Mission Critical

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Chapter 12 - Like a Dog with a Bone

Back at the station. I have no idea if that mystery patient from the clinic was one of our robbery suspects, but he sure as hell wasn’t our former President of the United States. I have it on good authority that he was killed in Dallas long before I was even born. This guy? According to his address, he lives in a gas station over on Herschel Avenue. I’m thinking the address was as phony as his name. While you might think we’d be jumping for joy at this potential lead, we’re not. I think I told you before that we get a lot of assbags seeking treatment in these cut-rate clinics: dope addicts, muggers, thieves, and whatnot. They go in, pay cash plus a little extra for the people there to keep their mouths shut, and hope the quack patching them back up doesn’t accidentally kill tZC hem. It happens all the time, so we can’t even say there’s a strong chance that this is one of our dickheads. Yes, it was a minor gunshot wound to the arm, but those are more common in this town than you’d think. Between the gangs, dope dealers, meth head truckers at the truck stop and the usual drunks who happen to be armed when they blow a gasket, we get a surprising number of people with gunshot wounds. This guy could be any one of those, or he could be our robbery suspect. We’re going to need more information before we can do anything with it.

I wish we could trace the money these guys are stealing, but that’s a no-go. None of the bills were brand-new or in sequence. They were all well-circulated, so it’s not like we can flag them. That means the bad guys are free to spend them wherever and whenever they want. It must be a nice feeling; having more cash than you know what to do with. I’d actually envy them if I didn’t know how they got it. Let me tell you, when I was hopelessly broke and afraid to look in the mailbox because I knew there’d be another bill in there that I couldn’t pay? I thought about ripping off a bank every now and then. Who wouldn’t? It seemed a lot more appealing than hanging out at one of the airport hotels and turning tricks. Fortunately, I never did either of those things. But I was tempted. I won’t lie to you; I was tempted.

Hey, look who’s here: Lieutenant Shears. I know there’s no SRT callout. What’s he doing here? Actually, I don’t care. I just want to pick his brain about those hostage scenarios we did the other day.

“Lieutenant? I want to ask you something…”

“You know I can’t talk about how the assessment’s going.”

“I know. I just wanted to ask you: if these guys we’re looking for end up holed up in a bank with a dozen hostages…”

“How are we going to handle it? I wish I could tell you. Every tactical situation is different: what they do, what we do, how they respond to what we do. There’s no way to figure out ahead of time how we’re going to handle it. We went easy on you guys during the scenarios in the assessment because there was no point in throwing some complex situation at you that you couldn’t possibly handle.”

I kind of figured that. While those scenarios weren’t easy, they could’ve been a lot harder.

“Such as?”

“The officers playing the bank robbers could’ve played it a lot harder. They could’ve shot one of the hostages just to let you know they meant business. That’s happened sometimes and there’s not a damned thing we can do to stop it. If they do that, then we have to go in there fast and hard and you can probably imagine how that works out.”

I can. Lots of shooting and lots of people shot. Not good. Not good at all.

“I was afraid your guys would so something to screw us up when they came out of the bank with the hostages.”

“I know. You said so at the debriefing. And we considered doing that. We had a case about six years ago in an office building hostage situation where a single gunman took six people hostage. When they came out to get in the van he’d requested, the gunman had taken a bunch of big trash bags and cut holes in them and draped everyone in them like tunics. We couldn’t tell who was who. We couldn’t even tell which of the people were female and which ones were male. And we had about twenty seconds to figure out what we were going to do before they all got in the van. Imagine if we’d thrown something like that at you.”

I’m just glad they didn’t. I don’t know what the hell we’d have done if they’d tried something like that. I thought maybe they’d pop a smoke grenade so we couldn’t see anything. I’m glad they didn’t do that, either.

“From what we know of these guys, we’ve got two hardcases and one guy who’s not so hardcase. Would that make a difference in how you handle it?”

“That depends. Would the hardcases listen to the third guy? Could we get him to convince the other two to give up? Would he be such a weaker personality that if we tried to use him to drive a wedge between the other two, they’d get pissed off and shoot him? Could we get him to sneak the hostages out of the building so we’d have a clear shot at the hardcases? These are all things we have to think about whenever we come up against a situation like that. And when you’re dealing with three suspects, it’s a hell of a lot harder to strategize because you’re dealing with three individuals instead of just one. It only takes one joker in the deck, Allison. One joker to turn it all upside-down in a split-second.”

“And people die.”

“That’s right: people die. And our primary responsibility is to keep people from dying. There’s no such thing as acceptable losses in SRT: our people and innocent bystanders. If the bad guys force our hand? They get what they get. That’s their choice. We don’t like it, but there’s nothing we can do about it. But we never undertake a plan and say we can afford a certain number of innocent people getting killed. We can never afford that.”

I know. I’m just not sure how to prevent it. And now I see he doesn’t know how to prevent it, either.

“This isn’t going to end well, is it?”

“Why do you say that?”

He really has to ask?

“Because everything we know about these dickheads tells us they don’t know what they’re doing, they didn’t come by this in the usual way, and one little mistake and they’re going to go crazy and somebody’s going to get hurt.”

“You sound pretty sure of that. Why is that?”

“I naturally look for the shitty lining in every situation. I usually find it.”

“Good. That’s a talent we can use in SRT. We’re always looking for the worst-case scenario. That’s the first step in preventing it from happening.”

In that case, I’m your girl. At least until I drive you crazy with my neverending pessimism and you tape my mouth shut.

“Allison, it’s one thing to game out worst-case scenarios. It’s another thing to obsess over them. One is helpful. The other one is going to give you an ulcer. Either that, or high blood pressure. Neither of those is a good thing.”

I don’t need him to tell me that. I bought a blood pressure machine back when my stupid ex first served me with the divorce papers because the stress was killing me. I still use it pretty often. Just in case.

“Look, you’ve got to have some evidence on these suspects by now. What have you got?”

Does he want me to sum it up in one word?


“You’ve got to have something.”

“We think all of the suspects are white males; no further information. We have reason to believe they drive a big pickup truck that’s either new or near-new; no further information. There’s a miniscule possibility that the one who got shot turned up at the Bagley Clinic for treatment of a minor gunshot wound. He gave his name as John F. Kennedy and the address he provided was a gas station over on Herschel Avenue. I don’t think it’s his real address.”

“All right, but why would he pick that gas station? How did he know the address? Maybe he’s familiar with it? Maybe he’s a regular customer there? Maybe he lives near it?”

Now I get to burst his bubble. Don’t get the idea that I’m happy about it.

“Unlikely. That’s Arnulfo Magdalena’s station and he’s got a tow truck business running out of it. He leaves his business cards on just about every windshield in town. I’ve probably pulled a dozen of them off of my windshield in the last year. He goes all over the city with those cards. Our guy probably had one of them with him when he needed to come up with a phony address.”

That look on his face is his bubble bursting. Yes, we thought of that idea when we first realized it was a gas station. The Sarge realized right away that it was Arnulfo’s gas station and he mentioned the business cards all over the place.

“It still might be worth checking out.”

Sure, but how do we do that? Ask over that the gas station? We don’t even know what Mister John F. Kennedy actually looks like. Our quack doctor? He wasn’t exactly helpful in that regard. The doctors in those places rarely are.

“If we could find some more information on him, we’ll follow up on it.”

“What’s this ‘we’ shit? Why are you and Varanasi doing all of it? I thought you became a sergeant to get away from detective work?”

“I did. It just doesn’t seem to want to get away from me.”

“What about this how-to book you told me about? What about finding out who around here bought a copy?”

“We’re working on that. We just heard the captain is going to send us up to Las Vegas to go talk to the guy who wrote it. I don’t know if he’s going to help us. He’s a total criminal. He’s done serious time. He probably doesn’t like the police very much.”

“So bat your eyes and flash your best smile and catch him off-guard.”

I think I’d have to flash a lot more than that to get this guy to talk to us. Who knows? It might be worth it?

“I’ll take it under advisement.”

“You’re like a dog with a bone, Allison. Once you get a case, you never let go. I admire your tenacity.”

And here I thought I was just being pigheaded. I’ve been accused of that plenty of times. Just ask the Sarge.

“Just remember that when you calculate the final scores on the assessment.”

“Don’t worry. I will. Since you’re going to a sniper spot, you’ll start that phase tomorrow. We’ll pair you with a spotter and see how you do. I’m sure you’ll ace it. I’ve seen you in the field and I know what Sergeant Varanasi’s put you through.”

Yeah! Hell! That’s what he’s put me through! I keep asking him if he’s as hard on SRT when he trains those guys, but he just gives me that weird look of his. I really think he saves his sadistic training routines for me and no one else.

“I’m looking forward to it. If I make the team, will I still use my M-40 rifle?”

“Why not? It’s at least as good as anything we’ve got. We were supposed to get two new rifles this year, but I think the funding for them fell through again.”

The story of our lives, people. This department never gets the money they promise us. Not even the elite units like SRT or Narcotics. We’re used to it, but we still get all disappointed over it. Who wouldn’t be? Imagine being a kid and never getting what you want for Christmas. It’s a lot like that.

“What else is new? Look, if we come up with anything on this robbery crew, we’ll let you know. Maybe we’ll get lucky and this crook author will give us these guys on a silver platter?”

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.”

You and everybody else connected with this case, Lieutenant. We’re all keeping our fingers crossed. It might not help, but it can’t hurt, can it?

Out in the field. It’s one o’clock – thirteen hundred hours for those of you who are into military timekeeping – and that means I’ve got another two hours to go before the night shift comes down and I can go home. It’s been pretty quiet today. We had a nasty car crash over on Vermont Avenue, which is nothing new. People seem to think that road is a racetrack. We get crashes over there all the time. The city was thinking of installing speed bumps in selected spots, but – you guessed it – they decided they didn’t have the money for it. Seriously, how much is someone’s life worth? If they’d save a few people from getting killed in crashes, then isn’t it worth it? Try telling that to the city council. Cheap bastards. I’ll bet if one of them got broadsided over there, we’d have those speed bumps installed in a week.

I did something today that I haven’t done in a while: I wrote somebody a ticket. Sergeants don’t usually do that, but there’s nothing that says we can’t. I saw some total dickface cut off an ambulance that was running code three to an emergency call. I hate that! That’s one thing I never let slide: you cut off an emergency vehicle that’s got its lights and siren running; I write your ass up! The guy was pleading with me not to write him a ticket, which tells me he’s probably on thin ice with his insurance company. Now that he’s got another one, he’ll probably be getting a letter from them saying “See ya, dickface! No more insurance for you! You’re a bad risk!” Hey, if you want to keep your insurance? Don’t drive like a total dickface! And don’t go cutting off an ambulance! See how easy that is? He’d better stop worrying about his insurance and worry about how he’s going to pay that ticket. That’s an expensive one.

“Three Lincoln, meet Echo Two on tac two.”

The Sarge is looking for me? What’s he got? It had better not be something that makes me work overtime. Nothing’s gone wrong today and I want to keep it that way.

“Three Lincoln, roger. Switching now.”

This had better be good!

“Sarge? What’s up?”

“I got a call from LC over at Cydonia. That guy we’re looking for came in again. LC said he got a picture of him this time.”

For real? Holy shit! Finally! A real break!

“Did he send it to you?”

“Negative. He wants us to meet him. He says he’s got some information for us. He doesn’t want to talk about it over a phone.”

Yes, because he’s a bona fide Conspiracy Boy! He probably thinks the CIA is monitoring the phone calls! Well, a trip out there and back should take me to end of watch. As long as LC doesn’t drop some major bag of shit on us, we’ll get off on time.

“I’ll meet you at the station and we’ll drive over there together. Did he say what this information was about?”

“Jesus Christ, Rane! I just told you he didn’t want to talk over the phone! Are you not paying attention?”

Do you believe this shit? Keep it up with the snide remarks and you’re going to find a rattlesnake in your truck, old man! I saw one just down the road a few minutes ago! I’ll pay someone to catch it for me and stick it underneath your seat!

“Don’t get your knickers in a knot, old man! I’m heading back now. Three Lincoln out.”

“Seven Baker, I’m in pursuit of a red Nissan King Cab pickup, westbound on Castellano approaching Helios! Two male white occupants! High rate of speed! Requesting backup and an airship!”

Oh, hell! Could that be our assbags? It sounds like the right vehicle!

“All units, Seven Baker is requesting a backup and an air unit for a pursuit; red Nissan King Cab pickup, westbound on Castellano approaching Helios; high rate of speed. Unis en route identify.”

“Three Lincoln, show me en route! ETA less than one minute!”

They’re about two blocks over and headed this way! Get there! Hit the lights and siren! Shit! Could this really be our assbags? Maybe they just robbed another bank? Where’s the third guy? Who cares? Get there!

Get out of the way! Fuck! Do these people not hear the fucking siren? Get out of the way! Move! Yes! Pull over to the fucking side of the road! Thank you! One more block! Who’s Seven Baker? Lonnie Arista! Come on, Lonnie! Tell me where they’re going! Are they going straight? Did they turn off? Say something!

“Seven Baker, still westbound on Castellano! Speed is eighty miles per hour!”

On Castellano? They’ll wreck for sure! This is Osterman Drive. I’ll wait here for them! They should come by any minute now! Unless they turn off! Come on! Somebody broadcast a location! And where the hell is the air unit? I know they’re up now! Get over there and take over broadcasting the pursuit!

There! I see them! Damn! That truck is going like hell! They’re weaving through traffic! And it’s too tall for that kind of driving! They’re going to roll that thing!

“Three Lincoln, I’m at Castellano and Osterman! They’re headed right for me! Where’s the air unit?”

“Three Lincoln, air unit is en route.”

How nice of them! They’d better get here before that dickhead wraps that truck around a telephone pole! All right, wait for them to pass and pull in behind them! I’ll be the secondary unit! Ready…now! Go! Go!

“Three Lincoln, I’m now secondary in the pursuit! Passing Osterman and coming up on McCarran! High rate of speed!”

Whoa! Look at that! That dickhead is driving like that thing is a sports car! They’re going to wreck for sure! McCarran’s packed with traffic! They’re going to have to turn off! Slow down! Slow down, dickhead! They’re going south! Slow down! You’ll never make that turn at that speed! Oh, shit! They wrecked! They rolled it!

“Three Lincoln, we’ve got a wreck! The suspects rolled the truck! McCarran just south of Castellano! Major TC! Roll EMS and fire and rescue! Be advised: these are possible armed robbery suspects! Armed and dangerous!”

That truck is totaled! It’s wasted! Are those dickheads still alive in there?

“Lonnie! Get to cover! They might be our bank robbers! Get to cover!”

We need to wait for everyone else to show up before we approach that wreck! If those are our assbags, they could start shooting!

“These guys? You’ve got to be fucking kidding!”

What the hell is he…oh, I don’t believe it! They’re kids! They’re a couple of goddamned kids! What the hell?

“Lonnie, who the hell…”

“They stole their dad’s truck right in front of me! Can you believe that shit? Right in front of a cop! Hey! Are you two stupid motherfuckers still alive in there?”

One of them is crawling out through the top. The other one is coming through the windshield. Stupid fucking kids! They’re lucky they’re not dead!

“Hook them up! Son of a bitch! I thought they were our bank robbery crew!”

“These guys are too stupid to rob a bank! They’d get lost in the parking lot!”

I believe it! The driver looks like a total clueless dickhead! And his friend doesn’t look much smarter!

“Three Lincoln to dispatch, we’re going to need a Traffic unit for a major TC at our location. Two suspects in custody, complained-of injuries only. They’re not our armed robbery suspects. Just two morons out for a joyride! Get us a ten-fifty-one here for the wreck. And get me units for a code fifty-eight to shut down southbound traffic on McCarran. The tow truck’s going to need the room to work. Have them send a truck with a boom. The suspect’s vehicle is over on its side. They’re going to have to flip it.”

What a goddamned mess! And that thing looks like it was a new truck! Their dad is going to kill the both of them!

“Lonnie, are they drunk?”

“More like stoned. This one’s got a possible busted arm. The driver looks OK. Hey, assholes! What the fuck were you thinking? Do you know how much trouble you’re in? GTA! Felony evading! Your asses aren’t going home to mommy! You’re going to the fucking lockup! Dumb fucking shits!

Right there with you, Lonnie! God damn it! So much for our big break in the case! And the worst part? Both of them will probably be home for dinner tonight! Stupid fucking juveniles! They can get away with murder anymore! I hate juvenile arrests! Whatever happened to juvenile hall? Throw their ass in jail and let them think about it for a couple of years!

“Rane! What’s the story here?”

The Sarge. I guess he heard the description of the truck and thought the same thing as I did.

“Stupid assbag kids! They’re not our guys! Just two morons out for a joyride in a stolen truck!”

I see the driver isn’t happy with me saying it was a joyride!

“Hey, we didn’t steal anything! It’s my dad’s truck!”

Here we go again! Just like the last time! It’s like Deja-vu! Look at this punk! He’s older than the least one but just as stupid! What an idiot! Totally fucking clueless!

“Did he give you permission to drive it?”


“Do you have a driver’s license?”

“It’s suspended.”

Even better!

“Why did they take your license?”

“On account of I got a DUI.”

Wonderful! He’s what? Sixteen? Sixteen years old and he already got popped for DUI!

“You’re a total dickface! Lonnie, have a unit take them back to the station and throw them in a cell! Start the impound report for this piece of shit and hold it for the Auto desk!”

Dad’s nice new truck is now a pile of scrap! And since dickface doesn’t have a license, the insurance won’t pay for it! I’ll bet this thing cost forty grand at least! Forty grand down the drain because of a couple of stupid motherfuckers! They ought to lock these assbags up and keep them there until they earn enough to pay it off! Which would probably be about a hundred years! God, I hate kids! Maybe that makes me a total cunt, but I don’t care! I said it: I fucking hate kids!

Finishing up at the station. So much for getting off on time! It’s half past eight and I haven’t eaten a thing since breakfast! That wreck snarled traffic for hours! The tow company sent a regular truck – which couldn’t do the job – and we had to wait for an hour for the truck with the boom to be available! Then we got to process our two brain donors and it turned out the driver – you know, the one with the DUI at age sixteen – he failed to show up for court on it! He had a warrant for his arrest for failure to appear! Since all juvenile warrants are “no bail” warrants, he had to go to the juvenile lockup! Which was fine with me, except his dickhead parents got all bent out of shape over it! The stupid son of a bitch stole your truck, ran from the cops, and totaled the thing! You’d think they’d be happy to let us keep him! Instead, they totally lost it when they heard their little darling was going to a real jail with real criminals. You know, like your assbag son? Yeah, he’s a real criminal, lady! His mom was a serious bitch, let me tell you! She was screaming about “If those hoodlums over there harm one hair on my little boy’s head…” Who the fuck do you think your kid is, lady? In addition to everything else, he and his buddy were as high as a kite! Lady, if that’s your idea of good parenting? You need to have your goddamned tubes tied!

Oh, and here’s the best part: that truck? It wasn’t exactly his dad’s truck. No, it belonged to his dad’s work! And no, dad doesn’t own the company. So tomorrow morning, that guy’s going to have to tell his boss that the take-home truck he was entrusted with is a pile of junk, thanks to his stupid fucking kid! He’ll be lucky if they don’t fire his ass on the spot! I’m pretty sure the company’s insurance won’t pay for a stupid kid stealing it and doing a power slide across four lanes of traffic! Somebody’s on the hook for that thing, and it’s not going to be us! Yes, you heard me right: when dickheads flee from the police and crash their cars, they find some suck-butt lawyer to sue us; claiming that the only reason why the crash happened in the first place is because the police were chasing them! I know! That’s what passes for logic when you’re a lawyer! It’s gotten so bad that in some places, the police are forbidden to get into car chases under any circumstances. Fortunately, we’re not that stupid. And we are not getting stuck with the bill for that thing! No goddamned way!

So guess who has to write the vehicle pursuit report? You guessed it! I was the sergeant on record, so it’s all mine! After a wreck like that with city property damaged – they took out a big chunk of the curb with that little stunt – it’ll take me two or three days to complete it! Is it any wonder why I want to throttle those two dorks? If there’s any justice in all this, it’s that when the parents of the passenger dork came to collect him, his mom smacked the living shit out of him right in the station! Good for her! I think she loosened a few of his teeth when she hit him! That’ll probably do more good than when he goes to court on it! He’ll get a year of unsupervised probation at most, and that’s if they bother to charge him at all! Your criminal justice system at work, people!

And since I got stuck with this total bag of shit, we didn’t get to go meet LC and find out what he’s got for us. I called him and asked him to tell me what was going on, but being the total Conspiracy Boy that he is, he wouldn’t talk over the phone. As much as I’ve grown to like LC – don’t ever tell him I said that – his paranoia can be a real pain in the ass. We’ll have to meet up with him sometime tomorrow after the SRT assessment is finished for the day. I swear, if we miss our chance to catch those assbags because of those two stupid motherfucking kids…never mind. I don’t even want to think about it. I can’t think about it. If I do, I’ll have to go in the locker room and scream my head off! That wouldn’t be cool for a sergeant, you know?

Speaking of sergeants, here comes the Sarge. Since he wasn’t there when the two dickheads crashed, he can’t really help me with this one.

“What’s up, Sarge? And don’t give me any more bad news. I don’t think I could handle it right now.”

“No bad news, Rane. I went over to Cydonia without you. Take a look.”

What am I looking at? It’s a picture of a guy. He looks like a total nerd. I’m talking stereotypical nerd, right down to the Woody Allen glasses with the thick black frames.

“Computer gamer geek?”

“Bank robber. That’s the picture LC took of the guy who told him about the book.”

This guy? You’ve got to be kidding! This guy looks like if he ever got his hands on a real gun, he’d have a heart attack and drop dead!

This is one of our bank robbers? No way!”

“That’s what I thought, but LC said this is the guy who told him about the book. He was positive about it. One thing I’ve learned about LC: he never forgets a face.”

“So what was he doing back at Cydonia?”

“Buying ammo. Nine millimeter and forty cal. The good stuff; not reloads. Two hundred rounds each. I guess he’s moving up in the world.”

If he’s buying ammo, it’s either for a robbery or for practice. Either one makes me nervous. It tells me they’re getting ready for a shootout. I guess they’re getting nervous, too. That’s not good, is it?

“Is there any word on his accomplices?”

“Nothing. LC said the guy was pretty shaky. He knew exactly what he wanted, right down to the brand name. He got in and out in a few minutes. LC said it looked like the guy didn’t want to be doing this.”

No kidding. Scanners and crap like that are one thing, but guns and ammo? Why did they send this guy? Why not one of the hardcase guys? They seem like a better choice for an ammo run.

“So the other two assbags are trying to maintain a low profile. They’re probably ex-cons or even wanted felons.”

“And they don’t want to be seen in a gun shop. Or anywhere else, probably.”

“And we still don’t have a clue as to why they’re doing this? A robbery spree? It just doesn’t make sense unless they’re feeding a dope habit and these guys don’t seem to be doing that. And this guy? He looks like the only dope he takes is his allergy medicine.”

“And maybe his inhaler?”

Why does everybody think all nerds have asthma? When I was in grade school, the only kid who used an inhaler was a star basketball player. Maybe I need to cool it with the stereotypes? I mean, Anthony was a typical nerd and I fell pretty hard for him. He was also no nerd when he was banging my brains out. Not even close.

“Why would a guy like this risk spending the rest of his life in prison? Look at him. He wouldn’t last five minutes on the inside.”

“Maybe he didn’t think that far ahead?”

“Maybe. Look, I’m guessing this guy is the brains of the trio. He hooked up with the other two for muscle. They sound more like your typical armed robber. For some reason, after the second robbery he decided he needed to be in the banks when they hit. Maybe he was afraid they’d do something stupid?”

“Like shoot a bank guard?”

“Exactly. And from what we got from that guard, this is the one he shot. He’s wearing a jacket so we can’t see if he’s got a bandage on his arm. From the looks of this guy, it’s a miracle he didn’t keel over dead as soon as the bullet nicked him.”

“Some people are a lot tougher than they look, Rane. If you don’t believe me, take a look in a mirror sometime.”

Yeah, I’m one tough broad, aren’t I? If he could see inside my head, he might not be so sure of that sometimes.

“I take it he paid cash?”

“What else? Whoever he is, he doesn’t like to leave a trail. I was hoping we could show this picture to the guy who wrote that book, but I’m guessing they never met. Emails, maybe. No direct contact.”

I know, but it’s still worth a shot. What have we got to lose?

“Did LC get a look at the guy’s car?”

“Actually, he did. Toyota Prius. New Mexico plates. LC said they looked like fakes to him. He’s a pretty good judge of that sort of thing.”

I know. Some of the websites that advertise on his blog? They sell phony license plates for “Free Patriots who don’t want to be tracked and murdered by the Shadow Government for trying to expose the truth.” No bullshit; that’s exactly what they say. Scary, isn’t it? Do you know what else is scary? The idea that LC has a conspiracy website so popular that he’s got sponsors advertising on it. Who would’ve thought it?

“You know something, Sarge? There are times when I wish you’d never taken me to Cydonia.”

“Sorry, princess. They’ve got their hooks into you. You’ll be one of them in no time.”

Like I don’t already know that? I’m doomed. Before long, I’ll be covering the walls of my apartment in aluminum foil to keep out the secret government death rays. It’s inevitable, isn’t it?

“Why am I doing this to myself, Sarge? I’m a sergeant now. I’m not a detective anymore. It’s a robbery case. Why don’t I just leave it to them and be done with it? Even if we do find these guys, it’ll probably end up being handled by SRT. Why am I torturing myself over this crap?”

“Because you’re a dedicated cop who, when she sees a problem, feels like she has to solve it. That’s a good thing, Rane. Don’t lose it.”

It sure doesn’t feel like a good thing. It got me shot, remember?

“I feel like shit about it. I don’t like that.”

“Come on, Rane. We’re done. Let’s go get a beer. You can bitch and moan all you want. I’ll be happy to listen.”

And he will. What would I do without him? Next to Beefy, he’s the only person I’ve got who I can talk to.

Back at Mario’s bar. The last time I was here, I took Robbie back to my place and we had a fantastic bang-fest. I wonder if that’s going to happen tonight with the Sarge? I wouldn’t rule it out. One of these days, Sarge. One of these days. And when it happens, I’m going to pull out all the stops. I’m going to do things with you that even your Marine Corps buddies never got to do with a girl. In fact, I think I’ll start making a list. We’ll check off every naughty, perverted act one by one and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it!

“I can’t believe those two idiots wrecked that truck and nearly killed themselves. They should throw away the key on those two! Instead, they’re back home and the most they’re probably facing is being sent to bed without any supper!”

“The juvenile justice system wasn’t made for that sort of thing, Rane. Most of those laws were crafted long before you were born, when kids were delinquents instead of hardened criminals.”

“Yes, but it’s not like they started being hardened criminals a year ago. Kids have been pulling serious crimes for a long time. When is the system going to catch up to the reality?”

“In our current ’let ‘em all go’ society? Probably never.”

Ain’t that the truth? It’s only a matter of time before we follow the lead of assbag states like California and start letting everyone go for everything short of murder. You’ll see. It’ll happen here one of these days.

“I’d like to take those two idiots and use their heads for batting practice. I really hate kids.”

“No, you don’t. That’s just a bad day on the job talking.”

“Guess again, old man.”

He’s giving me that look again. What? He doesn’t believe me? What do I have to do to convince him?

“You’re going to have kids someday, Rane. And they’re going to get in trouble. Maybe not steal a car or anything like that, but they’ll cause you plenty of heartbreak. That’s what kids do.”

“How would you know? You don’t have kids.”

“No, but I’ve got a lot of experience under my belt. You’ll see. Mark my words.”

No, I won’t. Just not for the reasons he thinks.

“What’s wrong? You’ve got a strange look on your face.”

You weren’t supposed to pick up on that, Sarge. I must be slipping.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Come on, Rane. We come here to unwind. Part of that means letting go of whatever’s eating at you. Give it up: what’s really bothering you?”

Maybe he’s right? Maybe I should tell him? I don’t want to, though. There’s only two other people who know this and if you ask me, that’s two too many.

“If I tell you, do you promise to take it to your grave? I mean cross your heart and hope to die kind of promise?”

“Come on, Rane. Do you really have to ask me that? If you tell me something in confidence, no one’s ever going to get it out of me.”

That’s true. I get the feeling the Sarge wouldn’t break if you tortured him. I’m not sure it even has to do with him being a Marine. He’s just one of those surly bastards who wouldn’t give it up. What the hell, right?

“I can’t have kids. Not ever. It’s a medical thing.”

Jesus, he just about choked on his beer! Maybe I should’ve kept that one to myself?

“Are you serious?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Why? Did something happen…”

“No, nothing happened except me being born. I can’t explain it to you. The doctor gave me some long medical explanation that I didn’t understand then and I don’t remember now. When I got shot, they had to do a lot of tests to make sure the bullet didn’t do any damage that went unnoticed. One of the tests revealed I couldn’t have kids. Not ever. I can’t get pregnant. The doctor said there was nothing anyone could do about it. Case closed.”

And it really was that simple. I’m infertile or whatever you call it. It wasn’t because of getting shot or because I had a horrible injury as a little girl or anything. I didn’t. The doctor thought I was probably born that way. That happens sometimes. He wasn’t sure and neither was the specialist they sent me to, but what difference does it make? The result is the same, right?

“Jesus, Rane. I’m sorry.”

“I’m not. I told you: I hate kids. I don’t want any. I’d be a rotten mother. I had the perfect role model for it, didn’t I?”

“Just because your mother left a lot to be desired doesn’t mean you’d be the same.”

“Maybe not, but I know I’d be a rotten mother. If I had a kid and she ended up with a good childhood, I’d get all jealous and try to screw it up for her. It’s better that I can’t have kids. I won’t have to worry about it.”

“Rane, you’re not your mother. You’re a fine woman and you’d be a great catch even if you can’t have kids. Someday, some guy is going to realize that. You’re going to realize it, too.”

Yeah, I’m a great catch. Most girls won’t do the things I’ll do for a guy. And the ones who will? They probably don’t enjoy them as much as I do. I’m a rare prize, aren’t I? Too bad it’s only in one respect.

“I appreciate the vote of confidence, Sarge. Just don’t tell anybody. I’m all right with it, but I know how people tend to treat you funny when they find out something like that. I don’t want that to happen.”

“You know I’ll take it to the grave, Rane.”

I know. And I’m kind of glad I told him. It’s not like it was weighing on my chest all this time. I’m cool with it. I don’t like kids. I didn’t like being one and I associate them with sadness and disappointment, so it’s not like I want one of my own around to remind me of how miserable I was when I was a kid. I’ll bet the Sarge is a lot more broken up about it than I was when they told me. Well, he never had any kids and neither will I. Birds of a feather, huh?

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