Chapter 1: "We've got an epidemic here"
You know, you’ve really got to hand it to guys like John Dillinger. They’d walk into a bank wearing a three-piece suit, pull out a gun, say “This is a stick-up!” and walk out with a bag of cash. No fuss, no muss, and nobody got hurt. You could almost root for a robber like that. Not anymore. Nowadays, it’s a bunch of assholes who pick on easy targets, ambush them from behind, pistol-whip the shit out of them or even shoot them, and make off with a few bucks and a car. They’re fucking slime, and if someone could invent a poison that would kill every last one of them without hurting anyone else, I’d be happy to pour it into the city’s water system and get rid of the whole lot. Too bad we can’t do that yet. If we could, we wouldn’t have incidents like this: some poor woman coming out of Heller Plaza after working a twelve-hour day gets beaten and carjacked for a nine-year-old Honda Civic and forty bucks. She’s got a gash under her eye that’s probably going to take a dozen stitches to close, a split lip, maybe a few broken ribs, and a memory that’s going to leave her traumatized for the rest of her life. The only saving grace is that she didn’t get raped, and that’s only because some guy in a vacuum truck just happened to come by to sweep the parking lot and started yelling his head off. He’s lucky to be alive. They cranked off at least three rounds at his truck and missed him by less than a foot. Welcome to Central Division!
Our victim’s sitting in the back of the ambulance, getting treated. I don’t know what they’re waiting for. They’re going to have to take her to the hospital. Her injuries are too severe, and those are just the ones we can see. I have to try to get something from her before they transport her. I hate questioning victims under those circumstances, but we have to get what we can while it’s still fresh in her mind. And if she tells us anything useful at the hospital, some asshole defense attorney will claim that she was under the influence of painkillers when she said it, so it’s not admissible. Believe it or not, some judges actually agree. Go figure.
“Ma’am, I’m Officer Dani Lynott. This is my partner, Officer Ryan Harper. Did you get a good look at the person who did this?”
“There were three of them. I didn’t see their faces. They had ski masks. Woolen things, like a watch cap. They were African-Americans. All of them. I could see their hands. They all had guns. That’s what I saw the most.”
Yep. That sounds like the guys we’re looking for. And they’re just one crew. We’ve got a few of them pulling this shit.
“Did they say anything to you?”
“They said ‘Give me your fucking money, bitch!’ Then the second one…he was bigger than the other two…he hit me. With a gun. Right here.”
Right below her left eye. An inch lower and she probably would’ve lost her front teeth. Fucking assholes! She can’t be a day over twenty-five and about a hundred pounds soaking wet! And they needed three assholes with guns to rip her off?
“Did you see anything or hear anything that might help you identify any of them?”
“I might…I don’t know. I might remember the first one’s voice. I could barely hear the others. They didn’t say…they didn’t say much. I’m not sure.”
“That’s OK. What happened after that?”
“They hit me. I fell down and they started kicking me. The second one started to drag me back over to the plaza, but that truck came along and the driver shined a light on them and yelled something. They shot at him. The first one. The big guy. He shot at him. Is that man all right?”
“He’s fine. They missed. Did they all leave in your car?”
“Uh-huh. The first one took the keys out of my hand and hit me in the stomach. Hard! I tried to curl up so he couldn’t hit me again. Then they all got in my car and drove off. They went that way.”
Eastbound toward the main gate. There’s a security camera over there, but I doubt these assholes took their ski masks off for the camera. Still, we might find something on it that we can use. Ruiz is talking to the truck driver. He speaks Spanish, and they only English words I heard coming from the driver were obscenities. I hope he got more than we did.
“Officer Harper’s got a few more questions for you. I’ll be right back.”
Three male black assholes with guns and ski masks. That’s all we’ve got. Just like the others. This is turning into a fucking epidemic!
“Ruiz, tell me you got something!”
“Not much, Dani. He says he sweeps the lot six nights a week, and he saw the suspects trying to drag the victim toward the plaza. Three male blacks, dark clothing, no further.”
“He’s sure they were black?”
“He’s positive. He said he could see their necks and their hands. He’s got a hell of a spotlight hooked up to his truck. I don’t doubt he saw everything.”
“What’s he doing with a spotlight?”
“He says it’s to make sure he doesn’t miss any trash in the parking lots. The guy takes his job seriously.”
“They ought to give him a medal for saving that woman’s ass. I think we know what would’ve happened to her if he hadn’t come along when he did.”
“Just like the one on 4th Street.”
“And the one on Paxton. What the hell is going on here? Since when did we become the robbery capital of the Emerald City?”
“I guess the assholes ran out of good victims everywhere else. These guys aren’t local. Guns? Ski masks? Taking the cars and dumping them in the south end? That’s not your typical skid row robbery.”
No, it isn’t. It sounds like a bunch of gangbangers, like I used to deal with when I worked Woodlawn Division. They don’t usually come here, but maybe Ruiz is right: these people are just targets of opportunity. Maybe these guys just came here for the easy pickings? And it sure as hell sounds like we’ve got more than one crew operating here. One crew’s got a bunch of thin guys, another one’s got a Mutt and Jeff team, and now there’s this one. And those are just the ones we know about!
“What about the security video?”
“Rosen’s in the Security Office, getting a copy of it. None of the guards were out here when it happened. They were all in the office.”
I wish I could say I was surprised, but I’m not. It’s only June, but it’s already hotter than hell out here, even at night. They were probably all enjoying the air conditioning. I think I’m going to make sure Sergeant Hendrickson has a very one-sided and unpleasant talk with their supervisor. Those guards are armed. They might’ve been able to stop this. At the very least, if those assholes had seen a bunch of armed guards walking around the lot, they might’ve picked somewhere else.
“It’s Twenty-Two’s call, so they’re going to go to the hospital with the victim. Harper and I are pretty much done here.”
“How’s she doing?”
“She’s a mess. She’s trying to hold it together, but I think once she gets to the hospital and they start sewing her face up, it’s going to sink in.”
“Big time. God, I want to find these guys so that I can shoot them myself!”
“Get in line. That woman from the 4th Street robbery’s never going to leave her house again. Twenty years old and her life’s fucking ruined. I hate these guys, Dani! I really do!”
So do I. And if I get so much as half a chance to blow them right out of their boots, I’m taking it. So is everybody on the watch. These assholes have it coming!
Back on patrol. No, we’re not looking for those guys. If they’re anything like the other crews, they’re long gone. They hit the freeway and disappear, and the car turns up a few days later, stripped to the frame somewhere in the south end of the city. That just convinces me that we’re dealing with south end gangbangers. It’s all too familiar. I worked the gang unit and I worked the south end. I thought I’d left that shit behind me when I got to Central Division, but now it seems to have followed me here. Just my luck, huh? How’s that for being born under an evil star?
It’s been a while, so I guess we have some catching up to do from the last time. A lot’s happened. Those were some pretty horrible days, as I’m sure you remember; but it looks like the department’s recovered a lot faster than I ever thought it would. Thank God for that! As you might remember, our illustrious Chief Ellison – a.k.a. Rocky the Flying Squirrel – resigned and retired before they could throw him out on his worthless ass. Good riddance! What a fucking piece of shit! The great Departmental Civil War is over, but it wasn’t bloodless. Not everyone who got fired or forced out under the Squirrel’s reign of terror got his job back, and that’s a crime. Fortunately, most of them did. It turned out that the reign of terror was a lot worse than even we ever thought. After Deputy Chief Hillel’s fucked-up shooting and the removal of Chief Ellison, the Police Commission did a major investigation into how the hell everything went to shit. They really dug deep to find out the truth, and the truth was a lot uglier than anyone imagined. Remember how they broke into our apartment looking for that officer’s report that proved Deputy Chief Levant was responsible for fucking up that market robbery and getting two people killed? Well, it turns out that wasn’t a one-time thing. Half a dozen officers had their homes burglarized by members of the chief’s “special investigative team.” Special, my ass! They were a bunch of total sycophants that he handpicked from IAD to do his dirty work. They were doing all kinds of slimy shit for him: digging up dirt from officers’ personal lives, monitoring their phone calls, tailing their cars with tracking devices, and God only knows what else. Some of it was criminal; all of it was against the rules. They found out that Ellison’s master plan to remake the department in his own image included a multi-phase strategy that ended up with him controlling everything, and I mean everything! No one would’ve been able to make the simplest decision without his approval. The divisional captains would have to get approval for each officer in their divisions, as well as what units and watches they were assigned to. The promotional process was to be eliminated; replaced with the chief’s God-like wisdom as to who got promoted and who got banished to Siberia. He also had a plan to get the City Council to restore the civil service protection to the chief so that he could be chief for life. This from the son of a bitch who campaigned against civil service protection for the chief! What an asshole! I can’t believe he was crazy enough to put it all in writing, but he did! I guess he thought he’d destroyed every copy of his master plan before he left, but one turned up. I couldn’t read the whole thing. I kept screaming out loud with almost every turn of the page, so Harper finally had to take it away from me. Believe me, it’s a good thing that he did. I was ready to go hunt the son of a bitch down and put some bullets in his ass!
As I suspected, the city brought in an outsider to be the new chief. Remember that Texas cowboy I mentioned? Yep, that’s him! Henry Delano. He was Chief of Police in Amarillo or some such place. I’m not sure. So far, I like him. He clearly hasn’t forgotten how to be a working cop. He swept away the bullshit “reforms” that Ellison put into place and he really cleaned house at the top. Almost all of the old command staff is out. Anyone who supported the Squirrel got the word that their services were no longer needed or wanted, and that if they didn’t get the fuck out of Dodge, they’d be banished to some special hell that the new chief would create for them. Good for him! And the department’s rank and file did their own little housecleaning action, and it was brutal. Anyone who supported Chief Ellison suddenly became persona non grata. There were some nasty altercations when the ones who snitched off their fellow officers were identified in the Commission’s investigation. I’m talking real knock-down/drag-outs in the station parking lots, and Central Division wasn’t spared. Some of them have resigned, while others are hiding in useless positions and hoping the rest of us who went through holy hell will someday forgive them. Not likely. Most of us see them as traitors, and we’re not in a forgiving mood. Not after what we went through. Hey, can you blame us?
The chief’s “special investigative team” came in for the worst of it. Two of the detectives who were involved in the illegal break-ins were indicted. At least one of them was caught on the video that Harper and I set up on our computer, and it’s going to be Exhibit A” at their trials. They’re looking at a couple of years in prison if they get convicted. The DA hand-picked a real cutthroat guy to prosecute the cases. They’ve been screaming that they didn’t do anything illegal because they were following the chief’s orders. Naturally, Rocky the Flying Squirrel is swearing up and down that he never gave any such orders, but the rest of the assholes on the “special investigative team” all testified to the Police Commission that he did. And the rest of them? Some of them are still on the job, though I don’t know where the hell they are. This isn’t a very big department, so there aren’t a lot of places to hide people like that. They’ve been removed from IAD, and we heard that the ones who aren’t going to be fired have been returned to duty somewhere. Harper and I figure they’re going to start turning up in the divisions soon, but they’re going to get a very frosty reception when they do. Those assholes are all marked men and they know it. If they had any sense, they’d turn in their badges and guns and resign. They sure as hell don’t deserve to wear them, and every good cop on the department would sooner trust a terrorist than one of those backstabbing snakes. I hope they all go kill themselves. I won’t lose any sleep over it.
You’re probably wondering about the federal crime report that Harper and I filed against the chief for breaking into our apartment, and that bullshit complaint that tried to lay the blame for the market robbery fiasco on us. Well, that’s why those two detectives got indicted. So far, they haven’t been able to hang the break-in on anybody higher up, but they’re still looking into it. The complaint was dropped, and the real culprit – Deputy Chief Levant – resigned and moved out of state. Good riddance! And Harper and I sued the living shit out of the department and the city for it! We weren’t the only ones, mind you. Not by a long shot. I figure it’ll be years before they settle all of the lawsuits that officers brought against the chief and his cronies over the shit that he and his Bullwinkles did. We settled ours in March. We didn’t get the millions that we wanted, but we did get enough to pay off our credit cards and buy a really nice house. That’s right: Harper and I have a house! It’s not a mansion or anything like that, but it’s three bedrooms and it’s really nice and it’s actually right near where we used to live. You know, I’ve faced gunfire and a total psychopath who tried to drive a foot-long knife through my face, but signing the paperwork for that house was scarier than all of that shit combined. But thanks to that idiot Ellison, it’s paid for. We might actually be able to save some money now. Well, after we get the house up and running. Believe me, filling an empty house is no small task. Do you have any idea how much it costs to buy curtains for every window in a house? Trust me, you don’t want to know. But it’s coming along, and my mom sent us some furniture that she had in storage and so did Harper’s mom. Zephyr’s even picked out a few places and made us understand that they’re his and his alone. He gets all bent out of shape if we try to use them without his permission. That’s a cat for you. We’re practically a stereotypical suburban couple now. Who’d have believed it?
Midwatch is still together; the greatest watch and the greatest cops in the world. People joke about the fact that Harper and I are both field PIIIs, but we don’t train boots. We do sort of look like an SEU unit; what with both of us wearing our shiny silver corporal’s stripes in one car. And the fact that we’re married and it’s against the rules for married couples to work together doesn’t seem to bother anyone, either. Chief Delano seems to be happy that he’s got such a cohesive, effective bunch of cops working skid row. He told us himself. He’s been working his ass off to undo the damage that Ellison and his bootlickers did, so I guess he figures it’s nice to know that he doesn’t have to do anything to fix Central Midwatch. He knows that Midwatch was at the center of the storm in the civil war, but he’s OK with that. He likes hard-chargers and police officers who don’t roll over for a bunch of bullshit. To be honest, I didn’t think they let cops like him promote beyond the rank of lieutenant anymore. Make no mistake: the city’s leaders didn’t want him. Not one bit! And the anti-police activists were screaming bloody murder! They said he’d take the department back to what they called the “bad old days.” Fuck them! The truth is, the politicians realized that they had to bring in somebody that the rank and file would support, and Delano was pretty much it. Assistant Chief Janitz went for the job after being the interim chief, but he dragged his feet on making amends for Ellison’s bullshit, so he pretty much ruined any chance of getting the job permanently. We held tight on this one: the PBA and the rank and file pretty much said that it was Delano or no one. And believe me, the Mayor and the City Council are most definitely not happy about it!
And I’m guessing we’re going to get another visit from him pretty soon. This robbery epidemic is definitely getting his attention. And that’s not an exaggeration, either: we’ve got an epidemic here, and we need to shut it down fast! Two people have already been killed in these robberies, and everyone else came away with a serious beating or a rape and probably lifelong mental trauma. It can’t be allowed to go on like this. We’re going to have to come up with a brilliant idea, and on Midwatch, that usually means that I’m going to have to come up with a brilliant idea. Remember that night when we all walked out and went drinking and Sergeant Gellar said that I was the real leader of the watch? Well, when you’re the recognized leader, shit like this rolls right into your lap and you’re expected to do something about it. Lucky me, huh?
“Harper, how many does this make?”
“Six in the last three weeks. At least, six with the same MO.”
That’s modus operandi, for those of you who don’t speak cop or watch a lot of cop shows on TV.
“You mean not counting the ones with knives or other weapons, right?”
“Yeah, they’re chalking those up to the regular skid row robberies. These outside crews are good for at least six in our division; probably more in Mid-City.”
“Did you talk to anyone in Mid-City about how they’re handling it?”
“Yeah, but they’re not doing anything we’re not doing. They’re just not getting pounded as hard as we are. Is there any chance we’re going to get help from SEU?”
Not a chance. Special Enforcement Unit would normally be deployed to saturate the area with units to try to push these assholes out of the division, but that’s not likely to happen. There’s been a string of bomb threats at the airport recently, and one assault that the city is trying hard not to call a terrorist incident. This, despite the fact that the guy who stabbed the three people at the ticket counter claims to be a “Soldier of Allah” and says we can’t hold him in county jail because he’s a prisoner of war. Yeah, I think that’s a terrorist incident, don’t you? At any rate, they’ve got SEU all over the airport and the surrounding area until further notice. We’re not getting any help from them.
“I think you know the answer to that one. We’re on our own for at least another month. It’s going to be a long, hot summer. At least the dope traffic’s stabilized.”
That’s one saving grace. We still don’t have a new narco kingpin in charge, which is really weird. I was sure that someone would’ve moved in to take over the dope trade on skid row, or at least the heroin trade. It’s still a lot of little fish running their own program and fighting over the intermittent supply, and that’s causing problems of its own. But it’s not as bad as it was under assholes like Ricky and Shiloh.
“So you tell me, Dani: what do we do about these robberies? Now that it’s summer, things are picking up all over the division and the Robbery detectives don’t have anything to go on except that these guys are outsiders.”
“I know. I was really hoping they could trace one of the stolen cars. They’re stripping the junk and dumping the hulks in the south end, but they’re keeping the nice ones. I don’t think any of them has turned up stripped.”
“Do you think they’re selling them whole?”
“Maybe, but I don’t think so. If they were after the cars to sell, then they wouldn’t be jacking people like this. People who steal cars to order are pretty professional about it. They don’t like guns and they don’t like violence. I think maybe it’s for the car parts. The expensive cars are worth a fortune just for the parts. Maybe they’ve got a garage where they’re stripping them? We’ve got two missing BMWs and a Jaguar. They could strip the cars in a garage and sell the parts on eBay. Maybe we should check it out?”
Believe it or not, that’s exactly where a lot of stolen car parts are turning up anymore. The days of advertising them in the local Recycler flyer are pretty much over. It’s too easy to catch assholes who do that. But on eBay? They could sell the parts to someone on the other side of the country and we’d never know it.
“We’ll put that on our list of things to do. But you haven’t answered my question: what do we do about these robberies? The only unit they can assign to it full-time is Midwatch.”
“Harper, you know how the captain feels about devoting the whole watch to one problem. You’re talking about taking six units and two sergeants out of regular patrol. At this time of year? That’s a gigantic hit. Lots of dropped calls.”
“What’s the alternative? You know as well as I do: this kind of crap rolls downhill fast. The chief’s going to get heat from the Mayor and the media, he’s going to yell at the Bureau Commander, and the Bureau Commander’s going to yell at Captain Mayones. He’s got to do something, even if it’s just to say he’s doing something.”
“I’ll bet he’s wide open to suggestions. Have you got any?”
“Yeah: a Marine Amphibious Division.”
“I don’t think they’re available. Damn it! If these guys were local, we could work the problem! But they’re not, and we don’t have a clue as to who they are or where they’re coming from!”
“Do you think they’re gangbangers?”
“I don’t know. I’m definitely leaning that way. If it were just one crew, I’d say no. But this many? All at once? It sounds like a gang trying to fatten their war chest. They need money and they need it fast.”
“For what? Dope?”
“Maybe? More likely, it’s a war with another gang.”
“And maybe they think it’s fun and the people out here are easy targets? And since they’re coming from outside of the division, it’s a lot harder to trace it back to them.”
“Exactly. We don’t know shit, and these guys are picking off targets of opportunity. They hit in Heller Plaza tonight. It’s only a matter of time before they cross over to the fancy hotels in the northwest sector. Then all fucking hell’s going to break loose.”
Which is putting it mildly. If they end up killing some tourist or some out-of-town businessman, then we’re fucked. It’ll be front-page news. The media will go ape shit and so will the citizen’s groups, and it’ll be too late to do anything about it. Everyone will say “Why the hell didn’t you do something about it before this happened?” We’ll never hear the end of it.
“Don’t worry, Dani. We’ll come up with something. We always do.”
“Yeah, but it usually involves us sticking our necks out and occasionally getting shot, remember?”
“This time will be different. That woman’s car is in the system. Maybe one of our units will see it and run the plate? That would be a break.”
“Have we ever been that lucky? Us?”
“Once or twice. Come on, Dani! We’ve done as much as we can on this one for now. Let’s grab something to eat before the radio starts jumping again.”
He’s right. There’s nothing more we can do with this one. Not yet, anyway. And if you’re going to be stressed out and miserable, it’s best not to do it on an empty stomach.
Well, at least we got to eat dinner. Chinese food. When you work Midwatch in Central Division, you end up eating at a lot of Chinese restaurants. Thank God Harper and I both like the stuff. The alternative is the roach coaches, and I think you know how I feel about them.
“Dani, this can’t be the first time a division’s had a rash of robberies. So how did they handle it in the past?”
“They formed the Special Investigative Unit over at Detective Headquarters Division. And sometimes I think they’ve been sorry ever since.”
“Isn’t that the unit that…”
“Yep. That’s them.”
The Special Investigative Unit is unique on the department. They’re without a doubt the most secret unit we’ve got, and that includes the Anti-Terrorist Division. Their capers don’t get publicized unless something goes seriously wrong. The secrecy and the nature of their work don’t sit well with the public, even though almost nobody even knows that they exist. There’ve been calls to disband the unit almost since the day they invented it. Well, they didn’t exactly invent it. It was copied from similar units on other departments; most notably the NYPD Stakeout Squad way back in the day. Those were handpicked officers and detectives who were cool under fire and who knew how to shoot. Basically, when a rash of robberies took place, they’d stake out on potential targets and be in there when the bad guys came in to rob it. When the robbers announced themselves, they’d come out of hiding and take them down. As you might imagine, it led to a lot of shootouts. A lot of dead bad guys. Units like that were pretty common back in the sixties and seventies, but as the world became a lot more politically correct, they fell out of favor. Our Special Investigative Unit is a handful of select detectives, mostly with some Undercover Narcotics or Fugitive Task Force experience. The focus on the worst of the worst: the most dangerous bad guys in the city. They investigate the shit out of them until they identify them and then follow them around and wait for them to hit. And when they do, it’s on! Lots of shootouts, and a few of their high-profile ones were…let’s just say “questionable.” Oh, they didn’t shoot any innocent people. They shot some seriously bad guys who were doing some seriously bad shit. But their version of how the shootings went down didn’t always match the evidence at the scene. It gave rise to accusations of the unit being nothing more than a department-sanctioned execution squad. They’re not, but it’s not hard to understand how the uninitiated might see them that way.
“Dani, what about federal help? A lot of these robberies involve a carjacking. There’s a federal carjacking statute. Maybe the FBI would want in on it?”
“Kudos for thinking outside of the box, Harper, but I don’t see it happening. As much as Agent Nance helped us out with Shiloh and the slasher, I don’t think the FBI is going to want in on this case. And even if they did, our Robbery detectives wouldn’t want them around. The FBI usually doesn’t play well with the other children.”
“Did Sergeant Gellar have any ideas?”
“Yeah, early retirement!”
“That’s not an option. Look, we’ve got six units and two sergeants to work with. We know these guys aren’t going to be hitting skid row. There’s nothing to steal over there. So we focus on Heller Plaza and the hotels and clubs on the northwest sector…”
“You’re forgetting where we are right now: Chinatown. There are plenty of good victims around here, and a lot of them won’t call the police. Then there’s the bus station: lots of people to rob and cars to jack. And the train station in the north sector. That one’s mostly a Daywatch problem, but they’ve got trains running until around ten o’clock. Throw in the two thousand people walking and driving up and down Meridian Avenue and that’s a shitload of territory for six units. We can’t cover them all. We’d need all of Nightwatch and Graveyard to do it, and that’s not going to happen.”
“You’re right. We can’t do it reactively. We need to go proactive. We need to go after these guys the way we went after the dope dealers.”
“Yeah, but the dope dealers were local. We knew where they were going to be. And we had a shitload of junkies and crackheads to feed us information about them. We’ve got squat on these guys. None of the local assholes is going to know who they are or where they are. We can’t chase them without a lead or a trail.”
“Then what do we do? Seriously, Dani; we can’t exactly make them come to us.”
Son of a bitch! Harper may be onto something!
“Maybe we can?”
Yeah, that’s the part that Sergeant Gellar isn’t going to like. And I think the captain’s going to hate it even more. Hey, I don’t like it either. But if we don’t come up with a better idea, it might just be our only chance at catching these assholes.
Home again! It was some night. The radio was going crazy after we finished dinner, and we spent the rest of the night running from one call to the next. Two ADW suspects in custody after they beat the living shit out of a guy for not sharing his bottle of Cisco with them. The victim’s going to live, but he’s got two broken arms and a dislocated shoulder to show for it. We didn’t even have to use any force to arrest them. They thought they were completely justified. That’s life on skid row. Or maybe I should say life and death? When the summer comes, the nights get shorter and warmer and the skid row zombies stay active a lot longer. As warm as it was tonight, they’re probably still running around and causing trouble.
Harper absolutely hated my idea to catch the robbery crews, and I’m not a bit surprised. I won’t go into the details right now. Suffice to say that it’s as dangerous as hell, and he’s pretty protective of me. He never stops me from doing my job, but what I have in mind would put me in a hell of a lot of danger, and not surprisingly, he doesn’t like that one bit. We promised not to talk about it until I run it by Sergeant Gellar tomorrow when we get to roll call, and I think that’s a good idea. We’re both pretty tired, and the last thing I want to do is start an argument. Harper and I absolutely adore each other, but like any couple, we do have our arguments. Some of them have been real blowouts. This house is a perfect example. As the only daughter of a contractor, I know a lot about houses. Specifically, I know a lot about what usually goes wrong with them, so I really pressed the realtor to make sure everything was fixed before we signed the papers. I was a total bitch about it on a few occasions, and it made Harper pretty mad. He thought I was risking us not getting the house, and he was right. He’s also a guy, and like most guys, he thinks he can fix anything himself. I know a lot more about how much time, money, and effort it can take than he does. I wasn’t about to sign off on it until the house was as close to perfect as it could be. We had some blowouts, to be sure. On the plus side, we know the perfect way to make up after them. And now I can scratch having my brains fucked out in the back seat of a car in a realtor’s parking lot off of my bucket list. See? When you find the right guy, there’s always a silver lining to be found.
“Zephyr! Get over here! Come sit with your mom!”
He’s been a little freaked out ever since we moved here. He’s used to a one-bedroom apartment that he knows like the back of his hand. I think this is too much space for him. He doesn’t know what to do with it all. Hey, neither do we. Our next purchase is going to be real carpets for the floors. We’ve been making do with some cheap ones until we find something we like. Since we plan to be here for the rest of our lives, we don’t want to skimp on anything. I’m done with cheap-assed, do-it-yourself furniture from Home Depot or Ikea. We’re going to make this a real home.
“Guess what we’ve got coming tomorrow morning, Zephyr? A washer and dryer! That’s right! No more going to the laundromat! I know that doesn’t mean a damned thing to you, but it’s been driving me crazy. Starting tomorrow, we can wash our clothes right here! And they’re really cool, too. A lot more expensive than I thought, but at least they should last us for about twenty years.”
And he’s looking at me like I’m crazy. That’s Zephyr for you. Then again, maybe he’s right? Can you believe I’m actually excited about a washer and dryer? Good God! I’m turning into my mom! The next thing you know, I’ll be gardening in the back yard!
“Zephyr, mom’s turning into a suburban housewife! We can’t have that! I’m a tough police officer! I can’t go all soft just because we bought a house! How do I put a stop to that?”
He’s probably thinking “feed the cat.” Yeah, I’ll bet he’s hungry. Since we moved here, I don’t think he’s been sleeping all night while we’re at work. There’s too much space and too many things for him to investigate.
“All right, you little pig. I’ll feed you. Harper’s in the shower. Should I go in there and join him? That might snap me out of this domestic bliss shit. We can’t let ourselves become boring. What do you think?”
He thinks “shut up and let me eat.” I guess I can’t blame him. We haven’t spent as much time with him lately. He probably feels neglected.
“What do naughty suburban couples do when they finally get a house? Make their own porn films? We could do that. I’ll bet some of our neighbors already do that. There’s always a few in every neighborhood, right? But I’ll bet they’re not as good as what we could do. What do you think? Should I run it by Harper?”
Nothing. Not even a snarky look. He’s really hungry. I might as well let him eat.
“Dani, what are you doing still up? You need to rest up for tomorrow.”
I think Harper’s more excited about tomorrow than I am. Tomorrow I go for the last and greatest achievement in police marksmanship: the PSC. That’s the Perfect Score Club, in case you forgot. A perfect score of 400 on the course. I’ve been practicing my ass off for the last few weeks, and I’ve already done it three times in non-qualifying runs, so I’m ready. He’s not going to be the only one in this family with his name on that wall!
“I’m going to turn in soon. Don’t worry, I’m ready for this. Tomorrow’s the day!”
“Actually, today’s the day. It’s three thirty in the morning, so it’s already tomorrow. Is your gear ready?”
“Ready to go. How long after I ace the course do I achieve my immortality?”
Translation: how long before I get a brass plaque with my name on it bolted to the wall of the range?
“They usually get it done in about two weeks. But I think they know you won’t be able to wait that long. I’ll tell Diego to put a rush on it.”
“They can’t do it while I wait?”
“Dani, they have to send it out to the engraver. Don’t worry. It’s not about the plaque. It’s about the achievement. Once you do it, they’ll announce it as soon as your targets are scored. Your immortality starts there.”
I would’ve liked to have been the first woman to do it, but Linda Kalleon did it a couple of months ago. I’m not surprised. Before she joined the department, she was a top shooter for the Army Marksmanship Unit. Harper took me to see those guys at a competition about a year ago. Those people can shoot! But I’ll settle for being the second woman on the wall. I just want to do it and get my name up there. You don’t get a medal or a trophy for it. I already shoot DX. That’s Distinguished Expert, in case you forgot. I wish I had a dollar for every guy who’s seen that DX medal on my chest and refused to believe a woman could do it. Screw them. I earned it fair and square.
“Are the guys coming to deliver the washer and dryer before we leave?”
“They said they’d be here at nine o’clock sharp. Jesus, we’re talking about washers and dryers before your shooting competition? How weird is that?”
“I was thinking the same thing. I even said it to Zephyr. We’re becoming big time suburban, aren’t we?”
“That’s exactly what I was thinking yesterday when I was mowing the lawn. Pretty soon we’re going to be hosting garden parties like my mom does.”
“Speaking of moms, have you been getting heat from yours?”
“Not as much as you.”
That figures. You see, ever since we bought the house, both of our mothers have been on our backs to start having kids. I thought it was just my mom, but the other day I heard Harper talking to his mom on the phone and I swear, it could’ve been my mom. The conversation was going exactly like mine do. It’s like, you’re married, you’ve got a house, so when do I get grandchildren? My mom’s been laying it on thick. Coming from my mom, that’s definitely saying something! She’s really going on about how my biological clock is ticking and how she’s an old lady and won’t be around much longer. Yeah, right! She’ll probably live to be one hundred! The women on my mom’s side of the family tend to live for a long time. I doubt she’ll be the exception.
“I’ve been thinking about how we can avoid becoming too suburban. I was telling Zephyr, maybe we should start making our own porn films?”
“Now that you mention it, you know those supports I got for the basement?”
How could I forget? No sooner did we move in than Harper started tearing apart the basement. I’m not sure what he’s planning to do with it. What is it with guys? They can’t leave anything alone. They’ve got to fix it, even if it isn’t broken.
“What about them?”
“Well, I was looking at them yesterday and thinking one of them would make a good stripper pole. What do you think?”
Hey, now he’s talking! I’ve never been a professional stripper, but I know my way around a pole. I watched a few instructional videos. I can’t dance for shit on a dance floor, but I’ll bet I could get him off big time on a stripper pole! I’ve always wanted to put what I learned to good use. Besides, they say it’s great exercise.
“You’re on, mister! You build it, and I’ll give you a show you’ll never forget!”
“It’s a deal!”
Of course, I’ll need some appropriate outfits. I can’t wear my same old lingerie for it. Hey, it’s an excuse to go out and buy a bunch of new stuff. And I know just how to modify it for the occasion!
“All right, I’m turning in. Are you coming up?”
“In a few minutes.”
“You stay away from that computer, mister! I mean it!”
Don’t get the wrong idea. I don’t think he’s going to be looking at porn. Believe me, he’s got no reason to. He’s got everything he needs right here. No, I mean I don’t want him looking at muscle cars! Ever since Harper sold his prized Camaro to buy me my engagement ring, he’s been aching to get another muscle car and restore it to its pristine glory. I’ve seen him talking to Acevedo about it. They’re birds of a feather when it comes to muscle cars, and that’s a dangerous temptation for Harper. Acevedo’s got a line on every old hunk of junk with a V-8 engine in the state. He’s always building hot rods and racing them until he either blows the engine to bits or slams into a wall and destroys them. Is it any wonder he’s not married? Harper’s under strict orders not to bring some hunk of junk home with him. I don’t want some rusty hulk sitting in our driveway collecting dust and spiders for two years while he brings it back to life. Besides, I know how much something like that costs. And I don’t want to come home and find some filthy carburetor soaking in the kitchen sink! Not in our brand-new house! I have to watch him like a hawk on this one. Boys and their toys. They simply can’t be trusted.
The academy shooting range. This is it! It’s a beautiful day, except for the heat. That won’t bother me. There’s no wind to mess with my shots. Harper’s back there to cheer for me, and I noticed a few recruits are there with him, cheering me on. I wish I could say they were here because they were impressed by my marksmanship, but they’re all guys and I recognize a few of them from the lecture I gave here two weeks ago. They were impressed by my telling them about the shootout in the St. George Hotel, but I played a round of tennis with a friend afterward and I think the guys were more impressed by my very short tennis skirt. The hoots and howls they were making certainly made it seem that way. Oh, what the hell? I’m glad to have a cheering section. Moral support is always important in these things.
My Glock’s been tuned to perfection, thanks to a gunsmith friend of Harper’s. It’s not some fancy race gun, which is what shooting competitors call their designated target pistols. No, it’s the same one I carry on-duty, but a little tweaking here and there and some aftermarket parts make it more accurate and easier to shoot. I’m using Harper’s match-grade ammunition, which is something all of the top shooters do. Never cheat, but take every advantage. So we’re ready to go. My lane’s in the shade right now. Number eight. I made sure I wasn’t shooting next to someone with a .40 Smith & Wesson. It’s a great cartridge, but the muzzle blast is loud enough to be distracting even with earphones on. It could be worse, though. Last week, they had some federal agent shooting here with a .357 SIG, and I thought he was shooting a combination grenade launcher and flame thrower! Every time he fired, I felt a shockwave from it that made me flinch. He wasn’t immune, either. The muzzle blast was so loud and the fireball was so big that he was lucky to hit the target two times out of every five shots! No wonder they don’t authorize that one for our department. I sure as hell wouldn’t carry one, and I wouldn’t let one of my boots carry it, either. I’ll stick with my .45, thank you. It’s never let me down.
So this is it: the seven yard line. Wait for the horn and the targets to turn. I’ve done this a thousand times. I know the course in my sleep. I’ve already aced it in practice. This one’s for the money.
“Shooters, take your lanes. Start at the seven yard line. Weapons loaded and holstered. Do not draw before the horn sounds.”
Here we go! There’s the horn! Two to the right, two to the left, they turn away, and when they turn back, a head shot in each one. Got you! Both of you! Right between the eyes! And we do it a second time…go! Yes! Nice and easy! You’re both dead again!
“Shooters, stand by. When the targets turn, place two shots in the right target, two in the left, and two more in the right. Six shots in three seconds. Stand by.”
The fast phase. This used to throw me, but anymore. I clean this one every time. Go! Nice and smooth…yes! Very nice! You’re down for the count, guys! Nice grouping, too. Nice and tight.
“Shooters, move back to the fourteen-yard line. Weapons holstered and loaded.”
The easy part if you don’t rush it. Go! Smooth and easy. It’s always a lot easier now that I’ve got a good trigger on this gun. A nice, clean break. And I’ve got good hits in the center of the ten-ring, so now I’ve got a nice, big hole to aim at. It’s easier to see. Don’t drop any rounds…keep going…very nice! I definitely swept that stage, but I can’t get caught up in each one. Just focus on making every shot count. I’ve got this! Just keep my head in the game!
“Shooters, stand by! All weapons holstered! We’ve got a gun malfunction on lane four! Shooter on lane four, stay where you are! Weapon pointed downrange!”
Oh, fuck! This had better not hang up my relay! Yeah, his pistol’s locked up big time! Shit like that scares the hell out of me. It could be something completely beyond his control, but most of the time, it’s due to poor maintenance. The idea that one of us could be in a shootout and the goddamned gun hangs up because the guy didn’t bother to clean and oil it? That’s a scary thought. But broken part or poor maintenance, it’s better to find out here on the range than out in the field. All right, the range master’s got it cleared. We’re good to go. But I think that guy can kiss his score goodbye. Yeah, he’s leaving the range. It’s off to the armorer. We’ll know if it’s a malfunction due to poor maintenance. If it is, you’ll hear the armorer yelling at the top of his lungs. Good! If you don’t take care of your weapon, you should get your ass chewed out! It’s a hell of a lot better than getting your ass shot!
“Shooters move back to the twenty-five-yard barricade position. Weapons loaded and holstered.”
The final stage. This is the hardest stage, because you have to fire weak-handed. Two rounds on the left-hand barricade, two on the right-hand barricade, and two more over the bench. Not easy unless you practice the living shit out of it, and I have. Harper had me do this for hours at the range until I could do it in my sleep. Hey, if you want something, you have to pay for it. And if anything ever happens to your strong hand, you have to be able to hit with your weak hand. Harper and I sometimes spend a day at the range doing nothing but weak-handed shooting. It’s very humbling, and it shows you how much you need to practice in order to get it right. Go! Take your time. Don’t let the weapon recoil off of the barricade. That’ll blow your shot for sure. Good! Weak hand time. Just like I’ve done ten thousand times already. I know just how to compensate for shooting left-handed when I’m right-eye dominant. It’s kind of easy when you know how. Got you, motherfucker! Now over the bench. Don’t let the weapon jump off of the bench. Use the bench as a rest, not a platform. A little hold-over to compensate for the distance, and…nailed it! It’s over! I did it! I’m sure of it! Everything went right this time. God, I wish I had a pair of binoculars right now! But I’ll find out soon enough. I can see the range master in the booth checking the targets with his binoculars. They don’t do that unless they think someone shot a 400 or close to it. I know I nailed this!
“Shooters, holster an empty weapon. Don’t forget to clean and oil your weapons before returning to the field, and don’t forget to reload with factory ammunition. FYI, we’ve got a very possible 400 on number eight. Your scores will be available in a few minutes.”
Well, I see Harper’s giving me a thumbs up, and he’s got our good binoculars, so he should know. You could count the hairs on a flea’s ass at fifty yards with those. If I told you how much we paid for them, you’d choke. The recruits are all applauding, too. Yeah, imagine how they’d react if I were wearing my little white tennis outfit. Still, I appreciate the support. So now I wait for the score. Some of these other shooters don’t look too happy with themselves. You see a lot of that around here. Practice makes perfect, guys.
“What do you think, Harper?”
“You aced it! You didn’t drop a single shot! You’re in!”
Good! I’ve already picked out my spot on the PSC wall. Hey, I’m not letting them put my name where nobody can see it!
“Do you know what happened on lane four?”
“Yeah, I saw that. I was watching you shoot, and I saw the guy next to him flinch like he got hit with something. One of the recruits said the saw something fly out of his weapon, and it wasn’t an empty casing. I think he lost his extractor.”
Jesus, that’s a fatal malfunction! If that had happened to him in the field, that weapon’s completely out of action. I hope he carries a backup.
“So I’m a member of the club, now?”
“You’re in for sure. Congratulations. Let’s go get your score.”
“I see my cheering section’s dispersed.”
“They had to go back to class, but they were pulling for you.”
I’d better not tell him they were the same guys who spent the other day looking up my skirt on the tennis court. He doesn’t need to hear that. There’s the Senior Range Master. If he’s handing out the scores, then I know I made it!
“Listen up, you pathetic assholes! Not only do most of you suck, but you all just got aced by a fucking girl! Number eight! Dani Lynott! You shot a perfect 400! You aced the course!”
Yes! Yes! Yes! I did it! And this time, it actually counts! I’m in!
“Congratulations! You’re one of us, now! You are a true markswoman, and you are welcome on my range at any time! The rest of you could learn from this woman! You! Number one! 344! You suck! Number two! 282! Are you fucking kidding me? Go kill yourself!”
These guys are beyond brutal when it comes to handing out scores, but today, I don’t care! I know what I need to do now!
“Follow me, Harper!”
“Where are we going?”
“To make a reservation!”
Like I said, I know where I want my plaque to go. I’m going to grab it before some moron decides women don’t belong on the PSC wall. Believe me, I know. When Linda made the PSC, there was more than a little grumbling from some of the Neanderthals in here. I’m sure it’ll be the same with me. Someday it’ll change, but probably not in my lifetime. Women have made great strides in police work, but at the firing range, it’s still an old boy’s club.
“Excuse me? Hand me that pad of paper, please. Harper, grab that stool.”
“Dani, what are you doing?”
“I told you, I’m making a reservation.”
And…perfect! Right at the edge of the window, almost dead center. That’s fitting for a marksmanship award, don’t you think? Dead center? It’s right where everyone can see it! See? Now it’s official. It says “Reserved for Dani Lynott.” This guy had better not try to fuck with me on this one!
“That’s where my plaque’s going! I’ll be back to make sure of it!”
“Don’t worry, Lynott. You earned it. We’ll make sure you get your spot.”
You’d better! I’ll put it there myself if I have to! I can be a real bitch when it comes to things I’ve worked so hard for. It’s not a woman thing. It’s an achievement thing.
“Come on, Harper. I’m hungry. Let’s go to the cafeteria and grab something to eat.”
“You got it. It’s on me.”
“You’re damned right it’s on you! Everybody! Make a hole and make it big! Hail the conquering hero! Perfect score, coming through!”
Yeah, I’m going to be hard to live with for the rest of the day. But I don’t care! I fucking earned it! Deal with it!