Mission Critical

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Chapter 17 - Welcome to the Watch, Sergeant

Home sweet home. A great day and a lousy day. I made the SRT team. That was the great part. That was truly great. The lousy part? Where do I begin? For starters, another robbery and more violence. One dead, the other seriously wounded. Our textbook bank robbers ditched the textbook and are now doing it the old-school way: terror and violence. And murder. Don’t forget the murder part. The body count is rising. How much higher is it going to go? I don’t know and I don’t want to know. I want to erase this crap from my brain. Easier said than done, though. I turned on the TV and the first thing I saw was the news. Our less-than-inspiring chief was on there telling everybody that the situation was well in hand. I’m guessing somebody wrote that for him. Whoever did it should be fired. This situation is anything but well in hand. It’s out of control and getting worse. Why does that seem to keep happening to me? Why am I even up to my neck in this case? I’m a patrol sergeant now. It’s not my job anymore. How many times do I have to say that before I start to believe it? Oh, who am I kidding? I’m a cop. It’s every cop’s job. If I thought that going back to uniformed patrol was going to change that, then I was a real idiot.

It doesn’t stop there, either. I called Robbie twice and got his voicemail both times. He’s not answering his phone. I think I know what that means: he didn’t get selected for the SRT unit. He must be devastated. I would be if I didn’t make the cut. I mean, there were only two spots and there were ten of us vying for them, so it’s not like he blew it. He didn’t. I know his scores were right up there with everyone else and probably better than a lot of them. But that doesn’t matter, does it? He didn’t make it and he’s probably sitting at home or sitting in a bar and drinking himself silly. And the fact that I made it? He doesn’t want to hear from me. Robbie’s no egomaniac, but he’s a cop and he’s got his pride and he’s not going to want to see me now that I’m a reminder that he didn’t make the team. I think I just got dumped again. Do you want to know something? It doesn’t get any easier the more it happens to you. I guess I should be thankful that I didn’t get seriously invested in it. It was pretty casual. So why do I feel like total shit about it? No, don’t answer that. I don’t want to know.

So here I am again, and when I should feel on top of the world? I don’t. Not even close. I really am cursed, aren’t I? One step forward, two steps backward. It seems like that’s the story of my life anymore. I must’ve done something pretty horrible in a previous life or something to end up like this, right? What other explanation can there be for it? Either that, or I really pissed off someone and they found some Voodoo priest or a shaman and slapped a curse on me. If that’s the case, then I wish they’d tell me what I did wrong so I could make amends for it. I would, you know? If I do something wrong to somebody, I try to make it up to them. I don’t always succeed, but I try. I’m not a bad person. I’m not perfect, but I’m not a bad person. I deal with bad people every day in my line of work, so I think I’d know if I was one of them, right?

So I’m sitting here with Beefy the dog, waiting for my pizza to arrive. I’m hungry and I don’t feel like going anywhere and I don’t have anything to put in the microwave. Thank God for delivery, right? I certainly do. I also thank the guys and girls who bring you the food. Whenever I order delivery, I give them a good tip. I can’t get my head around people who stiff the delivery drivers. It’s total bullshit. Those people work for those tips. They’re sure as hell not making anything on their paychecks. Minimum wage. I don’t know how those people can keep themselves from spitting in the food when they know they’re taking a delivery to someone who doesn’t tip. That takes some serious character. Let that be a lesson to you: tip your driver. They deserve it. They’re also a lot nicer to you when you do.

“Well, Beefy? I made the team. Hooray for me. But I think it cost me my guy. And our assbag bank robbers killed someone today. That makes two dead and two seriously wounded; not counting the people who got seriously beat up. I’m not doing too well right now. Sorry to be such a wet blanket.”

You wouldn’t think I’m such a downer by that smile on his face.

“Who else made the team? I don’t know for sure. If I had to guess, I’d say Chris Chu. Out of all of us, he was the real standout. I think he made it. He’ll be a good choice. So will I. I earned my spot. Nobody gave it to me because of my looks.”

Though I have to wonder if they didn’t help. I saw the way some of the guys were looking at me. Some of them wanted to do me on the spot and the rest seemed to think my boobs and ass were the only reason I was there in the first place. Well, I’ve dealt with that before. If they really believe that after everything I’ve been through and everything I’ve accomplished, then to hell with them. I’m not there to bang the team. I’m there to be an essential part of it. I expect that will happen. They were looking for a sniper, not an easy lay.

“We came up with a new theory of the case today. We think these dickheads are looking to buy a fortune in crypto-currency and become billionaires in a couple of years. Crazy, I know. Still, I’ve got this weird sense that it’s the right one. Crazy people, crazy motive. Isn’t that how these things usually go?”

I’m talking about extraordinary criminal motives with a dog. How sad is that? And the worst part? I almost expect an answer from him. I think I’m slipping. That’s a scary thought, isn’t it?

“All right, pal. Time for the ritual. That’s right: the Sphere of Destiny. When mom needs advice from the great beyond, that’s where she turns to. Time for some mystical insight.”

I really need to get a few more of these things in case they stop making them. I’d be lost without it.

“All right, Magic 8-Ball! Time for answers! Do we have the right theory of this case? Are these dickheads robbing banks to raise money to buy some stupid crypto-currency?”

And the answer is…

“It is certain. I knew it! Let’s see…are we going to catch these guys anytime soon?”

And the answer is…

“Cannot predict now. Come on! Now that we’ve got their motive, we should be able to track them down! You’re not being very helpful, you know that?”

I’m sure it knows that. It’s deliberately fucking with me. It likes doing that, as I’m sure you know by now.

“All right, let’s try something else. Is Robbie avoiding me because he didn’t make the SRT team?”

And the answer is…

“Signs point to yes. Yes, I was afraid of that. I probably shouldn’t have asked. Am I ever going to get back together with him?”

And the answer is…

“Better not tell you now. You really suck! Do you have any idea what it feels like to get dumped? No! And why? Because you’re a stupid little plastic ball! Well, let me tell you how it feels! It fucking sucks!

Maybe I should call the Sarge and have him take me out for a beer and tell me what a great catch I am? Yes, I’m a catch. I’m pretty and smart and I do things in the bedroom that would make a lot of women blanch. So why am I sitting here alone, talking to a little plastic ball? Don’t answer that. I don’t think I could handle it right now.

“How about something that doesn’t make me feel like crap? I know: will Beefy let me eat in peace tonight?”

Like I need this thing to tell me the answer to that one! All right, give it a shake. And the answer is…

“Very doubtful. No kidding! He’s a pig! He never lets me eat anything without scarfing down at least half of it! Hey, no offense, pal. You know I love you very much.”

High-velocity tail-wagging. That’s how he lets you know how much he likes it when you pay attention to him. Dogs are like that, you know. It’s a good thing.

“You’re still a pig, though. But you’re my pig. Come up here and sit with me. I need the company. It looks like it’s another evening at home with a movie. Which one should we watch tonight? Time to check out the schlock offerings on Netflix.”

The Sarge may hate modern technology, but where would I be without Netflix? Let’s see…The Day of the Triffids. The entire world goes blind from a meteor shower and monster plants that walk and kill try to take over the planet? Sold! That sounds like a good one!

“All right, Beefy; as soon as the pizza arrives, it’s The Day of the Triffids for us! I expect you to leave me at least half of the pizza. I’m really hungry. They almost killed us at the SRT assessment today and I didn’t get anything to eat. Got it? Good. Let’s just hope I don’t get a call that something else went wrong and I have to go in to work.”

I doubt that will happen. Banks are closed after four or five in the evening, so there won’t be any more robberies today. And it would be the wildest stroke of luck in the world if our guys found these dorks. I think I’m pretty safe in that regard. And there’s the door! Pizza! Just straight-up pizza for me: no toppings to ruin it. I’m sure Beefy would prefer it if it were covered in sausage and pepperoni, but I’m not really into that stuff. Whoever invented pizza got it right the first time. They don’t need to improve it.

Damn! This poor guy looks pretty haggard! What could have happened to him to wear him out like that?

“Thanks for bringing this. You’re a lifesaver. Rough night?”

“Rough week, actually. Hang on, I’ll give you your change.”

“No need. Keep it. I know a lot of people around here don’t tip. Why so glum? I don’t mean to pry. I just recognize the look. I’ve had it myself plenty of times.”

“I got laid off from my day job. Cutbacks. The company’s on thin ice, so they’re looking for ways to save money. I was counting on that job to finish school.”

He looks like a college guy. I was lucky: I had a full scholarship when I went to school. But I knew plenty of people who didn’t know if they were going to be able to pay for their next semester. They had the same look on their faces as he’s got right now.

“I’m sorry to hear that. I hope things pick up for you.”

“Thanks. Keep your fingers crossed for me. I really need a break right about now.”

“I’ll do that. Thanks again.”

That sucks. He seems like a decent guy. A lot of people around here had their college plans interrupted with the whole COVID thing. It was ridiculous: the schools shut down and switched to online-only classes, but they didn’t drop the price of tuition one cent. A lot of students are demanding a retro-refund, but the colleges are digging in their heels. That’s pretty messed up, don’t you think? You pay for the full college experience and instead you get TV classes, no campus life, no extracurricular activities, and no access to the libraries for your studies. You don’t even get a refund if you paid for a parking permit. Does that sound fair to you? It sounds like a rip-off to me.

“All right, big boy! The pizza’s here! Park yourself on the couch! Movie time!”

Right now, my life sucks almost as much as the delivery guy’s. But I’m not going to think about that now. I’m going to sit here with my dog and watch a bunch of walking plants try to take over the world. It’s lame, but that’s my life. Yes, it’s every bit as pathetic as it sounds. But I’m used to it. Does that sound as pathetic to you as it does to me? Don’t answer that. Dumb question. Time to eat.

Morning at the station, just after roll call. The station’s not-so-picturesque parking lot. It’s nice to not have to get up at some horrible hour of the morning so I can get here early before the SRT assessment. It turns out I was right: they picked Chris Chu for the other spot. I didn’t get to see his scores – none of us got to see them – but the rumor around the station that leaked out of the assessment cadre is that he totally kicked ass. He was also the voice of reason in team one when they split us into teams. He tried to get his teammates to forgo the blood-and-guts approach that they seemed to take most of the time. He’s a pretty level-headed guy from what I’ve heard. He’ll be a good addition to the team. So will I. I just wish they’d had a spot for all of us. So does Lieutenant Shears, I’ll bet. Maybe this bank robbery spree – along with the sniper case and the biker gang war – will get the city to stick a crowbar in their wallet and spring for a second SRT platoon and they can take the rest of the guys? It’s long overdue, let me tell you.

Speaking of SRT and our city’s pathetic budget, I saw my SRT uniform was delivered this morning. Notice how I said uniform and not uniforms. That’s right: they can afford to provide each member of the team with only one. It’s like that movie about the guys who live forever and fight each other with swords because they only way you can kill them is to chop off their heads with a sword: “There can be only one.” I guess that applies to SRT uniforms, too. You want more? You have to buy them and believe me, they’re not cheap. I wonder what else we have to pay for out of our own pockets? I think I’ll find out soon enough. Fortunately, it fits. I was kind of afraid it wouldn’t. The Sarge told me some stories about how when he joined the Marine Corps, the clothes they gave you rarely fit and you ran around on your first day of boot camp trying to trade with the other recruits so you’d have at least one outfit that fit you. I was worried it might be like that. My bump in pay won’t kick in until after the next pay period, so whatever they gave me is what I’ve got. I’ve got some of my own tactical fatigues and I can wear my famous Kryptek Typhon black camouflage for night operations – remember how I told you about that stuff – but during the day, it’s basic flat dark earth or FDE for the really tac-savvy people out there. I’m going to end up buying two kinds of uniforms: a heavyweight one for winter and a lightweight one for summer. More money down the drain. Story of my life, huh?

So right now, I’m just plain old Sergeant Rane; unit Three Lincoln and ready to hit the road to supervise, support, and smooth over when people’s feathers get ruffled. In other words, the typical life of a patrol sergeant. But there are still the perks, like that beautiful brand-new patrol supervisor’s SUV that I get to drive. Come to mama, you gorgeous machine! Hey, you try driving a beat-up Ford 500 every day and let’s see if you don’t get excited about getting to drive a new car and you don’t even have to pay for the gas! We’re talking about the most comfortable seats ever constructed by the fine people in Detroit, air conditioning that can make you feel like you’re in Alaska even when the temperature is one hundred fifty degrees outside, and a crystal-clear windshield that lets you see the road like it’s a giant flat-screen TV. What’s not to love, right? And since this is a sergeant’s vehicle, I don’t have to worry about it being a total mess inside because the last guy to use it spit sunflower seeds all over the place or spilled coffee in it or used the passenger side floor for an ashtray. It’s good to be the Sarge sometimes. I got that from the Sarge, so you know you can take it to the bank.

So let’s toss my gear bag in the back and get ready for…oh, fuck! Snake! There’s a fucking snake on the front seat! It’s a rattlesnake! Run! Run! How the fuck did that get in there? Shoot it! Shoot the fucker! Is it chasing me? Is it…what the fuck? Why is everybody laughing? What are they…oh, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me!

“You fucking assholes! You put a fucking rattlesnake in my car!”

Here comes Jimmy Corrales! What the hell is he doing here? He doesn’t even work the day shift!


“Relax, Allison. It’s a rubber snake. It’s not real. See?”

Fuck! It’s a fake? It looked real to me! I almost pissed myself!

“What the hell are you doing here at this hour?”

“The guys needed help with your ‘Welcome to the Watch’ prank. They asked me for a little assistance. I happened to know you were afraid of snakes.”

Afraid of them? I’m fucking terrified of them! And he knows it! What a total dickface!

“That shit’s not funny! I almost had a fucking stroke!”

And he’s cackling like a total dickface! Asshole! I should write him up for that! What the hell is he doing? Turning to everybody like he’s…

“Guys! You’re on!”

“Welcome to the watch, Sergeant Rane!”

All of them in unison! Very funny, you fucking shits! All of you! Total fucking shits!

“I’m going to find a really shitty detail and make sure all of you get a turn! I totally fucking hate snakes!”

“Yeah, I think they noticed. Have a good shift, Allison. Later.”

“I hope the council elders banish you from the tribe, you little assbag!”

“Never happen. My grandma’s brother is on the council. Besides, they need the dues.”

Yes, I’m sure they’d miss your whopping fifteen bucks a month, you little dickhead! I hereby swear revenge on all of them! I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but they shall go down! I swear they will!

“What’s with the rubber snake, Rane?”

The Sarge! I’ll bet he was in on this!

“Those assbags put it in my car to scare the crap out of me!”

“I’m guessing it worked. You don’t like snakes, do you?”

“I fucking hate them! And Gila Monsters! And scorpions! And Black Widow spiders! And every other disgusting creepy-crawling thing that can kill you around here! What is it with the desert? If the good Lord didn’t want us here, he could’ve just posted a ‘Keep Out’ sign! He didn’t have to invent a bunch of totally gross things that can kill you with one bite!”

“Quit being a little girl, princess! You never would’ve made it in my day! When I was a boy, we had to catch rattlesnakes with our bare hands! And they were a hell of a lot bigger than the pissy little runts we’ve got out here! Why, I remember snakes that were as big as…”

Oh, here we fucking go again! No! Absolutely not! Not after I just got the life scared out of me! Remember what I said about revenge? He’s going first!

“Where’s my Taser? I’m going to light up your ass massively, old man! Let’s see if your dick still works after fifty thousand volts go through it!”

“Cool your jets, Rane. All sergeants get pranked. It’s part of the job. You get used to it.”

“Oh, really? Did you get used to it?”
“Me? No one ever dared to prank me! Pranksters wilt at the very mention of my name! People respect me too much to even think about doing something like that!”

Do you want to know the worst part? He’s probably right. People fear him too much to pull any stunts on him.

“So did you come here just for the show?”

“No, but it was pretty funny. I came here to give you these for your uniform.”

What are these? Patches. Echo One. My sniper’s designation. Cool. I guess this means I get to keep it. And this one? Police Sniper. Crossed rifles over our badge. Not bad. Not as menacing as the Scout Sniper patch I already have, but not bad. I like it.

“They’ll look good on it. When do I start training with SRT?”

“Probably next week. They really put you through the ringer, so they’ll give you a couple of days to recover. That’s pretty standard.”

Good, because my arms still ache from climbing that damned rope so much. If I keep doing that, I’m going to have arms like a bodybuilder. Guys may be into that, but not me. I’m a girl and I want to keep looking like one.

“I’m still slated for callouts if they need a sniper, right?”

“Of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Good. Because any day now, we’re going to corner those assbag bank robbers and SRT is going to need a good sniper. I want to be there when these dorks get caught. I just hope I don’t have to shoot anyone. I hope nobody does. Except for those assbags and their rubber snake! They can get shot! I’m cool with that!

A day in the life of a sergeant of police: quashing a personnel complaint against two of my officers. Alleged excessive force. Do I believe the complainant? Well, let’s see: he’s as big as a house, he’s as nasty as can be, my two officers look like they just got through wrestling a bear, there’s a baseball bat with blood on it lying on the ground, and the officers were here to arrest this guy for going to town on some schmuck over a parking spot. It seems he took that bat to the poor guy because he didn’t get the spot. Oh, and the dork is also on probation for assault and battery. So do I believe him? I’ll let you do the math. Am I a little biased? I don’t think so, but I’ve been on the receiving end of a few of those complaints. We get them all the time. They’re usually total bullshit. I think this one is, too. Let me give you a little advice: if you want to make a complaint against a cop and the sergeant shows up to find out what’s going on? Don’t refer to her as a fucking cunt. It doesn’t look good for your allegations. That’s especially true when you do it six times in less than a minute.

The officers are Chris Baughman and Freddy Wise. Neither of them is what you’d call a heavy-handed cop. They’re also both about sixty pounds lighter than this guy. I’m betting he took one look at them and their naturally easygoing manner and decided he could take them without breaking a sweat. That happens more often than you’d think, and not just around here. We’re just lucky he didn’t crack them both over the head with that bat. To be honest, it’s a wonder he didn’t get himself shot. We’ve got our share of officers on the force who would’ve blasted him the moment he raised that bat to take a swing. Instead, he just got himself gassed and thumped. Lucky him, huh?

“So you were just minding your own business when two cops suddenly came out of nowhere and beat the crap out of you?”


“Did they tell you about the charge against you and that you were under arrest?”

“For what? Wailin’ on that fucking spic for takin’ my spot?”

Not what you’d call an inclusive attitude, is it?

“It’s called assault with a deadly weapon. I’m pretty sure you know all about it. You’re on probation for something similar, remember?”

“I ain’t talkin’ about that, you fuckin’ cunt!”

Seven times. Shall we go for eight?

“So they told you that you were under arrest and what happened?”

“I told ‘em if they put their fuckin’ hands on me, I was gonna kick their fuckin’ ass!”

“And they put their hands on you?”

“That nigger cop tried, so I punched him in his goddamned face! Ain’t no nigger gonna put his hands on me! I don’t care if he’s a fuckin’ cop!”

The complaint is now officially bullshit. Add two counts of assaulting an officer to your charges, dickface. And I think I know what this is all about, too.

“Why? Because you’re a Wood?”

“You’re damned fuckin’ straight!

I knew it! Oh, the things you learn when you’re a cop! For those of you who’ve never been a guest of the state, a “Wood” is a prison term. It’s short for “Peckerwood.” It’s supposed to be an insulting term for white people, but in prison, the white guys around here sort of adopted it as a badge of honor. Peckerwoods are kind of like the auxiliary to the Aryan Brotherhood. One’s as bad as the other, let me tell you. The Gang Unit detectives have a whole book full of prison ID photos of the Peckerwoods in this state. They’re all total assbags and they cause us a lot of headaches. They’ve got a real thing for violence.

“What’s your name again?”

“Albert Baskin! I told you that already! What’s the matter, cunt? You fuckin’ deaf?”

“Mister Baskin, I find your allegation to be not credible. I also find probable cause to arrest you for ADW and battery on two police officers. You’re going back to prison. This time? You’ll probably get so much time, you’ll be able to step up to full-fledged member of the AB. Have fun in Florence, pal. That’s if they don’t throw your ass in Lewis, anyway.”

That one just opened in 2015, I think. But it’s tiny: five hundred slots at most. I’ve heard some of our frequent flyers talk about how they never want to go there. Wherever he winds up, he’ll find himself on lockdown from the get-go. He’s just that kind of guy, wouldn’t you say?

“You fuckin’ cunt! I’ll fuckin’ kill you! I’ll fuckin’ kill all of you!”

He’s going nuts again! Freddy and Chris can barely hold him and he’s cuffed! You know what? Screw this shit! Time to teach this assbag a lesson! Where’s my gear bag? Here! This should do the trick!

“Stand clear! Fox! Fox!”

Suck on this, dickface! Got him! Right in the face! Down he goes! Nice and hard!

“Not fun, is it? That’s riot spray, dickface! Five times worse than the regular stuff! Try that shit again and you’re going to drown in this crap! Guys, when he calms down? Clean off his face and throw him in the tank back at the station! He’s good to go: ADW, battery on the two of you, and being a total dickface!”

Fox Five-Point-Three! The nastiest pepper gas you can buy! They really need to give this to all of our cops. If you think the regular stuff is bad, just wait until you get a face full of this crap! They sprayed us with it in sergeant’s school and I thought my eyeballs were on fire! Every breath felt like I was inhaling broken glass! Not one of us could take it! Trust me, it works!

Here comes the Sarge. How does he always wind up shadowing my calls? Is he keeping an eye on me?

“Problem, Rane?”

“Not anymore. Sarge, what brings you here?”

This goddamned jackass! Hey! Baskin! Remember me? I’m the one who put that permanent boot print on your fat ass! That’s right! Guess what? You’re wanted in New Mexico! Remember that guy you beat the shit out of in Deming? Yeah! Him! The police over there want you back ASAP!”

“He’s got a warrant over there?”

“He sure does! Put my name on the arrest report! I love New Mexico! Great hunting over there! By the time this assbag goes to trial, it’ll be pronghorn season!”

Leave it to the Sarge to come up with a way to have fun while on a business trip. Why can’t I manage to do that?

“You heard him, guys. Put him down on the report and pull that New Mexico warrant. Mister Baskin, consider yourself held with no bail. You can’t have bail with an out-of-state warrant. Guys, put me down as the supervisor of record. And don’t worry about the bullshit complaint. It’s officially quashed.”

What a dickface! I swear to God, I’ll never understand why they let these total career criminals out of prison in the first place! Everyone knows they’re just going back on another charge! And don’t give me any social justice crap about profiling! He is the profile! This dork’s a total convict! He was probably born in prison!

“You’ve run across that guy before Sarge?”

“A few times. He’s an asshole of the first order. The only reason he’s not still doing time is because he informed on some bigger fish the last time he was facing serious charges and the prosecutor cut him a deal.”

It must’ve been somebody big to let a dickface like that guy skate.

“Who did he give up?”

“Rudy Haas.”

Seriously? The meth king? Damn! I remember when he went away. He got something like thirty years. It was a big deal in the news. I guess Mister Baskin was one of his customers and he rolled on him. Be careful who you associate with, boys and girls. You never know which one of them will come back to bite you in the ass, right?

My phone’s ringing. Who the hell would be calling me? I don’t have a lot of people who call me. In fact, the guy who calls me the most is standing right next to me. Let’s see…weird. My caller ID doesn’t identify the number. This had better not be some robot call telling me they’ve been trying to reach me because my car warranty has expired. It expired a long time ago and those calls are a total scam.


“Hey, babe. It’s LC.”

For real? What the hell is LC calling me about? And since when does he have an unidentifiable phone number? I’ve got him in my contact list.

“LC? My caller ID doesn’t…”

“I got a gadget that defeats that shit. You never know when Big Brother might be tapping in on you, you know?”

I’m not surprised he’s got something like that. It’s just the sort of thing LC would have, don’t you think?

“You beat the shadow government again. What’s up?”

“I got a possible name for you on that thing you’re looking at.”

“Uh, we’ve already got DeWitt’s name, remember?”

“No, not him! I think I got one of the other guys’ names. Some douche came in here trying to do a straw man buy for a Tavor. I kind of leaned on him and he gave it up.”

I know what a straw man buy is, but I have no idea what a Tavor is. I’m not sure I want to know. It’s probably a classified death ray that no one’s supposed to have.

“So why do you think it’s for one of our guys?”

“I’d rather not say…”

“Over the phone. Right. I know that about you. All right, we’ll be over there as soon as we can. What happened to the guy who tried to do the straw man buy?”

“The sheriffs popped him in the parking lot. One of my guys called them as soon as his info didn’t check out.”

The sheriffs? That’s the least of that guy’s worries. He’s going to get a visit from the ATF. Falsifying information for a gun purchase? You can get a lot of time for that.

“Are you sticking your neck out for me again?”

“That depends on whether this information checks out, babe. Let’s just say this dude ain’t about to earn father of the year, you know what I mean?”

I think so. He’s trouble. He’s a hardass. Maybe even the kind of hardass who’d shoot a guy in the face for nothing?

“I hear you. We’ll be there. Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me yet, babe. You’re the one who’s going to have to go after this guy. My advice? Bring a lot of help! I’ll talk to you when you get here. Later.”

That doesn’t sound encouraging. LC’s not the type to embellish something like that. He must know this guy is a serious dickhead. I’m interested to know how he found that out.

“Come on, Sarge. We’ve got to go to Conspiracy Central again.”

“LC found something?”

“He caught a guy trying to buy some kind of gun for someone else and lying on the paperwork. He thinks it might be connected to our bank robbery crew.”

“LC’s a psychic now?”

“I don’t know, but he’s got an annoying habit of being right about this stuff. He said the sheriffs picked up the buyer. Let’s go see what he’s got, shall we?”

At the rate things are going, I’m going to end up sending a slice of my paycheck to LC. Who would’ve thought he’d become my best source of information for three of the biggest cases I’ve ever been involved with? I sure didn’t. I’m just glad he likes me. If he didn’t, I’d be in a world of shit right now, wouldn’t I?

Cydonia Survival. Conspiracy Central. Let’s see what LC found out. We talked to the sales guy who was handling the purchase that turned out to be for someone else. It turns out that a Tavor is some weird rifle made in Israel for their army and it’s one of those squashy ones with the magazine all the way in the back so it’s small enough to fit underneath your coat. You learn something new every day at this place, don’t you? He showed it to me and the first thing I thought was it would be good for robbing a bank. No one would see it until you yanked it out of your coat and told everyone to stick ’em up. A little on the pricey side, though. Yes, like almost everything else in this store. I saw a set of fatigues on the shelf over there that were better than the ones SRT gave me, but the trousers alone were ninety bucks. I guess it’s true: it takes big bucks to survive the apocalypse. Does that mean I’m a goner when it all comes down?

There’s LC. I always like to see if he’s wearing one of his conspiracy t-shirts. He wasn’t last time, but this time he’s got a doozy: a black t-shirt with the words “Fear the Currency of Control” on it. It kind of sounds like good advice. LC’s a real paradox, isn’t he? He’s a total conspiracy nut job, but his consistency with it makes him one of the most stable people I’ve ever met. Weird, huh? Don’t try to understand it. If you ever try to understand what goes on in this place, you’ll end up on a bluff barking at the moon with the coyotes. Just trust me on that one.

He sees us, and now he’s headed for the back. Time for another confab in the Cydonia Cone of Silence. I sure hope he’s got something on these bank robbers. I’m really sick of sitting around and waiting for them to hit the next target. It really sucks. All right, follow him and find out if he’s got what we need.

“All right, LC. What’ve you got? Please tell me it’s something good.”

“How’s Winston ‘Ted’ Maritza sound?”

To me? Utterly nonsensical. Who is he?

“I never heard of…”

“Are you fucking shitting me, LC?”

Whoa! I guess the Sarge knows who he is!

“No way, Sarge. The little punk who tried to do a straw man on us? That’s the name he gave me. I take it you’re familiar with him?”

“Ten years for armed robbery and ADW? One count of voluntary manslaughter that ended in a hung jury twice? That guy?”

“That’s the one. The Promenade Shooter himself.”

What? The Promenade Shooter? What the hell is that all about?


“It was before your time, Rane. I don’t think you were even on the force back then. Ted Maritza was twenty different kinds of bad news. He was a suspect in several armed robberies, a couple of rapes, and then there was an incident on the Promenade where he gunned down some kid in broad daylight. He claimed the kid was trying to steal his car. Two juries deadlocked on manslaughter charges. The son of a bitch should’ve been sent away for first-degree murder.”

“But he went to prison for armed robbery?”

“He did. He robbed a check-cashing place near the Promenade and turned it into a shooting gallery when two of the clerks pulled guns and fought back. They caught him getting on a train in Winslow headed for parts unknown. I remember that son of a bitch real well. LC, are you absolutely sure that’s who this guy was talking about?”

“Positive. That fucking dweeb was more afraid of Maritza than he was of the federal gun charge. He almost shit himself when he gave up the name.”

“All right, but why would Maritza try a straw man purchase? He could get a gun off the street no problem.”

“Yeah, but he couldn’t get a kick-ass weapon like a Tavor, could he? The guy said Maritza specified it by name, babe. Said he wanted it to hide under a jacket.”

“And what makes you think Maritza’s mixed up in our bank robbery crew?”

“Because when we came down on him, the dweeb told me Maritza shot a guy right in the face for pissing him off. Said he did it just the other day. Sound familiar, babe?”

Hell yes it sounds familiar! That’s the bank robbery shooting! No doubt about it!

“LC, why would this guy give you all that? You didn’t put the boots to him, did you?”

“Nah, babe! I may have leaned on him a little, but that’s it. Look, a straw man purchase goes through and that FFL of mine comes off the wall! I don’t take that shit lightly! This is my business!”

OK, I can understand that. So now the question is…

“I don’t suppose this ‘dweeb’ told you where we could find this Maritza guy?”

“No, but he told me where he was supposed to make the handoff tonight. He said Maritza wanted the weapon in a hurry, you know? Like in the worst possible way. Sounds like he’s got another job lined up. And if he’s looking for some heavy-duty firepower, then he’s not looking to take prisoners.”

No, he’s not. I guess they’re done with the textbook. It looks like they’re tired of DeWitt and his do-it-by-the-numbers routine. Stupid! They went from successful armed robbery where no one got hurt to two counts of murder! Totally stupid!

“Where’s the meet supposed to be?”

“Tenet Palms Hotel. Back parking lot. Nine o’clock tonight. That place? Five will get you ten that dweeb wouldn’t live to see tomorrow.”

I don’t doubt it. This Maritza guy sounds like the type who would’ve killed him as soon as he got the gun. No loose ends. Guys who do ten years’ hard time tend to have a tizzy about loose ends.

“All right, we’ll take it from here. Did you happen to tell any of this to the sheriffs when they collared that guy?”

“Hell, no! It’s your city, babe. Your case. The sheriffs are just going to hand that dweeb over to ATF for the attempted straw man purchase. They don’t care about bank robber out of their jurisdiction. That’s for you guys. I figured you should know.”

“I appreciate that. You know, you’re making me rack up a lot of IOUs. I’m starting to get a little nervous.”

“Come on, babe! You know I’d never take advantage of you!”

Take advantage of me? No. Make me pay through the nose for it? Definitely! He’ll probably have the store’s Christmas party at the Prancing Pony and expect me to dance at it! And the way things are going? I’ll have a hard time turning him down!

“Sarge? How do we handle it?”

“A nut job like Maritza? We get SRT in on it. Iron up your fatigues, Rane. You’re about to have your first official callout as a member of the team.”

That sounds like a good idea to me. This dickface is already looking at capital murder charges. He won’t surrender. He sounds like the type who’d rather die in a shootout than strapped to a gurney with a needle in his arm. So would most people, I think.

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