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Alley Shadows

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Dope wars, shootouts, and a possible serial killer on skid row. Outnumbered and outgunned, and it's up to her to stop it all. Just another night for Dani Lynott on Midwatch. A new drug dealer attempts to take control of the dope trade on skid row, and a serial killer is targeting the homeless. Central Division has become a war zone, and Dani Lynott and the officers of Midwatch are at the front lines, trying to put a stop to it. Facing a psychopath with every advantage and a drug kingpin with a flair for high-tech, Dani and Harper are overwhelmed and outgunned. But as they relentlessly pursue a maniac and wage all-out war with armed dope dealers and their ruthless leader, Dani comes to a realization too frightening to contemplate - one that might mean the death of every officer on the watch. The second installment in the Midwatch series.

Action / Drama
Haley Donohue
4.9 12 reviews
Age Rating:

"They just found number four"

It literally makes your skin crawl. You can feel their eyes all over you. In the alleys of skid row, someone’s always watching you. You might swear you’re alone, but trust me, you’re not. You can’t see them and you can’t hear them, but they’re always there. They’re watching you. Somewhere. Beside you. Beneath you. Above you. Hiding. Hiding better than you can. Hiding where you’d never think to look for them. That’s assuming you’re a police officer like me. They’ve got so many advantages over us. The people of skid row can disappear into the background like they’re suddenly invisible. Hell, they are invisible! I’d give anything to know how they do it. We cops just have to do the best we can. Like right now. This time, we’re the ones hiding in the alley. And those two idiot dope dealers standing by those dumpsters don’t suspect a thing. Talk about stupid! They should’ve spent more time out here. Then they’d learn. As soon as their contact makes the delivery, we’ll take them down. They’ll probably shit themselves as soon as we do.

“Sixteen Central to Eight Central, Ruiz? Are you guys set?”

“Roger that, Dani. Forty-Four’s at the north end of the alley. No way are these guys getting out of here.”

Thank God for the ear pieces for these radios. Even in an alley, dope dealers can hear a police radio at a hundred yards. It’s in their DNA. This way, we can stay nice and quiet.

My partner and I are almost right across from the dealers. I make it about twenty-five feet. As the only training officer on Midwatch, I’ve got the only boot. That’s a rookie, in case you’ve forgotten. That can be a problem sometimes. Like right now. I got stuck with Virgil Sanger. Not what you’d call a boot who’s fired up about doing serious police work. This guy came on the job to go to motorcycle patrol and write tickets for the rest of his life. I can accept that sort of thing once a guy’s got a few years on the job, but a boot? A guy with less than a year out of the academy? How can anyone get through all of that and not be fired up about the job? But it happens, and now I’m stuck with him. I’ve only been working with him for a month, and I already can’t wait until he’s wheeled off of the watch. He avoids any kind of felony arrest like the plague. Frankly, I’m worried about how he’s going to perform when we grab these guys. They’re both working for Shiloh, and his dealers have a habit of going armed. Some of them also like to shoot at us.

“Forty-Four Central to Sixteen, Dani? We’ve got a gray Mercedes parking on 4th Street. One guy. Male black, brown coat, carrying a gym bag. He’s heading for the alley.”

A gray Mercedes. Just like my informant said the courier would be driving. This has to be the delivery. Who the hell else would be crazy enough to drive a Mercedes down to skid row?

“Roger that, Forty-Four. Stay sharp, everyone. This is it. Wait for my signal.”

There he is. The dope’s got to be in that gym bag. As soon as they make the exchange, we grab them. My informant says there’s got to be half a kilo in that bag, which means our two dealers are carrying some serious cash. Of course, that means they’re probably all carrying guns. I really don’t want to get into a shooting. The shootout with Ricky in the Big Lot was my last one, and I hope it’s the last one I ever get into. I almost lost Harper that night. I don’t ever want to go through anything like that again. Harper took four hits – even if you count the three his vest managed to stop. It nearly killed him. Seeing him lying there bleeding out nearly killed me.

Our suspects in the alley are waving the guy over. These clearly aren’t skid row dealers. They wouldn’t be so casual if they were. They’re waving to the courier like they saw an old friend at a bar. Idiots! It’s like I said: someone’s always watching. Even if it weren’t us, the psychos out here wouldn’t hesitate to take down a couple of dealers. They’re not afraid of getting shot. They’re not afraid of anything. They’re crazy and they’ve got absolutely nothing to lose. That’s one of the first things you learn out here: people on the street will kill you for half a cigarette. Imagine what they’d do for half a kilo of heroin and a few grand in cash?

That’s it! There’s the exchange! The money for the dope!

“All units, move in! Move in!”

Let’s hope my boot is up for this shit!

“Sanger! Go!”

I want to get these guys before they get some space between them! If they can spread out, one of them is likely to start shooting! Split to either side and light them up with our flashlights, just like I planned! Destroy their night vision! Startle them! Guns out and don’t take any chances! Go!

“Police! Drop it! Hands in the air!”

Here come Goren and Signolo from the north end of the alley! Christ, Signolo’s on top of them before we are! Damn, that guy is fucking fast!

“You heard her! Hands in the air! All of you! Don’t even think about it! You’re surrounded!”

Fuck! The dealer who took the bag is reaching into his jacket! He’s going for a gun!

“Stop right there! Do you want to get shot? Hands where I can see them! Don’t fucking try it!”

He’s hesitating! He doesn’t know if he should go for it! Where the fuck is Sanger? He should have that guy on his knees by now! Oh, fuck this shit! One crack on the head with my flashlight should stop that asshole from going for his gun!

“I said don’t do it!”

Got him! I nailed him good! He’s down for the count! And look at this! He’s got a gun! Nice try, asshole! Goren and Signolo have the courier hooked up. But where the fuck is Sanger? What the hell is he doing? He should be…oh, shit! The second dealer’s running!

“Ruiz! One’s headed your way! Blue sweatshirt!”

Whoa! Nice tackle, guys!

“Watch him, Ruiz! He may be armed!”

He may have a concussion, too! They took him down hard!

“Ruiz, are you guys OK?”

“We’re good, Dani. I’ve got his weapon. It’s OK. We got him. Hey, asshole! She told you not to move! What the fuck is your problem?”

I’ve got my brain-damaged dealer in custody. Goren and Signolo have the courier, and Ruiz and Rosen have dealer number two hooked up. Yes! We got them all! And nobody fired a shot! Thank you, God! But where the fuck is Sanger?

“Sixteen Central, we have three suspects in custody in the alley south of 4th Street, east of Palomar. Requesting a supervisor and EMS for a suspect with a contusion to the head.”

“Sixteen Central, roger.”

I’m probably going to get some flak for this one. Setting up on a couple of armed dope dealers without first informing a sergeant – let alone the Watch Commander – is seriously frowned on. But I wanted to do this without anyone looking over my shoulder. Lately, I’ve been feeling like…I don’t know how to describe it. Like I’m on edge. Like I’m on pins and needles somehow. It’s hard to focus. I can’t keep things straight sometimes. I’d say it’s stress, but I haven’t been under any stress. Well, no more than usual. Whatever it is, I really hate it. I wish it would just go away.

Jesus, there’s my stupid-assed boot! Still hiding back where we started! What the fuck is wrong with him? I’m going to kick his ass!

“Sanger! Where the fuck were you? What part of ‘move in’ did you fail to understand?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am.”

“You’re sorry? We did go over this whole setup before we came down here, right? Were you paying attention? You were supposed to secure the first dealer as soon as we got within arm’s reach! What the fuck is wrong with you?”

Look at him! Like a fucking deer caught in the headlights! No response! No fucking clue! How the hell did this guy make it through the academy? How the hell did he make it this far on probation? He never even broke cover! When we all charged the suspects, he stayed right where he was! Fucking idiot!

“Stay with this asshole until the sergeant gets here! Do you think you can handle that?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Great! He can do at least that much! He’ll make a fine babysitter! Because that’s what I feel like right now! I’m not his training officer! I’m his goddamned babysitter!

“Hey, Dani…”

“What? Oh, Ruiz. Sorry. I shouldn’t have popped off like that.”

“No, he fucked up. He had it coming. But I’ve seen you dress down boots who fucked up without going nuts. Are you OK?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

OK, even I didn’t believe that one.

“Look, it’s just…if he’d have done what the hell I told him to do, that asshole never would’ve had a chance to reach for his gun. Christ, one of us could’ve gotten shot! For nothing!”

“Yeah, but we didn’t. That’s what’s important. You took him down. It’s all good.”

“You’re right. It’s all good. Was the courier armed?”

“Signolo says no. You were right about the dope, though. Half a kilo of heroin. Nice catch, girl! As usual, of course.”

“Three guys, two guns, dope and the money. You’re right: it was a good one.”

So how come I’m not jumping for joy the way I should be? What the fuck is wrong with me lately? This was a great arrest. Another thorn in Shiloh’s side. Ever since Ricky bit the dust, Shiloh’s been pushing his effort to take over the dope trade on skid row big time. And Midwatch has been throwing a monkey wrench into his plans ever since. We’ve been doing great work out here. We’ve been hammering Shiloh worse than he’s ever been hammered. Even Narcotics Division says so. I should be celebrating. But right now, my heart’s pounding and I feel tense all over. I feel like every muscle in my body is tensing up. What the hell is going on with me?

“Dani! We’ve got a sergeant!”

Oh, please don’t let it be a Nightwatch sergeant! It’s almost time for those guys to go end of watch, and if one of them gets held over because I’ve got another reportable use of force, I swear I’ll never hear the end of it. Oh, good! It’s Sergeant Hendrickson. One of our own. That doesn’t mean he’ll be thrilled, though.

“What’ve you got, Lynott?”

“A couple of Shiloh’s dealers taking delivery of a shipment. The guy in the brown coat is the courier. These two are the dealers. Both armed.”

“Is everyone in one piece?”

“We are. This guy went for his gun. I tapped him on the head.”

“With a flashlight, I take it?”

“He didn’t give me a choice, Sarge. It was that or shoot him. I cracked him pretty good. We’ve got EMS en route.”

“How did your boot do?”

After the way I chewed him out, I really don’t want to give him up to the Sarge. He’s suffered enough. But I can’t lie to Sergeant Hendrickson. He knows Sanger’s a DIT. That’s a “Drone in Training,” for those of you who don’t speak cop. The Sarge has been on me to keep him updated on whether Sanger can hack it. He’s not going to like this report.

“Do you really want to know?”

“Probably not. But I have to. So how bad was it?”

In cases like this, give it to him like Joe Friday from Dragnet: just the facts.

“He didn’t move in on the suspects when I gave the order. He froze.”

“And I take it that’s why we’ve got one arrestee with a cracked skull?”

“Pretty much.”

Oh, he doesn’t look happy! This isn’t the first bad report on Sanger he’s heard from me. I think Sergeant Hendrickson’s reached the end of his rope with him.

“The DP’s almost up. I don’t want to wait for his rating. Give it to me straight.”

Yeah, I was afraid he was going to say that. But I can’t let the boot slide. If I do and someone gets hurt, it’s on me. And there’s no way in hell I’m going to let that happen. I don’t care what it costs. Or how hard it is for both of us.

“He’s a drone, Sarge. He’s trying to coast through his probation. He’s already got his career worked out: as soon as he gets off of probation, he’ll get himself wheeled to a Traffic Division. He’ll work a traffic unit until he’s eligible for motors, and then go to motorcycle school.”

“And he’ll spend the rest of his life writing tickets and arresting deuces. Yeah, I figured that out already.”

Oh, a “deuce” is a DUI – cop-speak for a drunken driver. I’m, not saying we don’t need good motor cops to do that. We do. Those guys save more lives that even I can count. But he needs to be a good cop before he can become a good motorcycle cop. You can’t put the cart before the horse in this job. Even motor cops have to do regular police work sometimes. And what if he pulls over some asshole who just robbed a bank or shot somebody? If he can’t handle it out here with a training officer and four experienced cops backing him up, then how the hell will he handle it when he’s on a motorcycle by himself?

“Sarge, he’s not stupid. And that’s what makes it so damned frustrating. He just…”

“He’s got a one-track mind, and he’s not cutting it on the track he’s on. All right, I’ll handle that end of it. You just handle the arrest. How much dope did you get?”

“Half a kilo from the looks of it. I got a tip from a guy over at the Shepherd Mission that a couple of Shiloh’s dealers were picking up their supply here.”

“And you didn’t let me know because…?”

I’ll try the old stand-by excuse and see if he buys it.

“We didn’t have time. We barely had time enough to get here and get set up on it.”

“But you had time to bring two Midwatch units in on it?”

Yeah, I didn’t think he’d buy it. It sounded really lame when I said it.

“Lynott, we’ll talk about this later. Right now, you’ve got your hands full. You write the report. I don’t want your boot fucking that up. Who’s got the money?”

“Goren. I don’t know how much. A few thousand? He’s counting it.”

“I didn’t think Goren could count past ten. I’d better make sure he gets it right.”

Oh, I am so telling Goren he said that! Hey, that actually made me laugh! And I could use a good laugh right now! As much as I like Sergeant Gellar and owe him for sitting with me in the hospital while Harper was in surgery, I think I like Sergeant Hendrickson best of all of our sergeants. He’s never forgotten what it’s like to be a patrol officer. Neither has Sergeant Gellar, but Sergeant Hendrickson is out here every night doing the job right along with the rest of us. He’s a major hard-charger. It’s almost possible to forget he’s a sergeant sometimes. You have no idea how rare that is.

“Forty-Four to Sixteen, Dani? We’ve got your EMS unit.”

“Roger that, Signolo. Send them down.”

Another reportable use of force. That’s four this month. They were all reasonable and necessary, but it’s still four on what’s otherwise been a slow month for the watch. They’re probably going to want to have a little sit-down with me about that. No big deal. I’ve been through it a hundred times. I’m just afraid they’ve noticed there’s something not quite right with me lately. The thought of that scares the hell out of me.

Central Station. Booking and reports. Our arrest turned out better than expected. Not only do we have all three of them dead to rights on some serious dope and weapons charges, but one of them – our second dealer – is on parole. Anthony Roth. That’s his real name. It’s not the one he gave us, and it’s one of about eight that he’s used in his career. He did three years on a drug charge: sale of a controlled substance. That’s why he’s on parole. I had Sanger put in a call to his parole officer. Those guys can get information from a suspect a lot better than we can. Assholes might not be afraid of us, but in my experience, most assholes are scared absolutely shitless by their parole officers. I’m hoping this parole officer is the kind who likes to lean on his parolees. We need as much information about Shiloh’s organization as possible. Both of the guns we recovered were taken in a home invasion robbery in Morningside Division about two months ago. Roth’s a named suspect on a couple of armed robberies, but they couldn’t get anything to stick. Do you see a pattern, here? I’m thinking he’s the one who pulled the home invasion robbery. It’s probably how he supplements his dope income. Maybe his parole officer can tell us more about that? The good ones always know things about their parolees that aren’t in our files. They can be a gold mine of information.

“Officer Lynott, you have a visitor at the front desk.”

Speak of the devil! That’s got to be the parole officer. Let’s see how happy he is to find out that one of his charges just got caught with a bagful of dope and a stolen gun.

“Sanger, let’s go talk to this guy. Is Roth still chained to the bench?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Good. Leave him there. He’ll be more off-guard with his hands chained behind his back when his parole officer sees him. He’ll also be sitting down when all of us are standing up and looking down at him. It’s a good psychological advantage, and it works. Remember to use it in the future.”

“Will do, ma’am.”

Sanger’s a mess. He’s scared shitless right now. He should be. He probably thinks I’m going to crucify him in his rating tomorrow. I haven’t decided yet. He fucked up royally, but I’m not feeling like I’m going to explode anymore. We’ll see. I’ll worry about it tomorrow.

That’s got to be Anthony’s parole officer. Jesus Christ! He’s fucking huge! His arm is bigger than both of my legs! Look at this guy! He’s got to be at least three hundred pounds of pure muscle! And he’s almost as tall as Harper! What the hell is he doing as a parole officer? That guy should be playing pro football! Christ, he could be the entire New England offensive line all by himself! I think he’s the biggest guy I’ve ever seen! Why isn’t this guy working for us?

“Uh, excuse me? I’m Officer Lynott. This is Officer Sanger. And you are?”

“State Parole Officer Elias Woodward. Are you the ones who caught Anthony Roth?”

“Yes, sir. He was part of a dope deal. He was also carrying a stolen gun. It was taken in a home invasion…”

“In a motherfucking robbery! That motherfucking piece of shit’s out there pulling armed robberies again! That no good piece of shit motherfucker! I’m going to kill him! I’m going to rip off his motherfucking head and shit down his motherfucking neck! Where is he? Where is that piece of shit? He’s a dead motherfucker!”

Holy crap! Would you listen to him? He’s got to be the loudest person on God’s green earth! He could drown out the crowd at Fenway Park! Jesus, this guy’s a fucking psycho! What are we supposed to do if he goes off on this guy? It’ll take the entire watch to hold him back!

“He’s uh…he’s over here.”

“Not for long, he ain’t! You’re dead, Anthony! You hear me, motherfucker? I’m coming to kill your motherfucking ass!”

Oh, this could get ugly real fast! What am I supposed to do if he starts tearing the guy’s arms off? Stop him? Yeah, right! He could throw me across the station with one arm without breaking a sweat! Zap him? He’d eat the Taser and shit it right out! And if I shoot him, I’ll probably just piss him off! I’d need a fucking elephant gun!

“That’s him on the bench, Officer Woodward. He’s already…”

Anthony! You worthless piece of motherfucking shit! What the fuck are you doing here? Got you with dope! Got you with a goddamned gun! Are you out of your motherfucking mind? Are you trying to piss me off? Do you want to die, motherfucker? Sound off! Do you want to die? Because I’m going to fucking kill your motherfucking ass right here! Right now!”

Would you look at Anthony’s face! He looks like he’s going to have a heart attack and die right there! And I don’t blame him one bit! I really think this Officer Woodward might actually kill him!

Jesus, I think Anthony’s choking on his own tongue!

“Officer Woodward! What…what are you doin’ here, sir? I didn’t…I mean, I wasn’t…”

“Shut the fuck up, motherfucker! What did I say I’d do to you if I ever saw your ass pulling this shit again? What the fuck did I say? You remember what I said, right? Answer me, you worthless motherfucker!

“You…you said you’d kill me, sir. But I swear! I wasn’t…”

“Don’t you lie to me! Don’t you dare fucking lie to me, motherfucker! They got you cold! Got you with dope! Got you with a goddamned gun! Got you hanging out with criminal shit! And what the fuck are you doing out on the motherfucking street in the middle of the goddamned night? You know you ain’t supposed to be out after dark! What? You forget the conditions of your motherfucking parole, motherfucker? Answer me! Or I swear, I’ll kill you right now! Right fucking now!

He means it! He’s going to kill this guy right here on the bench! What am I supposed to do? Try to hold him back? It would be like Bambi vs. Godzilla! And guess who’s going to be Bambi! We need some serious backup! Somebody who’s as intimidating as this lunatic!

“Sanger! Go get Lieutenant Hagan! Now! Move!”

Jesus, Officer Woodward looks like he’s deciding what to do with Anthony’s body after he finishes killing him!

Sound off, motherfucker! Where the fuck did you get that gun? Don’t lie to me! They got you cold with that gun! You stole it, didn’t you? Yeah, I know you, motherfucker! Tell me you fucking stole it! In a goddamned robbery! You’re doing those goddamned invasion robberies again! You worthless piece of motherfucking shit! Say you stole it so I can kill you right here! Say it! You fucking stole it!”

Oh, shit! He’s got him by the hair! He’s really going to rip the guy’s head off!

“Lynott, what’s going on here?”

Oh, thank God! Lieutenant Hagan!

“Sir, this is State Parole Officer…”

“Elias! They didn’t tell me you were here!”

“Jack! I didn’t know you were downtown! Good to see you!”

“Good to see you, too. How’s Marie?”

“She hasn’t thrown me out yet. I must be doing something right.”

I don’t fucking believe it! The two most intimidating people in this or any other universe known to man or God, and they’re old friends! Just when I thought I’d seen it all!

“Is this your guy, Elias?”

“Until I kill his motherfucking ass! You done fucked up big time, motherfucker! That’s it for you! You ain’t going’ to no lockup! Your ass is going straight back to the pen! You ain’t never getting out! Uh-uh! You’ve gone and used up all of your motherfucking chances! Your little motherfucking ass is gone!

I have to agree with that one. With his record, he’ll get at least fifteen years for the dope, seven to ten for the gun, and if they hang a home invasion robbery on him, that’s another twenty to twenty-five. Basically, he’s looking at about fifty years of real time, and I’m betting he’s no longer a candidate for early parole.

“Lynott, exactly what is this guy looking at?”

“Sir, we’ve got him for buying of half a kilo of heroin, illegal possession of a concealed weapon, ex-con with a gun, and stolen gun taken in a robbery at that. Oh, and he might be good for a home invasion robbery. The guns we recovered were both taken in a home invasion robbery in Morningside Division two months ago. Officer Woodward seems to think he’s good for it.”

“Oh, he’s good for it! I know he’s good for it! Piece of shit, punk-assed motherfucker! You did it! Tell me you did it! Say it right now!

Is he kidding? Poor old Anthony can’t even speak! The guy’s literally scared stiff! He’s paralyzed! I’ve never seen anyone that scared before! And with twelve years on the job, that’s saying something!

“He’s basically fucked, sir. Even without the home invasion charge, he’s probably looking at thirty years minimum with his record.”

“I’ll say. That’s a lot of charges. Hey, buddy? Do you want to live through the night? I suggest you tell your parole officer everything he wants to hear.”

Tell him? How? He can’t talk! He’s crying! And I don’t blame him! If I were him, I’d have had a heart attack and dropped dead already! Can you imagine having to drive back to prison with a giant, homicidal psychopath? And no witnesses? I honestly think we’re never going to see this guy alive again! And I don’t have the authority to keep him. A parolee essentially belongs to his parole officer. That’s the law. And it looks like Officer Woodward wants to get on the road with his parolee – or should I say victim?

“Officer Lynott! Let’s switch cuffs! I want to get this motherfucking piece of shit on the road! That’s right, motherfucker! You and me got a long ride ahead of us! Your ass is coming with me!

You know something? I actually feel sorry for this guy! He’s a piece of shit dope dealer and probably an armed robber, but right now, I feel sorry for him! Those are real tears he’s crying! He’s afraid he’s going to die tonight! And he probably is! But what can we do? Jesus, how the hell could anyone get this lunatic for a parole officer and ever fuck up again? Thirty seconds with this guy and I’d be too scared to spit on the sidewalk! What was this idiot thinking?

Well, he’s got Officer Woodward’s handcuffs on him. I guess it’s time for Anthony to walk the long walk. That’s what they call the walk from your death row cell to the execution chamber, in case you didn’t know.

“He’s all yours, Officer Woodward. We’ll see that you get a copy of the arrest report.”

“Good deal. Come on, motherfucker! Move your motherfucking ass!”

I’m amazed the poor guy can even walk! Look at him! He’s literally shaking like a leaf! I don’t think I’ve ever seen an arrestee shake like that before!

“Lieutenant, are we ever going to see our arrestee again?”

“Maybe at the coroner’s inquest?”

Did you hear that? He said that without a hint of sarcasm. That’s really, really scary! Bye-bye, Anthony. Rest in peace.

Well, that was an experience! At least Lieutenant Hagan didn’t seem to care that I had another use of force. Maybe my luck’s improving? I still have to worry about how I’m going to write up Sanger in his probationer’s book. I don’t want to be too hard on him, but he fucked up big time and I can’t let it slide. I’m not going to let him go to another training officer without letting the guy know what he’s getting into. I might just let it wait until tomorrow. Oh, shit! I can’t. I’m off tomorrow. Oh, well. I’ll figure out something. Right now, we need to get back in the field. We’ve still got another hour before the shift ends.

“Are you ready to go, Sanger?”

“Yes, ma’am. The reports are signed and the evidence is booked.”

“Did you burn a copy for the Robbery detectives in Morningside?”

“Yes, ma’am. Just like you told me.”

“Good. Then let’s get back out there.”

“I’m sorry I fucked up back there, ma’am.”

“Don’t be sorry. Just learn from it and don’t do it again.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I might as well give him the speech and see if it makes a difference. God, I hope so!

“Sanger, at any given time, every officer out here might depend on you for their lives. You need to be there. You need to have your head in the game. You hesitate like you did back there, and someone could get hurt. Someone could get killed. Even you. You didn’t react when we needed you to. If that asshole had got his gun out, you could’ve been killed. You were right in his line of fire. I almost lost one partner last year, and he did everything right. If he hadn’t, we’d both be dead. I’m never going through that shit again. Do you understand?”

“Yes, ma’am. It won’t happen again.”

“See that it doesn’t.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

It’s times like this that I have to keep telling myself that every boot fucks up from time to time. He’s only got four months on the job. It’s not like it was with Harper. He had a year in the field and he was a combat-experienced Marine. Oh, who am I kidding? As boots go, Harper was one in a million. I really got spoiled working with him. And even though we’re living together now, I miss working with him every day. He’s right next door in Mid-City Division, working Nightwatch. He’s been putting the screws to Shiloh over there. Unlike Ricky, Shiloh’s base of operations is in Mid-City. I’ve never even seen the guy. Just pictures. Harper’s run into him dozens of times already. And I know he’s making life miserable for Shiloh. God, I wish I was there with him. We were a great team.

Back on patrol, headed down 7th Street. I really hate driving the patrol car. I’d let Sanger drive, but he doesn’t have enough time in the division. He doesn’t know skid row. You need to know the alleys and dope spots and shortcuts more than you need to know the streets. I like being the passenger officer because I get to keep my head on a swivel and check out what’s going on around us. Most of the best police work out here is based on observation, not radio calls. I hate the idea that I might be missing something because I have to keep my eyes on the road.

“Ma’am? How come you don’t wear your ribbons on-duty?”

“Sometimes I do. I just think they’re one more thing that can fall off of your shirt. Ribbons are for Class ‘A’ uniforms. They’re for having your picture taken. Citizens don’t even know what they mean. Why do you ask?”

“It’s just that if I had your decorations, I’d probably never take them off. You’ve got the Medal of Valor, the Combat Cross, and the Distinguished Service Medal. It doesn’t get better than that.”

I see he’s been doing his homework. Then again, he’s probably just trying to suck up to me so that I’ll go easy on him when his rating’s due. Yeah, I got all three medals for the work that Harper and I did. I got the Medal of Valor and the Combat Cross for shooting it out with Ricky. I got the Distinguished Service Medal for all of the dope dealers we put out of commission – not to mention two hired killers that Ricky brought in to kill off Shiloh’s dealers. Harper got them, too. He also got the Wounded Officer’s Medal for getting shot four times. Seven, if you count the three bullets that his vest stopped. That’s the medal no one in their right mind wants to get.

“Sanger, do you have any idea what it’s like to see your partner get shot over and over again, five feet in front of you? To get splashed with his blood while you’re trying to shoot the son of a bitch who’s doing it?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Do you have any idea what it’s like to hold your partner and watch half the blood in his body come pouring out of him? To watch him try to fight through the pain, even though he can’t? And you know there’s not a damned thing you can do to help him?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Do you have any idea what it’s like to watch three doctors wheel your partner into the emergency room and hold him down while they cut into his chest, not knowing if he’s already dead? Watch them stick a tube in his chest so they can drain the blood into a bucket on the floor right next to you? Watch them wheel him off to an operating room while all of the doctors and nurses in the emergency room are saying they don’t think he’ll pull through?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Well, that’s how I got those medals. And I’d trade every one of them for never having gone through that hell.”

“Yes, ma’am. How is Officer Harper?”

Since Harper’s no longer on probation, we don’t have to sneak around anymore. It turns out we weren’t fooling as many people as we thought, but it doesn’t matter. Everybody knows we moved in together – including my boot, here. Some people started a nasty rumor that I have a habit of sleeping with my boots, but everyone I respect knows it’s a load of shit, so it doesn’t really bother me too much. It hasn’t stopped a couple of boots from thinking they’re going to be next in the sack with me, though. I can do without that.

“He’s fine. He’s Captain America. He’s invincible. He still gets some pain every now and then, but he bounced back faster than anyone thought he would. He works Mid-City Division. In fact, his shift just ended about an hour ago. He should be home by now.”

“Is it tough with the two of you working different shifts?”

I don’t know if he’s just trying to make conversation, or if he’s fishing for details of our sex life. Maybe he heard the rumor and he’s hoping I’ll bang him in the backseat of the car? I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I’d better not be wrong, though!

“Not really. Nightwatch and Midwatch are only three hours apart. And he’ll transfer to Midwatch over there as soon as he can. He’s like me: Midwatch is in his blood. It’s where we belong.”

“I still can’t get used to these hours.”

“You’d better get used to it if you’re going to be a motor cop. Deuce Watch is Midwatch for motors. They work the same hours. And you get to go to traffic court at seven o’clock in the morning the next day, five days a week. Try dealing with that for the rest of your life.”

“It’s still killing me, ma’am.”

“It takes some doing. But after you work every watch, you’ll see that Midwatch is far and away the best. There’s more police work to do on Midwatch than on any other watch. All of the shit, none of the bullshit.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

He said that with a disturbing lack of enthusiasm. The mere thought of Midwatch usually sets a boot’s eyes on fire. I guess he still has his heart set on being a motorcycle cop. But do you want to know something? I don’t know if he’s tall enough. That’s a real consideration. Our motor cops ride a Honda ST1300. It’s all tricked-out for the police. That’s a big-assed bike. It’s bigger than the old Harleys they used to ride. To qualify for motors, you have to be able to get both feet on the ground while straddling the bike. I sure as hell can’t do it, and Sanger’s not much taller than me. Plus, it weighs seven hundred and fifty pounds with all of the police shit on it. And if you want to be a motor cop, you have to be able to pick up the bike if it goes down. And you have to prove that you can do it. That’s the final test at motor school: they kick a fully-dressed bike over and tell you to pick it up. You know, you’re on your own, you’re life depends on it, there’s no backup available, so pick it up, officer! I can’t do it, and I know the secret to how it’s done. You bend at the knees, grab the frame behind your back, and lift it up onto the kickstand. Basically, it’s a back-lift. It makes it a lot easier, or so they tell me. But I can’t do it and I’m not sure Sanger can do it, either. I hope I’m wrong. If he doesn’t get to be a motorcycle cop, he’ll be devastated.

“Twenty-Two Central, requesting two additional units and a supervisor code two to our location: the Brickline Alley north of 8th Street.”

Oh, shit! Usually, when an officer requests two units and a supervisor, it means he just shot somebody. But Kursteff was too calm when he put out that broadcast, and he didn’t call for EMS to respond. My experience tells me those guys just found a dead body, and I’ve got a feeling I know exactly what it’s about! God, please let me be wrong!

“Sixteen Central, show us responding code two.”

“Sixteen Central, roger.”

“Hang on, Sanger! I think they just found number four!”

“Number four, ma’am?”

Is he fucking kidding me? Jesus! Doesn’t he pay attention to anything around here? It’s all anyone’s been talking about!

“Just hang on!”

If he’s really oblivious to what’s been going on out here for the last two months, then I’ve got a feeling that he’s in for a very nasty surprise!

The Brickline Alley. Of all the places out here for something like this to happen, I’d say the Brickline Alley is the second-most unlikely location. There’s always people hiding in the thousand or so places in this little strip of hell on skid row. You’re going to be seen for sure. The only place worse would be Grand Alley. Nobody needs to hide in Grand Alley. It’s like Grand Central Station for the homeless. The place is always packed.

“Sanger, show us code six here. We park here and walk in.”

“Any reason for that, ma’am?”

Did he really just ask me that? He really hasn’t been paying attention out here!

“See that alley? That’s the Brickline. Look how thin it is. If we drove the car down there, does it look like we could open the doors and get out?”

“No, ma’am. It’s too narrow.”

I guess now is as good a time as any to see if he’s learned a damned thing since he started working with me.
“Very good. Now, since you mentioned narrow, what’s the only alley out here that’s even more inaccessible by car?”

“Ma’am? I don’t understand.”

See? Nothing! I don’t fucking believe it! We were there last night!

“I’ll give you a hint: you said this alley is too narrow? Narrow as in…”

“The Narrow Alley, ma’am?”

Now he gets it! Talk about having to lead a horse to water and make him drink!

“We’ve only got two more days working together. In that time, I want you to know at least six of the major alleys out here. You will be quizzed on it! Central isn’t like other divisions. You need to know the alleys by name, and you need to know where they are and where they go. You heard Kursteff put out this call? Did you notice how he didn’t give an address for this place? He just said ’The Brickline Alley north of 8th Street.’ That’s how a lot of backup and assistance calls go out in this division. If you don’t know instantly what he’s talking about, he and his partner could be fucked. Is that understood?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Do you know what happens to cops who are fucked out here? They end up bleeding a lot. Or worse. We’re not going to let that happen. You’re not going to let that happen. Is that understood?”

“Perfectly, ma’am.”

For everyone’s sake, I sincerely hope so. You know, I almost feel sorry for the guy. He’s having a really bad night. And if I’m right about this call, it’s about to get infinitely worse.

I see the flashlights. That’s them, about sixty feet up ahead. And they’ve already got the crime scene tape up. Yep! I knew it! They just found number four!

“Kursteff! Are you guys OK?”

“Yeah, Dani, we’re good. A lot better than this guy.”

“Where’s Vinell?”

“Getting the log started. Hey, partner! Log in Sixteen Central, Lynott and Sanger!”

There’s going to be half a dozen units in here pretty soon. We’d better see what we came to see.

“Hey, Kursteff? My boot needs a little seasoning.”

“Yeah, he’s not going to see shit like this on a motorcycle.”

See? Everybody knows! How is it nobody told me before I got saddled with him?

“Assuming he makes it that far. Where is it?”

“In there. Beside the heater. Hey, are you sure your boot’s ready for it? It’s a bad one.”

“Worse than the others?”

“See for yourself.”

I guess I’m going to find out how my boot handles the messy ones. Better here and now than somewhere else and later, when somebody’s life may be on the line.

“Sanger! Get over here!”

In the alcove for the heater? That’s a pretty good place. The noise from the building’s heater covers a lot of sounds – like screams.

“I was right. It’s number four. Let’s take a look.”

“Number four, ma’am?”

“See for yourself.”

And I shine my flashlight on it and…damn! Kursteff wasn’t lying! This one’s a mess! Male, black, maybe in his early thirties. Throat slashed, gut sliced open and half of his intestines spilled out across his body. Just like the last three. But this one’s messier – big time! Our guy really went to town on this one! It’s like he got eaten by a shark! And this time he didn’t just get his throat slashed. Christ, the son of a bitch nearly lost his head! Look at that! Whoever did this cut him almost all the way through his neck! Right through the spine! It’s sticking out of what’s left of his neck! There’s only about two inches of skin holding the guy’s head on! You can see everything: his throat, the blood vessels, all the torn ligaments sticking out of the bottom of his head! If I didn’t know better, I’d say the killer must’ve used a goddamned chainsaw! And look at all of that blood! That’s got to be at least two gallons! And a lot of it’s still fresh. This guy wasn’t dumped here, that’s for sure. He was killed here. I think I’m right about the heater being used to mask the screams. Then again, this guy probably didn’t do a lot of screaming. You can’t scream when somebody slices through your throat and all the way back to the end of your neck. This is one messy homicide scene! Jesus, the guy’s eyes are still open! You can see the look on his face. He looks like he was beyond scared shitless. He may have died quick, but he knew exactly what was happening to him. And there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it. God, imagine what it’s like to die like that? Even out here, that’s some really fucked up shit!

“Damn! Did you get a good look at this, Kursteff? ‘Some assembly required,’ huh?”

“God damn, Dani! You’re a fucking psycho, you know that?”

“Yeah, but I don’t have a thing on whoever did this. Hey, Sanger! Get over here! I need you to take a look at something!”

“What is it, ma’am?”

“Partner, meet number four!”

“Oh, fuck!

Yeah, that about sums it up. I’ll bet if you could drop a guy gut-first into a wood chipper, this is what it would look like. Wait a minute! Sanger? Is he…oh, Jesus! He’s puking! Is he for real? He’s puking his goddamned guts out! Right in front of the fucking dead body! I’ve got to get him out of here before he completely contaminates the crime scene!

“Sanger! Move! Don’t puke! Just hold it! Move! Clear out of here! Out of the crime scene! Move it!”

I figured Sanger hadn’t seen a lot of dead bodies since he got here. He might not have seen any. But I didn’t think he was going to completely lose it like that! Shit! Didn’t this guy’s other training officers teach him anything? What’s he been doing all this time? Walking a beat at Heller Plaza? This is Central Division, for God’s sake! Gory knife wounds are a dime a dozen out here! You’d think it was his first day on the job! What’s he going to do when he comes across a guy with three feet of steel rebar rammed through his gut and the guy’s still alive? Probably faint! Just fucking great. At least Kursteff got a good laugh out of it.

“Hey, Dani? Is your boot going to be OK? I think he’s going to pass out.”

“If he does, I’m not carrying him to the car. Did you find any witnesses?”

“We looked in the usual holes, but everyone was cleared out by the time we found the guy.”

“Yeah, considering what happened to him, that’s not surprising. Our guy really went ape shit on this one.”

“Maybe he’s getting angrier? Hey, do you think they’re going to call it?”

“After this one? How could they not? Four in six weeks?”

“Yeah, they’ve got to call it now. This one’s a goddamned massacre.”

That’s putting it mildly. Oh, for those of you who don’t speak cop – and who don’t know what’s been going on here for the last month and a half – “call it” means the department is finally going to have to admit we’ve got a serial killer out here. Serial killers are pretty rare, but skid row is kind of like ground zero for them. It’s a great place to hunt people, and nobody gives a shit what happens to the homeless. If someone starts killing people in the Emerald City, they’d have a task force working on it after number two and it would be page one news all across the country. But homeless guys getting their throats cut on skid row? I’ll be surprised if this rates more than ten seconds on the local news. That’s just how it goes out here.

“Sanger and I are going to start searching the alley for evidence.”

“Do you think he’s up to it?”

“I’ll make sure he’s finished puking first. Did you notify the Watch Commander?”

“Not yet. Do you want to do the honors? It’ll sound better coming from a woman. You’re better at breaking bad news.”

Do I want to be the one who tells Lieutenant Hagan that our lunatic just killed a fourth guy in six weeks? That we can’t deny we’ve got a serial killer running loose in our little slice of heaven? Hell no!

“Yeah, I’ll tell him.”

Don’t be so surprised. Hey, if you know anything about me by now, then you know I’m a total glutton for punishment.

“Sixteen Central, have Ten Central meet me on a tac frequency.”

“Sixteen Central, roger. Meet Ten Central on tac seven.”

Look on the bright side: at least I don’t have to tell him face to face.

“Sixteen Central, Lieutenant Hagan? Do you read?”

“Yeah, go ahead, Lynott.”

“Sir, we’re with Kursteff and Vinell in the Brickline Alley, north of 8th Street. They just found number four. He’s fresh. Really fresh. This one’s the worst yet. This time, the guy nearly took the victim’s head clean off.”

“You’re sure it’s number four?”

“Slashed and dumped in an alley, out of sight. No witnesses. Either that, or it’s a hell of a coincidence.”

“God damn it! Is the scene secure?”

Other than my boot puking his guys out right in front of the dead body? Yeah.

“Completely. We’ve got other units en route, but this place is a ghost town. And we’re in the Brickline, so you know what that means.”

“Yeah, every asshole in that alley who was there when it went down saw the whole thing and now they’re scared shitless.”

“They’re probably halfway to Mid-City by now.”

“Or in a boxcar heading out of state. All right, you guys know what to do. Lock it down and preserve the scene. I’ll call the Homicide detectives. And I’m coming out there.”

“Roger that, sir. There’s that little parking lot by the Mexican restaurant on 8th Street, about a third of a block east of the Brickline. They keep the floodlights on all night, and you can see the south entrance of the alley from there. I think that’s your best bet for a staging area. When the other units get here, I’ll send one of them to clear the parking lot if there’s anybody in there.”

“You’re always thinking ahead, Lynott. I appreciate that. Make it happen. And try to find me a witness. Anything!”

“Yes, sir. The three of us can lock it down until the others get here. They shouldn’t be much longer.”

“Three of you? There’s four of you there, right?”

I guess I wasn’t thinking ahead just then. Shit! Well, he was going to ask anyway.

“Uh, my partner isn’t finished puking, so it’s kind of just me, Vinell, and Kursteff right now.”

“You tell Sanger to get his goddamned head out of his ass and back in the game! You tell him I’m on my way out there, and when I get there, I’d better see him doing his goddamned job like a twenty-year veteran! You got that?”

“Yes, sir. I’ll tell him.”

“All right, the rest of you guys know what to do. I’m on my way. Hagan out.”

I figure it’ll take at least an hour and a half for the Homicide detectives to make it to the station. Hey, it’s not like this guy is going anywhere. They’ll hang out at the station for at least forty-five minutes while they have their coffee and decide how they want to proceed. It’s cold and it looks like it might rain. In other words, it’s going to be a long fucking night.

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