Mission Critical

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Chapter 18 - They Didn't Get the Word

Back at the station in the Detectives’ Room. The Sarge gave me a look at the old file on Ted Maritza. What a total dickface! A guy like that? They should’ve locked him up when he was five years old and thrown away the key! And then they should’ve Crazy Glued the bars shut! And then they should’ve bricked up his cell and let him starve to death! This guy’s record only goes back to when he was seventeen, but it’s one violent assault after the next! And when he’s not beating, stabbing, or shooting people? He’s doing armed robberies! Oh, and he was a named suspect in at least four rapes, too. Nice guy, huh? He got out of prison a little over three months ago and he’s been off the radar ever since, but no way has this guy gone straight. Don’t even suggest he’s had some religious conversion, either! Guys like this don’t find Jesus. Not unless they intend to mug him, anyway. He’s still a total fuck-up; I’m sure of it. I don’t need to be Dick Tracy to know that much. This guy’s a walking nightmare. I can totally see him doing these bank robberies, just like I can totally see him shooting some poor guy in the face just for the hell of it. I’m not the only one, either. The Sarge has been absolutely fuming ever since LC said the guy’s name. Now I understand why: this dick shot it out with the police in order to make his getaway from the city. The Sarge was there. An officer got shot. He didn’t get killed, but it was no little flesh wound, either. It’s a wonder the Sarge didn’t put a .308 right through this assbag’s brain case. I’m guessing he wishes he had. How the hell was this guy not charged with attempted murder of a police officer? Somebody really dropped the ball on that one.

The Sarge got a hold of the guy’s discharge photo. That’s the picture they take when you get released from prison. As the convicts like to say, prison was good to this dork. He’s got one hell of a set of muscles on him. He’s got one hell of a set of tattoos on him, too. He’s got full sleeves and his chest is covered with them, too. They’ll make it easy to identify him. He looks mean. I saw the picture and couldn’t help but wonder how a little butt-scrub like DeWitt ever got hooked up with a guy like this. The world is a strange place sometimes, I guess. I wish like hell we knew for certain if he was one of the bank robbery crew, but the Sarge and I are going on the assumption that he is. The Robbery detectives? Not so much. I worked with those guys. They don’t care what your gut tells you. They won’t care about some hearsay statement that LC got out of a dweeb he caught trying to do a straw man purchase, either. They deal in facts. Facts and evidence. They’re going to want a whole lot more before they’ll even consider trying to tie him to the bank jobs. That means the only thing we’ve got going against this dickface is a charge of conspiracy to fraudulently purchase a firearm as a convicted felon. It’s a felony, but it’s a weak felony. He could end up getting more time for the parole violation than for the open charge. Whatever. I just don’t want him walking around the city. I don’t want him walking around any city. Neither does anybody else. On that one, we’re in complete agreement.

It took a fair amount of arm-twisting to get the detectives to let SRT handle the arrest. At first, they wanted to send two guys to pick him up. The Sarge just about tore them a new asshole for even suggesting that. Then they suggested four detectives and two uniforms. In that rat-trap motel? There’s no telling who might come out of a room and start shooting at us. I actually called Lieutenant Shears and laid it out for him and he was in total agreement with us. He got on the phone and chewed out Detective Petrich for being a dick about it and then he told Lieutenant Jutras that SRT shall handle the arrest. Good! I know this guy is going to try to blast his way out of there as soon as we announce ourselves. The only way we’re going to take him without incident is if he realizes he’s got no chance. SRT can make that happen. A bunch of guys in tactical gear with M-4s and submachineguns should do the trick. I hope it does, anyway.

So we’ve got as much as we’re going to get on this dickhead. We’ve got a recent photo, his address – assuming he still lives there; his parole officer isn’t so sure of it – and the make and model of his car. He’s driving a brand-new gunmetal gray Nissan Juke. Why does every assbag in the city have a nicer car than me? It’s so not fair. Anyway, we’re putting together two teams: team one will be SRT and they’ll be handling the arrest at the Tenet Palms. Team two will be detectives and patrol and they’ll sit on the guy’s residence in case he doesn’t show up for the meeting. If we don’t find him at either place, then we’re fucked. We’ll have to put out an APB on him and that means going public and this dickface will be on another train to Winslow. He will if he’s smart, anyway. None of us wants to screw this one up. If we do? We’ll be hearing from this guy again real soon.

So we’ve got our SRT team here and the Sarge and I are in our black tactical fatigues. I’m not officially a member of the team, but I’m still Echo One and I’m still their sniper. We’re all hoping we don’t need my services, but we’re not taking any chances. Lieutenant Shears is running down the deployment at the motel. He’s got the location sketched out on the whiteboard. Every cop who’s spent any time on patrol knows the Tenet Palms. It’s a total dump that should’ve been condemned years ago. It looks like an abandoned motel and the insides of the rooms are even worse than the outside. I’m positive that the dork who was supposed to buy the gun would’ve ended up with a bullet in his head if he’d made the meet-up. The place is a nightmare for us: three levels in a square U-shape, so some dickhead on one of the walkways can look down and see everything. If this guy has his other hardcase buddy up on one of those walkways, we’re totally screwed. He’ll see us in a flash. And trying to box him in when he’s in a car? Forget it. That parking lot has four driveways in and out of it. He’d jam the gas and be gone before we could get units to block them. Then it’s a high-speed pursuit through one of the most densely-populated commercial sectors of the city. Do the math. It ain’t pretty.

Lieutenant Shears is about to go over the situation. He brought plenty of SRT guys with him. Good. A major show of force is about the only thing that’s going to convince this dickhead to give up without starting a gun battle.

“Listen up, people! You all know about the Tenet Palms! Deploying on this location is one big pain in the ass! We’re going to split up into three teams: team one is going to be here, behind the dumpsters. That’ll give you good cover if the suspect starts shooting right away. Team two will be here in the hallway to the laundry room. Sam, that hallway is all lit up. See if you can get in there and disable those lights. I don’t want this guy seeing you when he pulls in. Team three, the best place we can put you is over here, by the vending machines near the pool. That’s at least thirty yards from the spot where we plan to take the suspect, so you’re going to have to run like hell to get in position once we move in on him.”

Like I said: there’s no good way to hide out in there. Plainclothes guys? Forget it. The assbags in there have a nose for undercover cops. Narcotics and Vice spend a lot of time in there. The dickheads will sound the alarm if they suddenly see a bunch of guys they’ve never seen before. A tactical team, on the other hand? They’ll probably keep their mouths shut. They don’t want to get shot for trying to screw up our deal.

“Sir? Where am I in all this?”

“You’re our sniper, Allison. Unfortunately, there’s no good spot to put you. The best one I can find is right up here, on the third level walkway. We’re going to put you and Sergeant Varanasi up there. He’ll be your spotter. You’ll be looking from dark into semi-light so you’ll have an advantage. You two are going to have to go up there from the back side of the building by ladder. We’re hoping nobody happens to walk past you before the suspect gets there. We don’t have enough time to find out how many rooms on that level are occupied.”

Not that the people who run that place would tell us. They’re assbags who take a kickback from the dope dealers who work out of there. They’re not what you’d call law enforcement boosters.

“We’re expecting the suspect to enter the parking lot from the front entrance on Waller Avenue. Your guy said the meet was supposed to take place in the back parking lot, so he’ll pull in to this location. Once we confirm it’s the suspect, all three teams will move in together. Everybody watch your crossfire! And watch out for bystanders! We’ve got four patrol units that will pull in and block all four entrances into the lot, but they’ll have to hang back a ways to avoid being spotted. On this operation, timing is everything!”

It looks like Sam needs a little clarification on something.

“LT? If this guy gets out of the car, where’s he likely to run once we move in?”

“Assuming he doesn’t have access to a room in there? His best bet would be to go over this wall on the west side. It’s a block wall about six feet high. This guy is fresh out of prison, so we have to figure he’s strong and tough. Keep him the hell away from that wall! If he gets over it, there’s a shopping center with three fast food joints and a lot of people milling about. We know what will happen if we try to take him in there.”

Yes, we do: a running gun battle with a whole lot of collateral damage. There’s a Carl’s Jr. in a direct line of fire with that wall. If he starts running that way, somebody’s liable to get hit. And I won’t have a clear shot until he gets a good twenty to thirty feet from the wall. And that’s if I can even see him! That lot on the other side of that wall? It’s pitch dark until you get to the Carl’s Jr. I may have to go with a thermal imaging scope for a clear shot. No night vision scope, though. I really hate that scope, as I’m sure you’ll remember.

“Roger that, LT. Is this guy supposed to be alone when he makes the pickup?”

“Allison?”

Oh, wonderful! The one question I can’t answer!

“We’re not sure. The guy who was supposed to make the straw man buy never mentioned anyone else, but if he’s part of the robbery crew we’ve been after? Yes, he could have at least one accomplice in the car with him. Maybe two.”

I don’t need to hear their groans. I’m groaning inside myself. It’s not a good scenario and everybody knows it.

“Allison, what can you tell us about this bank robbery crew?”

“Well, sir; two of them seem to be serious hardcases. The third guy is a little dweeb. At least, that’s the theory we have right now. It looks like the hardcases aren’t taking their cues from the dweeb anymore and they’re ramping up the violence. We’ve got two people dead, a couple more shot, and a few people pistol-whipped in the last two robberies. It’s going from bad to worse.”

“And you and Sergeant Varanasi are operating on the theory that this suspect is one of the robbery crew?”

“Yes, sir. We have reason to believe he’s the one who shot that guy in the face during one of the recent robberies. Even if he’s not, this guy is serious bad news. You’ve all seen the file on him. They never should’ve let him out of prison.”

“With any luck, we’ll have him back behind bars before the midnight shift comes down. All right, let’s get out there. Two units at a time only! I don’t want a caravan headed to that place! I want to keep our deployment on the location as low-key as possible. If anyone’s got any questions, now’s the time. Anyone?”

Nothing. These guys all know their jobs. There’s really nothing more to say.

“All right, let’s do this! Everybody comes back without a scratch! Got it? Move out!”

That’s it, then. Time to make it happen. I hope the Lieutenant is right about none of us getting a scratch. I know I’ve said this a million times, but I’ve been shot once already. I never want to go through that again. Nobody who ever went through it would want to go through it again. It hurts like you wouldn’t believe and it’s scary as hell. It can kill you, too.


The Tenet Palms Motel. What the hell is a Tenet palm, anyway? I don’t think there is such a thing. Somebody just came up with the name and stuck it on this dump. And what a dump it is! Every inch of it is filthy. The walls haven’t been washed or painted in years. The door frames look like they’re a hundred years old and they’re rotting away. A lot of the doors have big cracks in them and some of them have these huge plywood patches on them. The parking lot has potholes big enough to swallow a small car. And the rooms themselves? Fleas, bedbugs, roaches, and the occasional rattlesnake. Some of the toilets don’t even work. It’s a wonder the city hasn’t closed it down for good. I once saw this movie where there was this hotel that had a demonic curse on it and it would absorb the tenants into the walls and suck them into another dimension and there was this priest and a reporter who…I’m doing it again, aren’t I? Sorry. I’m hopeless. Totally, utterly hopeless. I’m beginning to think that if I ever want to find true love, I think I’m going to have to start going to film geek conventions. That’s a scary thought, isn’t it? I’ll end up chasing after old original prints of classic bad movies and trading them like baseball cards with others who are infected with whatever disease I’ve got, right? I won’t even be able to watch them because I don’t have an old movie theater projector. I’ll just store them in film cans in a closet and hoard them like some whack job in a bad film who collects stolen art and never lets anybody see it. Wow! How pathetic is that?

All right, up the ladder! The Sarge first. The spotter always goes first. He’s got the assault rifle in case we run into trouble as soon as we get up there. Honestly, the only trouble we’re likely to run into right away is some screaming crack whore. This place is full of them. The place is so run-down that sometimes Vice just gives up and leaves the problems here to patrol to deal with. That’s nice of them, isn’t it? As if patrol officers don’t mind fleas and bedbugs and rats trying to crawl up your leg. Gee, what would give you that idea, huh?

I don’t hear anyone up there. That’s good. Our plan for someone who sees us and starts making a scene? Cuff them and lock them in their room and hope for the best. Not much of a plan, is it? All right, we’re up. Time to set up. We’ll stay as far back from the edge as possible so as not to be seen. I’ve got the thermal imaging scope on my rifle and I’ve dialed it in to where I’ve got a good image field of view at sixty yards. I make it sixty-two yards from here to the spot where we think Maritza will expect to meet his friend. It’s an easy shot. We’ve got a slight wind coming in from the southwest at about four miles per hour; it could get a little bump in here because of the shape of the place. Compensate for the angle, which I figure is thirty-eight degrees from here to there. This thermal scope isn’t the precise instrument that my regular scope is, but at this range, it’ll do. It’s more like a video camera that lets you see heat sources against a cooler background, but it’s enough at this distance. We’re ready. The Sarge has the night vision binoculars. Now all we can do is wait. Wait and observe.

“What do you think, Sarge? If I have to take a shot and he’s in that car facing away from us, the deflection from the window glass is going to be pretty massive.”

“I know. Your best shot is going to be through the driver’s side window. Aim behind about eighteen inches. The shot should go right through the seat and headrest and take out the x-ray. With any luck, he’ll have the window down already and your deflection will be minimal. How’s your image?”

“Strong. Good differentiation. I’ll favor right for the shot to account for the deflection through the glass. It’s still going to be a lot of guesswork. I wish I knew if Maritza was coming alone.”

“Don’t worry about what you can’t affect, Rane. Worry about what you can.”

“Easier said than done, old man. Time?”

“Twenty-one hundred on the dot.”

Which is how normal people say nine o’clock. The time for the meeting. We’re on! If this guy is going to show up, it should be soon. He won’t be late. He wants his gun, right? I’m glad he doesn’t have it. Of course, I’m sure he has another one. Maybe not as powerful as the rifle he was hoping for, but he had a gun during the robberies and I’m betting he’ll have it with him tonight. Maybe more than one.

“I’m not going to get a flareup on this thing, am I?”

“Not on a thermal imaging scope. On a night vision scope, you’d be ass-blinded if the son of a bitch turned the car around and hit the high beams. That’s why you’re not using one of those.”

“And the suppressor should cut down the report enough so it doesn’t make us both deaf in here?”

“That’s the idea. You fire off a .308 round in this place and the sound is going to bounce off every wall and pane of glass in the complex. It’ll throw off any follow-up shot you might have to take. You wouldn’t want to do that, so we’re going suppressed. At this distance, it shouldn’t affect the shot.”

I’m not crazy about suppressors. At longer distances, you have to compensate for it. Screwing a great big metal can on the end of your rifle can really screw with the harmonics of the barrel. The vibrations when you fire a shot. The really good ones? Not so much. The cheaper ones? Sometimes they can give you a nasty surprise. We’ve had both experiences in training. The one I’ve got here is pretty good, but I’d still rather be able to take the shot without it. Out here? I’m praying that everything goes perfectly.

“Where the hell is this dickhead? He wants his gun, right?”

“You’d think so.”

“Sarge, you don’t think he got tipped off that the straw man got pinched, do you?”

“We told the sheriffs to hold that assbag incommunicado until this operation is over. He sure as hell didn’t tell anyone and I’m sure LC didn’t, either. He’ll show up, Rane. Focus on that.”

That’s the plan, isn’t it? Come on, dickface! Show up! We’re waiting for you! And the longer we wait, the better the chances are that something will go wrong!

“Echo One to Four Henry Alpha, we’re in position. Does anybody have eyes on the x-ray yet? He’s late.”

“Negative, Echo One. I’m wondering the same thing.”

When the guy in charge is wondering what the hell is going on, you know it’s not good. Maybe I’m just being impatient? I do that a lot, as I’m sure you’re aware of by now.

“Four Henry Alpha to all units on the perimeter, does anyone have eyes on the suspect or his vehicle?”

Let’s hope one of them says he’s about to pull into the lot.

“Team One, negative.”

“Team Two, negative.”

“Team Three, we can’t see a damned thing from here.”

Shit! Nobody sees him! Don’t tell me this dork decided not to show up!

“Eleven Baker to Four Henry Alpha, we’ve got a problem! We’ve got a Traffic unit rolling lights and siren behind a gray Nissan Juke! I think they’re trying to do a traffic stop on your suspect’s vehicle! Eastbound on Waller, about three hundred fifty yards from the target location and closing! Isn’t that your guy? It matches the description of the suspect’s vehicle we got.”

Oh, you’ve got to be shitting me! Didn’t they hear to steer clear of this place until further notice?

“Sarge!”

“Somebody didn’t get the fucking word! Stay sharp, Rane! This is Echo Two to the T-unit attempting a traffic stop eastbound on Waller! Break off! Break off! Do not stop that vehicle! Repeat: do not stop that vehicle! Discontinue the traffic stop and get the hell out of there now!”

“Nineteen Tom South, say again Echo Two? You want us to let this guy go?”

Yes! Do not make that traffic stop! Discontinue! Break off! Break off and get the hell out of there now! Do you receive?”

“Nineteen Tom South, stand by…”

Oh, fuck! Gunshots! West of here!

“Nineteen Tom South, ten thirty-three! Ten thirty-three! We need help! Shots fired! Shots fired! My partner is hit! Repeat: my partner is hit! Officer down! Officer down! Code Ten Thirty-Three! We need help! Waller west of McTavish!”

God damn it! That’s our fucking assbag, all right! And he just shot one of our cops!

“Sarge, let’s go! Down to street level!”

Run! Get there! They’re probably three hundred yards away! I’ve got the only weapon that can engage at that distance! Run! Hurry! Fuck! Two more shots! I don’t know who’s doing the shooting: our guys or the assbag! Jump down the last flight of stairs! Now! Jesus Christ! Run! Across the lot! And pray to God I’ve got a clear shot from the sidewalk! Run! Just up ahead! There! I see the lights! Emergency lights! Fuck! My scope’s dialed in for sixty yards! That car is at least three hundred yards away!

“Sarge! Range that car! Give me a reading!”

He’s got the laser rangefinder! I can’t estimate the distance at night with the streetlights! I need a precise reading so I can figure the bullet drop! I don’t have time to re-zero this thing!

“Three hundred twelve yards to the suspect’s front bumper!”

With a sixty-yard zero, I’ve got to figure the bullet’s going to hit about sixteen inches low! Switch to a crosshair reticle! Figure three minutes of angle and favor slight left! No time to use the zoom feature on this thing! I go with what I’ve got! Find him and blast his ass! All right, where the fuck is that son of a bitch?

“Where is he, Sarge? I’ve got no target!”

“Do you see the x-ray’s car? Left front bumper! He’s hiding behind the fender! Crouching low!”

He sure is! And the heat from his fucking engine is really messing with my thermal image! He’s starting to wash out! All right, compensate! Hold over and…fire!

“Miss! It went right past the right side of his face! Favor left! Twelve inches!”

Chamber a round! Favor left at…fuck! Where is he? He moved!

“I lost the contact! Where the hell did he go?”

“Stand by! I think he broke left, into the bushes! Yes! I see him! He’s in the bushes! Strong concealment! No cover! Do you have the target?”

Those fucking bushes are blocking the thermal signal! Wait! I see him! He’s moving east! He’s going for the driveway of the gas station! Fuck! I’ve got no clear shot! All right, estimate from the partial image! He’s got to be crouching down in there! I’ve got a sliver reading on the right edge of the bushes! I hope to the almighty it’s not some homeless guy crashed out in those bushes! No! It’s him! He’s holding a handgun! Aim…favor left…figure the drop and…fire!

“I think you got him! I think that was a hit! Wait! He’s running! He’s running through the gas station lot! Southbound! Echo Two to Nineteen Tom South! Do you have eyes on the suspect? He ran through the parking lot of the gas station! Do you have eyes on him?”

“Nineteen Tom South, negative! He cut across to O’Brien Street! I lost sight of him! My partner is down! Roll EMS immediately! My partner is down!”

“Stand by, Nineteen Tom South! You’ve got a whole bunch of SRT guys headed for you right now! Approaching on foot on the double-time! Hold your fire! Repeat: hold your fire! Those guys are friendlies!”

If I hit him, then how the hell did he manage to run that fast? I must not have hit him very bad! I only had a sliver of an image to aim at! God damn it! We had him! We fucking had him and now he’s gone! Just try to think positive! He may be in the wind, but that doesn’t mean he got away free and clear! If I hit him, then he took sixteen hundred foot-pounds of energy with that bullet at that distance! Even if I just winged him, he’s got to be hurting massively!

“Echo One to all units, we lost the suspect! Last seen running southbound through the parking lot of that gas station! Be advised, he may be hit! I’m not sure, but he may be hit! We’re redeploying to that gas station!”

“Four Henry Alpha, roger Echo One. We’ve called for an air unit for a search. Confirm the suspect’s vehicle has no additional suspects in it?”

“Not unless they’re hiding on the floorboards, Four Henry Alpha. SRT is approaching the vehicle now. Roll EMS immediately! We don’t know the condition of the wounded officer. Echo One out. Come on, Sarge! Let’s go!”

Haul ass! Run! Get over there! Three hundred yards! Wait! A patrol unit approaching westbound! It’s stopping!

“Allison! Sarge! Get in! Get in!”

It’s Lonnie Arista! All right, get in the car! Better to ride than run! We’re in! Move it, Lonnie! Floor it!

“Lonnie, does anybody know where this dickhead went?”

“Not yet! Hang on! Where do you want me to drop you?”

Good question! If I don’t know where he went, then how the hell do I know where to set up for a shot? This is going to be a close-quarters fight! I’ve got the wrong weapon for that!

“Right over there! Pop the shotgun! You take your patrol rifle! We’re going to set up on the northwest corner of the gas station! That’ll give us the widest field of view of where he was last seen!”

And with all of the overhead lights in that gas station, we’ll be looking from light into dark! We won’t be able to see fifty feet from our faces! Shit! Somebody get eyes on this dickhead!

“Four Henry Six, we just confirmed the suspect carjacked a passing motorist! Dark blue Honda Accord, no further! Last seen headed southbound on O’Brien! We do not have a visual on the suspect or the stolen vehicle! We have the victim; alive and well.”

Southbound? The dickhead cut across six lanes of traffic to hang a U-turn? Fuck! Most of our responding units are headed in from the wrong direction if they want to cut him off! This goddamned dickface just burned us!

“Echo One to dispatch, ETA on the air unit to the location on Waller?”

“Echo One, approximately three minutes.”

That’s too long! Southbound from Waller? He’ll be in a heavy commercial district in a few seconds with a million cars on the road! He’ll blend in and we’ll never catch him! We don’t even have a description of his clothes! He’ll ditch that car in a parking lot and walk away like it’s totally casual and nobody will think to look twice at him! He’s in the fucking wind! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!

“Sarge?”

“If he’s not contained, then there’s no point in setting up a perimeter. We’ve got no license plate on that car, so we can’t have people looking for it. A blue Honda Accord? What is that? The most popular car in the goddamned world? We can’t go stopping every blue Honda on the road!”

“Why the hell did that T-unit stop him? We put out the word on this operation! Why did they disregard?”

“I don’t know, Rane. But if those guys fucked this up for a goddamned ticket, I’m going to put my goddamned boot right up their asses!”

I think we’d better find out how bad that officer got hit first. I hope it’s not too bad. Those gunshots all sounded like pistol shots and the Traffic officers all wear vests, but that won’t help him if he got shot in the head. Please let it be minor! Nothing serious! Please!


Santo Tomas Hospital. Our wounded Traffic Officer is Montgomery “Monty” Hauser; twenty-eight years old with four and a half years on the job. I don’t know him. He’s alive and he’s going to stay that way and that’s what counts. He got hit high in the right hip, right below where the leg bone connects to the hip bone. It’s a bad, painful hit according to the doctor, but as long as there isn’t a lot of bone damage, he’ll be all right. If there is? Then he’s going to need surgery to repair the bone and that could be pretty major. Everybody’s praying it isn’t going to go that way. His partner – some guy named Esposito; I don’t know him – just got taken back to their station for debriefing. That poor guy was absolutely beside himself. You get that way when your partner gets shot and you don’t get a scratch.

They didn’t screw up. No, it was just a crazy coincidence that turned into a total nightmare. Those guys were out on a fire road on a traffic wreck and our radios and computer messages don’t work very well in those places, so they never got the word about the stakeout or about the suspect’s vehicle. They were on their way back from grabbing a bite to eat when our dickface failed to stop for a red light and they figured it was an easy ticket. They didn’t know. Maritza probably figured he was wanted and our guys must’ve known it and that’s why they stopped him, so as soon as Hauser approached the vehicle…boom! Maritza opened the door and fired low to avoid the bulletproof vest. Something he learned in prison, I’m guessing. He hit Hauser and his partner started spraying the car with lead. He did a hell of a job, all things considered. He looks like he’s got maybe two years on the job, but he held it together when it counted. He doesn’t think he hit Maritza, but he kept him pinned down until Hauser could crawl back to the T-car. Good job, Esposito. You probably saved his life.

Dickface didn’t get off scot-free, though. I hit him. Probably not seriously, but I hit him. We found a pretty big blood trail in the gas station leading straight to the spot on the road where he carjacked the guy and took off. The guy he carjacked? Total Arizona Man! I mean this kid had zero brain cells left! When I went over to ask him some questions, do you know what he said to me? Do you? He said – and I’m not making this shit up – he said “Dude, where’s my car?” That’s what he said? He actually said “Dude, where’s my car?” Like in that horrible movie? OK, first of all? I’m not a dude! Even in this getup, nobody is going to mistake me for a dude! And then there’s the fact that he just got carjacked at gunpoint by a psycho dickhead who was bleeding pretty bad! This stupid dork should be down on his knees thanking the good Lord or whatever he prays to for his stupid life! He’s lucky Maritza didn’t kill him on the spot! But what is he worried about? “Dude, where’s my car?” Total Arizona Man! I think he’s been smoking too many cactus buttons! It’s the only explanation, right?

We got the license plate for the guy’s car from a check of his registration, so we’ve got the information out there and everybody’s looking for the car. They’ll find it. They’ll find it in a huge parking lot at a shopping center or something like that. Someplace where a million cars a day pull in and the driver gets out and walks away and nobody notices. It’s the oldest trick in the book. It works, too. Just park the car all casual and walk away like everyone else and nobody will think twice about it unless you happen to be a smoking hot babe in a bikini or you’re wearing a clown suit. We don’t have a lot of carjackers who fit those descriptions, as you probably guessed already. We’ll find the car. We just won’t find Maritza anywhere near it.

His car? The one he abandoned at the scene? First things first: I really like Nissan Jukes. They’re totally cool and kind of quirky-looking and if I can put away some bucks, I’m buying one. Now that I’ve got that out of the way, we went over his car with a magnifying glass. It’s totally shot to shit. Officer Esposito did a real number on it. Beyond that, we didn’t find much. There was an empty bag from Sal’s Burgers, so we know he eats some really shitty hamburgers. That’s not likely to help us catch him. There was nothing in it that would tie him to any of the bank robberies. We recovered a few shell casings from the street and they’ll try to match them to the ones recovered at the bank jobs, but we’ll have to wait until tomorrow when the guys in the white lab coats show up for work in the morning. Beyond that, it doesn’t help us. We already know it was Ted Maritza. We’ve got his picture, his fingerprints, and his last known address. I’m thinking he doesn’t live there anymore. He sure as hell doesn’t live there after tonight. Not unless he’s totally stupid. We have no idea where he might be right now. Well, beyond trying to find somebody to patch up his wound. First stop tomorrow? That bullshit clinic where DeWitt got patched up. I don’t know if he’ll be stupid enough to go to the same place, but we’ll check it out. I wonder what lying-assed name he’ll give? DeWitt used John F. Kennedy. Maritza will probably tell them his name is Lyndon B. Johnson.

“Sarge, I think this cinches it: Maritza’s got to be one of our robbery crew guys. No way would he just start blasting like that if he weren’t. He knows he’s wanted for capital murder, even if the rest of us didn’t know it. His reaction is as good as a confession in my book.”

“I’m inclined to agree with you, Rane. You may be in uniform, but you haven’t forgotten your detective stuff. He’s one of our assbags; no doubt about it.”

Now all we have to do is convince the Robbery detectives of that. It won’t be easy. I told you what they think about somebody’s gut feelings. They’re naturally cynical, to say the least. Remember the sniper case and how much trouble I had getting anyone to take me seriously on that one? You don’t get extra credibility points just because you were right once before.

“Is there any word from the detectives who went to the guy’s apartment?”

“Yeah. He doesn’t live there. He never did. Phony address. The couple who does live there has been there for eight years and they never heard of Maritza and they’ve got no ties to him. His parole officer must not have bothered to do a check on that when he got out.”

I can’t fault the parole officer too much. We’ve got a massive number of dorks on parole in the southwest. Those poor guys over at State Parole are hopelessly overworked. Some of them have forty assbags to keep track of and a lot of people around here seem to think that Arizona and New Mexico are all one state. They come and go across the state line like it was nothing; laws and restrictions be damned.

“So what’s our next move? We check out the Bagley clinic tomorrow…”

“Rane, if that son of a bitch is stupid enough to go there, I’ll shave my nut sack and paint it blue and gold!”

You know, I’d like to see that. I should hold him to that promise.

“If you do, I get to take a picture of it. What else? What else can we do right away?”

“This whole thing started with a how-to book written by an expert on robbing banks.”

“Yes, but they’re not following the book anymore, remember?”

“It doesn’t change the fact that Prentiss is and expert and they started out by listening to his advice. Why don’t we give him a call and see what he thinks? He sure as hell doesn’t have any love for these sons of bitches. Maybe he’ll be willing to help?”

“I don’t know. Prentiss was a real pro, remember? A different kind of crook. He never fired a shot in a bank job and he doesn’t think much of people who do. This kind of robbery isn’t exactly his thing. He wouldn’t know anything that could help us.”

“How do you know? He’s an expert, Rane. Maybe he can tell us something? Something we wouldn’t think of on our own? It’s worth a shot. Our only other option is to wait until tomorrow morning for the lab techs to examine those shell casings and tell us what we already know.”

Good point. I don’t want to sit around twiddling my thumbs until then and still come up with nothing. We’ll give Prentiss a call. I hope he doesn’t go to sleep early. If I end up waking him up, he won’t be in any mood to help us out. We need help with this one. Left to ourselves, we’ll catch these shitheads eventually. Unfortunately, eventually isn’t good enough. They’ve ramped up the violence factor. Too many people are getting hurt or killed. We need to put these dickheads out of commission in the next few days or else when we do manage to corner them, it’s going to be the O.K. Corral all over again. That’s the absolute last thing any of us wants!

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