back!”
“Dani, we’ve got another unit coming up. No, make that two.”
“It’s about time!”
Oh, great! One of them is a sergeant. I’ll bet we catch hell for going in there without a backup. Hey, there wasn’t anyone available. But I’ll bet that doesn’t make a damned bit of difference. I don’t recognize that sergeant. He must work Graveyard. God, I really need to learn who’s who in this division!
“Harper, who’s the sergeant?”
“That’s Sergeant Hendrickson.”
“Is he any good?”
“Very good. He’s a real hook-and-book sergeant. I worked with him on Graveyard. He’s a hard-charger.”
Let’s hope so. I really don’t want to listen to a sermon tonight. At least the other unit is one of us. Midwatch. Vinell and Kursteff. They’re good guys. They like to work.
“It’s about time, Vinell. We thought you’d never get here.”
“We’re up to our ass in radio calls. What’ve you got?”
“Burglary. These two pried open the door. No other entrance or exit. We still need to clear the place. There might be more inside.”
“How many floors?”
“Just one. It’s a cube. We cleared the center and found these two in the cubicles along the back wall.”
“Leave them with the Sarge and we’ll help you clear the building.”
So now we see what the sergeant has to say about it.
“Lynott! Where’d you get these two?”
Interesting. He knows my name. Did he read it off the watch roster, or did he get warned about me when I got transferred here?
“Inside, sir. They pried open the door. Stealing office furniture.”
“Hey! We didn’t steal nothin’ yet, ma’am! The shit’s still inside!”
“Point taken. You broke in and tried to steal the shit.”
“Yeah! But that ain’t the same as stealin’ it!”
As if that makes a difference. Oh, hell! The sergeant looks rather unhappy with us. I can guess what’s coming next.
“Sarge, we don’t know if anyone else is in these. These guys say there isn’t, but who knows?”
“You two cleared the building by yourselves?”
“Not completely. We found these two pretty quick.”
“Why didn’t you wait for backup?”
See what I mean? I’m as big on officer safety as the next cop, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. You’d think that every cop would understand that.
“There were no units available. I didn’t want to give them time to cook up an ambush plan.”
“That was pretty damned risky, don’t you think?”
“I know what I’m doing, sir. So does Harper. We did it by the numbers, the best we could. No unnecessary risks.”
That smile on his face tells me he agrees. Maybe he was just testing me; trying to see if I’m a reckless cowboy or just a good hard-charger.
“Fair enough. I just wanted to see if you’d stand up for yourself when you knew you were right. I heard you were a good cop.”
“Is that the only thing you heard, Sarge?”
“It’s the only thing I give a shit about. Relax, Lynott. You’re among friends here.”
God, you don’t know how much I want to believe that!
“That’s good to know, sir.”
“Remember that. I like cops who take a little initiative.”
OK, it’s official: I really like this guy. I wish he was on Midwatch.
“Do you want to lead the search, sir?”
“Why the hell would I do that? You’ve got the stripes. You’re senior, here. The four of you go clear the place. I’ll babysit your suspects.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Now I really, really like this guy! He doesn’t feel the need to look over your shoulder every minute. And it’s not because he’s lazy. I can always tell the ones who just don’t want to do any work. This sergeant hasn’t forgotten how to be a good cop. He trusts his people to do their jobs. That’s a mark of a good sergeant. I definitely need to remember this guy!
“It’s all yours, Lynott. Lay it out for them. You’re in charge.”
“All right, gather ’round. We’ve got a search to do. We don’t know how many suspects might still be inside, so here’s how we’re going to do it: four point linear search, front to back, fifteen feet between us. Left to right: Vinell, me, Harper, Kursteff. Slow and easy, watch the hand signals. The only way in or out is through the front door. Sarge?”
“Anyone comes out of there but you, I’ll shoot them.”
I think he just scared the living shit out of our two arrestees! Look at their faces!
“Sounds good, sir. All right, everybody ready? Let’s do this.”
I know there’s almost no chance of anyone else being in there, but I am completely fired up to do this! God, it’s good to be back with people who actually respect me!
Back out on patrol. Not bad! Two good felony arrests, both suspects booked and delivered to jail, all property recovered, and one happy business owner. Well, except for the broken front door, but there’s nothing we can do about that. And we’ve still an hour left on the shift. As busy as it was earlier, I wonder what we’re going to run into next? The radio was going crazy while we were in the station. It’s got to be the damned heat. It’s the middle of the night, and it’s still ninety-three degrees outside! In this heat, people are probably losing their minds left and right. That always makes for an interesting night.
“Where do we go now, Harper?”
“Let’s go by the Big Lot. The junkies might be up to something.”
He’s right. It’s the end of the month. Any money they got from welfare or social services is long gone. The first of the month is the day after tomorrow, so that’s when all the robberies will take place. Right now, the people out here don’t have anything to steal, so they have to steal something they can sell, like those two burglars at the warehouse. The junkies will have to try to get something fast, like breaking into cars near their dope spots. I’d love to catch a few of them doing that. Like I said: when you take a junkie off of the streets, you take a career burglar off of the streets. Putting a dent in the heroin trade puts a real dent in the burglary trade. And I promised the lieutenant that we’d bring him numbers. I’d like to get more than those last two guys before end of watch.
“Let’s do it. Maybe we’ll catch something down there.”
“Central units, ambulance shooting, 9th Street and Palomar, one victim down in the parking lot.”
“That’s the Big Lot!”
“Damn, Harper! You must be psychic!”
“It’s an all units. Shall we take it?”
Is he kidding? That’s only five blocks from here, and there’s no traffic! We can get there at light speed!
“You’re damned right we’re taking it! Sixteen Central, show us responding. E.T.A. thirty seconds.”
“Sixteen Central, respond code three.”
“Sixteen Central, roger. Do you have a suspect description?”
“Sixteen Central, stand by for further.”
“You heard it: code three! Hit the lights and siren!”
“You got it, partner! Hang on!”
Jesus! I see Harper drives like a maniac on code three! I’m going to have to talk to him about keeping all four wheels on the ground! It’s a good thing there’s no traffic this late. He said the Big Lot is the main dope spot out here late at night, so a shooting at the Big Lot probably means a dope thing gone bad. I didn’t think that the dealers out here carried guns. Apparently, at least one of them does. Harper said that this Ricky guy has one. Maybe he’s our shooter?
“Right up ahead, Dani! We’re almost there!”
“Sixteen Central, we’re code six at the scene of the shooting. Any further information?”
“Sixteen Central, no further information. Unable to reach the PR.”
“Sixteen Central, roger.”
That figures. Whoever the reporting person was, they didn’t want to stick around for when the police show up. They probably didn’t want to get shot themselves.
“Dani, there he is! In the lot, by the sidewalk!”
“I see him.”
The guy’s not moving. I can see the blood from here – lots of it! He’s hit bad! But where’s the shooter? Did he take off, or is he waiting for us so he can shoot us, too?
“Harper, stay sharp. The shooter could still be here.”
“I know. I’ll cover the approach from the alley at the end of the lot.”
“I’m going to check the victim. Stay close. And stay in sight!”
“I’m right with you.”
Shit! This guy is worse than I thought! I can’t believe he’s not already dead! One shot, right through the chest! Dead fucking center! With all of this blood, I can’t tell if he’s hit anywhere else. Where’s the fucking ambulance? We should be able to hear the siren by now.
“Dani, how is he?”
“I can’t tell. I think he’s still breathing…barely! I’ve got one hit in the chest…no exit wound. I can’t see any others. I don’t want to try moving him. Hey! Did anyone see what happened?”
And they all shake their heads and say “no.” It figures. They’re all ten feet away and none of them saw or heard shit! Yeah, right!
“Harper, don’t let anyone leave! Round them up and sit them down in the parking lot! Against that wall, so they can’t start running!”
“You heard her! All of you! Over against the wall and sit down! No one’s going anywhere!”
OK, we’ve got sirens. But they’re police sirens. They’re not the ambulance. Shit! This guy’s dead for sure if they don’t get here fast!”
“Sixteen Central, we need EMS here fast!”
“Sixteen Central, stand by.”
“If we stand by much longer, this guy won’t need an ambulance! He’ll need a hearse!”
“Sixteen Central, roger.”
Come on, damn it! Where the hell are they?
“Dani! There’s the ambulance!”
It’s about fucking time! They’re hanging back. They won’t move in unless we give them the all-clear first. A few flashes with my flashlight should bring them in. That’s it! Over here! Just look for the guy on the ground with the gigantic fucking bloodstain, guys!
“Officer! What’ve you got?”
“I’m glad to see you guys. One victim. Shot through the chest. Unconscious. I think he’s barely breathing. I don’t know if he’s hit anywhere else.”
“OK, step back. We’ve got it from here.”
“He’s all yours.”
I don’t think he’s going to make it. I’ve seen paramedics practically bring guys back from the dead, but this guy’s lost a hell of a lot of blood. And that gunshot is dead center in his chest. I think we’re looking at a homicide, here.
“Harper, I’m going to put up the tape. Start getting info on those people.”
The minute they all see the tape, it’s a lock. They’ll know this guy is either dead or dying. Then they’ll probably clam up even more. But we’ve got to secure the crime scene. Here come the rest of the units. Good. We’re going to need help with a crime scene this big. Hell, I don’t even know where this guy was shot! With a wound like that, he couldn’t have walked far. He probably staggered a few steps at best. But where was the shooter? Was he shot up close, or at a distance? They don’t call this place the Big Lot for nothing. There’s a lot of ground to cover here.
“Lynott! What do we have?”
Sergeant Hendrickson. Good. We need a good sergeant at a call like this one.
“One victim down, Sarge. It doesn’t look good. Harper’s got a bunch of people who were here when we pulled up. I don’t know if they saw anything.”
“Any description on the shooter?”
“Not so far. We don’t even know who called it in.”
“That figures. Grab your partner and start searching for evidence. I’ll get somebody else to handle the tape. Did you start a crime scene log?”
“Not yet. We pretty much just got here.”
“OK, I’ll find someone to handle it. You two start corralling witnesses and look for evidence. See if there are any shell casings around.”
“Roger that. Harper! With me!”
So now we start looking. Most people use semiautomatics these days, so we’re probably looking for empty shell casings. Start where the victim was found and work our way out. But I’d better ask the paramedics if they found any other holes in the guy first.
“Guys? Is it just the one gunshot wound?”
“Yeah, just the one. That’s all it took.”
“Is he going to make it?”
That’s good enough for me. We’ve got a homicide. I’d better let Harper know.
“The paramedics say he’s probably not going to make it. Did any of those people see anything?”
“They all said that they didn’t. They heard the shot; that’s it.”
“Just one shot?”
“Yeah, that much, they agree on. You want me to start the crime scene log?”
“No need. The Sarge has someone else doing it. Grab anyone who tries to leave, and let’s start looking for shell casings.”
“I already did. There’s one over there, by the post.”
“Good eyes. Mark the location. And keep looking. You know, just in case.”
OK, we’ve got one shell casing. A .38 Super Auto. You don’t see a lot of those. It’s kind of an oddball cartridge, anymore. The casing’s nice and shiny, so we know it’s fresh. It hasn’t been sitting out here for days. Sometimes when you do these searches, you find shell casings from shootings that happened days or even weeks ago.
“Do you want me to bag it, Dani?”
Sometimes the detectives don’t want you to pick up the casings, but there’s too much foot traffic in this place to leave it until they get here. Better safe than sorry.
“Yeah, bag it before it disappears. Just mark the spot where you found it. And make sure you don’t get your prints on it.”
“I don’t see any others. Those people all said there was just one shot, right?”
“But nothing on the shooter?”
“They say they didn’t see shit, which means I’ve got a pretty good idea who the shooter is. Where the hell is Ricky? He’s always here at this hour.”
That’s exactly what I was wondering. If he was here, he’s gone now. Harper would have told me if he saw him. So we both think he’s a good suspect. Great minds really do think alike.
“Do you think he was here tonight?”
“Hell, yes! Ricky’s here every night! This is his place. His little kingdom. Even when his dealers are here, he’s here. But I don’t see him. That’s a red flag in my book.”
That certainly makes sense. But even if he didn’t do it, he’d still run. Dope dealers don’t like to hang around places that are about to be swarming with cops. Still, if this guy is even half as bad as Harper says he is, then he’s a pretty good suspect to start with.
“Do you know where he’d go?”
“Unfortunately, no. And I don’t know what car he’s driving. He usually borrows one from one of his dealers so that…”
“So that we never get a look at his own car. Smart guy. Are any of those witnesses junkies?”
“I’d say a few of them are.”
“And you said this Ricky deals heroin?”
“Separate the junkies. Don’t ask them about the shooting. Just ask them what happened to Ricky. Don’t ask if he was here. Let them think we already know he was here. Ask them where he went and what he was driving.”
“You got it.”
“And Harper? Cuff them first. Let them sweat for a few minutes before you ask them.”
“Shake them up a bit?”
“That’s the idea. But don’t ask them anything else. If this guy croaks, we don’t want to go stepping on a homicide investigation. That’s not our job.”
I always hated the idea that patrol never conducts any sort of investigation, and I usually try to go the extra mile and find something useful. Better to hand the detectives a report with something to go on than to just dump a “this is what happened” report in their laps. They’ve got more work than they can handle as it is. But a homicide is different. That’s a very special kind of investigation, and the last thing you want to do is to unintentionally fuck it up because you don’t know what you’re doing. But if Harper’s right, this Ricky character is a likely suspect. I at least want to know when he took off, and in what kind of car. Who knows? We might run into him before this night is over. I definitely want to meet this guy!
Central Station. End of watch. Well, the paramedics were right: the victim died. I can’t say it came as a surprise. The guy lost a shitload of blood. I think the bullet hit him in the heart. The detectives got here pretty fast. That’s pretty surprising. It must suck to get called in four hours before you’re supposed to start your shift, but that’s Homicide for you. Now that they’re here at the station, we’re done for the night. Only one a half hours overtime. Not bad. I thought we’d be here until eight in the morning. I don’t mind overtime, but that’s just ridiculous.
While Harper’s cleaning out the car and returning our gear to the kit room, I want to see what I can find out about this Ricky guy. If he’s as much trouble as Harper says he is, someone around here should have some good information on him. I think the best place to start is Sergeant Hendrickson. I’d better grab a few minutes of his time before he gets bogged down in paperwork. One thing you learn very quickly on patrol: sergeants don’t like to be bothered when they’re stuck doing their paperwork. He’s still in the Watch Commander’s office, so he hasn’t started it yet.
“Sergeant Hendrickson? Have you got a minute?”
“Yeah, what do you need, Lynott?”
“I was wondering what you could tell me about a dope dealer at the Big Lot named…”
“Let me guess: you mean Ricky?”
“Is this about the shooting?”
“Well, Harper thinks he might be good for it.”
“Harper’s probably right. The minute I heard ‘Shooting at the Big Lot,’ I thought of that little asshole. It wouldn’t be the first person he’s shot.”
“So I’ve heard. He wasn’t there when we got there, and none of the witnesses would say a word about him.”
“There’s something you need to know, Lynott: nobody out here’s going to roll on that piece of shit. That’s a great way to get killed, and everybody knows it.”
“He’s really that bad, sir?”
“Ricky’s about ten different kinds of bad news. I’d give my left nut to put his ass in jail. Or in a fucking body bag.”
Which leads me to the inevitable question…
“So why hasn’t anybody done it?”
“Good question. Ricky’s a piece of shit, but he’s a very smart piece of shit, as dope dealers go. He’s got a little reign of terror going on in this division. Every junkie in the sector is terrified of him. He’s been running the street-level heroin trade in this division for years. Nobody will give him up. We’ve tried.”
“But if he’s just a dope dealer…”
“That’s the problem, Lynott: he’s not just a dope dealer. Ricky’s a mid-level dealer, and he’s got a lot of shit going on at once. He’s got at least a dozen guys dealing for him, and he’s pretty well-connected. He’s got to have the best supplier in the division, which is some serious shit when you think about it. I’d say he’s good for half of the heroin sold on skid row.”
OK, that doesn’t make sense. What’s a mid-level dealer with a good-sized territory and a bumper crop of customers doing slinging dope in a parking lot in the middle of the night?
“But sir, if this guy’s mid-level…”
“Then what the fuck is he doing hanging out in the Big Lot, doing hand-to-hands with a bunch of low-life junkies?”
“Yes, sir. Exactly.”
“It’s part of how he stays in control. He’s always right there; highly visible. He wants everyone to know that he’s always there, always watching, always in control. It keeps his dealers in line. In all the years I’ve been here, he’s been arrested maybe…what? Three times? Nothing ever stuck.”
“Harper said we shot him once.”
“Yeah, Hoekstra shot him. He was running away from a shots fired call with a gun in his hand. Hoekstra shot him in the ass.”
“And he didn’t do any time behind that?”
“They couldn’t pin the original shooting on him, so it was just unlawful possession of a handgun. Misdemeanor. I guess the D.A. thought him getting shot in the ass was punishment enough. Take it from me: it wasn’t.”
“I want to know about this guy for when I come across him.”
“That’s a smart thing to do. But unfortunately, in that case, I’m supposed to tell you to leave him alone. Orders from on high. Narcotics wants him for themselves; not that they seem to be doing jack shit about him. It would be nice if someone managed to get something on him, though.”
Did you hear that? That’s sergeant-speak for: “Officially, I have to tell you to leave the son of a bitch alone. But unofficially, if you can get something on him, go for it.” You learn how to read that kind of thing after a while.
“Message received, sir. But if I was just curious about him?”
“Then I would suggest that you talk to John Godfrey at Narcotics Division. I think he can satisfy your curiosity.”
“Roger that, sir.”
That’s cop-speak for: “John Godfrey is the one detective at Narcotics who won’t mind it a bit if you go after this asshole, so talk to him and only him.” That’s the sort of advice you want to hear.
“If by some strange circumstance, you get a chance to shoot that son of a bitch, don’t just hit him in the ass, OK?”
“No, sir. Two to the body, one to the head.”
“More like ten to the body, twelve to the head. You read me?”
“Loud and clear, sir.”
“Good. You keep me in the loop, you understand? I don’t want you moving against Ricky alone. Don’t underestimate him. He’s dangerous, and he’s not afraid of the police. Is that understood?”
“Yes, sir. Perfectly, sir.”
Now why can’t every sergeant be like that? It would sure make my life a lot easier.
All right, I think we’re actually done for the night! Pretty productive, which is just the way I like it. And I’m really fired up to see what we can do about this Ricky character. He sounds like someone who desperately needs to go to jail for a few hundred lifetimes.
“Harper! Are we finished?”
“Cleared and E.O.W.”
End of watch. The last line on your daily activities log. On a night like this, I’m almost sorry I have to go home at all! If the sun wasn’t going to come up soon, I’d probably find a reason to stay out in the field.
“Good. Hey, do you know a detective at Narcotics named John Godfrey?”
“No. I’ve never heard of him. Why?”
“Sergeant Hendrickson said he’s the guy to talk to if I want to find out more about Ricky.”
“You think he’s good for that shooting, too. Don’t you?”
“You said he probably is. I trust your judgment.”
He looks genuinely surprised to hear that. It figures. Most veteran cops don’t place any value in what a boot says. They’re making a big mistake by doing that.
“Thanks, Dani. I appreciate that. Ricky’s definitely at the top of my list of suspects. But I thought you said we don’t go stepping on a homicide investigation?”
“We don’t. I just want to learn more about him. He sounds like a major player in our sector.”
“That’s the understatement of the year. Hey, I’ve got a picture of him in my book. Do you want to see it?”
That was the first thing on my list: what the fuck does this asshole even look like?
“Here he is. This picture’s about three years old, but he still looks just like that.”
“He definitely looks like an asshole.”
“He looks like a major asshole. And he is.”
So this is the terror of the Big Lot: male Hispanic, late thirties/early forties, standard issue moustache, baggy eyes, nasty look on his face. He looks like a thousand other drunks and lowlifes I’ve run across. But one of the many things you learn in this job is that looks can be deceiving. This guy’s good for a few murders already, and maybe the one we just had. I can’t afford to underestimate this guy.
“Did you find out what he was driving?”
“They weren’t certain. Dark blue, four doors, maybe a Toyota or a Honda. I don’t know if they were lying, or they really didn’t know. People don’t snitch on Ricky.”
“That’s what the Sarge told me.”
“Yeah. Listen, I know he works Graveyard, but from now on, he’s our go-to supervisor in the field if Sergeant Gellar isn’t available. I’ve got a good feeling about him. I think we can trust him.”
“We can. He’s a hard-charging sergeant. He hates drones and he likes hard-charging cops who get the job done.”
“That’s the impression I got. So whenever we can, if we need a supervisor…”
“We go to him first, after Sergeant Gellar.”
“Are you OK with that?”
“Good. We need to make these decisions together. Like I said, Harper: there are two cops in the car, and you’re one of them.”
“I appreciate that. So we’re off for a single. What are you going to do with your day off?”
“Singles on Midwatch are murder. You usually end up sleeping through them. I’m going to go home, call my mom, and then I’m going to fall asleep. I’m pretty wiped out.”
“You’re going to call your mom first thing in the morning?”
“You’re forgetting the time difference. My mom’s back east in Salem. She’s one of those God-awful ‘up at the crack of dawn’ New England women. In the summer, she’s already in the garden as soon as the first sliver of daylight comes across the horizon.”
“That’s deeply disturbing.”
“Tell me about it. When I was little, she used to wake me up to help her. All day long!”
“Ouch! That must have been a bitch.”
“Worse than you think. Do you have any idea how long the days are in Salem in the summer?”
“Well, enjoy your single. No gardening.”
“You, too. We did good work tonight. You did good work. See you at roll call.”
The first thing I’m going to do when we get back is start on this Ricky guy. Anyone who causes that much trouble can’t be left alone, no matter what the brass says. I may not be able to arrest him, but I can sure as hell make his life miserable. And that’s exactly what I plan to do.