Mission Critical

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Chapter 13 - They've Hit the Jackpot

Morning at the SRT assessment. We’re back at the range near the trash dump, which is no fun, but what am I going to do about it? Nothing. Just hold my nose and bear it. The days are really flying by, aren’t they? That’s what happens when you’re so tired that as soon as you get home, all you can do is crawl into bed and fall asleep. And here I am again. It feels like I left here about thirty minutes ago and now I’m back. Weird, huh? This time, I know I’m ready for whatever they throw at me. This is the sniper assessment, and I’ve nailed every target they’ve come up with on the first try. Compared to some of the things the Sarge hits me with, this thing is a breeze. Every target has been either on the level or at a minor elevation, and none of the shots has been at more than two hundred fifty yards. We’ve got flat calm weather today: no wind at all. It’s like they picked the perfect weather for this part of the testing process. That’s fine with me.

Since Robbie isn’t interested in being a sniper, they corralled him to be my spotter. I’m fine with that. He’s got a good eye. I will say this: on a couple of occasions, he’s had a little trouble keeping his eye on the target. I think you can guess why. At one point, they had him scope the target by putting the spotting scope on my back and that put his chin about three inches from my ass. It was highly distracting for him, and that’s putting it mildly. I got him to focus when I told him it would still be there when he comes over to my place tonight. It just won’t be covered by my trousers, which is how I like it when I’ve got a guy over for fun and games. I’m pretty sure he likes it that way, too. He sure as hell did last time.

Given that we’ve got perfect conditions for long-range shots, I’m surprised that they aren’t having us shoot at longer ranges. I don’t even know where the other guys are right now. We’re just proned out on a patch of dirt and grass and looking downrange at a row of targets along the berm. If my competition is out here shooting at the same targets, I haven’t seen them. Or heard them. We’re not using suppressors, so I think I would’ve heard them, right? Since I’m using my own rifle, it’s all dialed in and set up perfectly for me. I have no idea what the other guys are using. The M-40 is pretty basic, but the devil is in the details: this thing has had every inch of it inspected by an expert gunsmith and carefully tuned so that it fits me without a hitch. Considering how long it took the Sarge and me to get it set up that way, I’m really glad I get to use it. It’s practically become an extension of me. I know every millimeter of it. It’s perfect.

One thing that surprised me was the ammunition they wanted me to use. It was plain old white box generic stuff; not match-grade. The Sarge drilled it into me that if you’re a sniper, you use match-grade ammunition only. Fortunately for me, I brought my own. Training with the Sarge means I go through a ton of the stuff. He loads it himself and that’s what I’m using. I don’t want to miss a shot because of bad ammo. I want to ace this part of the assessment and so far, that’s what I’m doing. It makes me wonder what the other guys are using. Regular plain-Jane ammunition can have a lot of variation in just one box of the stuff. If you’re shooting to impress people, you want to shoot the best, right? I’m not taking any chances with bad ammo.

I can see them setting up plywood cutouts of people that I guess are going to be either hostages or innocent bystanders. I’ll have to shoot the bad guys hiding between them. No problem. I’ve done that drill a thousand times and at this range, I can make a head shot every time. Bring it on, guys! I’ve got this one nailed cold!

“All right, Echo One. This is Four Henry Alpha. We’re going to call the shots for you. Your goal is to shoot them in the order we give you. We call a target; you shoot that target. Time and accuracy are what this exercise are all about. Got it?”

Lieutenant Shears. He hasn’t been running the drill until now. If he’s taking over, they might be planning a surprise.

“Echo One, roger. Standing by.”

The paper targets all have numbers on them and I see one of the SRT guys pasting numbers on the hostages. Interesting that they haven’t said the cutouts are hostages. Is this an attempt to trip me up? There’s one way to find out.

“Echo One to Four Henry Alpha, are the cutout targets my hostages or are they the new bad guys?”

“Until we tell you otherwise, they’re good guys. Stand by, Echo One.”

“Roger, confirmed. Say the word.”

They put the cutouts in a pretty good position to cover the bad guys, but at this range, I can take out the x-rays easy. Thank you, Sarge! All of those days in the desert are really paying off!

“Robbie, my view’s a little obstructed. Can you see the numbers on the x-ray targets?”

“I’ve got them. Left to right: Four, One, Three, Two.”

So they mixed them up in order, huh? They must be trying to see how well I coordinate with my spotter. Well, I just write the positions down on my knee board and stick it to the right of my rifle so I can see it. How’s that for coordinating? Bring it on, guys!

“Echo One, green light! Number two!”

Aim…fire! Got him! Right through the bullseye!

“Green light! Number one!”

And…fire! Perfect!

“Green light! Number Four!”

Easy! Aim…fire! Got you, too!

“Green light! Hostage three!”

I knew it! Aim…fire! Got him! Right through the head! Robbie just freaked out!

“Did he just tell you to kill a hostage?”

“He sure did! And that’s what I did!”

“Why the fuck would he do that?”

“Because he knows something we don’t. Watch: you’ll see.”

“Four Henry Alpha to Echo One, good job! All hostiles down! Bring it in, both of you!”

It’s like the Sarge said: a police sniper faces different scenarios than a typical military sniper. Watch: he’s going to tell us that at the last minute, the x-ray number three made a hostage switch clothes with him and one of our spotters picked up on it. If the Sarge hadn’t drilled that into me, I’d have hesitated and argued with him and I’d probably be sent packing right now. Thank you, Sarge! I’ll never bitch about you making the training so hard again! OK, that part’s not true. But I’m still grateful for his training.

See? The Lieutenant and the three SRT guys are all applauding! I’ll bet they didn’t think I’d shoot the hostage, or at least I wouldn’t do it so fast.

“Sergeant Rane! You shot a hostage! Do you realize that?”

“Yes, sir. You told me to do it.”

“And you didn’t think to verify an order like that?”

See? He’s trying to play it off like I screwed up somehow. I’m not falling for it, Lieutenant. I already went through this with the Sarge a long time ago.

“It never entered my mind, sir. I got a valid order to fire and that’s what I did. It’s not my job to question why you gave that order. I just have to assume you had a good reason for it.”

“Did Frank Varanasi tell you that?”

“Yes, sir. He did. More than once.”

See? Look at those grins on their faces! They know I’m right. They just didn’t expect me to know that. I don’t know why. The Sarge trained all of them, didn’t he?

“Sergeant, we’ve run that drill in an assessment at least twenty times. No one has ever taken that shot without hesitation before you.”

“I’m guessing none of them every trained with the Sarge for a year, sir.”

“You’re right. I was all ready to tell you how the hostile…”

“Switched clothes with the hostage, sir? And your spotters picked up on it at the last minute and you didn’t have time to tell me about it? Sir, the Sarge drilled it into me: if there’s a fire order, I have to fire. No hesitation, no questioning, no second guessing. I have to have absolute faith in my leaders that they wouldn’t tell me to do something wrong.”

“And what if I was wrong?”

Yes, we covered this part, too.

“Then it’s all on you and not me, sir. I won’t like it, but I won’t beat myself up for having taken the shot. It’ll be your job to beat yourself up over it, sir.”

Now the other SRT guys are cracking up. Poor Lieutenant Shears doesn’t know what to do! Look at them! Mickey Stillwell looks like he’s going to pee his pants!

“Hey, LT? I think you need to file a crime report! She just stole your speech!”

Good one, Mickey. I did kind of steal his thunder, didn’t I? That was the idea, in case you didn’t know.

“Sergeant Rane, I had a whole speech I was expecting to give you about that! But since you just ruined it, I guess you two can take it easy for the next ten minutes while we set up the next scenario! Seriously, I’m surprised you knew that already. I knew Sergeant Varanasi trained you well, but I didn’t expect you to know all that. He took you a lot further than I expected. That makes my job a lot easier.”

I hope he means that makes it easy for him to award me the spot.

“Happy to oblige, sir. I almost expected them to be wearing trash bags.”

Just letting him know I listened to him when he told me about that one. I do listen to people, you know. Especially when it’s something that’ll make me better at this job.

“I’m going to have to try something in the next scenario to make it a little harder for you.”

“I’m ready for whatever you have to throw at me, sir.”

And that’s the truth. This part of the assessment? I could teach it!

“Come on, Robbie. Let’s grab some water while we can.”

I don’t know what they’ve got planned for the next phase, but whatever it is, I’ll handle it. We both will. The Sarge has thrown me so many curves in our training that I doubt they’ll come up with anything that I haven’t seen before. But I’m not letting my guard down. It looks like Robbie isn’t, either.

“What do you think they’ll throw at us now?”

“I’m thinking they’ll try to make the shots more difficult, but they already know I can shoot so that might not be enough. I think this time, you’re going to have to keep your head on a swivel. They might send some guys to attack from the rear. They’ll figure we’re so focused on the targets in front of us that we won’t expect some assbag to come charging us from behind. You keep your rifle ready in case that happens. You’ll be able to reposition and take them out a lot faster than I can.”

“What if they fake a radio malfunction? Suddenly we can’t communicate with the leader?”

“Unlikely. If that happens, we’re effectively out of commission. In a real-life scenario, you’d either give a hand signal or go running back to wherever they are and tell them we lost radio contact. I wouldn’t do anything until it was reestablished. They’ve got to figure we know that, so it wouldn’t be much of a test, would it?”

“Good call. So how are they going to make the shot difficult?”

Since I can see they’ve moved an old car into position over there, I’m guessing it’s going to be an obstacle shot.

“I’m thinking they’ll have me take the shot through the window of the car. Put the x-ray on the far side and see if I can make the shot through a small opening.”

“Do you think they’ll make you shoot through the glass?”

“Not with this ammo. Auto glass deflects the hell out of bullets. The Sarge and I did a lot of tests to show how the bullet goes all over the place when you shoot through it. He says you’d have to use armor-piercing stuff to keep the bullet on track. Since they didn’t give me any, I’m guessing they don’t expect me to try a shot like that. They’ll probably roll the windows halfway up and give me about six inches of clear path to work with.”

“At two hundred yards? That’s not much!”

Two hundred yards is a shade over two minutes of angle. With this rifle, it means the bullet will land somewhere in a two-inch circle if I do my job right. That gives me only a four inch margin of error. No, it’s not an easy shot. Especially if they do something like pop a smoke grenade to screw up my view.

“Part of a sniper’s job is to tell the boss when you have no shot. If they do something that gets me to think I can’t make the shot, then that’s what I’m going to tell him. Fair enough?”

“Fair enough. It’s your call, Allison. You’re the sniper. I’m just along for the ride.”

“No, the ride doesn’t happen until you come over to my place tonight. And I’ll be doing most of the riding.”

“Yes, ma’am!”

I kind of like hearing him say that. I may have just come up with a new game for us to play!

“Just keep your head in the game. Look: they’re moving more cutouts over by the car. No more bullseye targets for this scenario.”

“They’ll put one on the far side of the car, but what about the others?”

“I’m guessing they’ll put a hostage target inside the car and we’ll have to find a clear shot.”

Oh, yeah! I was right! I can see them putting in a half-cutout in the driver’s seat right now! That’s going to be the hostage. And the two crouching cutouts are going behind the car on the far side. Nice scenario, Lieutenant! I can get that first one, but the second one? I don’t see a clear shot without shooting that hostage. We can’t very well tell a cardboard cutout to get out of the way, can we?

“Robbie…”

“I see it. Number two’s going to be a bitch! There’s no clear shot from our position! What are we going to do?”

The Sarge always says “If you don’t have a clear shot, look for one that’s not clear.” I’ve got an idea. It’s risky, but it might work.

“After I take out number one, I’m going to try something. When I fire at number two, I’m going to fire two shots. After I fire the first one, I want you to get up, break left, and run like hell over there about ten yards to the left of the car and cover that guy with your M-4. I’m only going to fire two shots, so you don’t have to worry about me accidentally shooting you. Got it?”

“Roger that. I hope you know what you’re doing.”

I do, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to work. Lieutenant Shears is signaling us to get ready.

“Sniper team! Get into position at the mark! Be ready to go on my order!”

We’ll be lying prone, so I think I’ve got a shot at getting the second x-ray. This is something the Sarge and I practiced. It works, but you need a fair amount of luck to pull it off. See? I was right: they put the two bad guys exactly where I thought they would. Fortunately, they’re just where the Sarge put them when we did these drills. That gives me an advantage.

“Echo one, stand ready and wait for my order.”

“Echo One, roger. Standing by.”

I was right about x-ray number one: they rolled the window up, but not as far as I thought they would. I figure I’ve got six inches to play with. At two hundred yards? It’s enough.

“All right, Robbie. Keep your head on a swivel and watch for anyone trying to move in on us. When I take the first shot, you get ready to bolt. Get over there as fast as you can. Got it?”

“Ready when you are.”

That’s a two hundred yard dash he’s got to make. We wouldn’t do it this way in a real situation, but since it’s just us, we have to go with what we’ve got.

“Echo One! Green light! Green light!”

Aim…fire! Got him! Number one’s down! Now for my little trick shot!

“Robbie! Get ready to go! And when you do? Haul ass!”

Now! Aim underneath the car! From a prone position, I can skip the rounds into that guy’s leg! He’s over by the front tire, just short of it! Aim! Estimate the deflection! Right at that point…there! Fire!

“Go! Run! Tell him to drop the weapon!”

There he goes! He’s running top speed! Aim again! Same point! Fire! I saw it move! I saw the target move! I hit it! I know I hit it! Hold steady! Aim at the same spot! If I’m right, I hit him in the leg! A rifle shot? That would put him down in a hurry! Stay on target! Wait for any movement! Get there, Robbie! Get there! Yes! He made it! Cover down on that guy and tell him to toss his weapon!

“Drop it! Drop the gun! Drop it or you’re going to get shot!”

“Echo One, stand down! All officers, stand down! God damn it, Rane! How the hell did you know to do that?”

“The Sarge drilled me on that one a bunch of times, sir! I know I hit the x-ray at least once!”

I wish I could see the look on his face right now! He didn’t think I knew about skipping a shot along the pavement! Hey, I never would’ve thought of it if the Sarge hadn’t told me about it! I see Mickey’s checking the targets right now. Did I get number two once or twice?

“Mickey, what’s the word? Did I get him once or twice? I know I got him once.”

“Nice shooting, Rane! I’ve got a head shot hit on number one; a kill. I’ve got two hits on number two: one in the thigh and one in the crotch! You nailed him right in the junk, girl!”

Which would put him out of action for sure!

“Four Henry Alpha to Echo One, is there anything Varanasi didn’t teach you already?”

“Echo One, not a whole lot, sir. He’s pretty thorough.”

“Yeah, I can see that! All right, bring it in! I think you’re done for the day!”

That sounds good to me! All right, double-time it back! Run! Impress the instructors! I see they’re already talking to Robbie. I’ll bet I know what they’re asking him: why didn’t he pull the hostage out of the car first? Easy! Because that would’ve put him in the line of fire if I had to take a third shot! That’s why I told him not to get any closer than ten yards to the left of the car. I didn’t expect to take another shot, but if he’d gotten in my line of fire, I’ll bet Lieutenant Shears would’ve ordered me to take a third shot and when I said I couldn’t because I might hit Robbie, we’d have failed the scenario. Always think ahead, right? Expect the unexpected. Think tactics. Think strategy. Try to anticipate how they’d screw with you if you gave them the chance, and then don’t give them the chance. It really works, doesn’t it?

“All right, Rane! One question: why did you send your spotter in to secure the hostile?”

“Because if this were a real scenario, we’d have six guys standing by to move in on him and take him into custody. We didn’t have six guys, sir. All I had was Robbie.”

“And you told him to stand back because…”

“To keep him out of the line of fire in case I had to take another shot.”

“Sending a man downrange in a live-fire exercise…”

“Sir, I told him I planned to take only two shots at number two. He didn’t run until after I took the second shot. If I’d had to take a third, I’d have told him to get clear before I did it. I know what I’m doing and so does he, sir.”

“So I see. All right, you two aced this scenario. I think you know that already. You’re done for the day. Strip and clean your weapons and turn them in at the table along with the rest of your gear. Good job, you two. That was damned fine teamwork. That’s exactly what we want to see.”

And considering how they’ve been running the assessment so far, that’s about the closest thing to saying we walk on water that we’re likely to get. I’ve got a good feeling about this. I think I’ve got that sniper spot. But what about Robbie? If he doesn’t make it, he’s going to be crushed. He can try again if he doesn’t, but he’s going to be crushed. I don’t want that to happen. I think he’s done as well as anyone and better than most so far. I really hope he makes it onto the team. He’d be a good choice for SRT. And I’m not just saying that because I’m biased, you know. Still, the competition is strong. Very strong. There are no second-rate candidates here. Every last one of them would make a good choice for SRT. A lot of these guys are going to be crushed. There’s just no getting around it. That really sucks.


Back at the station, ready for the rest of my shift. I guess spring is coming a little early this year. How can I tell? Because we’ve already got a bunch of lizards crawling around all over the place. I mention it because one of them decided to join me in the shower. Not cool! Not cool at all! I don’t mind lizards – the ones that aren’t poisonous, anyway – but I’m not cool with them joining me in the shower! Having a lizard dart across your feet when you’re wearing shoes? Not so bad. Having them do it when you’re naked? Very bad! I almost jumped out of my skin when I felt it crawling on my foot! Hey, assbag! If you want to go for a swim, there’s a fountain out in front of the station! Knock yourself out! Just say the hell out of my shower, will you?

What really sucks is that if the lizards are all over the place, then it means the snakes aren’t far behind. Pretty soon, they’ll be everywhere. I already saw a huge rattlesnake crossing the road yesterday. I’m sure he’s got a lot of company. We sometimes get calls over 911 from people who find a rattlesnake in their house. Don’t ask me why they call us. What the hell are we supposed to do about it? Shoot it? Do you have any idea how hard it is to hit a snake? Fortunately, most of the people around here know better and they call a professional. That’s right, boys and girls: we’ve got people out here whose job it is to catch rattlesnakes if they crawl in your house. They call themselves snake wranglers. I call them total maniacs. They hold its head down with a little stick and pick the thing up with their bare hands! Crazy nut job psychos! And yes, a whole bunch of them have been bitten over the years! We get calls for that, too. The paramedics come by and give them the anti-venom drugs, but some of these dickheads have been bitten so many times that they can’t handle the drugs anymore. They just have to tough it out in the hospital and hope they don’t die or lose an arm or a leg. If that’s not a sign from the almighty that you need a change of profession, then I don’t know what is.

I’m eight pages into my own little version of War and Peace; otherwise known as that pursuit report. I’ve barely scratched the surface and I’m already getting bleary-eyed from staring at the screen. I have to document every traffic violation: every blown stoplight, every crazy lane change, every time they cut someone off or made them lock up the brakes to keep from crashing. Even in a short pursuit, an assbag can rack up twenty or thirty violations like that. Imagine what they can do in one of those forty mile pursuits. I’ve seen pursuit reports that looked like telephone books. Thank God I don’t have to write one of those. I especially lucked out in that they didn’t hit anything but the curb. The traffic collision? That was an easy one: party one was the assbag’s vehicle and party two was the street. Party one is the one who’s at fault. Yeah, like there was any doubt about who was at fault! Fucking dickheads! I can’t believe they’re not locked up right now! Desk appearance tickets! Even for the outstanding warrant! That’s all they got! Life isn’t fair sometimes, is it?

Since dickface’s dad probably won’t press charges for stealing the truck, all the driver is facing is driving on a suspended license, felony evading, and failure to appear for his last court case. The passenger? His buddy? Nothing! They told me so as soon as I came into the station today! They won’t charge him with anything! Even though he’s as guilty as the driver dickhead! It’s not like he didn’t know they had no permission to take that truck, right? But that’s the law for you. It sucks, doesn’t it? How are we supposed to expect people to obey the law if they know there are no consequences for breaking it? It’s infuriating. That’s all I can say about it: it’s infuriating. And a lot of people are bending over backwards to make it worse. Imagine what things are going to be like in twenty years if this crap continues? I don’t even want to think about it. We’ll all probably be out of a job by then.

Lonnie’s in the clear. He didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, he did everything right. Nobody gave him an order to discontinue the pursuit, so they can’t ding him on that. And he’s not the one who made those dorks take that turn at seventy miles per hour. They did that themselves. Lonnie did exactly what he was supposed to do. We generally don’t come down on officers for pursuits or the decisions they make in them. A pursuit is incredibly stressful. You can’t imagine it unless you’ve been there. We understand that and we take it into account. Departments who don’t? I don’t know how anyone can stand to work for them. Those departments have a bunch of dickhead supervisors who don’t know the first thing about police work. The ones who say “All you had was a traffic violation!” and never think that there’s got to be a reason why the douchebag ran from the police in the first place? Yeah, there was one of those in a neighboring department not too long ago. Some fucking dickface sergeant called off a pursuit because he didn’t want to have to write the report. Guess what? It wasn’t just a traffic violation. The dork who ran had just murdered his wife and when he was cornered the next day, a deputy got shot in the neck. Just a traffic violation? That dickhead sergeant should have his badge taken away!

Oh, enough of this! I’m starting to get frustrated and you don’t want to write one of these things when you’re frustrated. You end up including things you really wish you hadn’t said and they come back to bite you. These reports are a matter of public record, after all. Time to take a break and clear my head. I need a few minutes’ peace. That’ll do the trick.

“Rane! Let’s go! Move it!”

The Sarge. Oh, don’t tell me! Not again!

“I don’t want to hear it, Sarge!”

“Too bad! Our boys just hit the Cypress Ridge Bank! And this time, they killed a guy!”

I knew it! I knew it, I knew it, I fucking knew it!

“What happened?”

“One of the assbags pistol-whipped the daylights out of a teller and a customer stepped in to stop it. They shot him in the face, point-blank! He’s dead. Come on, it’s a circus over there. We’ve got to get over there.”

Of course we do. We’ve got to get over there and see a yellow sheet covering a dead body. What the hell good are we if we can’t stop these shitheads before they do something like this? Is this all we’re really good for? Cleaning up the mess? Cleaning up the dead bodies? I’m beginning to think so. It feels like shit, let me tell you.


Cypress Ridge Bank. It looks like something straight out of small town America. It’s a little red brick building with a white roof and white trim. It doesn’t look like something you’d find in a desert town. It’s more like something you’d see in the Kansas town where I was born. It’s a little neighborhood bank in a time when banks like this are disappearing. Now it’s a crime scene. A murder scene. Sometimes I feel like I’ve got no business at a homicide scene because it seems so far removed from anything I experienced before I became a cop. I felt the same way even when I was working the Homicide desk. Now I’m a sergeant and here I am again. I feel like an intruder. I feel like I don’t belong here. But I’ve got a job to do and so does everybody else and that’s what we’re going to do.

There’s the sheet. The ugly yellow sheet that’s supposed to hide the dead body but everyone who sees it knows exactly what it is. So that’s our would-be hero? Our Good Samaritan? He saw a woman getting beaten senseless and he stepped in and got a bullet through his face for it. I can see the blood all over the floor. The sheet is plastic so it won’t soak through, but the carpet soaks it up like a sponge. I don’t need to look under it. I don’t want to look under it. Whoever he is, he’s dead and there’s not a damned thing anyone can do about it. I wanted to stop this. I wanted to stop it from happening, but I failed. I couldn’t do anything about it. What does that say about me as a cop? What the hell good am I? What good are any of us if we can’t stop things like this from happening? I’m beginning to think we’re not worth the room we take up.

“Sarge, please tell me you got an ID on that guy in the picture?”

“Not yet. The tech heads are running it through facial recognition. It looks like he never got a driver’s license or ID in Arizona. We’re running it through New Mexico and Nevada DMV records. The surrounding state records are going to take time.”

“What the hell happened? Something went wrong here.”

“One of the punks started wailing on one of the tellers. The witnesses said they accused her of trying to slip a dye pack into the money bag. This guy tried to intervene and the son of a bitch just shot him in the face.”

“Do we know who he is?”

“The detectives have his ID information. Thirty-four years old, father of two. That’s all I know.”

That’s enough. More than enough. Why did they have to do this? No, they didn’t have to do it. They wanted to do it. Fucking animals!

“It’s capital murder now. They’ve got to know it. If they get caught, it’s the death penalty.”

Which means they’re not going to risk surrendering. They’ll fight. Fight to the death. Better to go out in a blaze of glory than to die strapped to a gurney in the death house. That’s how they’ll see it. That’s how most of these dickheads see it.

“We’re going to lose control of it, aren’t we? When this gets out? Randall Schoen’s phone is going to be ringing off the hook. Every bank in town is going to be clamoring to hire his gunners. We know what’ll happen after that.”

Yes, I called them gunners; not guards. They won’t be hired to be security guards. They’ll be hired to shoot anyone who so much as looks suspicious. And that’s exactly what they’ll do. And in the beginning? No one will care. No one will raise a peep. Eventually, they will. Those nut jobs will shoot the wrong guy. But in the beginning? They’ll be the heroes. They’ll be the cavalry that swoops in to save the day when nobody else can. This is going to go to shit so fast, we won’t even be able to keep up with it.

“I say we get in your truck, grab Beefy, and head for the hills. What do you say, Sarge? Sounds like a plan?”

“I’m not there yet, Rane. But I’m getting there.”

See? Even he knows it.

“I’m sick of this shit. I’m calling the captain and telling him we’re headed out to Vegas tomorrow to find that dickface who wrote that book. And we’re not coming back until he gives us a name. I’ll throw his ass off the roof of the Wynn if I have to, but he’s giving us that name.”

“I think that’s a damned good idea. With any luck, the tech heads will have a name for us by the time we get back. We can see if it matches what this guy tells us. I’m betting our mystery man deluged this guy with questions to his website. He’ll remember him. He’s got to remember him.”

And when it’s all over, we’re going to lobby for a new law that says you can’t publish how-to-commit-crimes books anymore! None of this would’ve happened if that assbag had kept his damned mouth shut! I know Arizona has one of those “Son of Sam” laws, but I checked: it only applies to you if you write about the specific crime that got you convicted. If you write a general how-to manual on crime, you’re golden. That fucking sucks!

“Has the victim’s family been contacted yet?”

“Not that I know of.”

Since I’m a uniformed sergeant, it’s probably going to fall to me to do it. All right, I’ll do it. Death notifications. Is there a worse job on the department?

“Do me a favor and get the information from the detectives. I’ll go break the news. There are a bunch of reporters out in the parking lot. I don’t want this guy’s family to find out about this from the news.”

“Good girl. One of the patrol officers said they recovered the shell casing. Maybe we’ll get a match on it?”

Maybe. I’m betting it’s one of the rounds our nerdy-looking guy bought. What the hell happened? Did the hardcase guys bully the nerd into doing things their way? It’s possible. Anything’s possible.

“What about the security video?”

“We’ve got it, but it’s just going to show the same old shit: three guys in jackets and ski masks robbing a bank. No faces, no distinguishing marks. I had our people ask about any trucks in the parking lot. If there was one? Nobody remembers seeing it. They’re all pretty shaken up right now. We might get more out of them once they calm down.”

And when exactly is that going to happen? They went to the bank for routine crap and ended up watching a woman get beaten to a pulp and a guy get shot right in the face. They’re not going to calm down for a good long time. Not unless one of them is a war veteran, anyway. People aren’t used to seeing that sort of thing, you know. Is anyone used to it?

“What do you think these dickheads are doing right now, Sarge? They never killed anyone before.”

“You mean they never killed anyone that we know about. I think we may be dealing with out-of-towners, Rane. I think these guys probably came here from another state. Things may have gotten too hot for them there. Maybe they’re not as inexperienced as we thought?”

Oh, they’re experienced crooks, all right. I just think bank robbery is new to them. They probably used to be in some other crooked line of work. Something a lot less risky. Well, now they’ve hit the jackpot: capital murder. Done in the commission of a bank robbery? They’ll get the death penalty for sure. And I won’t mind if the state puts their lights out permanently. Right now? I’d be happy to throw the switch.

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