Mission Critical

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Chapter 20 - The Sniper's Conscience

We’re back at the station with good news and bad news. The good news? We’re positive we know what’s coming next. The bad news? We’ve got two locations to cover and only one SRT team. There’s also the part where we have to convince Lieutenant Jutras and the Robbery detectives of what we believe. The good news doesn’t seem so good after all, does it? And we’ve got less than a day to put everything together, come up with a tactical plan, and be ready to go. The last thing we need right now is a lot of cynical resistance. We need to run with this while we’ve still got time. The fact that there are two sergeants pushing this helps. A sergeant’s word carries a lot of weight. But the detectives are still pretty cynical, and I think Lieutenant Jutras is, too. We’ve got Lieutenant Shears of SRT on our side, though. That helps a lot. He’s backing our theory one hundred percent and he wants the go-ahead to start forming a tactical plan. Police work can be really frustrating, can’t it? We’re as much a bureaucracy as any other city department. I think Lieutenant Jutras is coming around to our way of thinking. I just have to convince him a little more and hope he doesn’t get sidetracked with crap like arresting our shady “Mister Colfax.” He’s a lowlife, but he’s not even important right now. We can deal with him later. Hell, I wouldn’t even know what to charge him with. Possession of stolen intellectual property? Is that even something we can enforce?

“Allison, why do we have to set up on the banks? All the money’s going to be in the armored car. Wouldn’t it make more sense for these guys to hit the truck and take everything all at once?”

“These guys are nut jobs, but they play the odds, sir. They’re not going for the truck.”

“Why not?”

You’d think that part would be obvious, wouldn’t you?

“Come on, sir! Two thugs and a dweeb against four of Randall Schoen’s trigger-happy dysfunctionals armed to the teeth? What kind of odds are those? They’d get slaughtered!”

Those RSS guys would start shooting at the first hint that something was up! And they wouldn’t care much who or what they hit! He should know that!

“Fair enough. So which bank do we send SRT to go set up on? They can’t cover them both.”

You’d think this would be the perfect time to say something about how the city really needs to spring for a second team, but we need to stay focused.

“I wish we could answer that one. With nothing else to go on? I’d say go for the Renaissance Bank. They’re getting the bigger delivery. The extra two hundred grand should be enough to make these nut jobs pick that one.”

I know, I know: it’s not much. They might have a reason to pick the Vanguard Bank. But if they do, then I don’t know what it is. I’m kind of firing blind right now.

“What do we know about these banks? Is there anything that would lead us to believe they’d pick one over the other? Lieutenant Shears?”

“Not that we could find. Neither one of them has bulletproof glass between the customers and the tellers. Neither of them has an armed guard stationed inside of the bank. Based on what we know about the suspects to date, one’s as good as the other. The Renaissance is closer to other businesses, so there’s a greater risk of bystanders getting caught in the crossfire. The Vanguard sits by itself on a pretty big lot with not much around it. I think it used to house the Chamber of Commerce back in the fifties. It’s kind of all by itself over there.”

“Which one has the best access to the major roads for a quick getaway?”

“The Renaissance. It sits right on Ottoman Avenue. You could be two miles away in a matter of minutes. There are plenty of places to ditch a switch car if that’s what they decide to use. A high-speed pursuit in that part of the city would be a disaster. Lots of vehicular and pedestrian traffic; high-density business district. I wouldn’t want to start trading rounds with these guys in that neighborhood. If they know that, then they’ll probably pick that one.”

That makes perfect sense. There’s even a whole section about that subject in that damned how-to-rob-banks book. We know they read it. We know they were using it as a step-by-step guide until recently. Even if they’re no longer using it for a play-by-play, they’ve got to have at least considered it, right?

“Shears, what about the other one? The Vanguard Bank? Just in case.”

“It’s like I said: it sits on a pretty big patch of ground all by itself. It gives us a lot of room to work with, but if we ever ended up with a hostage situation, that could work against us. There’d be no way to get near the place without the suspects seeing us. We’d end up having to work from at least half a block away.”

“Allison, can you even vouch for the guy who gave you this information?”

“No, sir. I never met him before today. But he sounded credible to me and LC said…”

“LC? You mean Boob McNutt from that survival store?”

Yes, I expected that reaction from him. Actually, I expected it a lot earlier in this conversation.

“Sir, ‘Boob McNutt’ gave us Fortis Brasmer and a lot of good information in the sniper case, remember? I trust LC. He’s a total Conspiracy Boy, but he knows what he’s talking about. And he’s got connections like you wouldn’t believe.”

He still doesn’t seem convinced.

“Sergeant Varanasi?”

“Sir, LC’s got his fingers in a lot of very strange pies. He knows a lot of things he probably shouldn’t know. I agree with Sergeant Rane: the information’s solid. These nut jobs have the scoop on the cash deliveries. They went looking for it. They’re not going to pass on it. DeWitt probably would after all that’s happened, but Maritza and whoever the third guy is? They won’t. They’re going for that money, sir. They’re going to hit one of those banks.”

“Do you think they’ll have any kind of tactical plan worked out for it?”

“Negative. DeWitt was the brains in the beginning, but it looks like he’s been pushed aside. There’s nothing in that goddamned book about violent takeover jobs. These other two are a couple of assbags. They won’t have any plan except get in, get the money, and get out.”

“What about putting detectives in the banks ahead of time?”

I think I should answer that one. I read the book, after all.

“Bad idea, sir. That book has a whole chapter on how to spot the police if they’re working undercover and it’s pretty good information. We have to assume they read it. They’ll spot our guys if we try to hide them among the regular customers. You might be able to put one guy in there, but he’d probably have to be unarmed. Bank tellers don’t wear suit coats when they work and if these dickheads see a guy with a gun, it’s over.”

“So we make him a customer. Open carry is legal in this state. Lots of people do it.”

“Sir, the only banks that don’t have a sign out front saying ‘No Guns Allowed’ are the ones with armed guards. These guys have to know that. And now that they’ve killed a couple of people, they’re liable to shoot anyone who even looks like he’s packing a gun. We could end up triggering exactly what we’re trying to avoid.”

I’ve seen the Renaissance Bank. There’s all kinds of businesses around it. If those dickheads start shooting, a whole lot of people are going to get hurt. Or killed. And I know nothing about this Vanguard Bank. I sort of know where it is, but that’s about it. I’m going to need to see a diagram before I can decide where to position myself if we’re going to stake on it. From what Lieutenant Shears said, there’s probably no cover anywhere around it. I could end up having to set up in an unmarked van. It could really suck for us.

“All right, everyone. We’ve got one SRT unit and two targets. We’re going to have to pick one and hope to God we guess right. We’ll station detectives outside the other one for surveillance. If they see the suspects go for that one…I don’t know. They’ll put out a broadcast and hope the patrol units get there in time. Shears, if we pick the wrong one? How fast can you and your team redeploy to the secondary location?”

“We can be there in six minutes; traffic conditions permitting. But these guys have almost always been in and out in sixty seconds. That means a five-minute head-start and possibly a pursuit.”

And a shootout. If DeWitt were still calling the shots, there wouldn’t be any shootout. But he seems to have gotten demoted.

“The air unit should be able to get overhead in a minute, sir.”

“I know. We’ll have one in the air at all times during the banking hours. They can’t fly too close to the target locations, though. It would tip off the suspects. All right, we’ve got to make the best of a bad situation. Lieutenant Shears, you’re the expert. Pick your location.”

“The Renaissance. It’s the most dangerous and the information says they’re getting the bigger shipment. It makes for an easier escape, too. I think they’re the more likely target. Allison?”

“Agreed. Sarge?”

“That’d be my choice. Setting up on that place is going to be a real bastard. If we have the teams waiting inside the shops on either side, somebody’s likely to see them. And if they do…”

“The cellphone cameras come out and they start broadcasting live. I know. SRT’s going to have to come up with something and fast. We’ve got one day to plan this thing. Let’s not waste any time. Sir? Just tell me where you want me to set up. The Sarge and I will be ready.”

“We’ll have a briefing at zero-six-hundred tomorrow at SRT’s office. Be there.”

Once again, up at the crack of dawn. I don’t think that’s going to be a problem this time. I probably won’t get a whole lot of sleep tonight. I doubt anyone in here will.


Home again. The rest of the shift was pretty uneventful, which is a good thing since my mind was wandering all over the place. The Sarge is positive I hit Maritza last night and I’m pretty sure of it myself. Even if it was a minor hit, he’d be seriously injured. How the hell is he going to be able to participate in a bank robbery with a gunshot wound? And we still don’t know a damned thing about the third suspect except for the fact that he’s almost certainly a guy. He could be a combat veteran or a tactical expert for all we know. He could tip the balance in their favor. And with one of their guys wounded; how are they going to react this time? Are they going to start shooting people the minute they get in the door?

I’m kind of in a daze right now; probably because I’ve been thinking about one disaster after the next that might happen when we finally do corner these assbags. I’ve got Old Blue Eyes belting out Come Fly with Me on the CD player. Would that I could, Frank! Would that I could! He was my mom’s favorite, though I’m not entirely sure why. He was certainly upbeat. All of them were. The old crooners always made it sound like everything was just fine and dandy, didn’t they? It’s one hell of a wet blanket when you find out that isn’t how life goes. Maybe I should start listening to opera instead? Those are all tragedies, right? Disasters at every turn. They don’t get your hopes up. Sounds like just my speed, doesn’t it? Too bad I don’t speak Italian.

We’ve got our tactical plan. It looks like a good one. We’ll try to take them outside in the parking lot, but if we can’t? Our fast assault team can be in the bank in less than three seconds and take care of business. Those SRT guys can acquire a target and blow its brains out before most people would even know what was happening. These guys aren’t pros. They’ll never know what hit them. In spite of that, I keep running it over and over in my head: what could go wrong? What didn’t we think of? What’s the “X” factor? There’s always an “X” factor, isn’t there? The worst part is when the “X” factor ends up being a matter of life and death. If we screw up, somebody could die. If it’s one of the bad guys, I won’t be too broken up about it. They made their choice, as the Sarge likes to say. But what if it’s one of our team members? What if it’s an innocent bystander? Years ago, we had a training seminar where they showed a film of a hostage situation in another city somewhere in the Midwest. One of the assbags marched one of the hostages outside, aimed a gun at her and shot her right in the head. I’ve already decided that if I see them try anything like that, I’m blowing the son of a bitch’s brains out right there. We’ll deal with the remaining suspects after that as best we can. I’m not going to stand by and watch someone die just so some assbag can prove a point.

I’m sitting here and staring into space and trying not to think of what might go wrong tomorrow. It’s a really sick feeling. I mean physically sickening. The Sarge calls it the Sniper’s Conscience. That’s a term you’re not likely to find in a textbook or a training manual. A sniper knows that each shot; each observation; each decision or lack of a decision can mean the death of someone. The sniper has the God spot: the overwatch for the entire tactical field. Everyone depends on the sniper to do what must be done and make the right decisions every time. The sniper has to see everything and never miss anything. And the sniper can never miss the shot. One shot; one kill. One deliberate kill. And the sniper has to live with all of it. Right or wrong, hit or miss, success or failure; she has to live with it somehow. The Sniper’s Conscience. It’s a total bitch, let me tell you.

My rifle is sitting propped up on a bipod on the table in the kitchen; cleaned and oiled and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Eight magazines holding ten rounds each are lined up beside it; each of them loaded with custom-made 168-grain boat-tailed hollowpoint rounds crafted with an artist’s care and an engineer’s precision. They’re flawless, just like the rifle that fires them. I keep looking over at it from time to time. I’ve spent who knows how much time staring at that thing since the first day I brought it home with me. I know every millimeter of that weapon and yet sometimes I don’t know what to make of it. Sometimes I think it’s a thing of beauty. Sometimes I think it’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. Sometimes I marvel at its precision. Sometimes I hate everything it represents. When I first started this, it was a tool. Nothing more. It was a tool to help me get inside the mind of a sniper. A trained killer who turned our city into a hunting ground. Then it became part of my identity. What’s the Sniper Girl without her sniper rifle, right? But now…it’s something very different. That ugly, beautiful instrument of precision death is a part of me. It’s an extension of me. I don’t know where it ends and I begin anymore. There’s no separating us: I am the rifle and the rifle is me. And no matter how many times I marvel at the idea that I’m a trained sniper, the only fact that matters is the fact that I am. I am a trained sniper. I’m damned good at it. I learned from the best. It’s not just a job or a skill or a designation. It’s who and what I am. And the fact that I’m a sniper changed the trajectory of my life the way that the slightest disturbance in a bullet’s flight changes the trajectory of the shot. It’s high time I stopped marveling at it and embrace it: I’m a police sniper. I hold the power of life and death. When my superiors give me the green light, someone is going to die. Not suffer a wound and survive. They’re going to die. I’m going to shoot to kill and I won’t miss. I know it and my superiors know it when they give me the order. One order; one shot; one kill. It’s what I do. It’s what I am.

That was all pretty ominous, wasn’t it? Why not? When you know there’s an excellent chance that you’re going to have to kill three people in less that twenty-four hours, your mind kind of drifts into ominous territory. But the Sarge is right: they made their choice. No one forced them to do what they’ve done. They could stop at any time. They could turn themselves in. They could head for the hills and never be seen or heard from again. There’s all sorts of things they could to keep from dying. Will they do them? Probably not. They’ll hit that bank and they’ll threaten to kill everybody in there and we’ll do what we have to do. Why the hell did they stop doing things according to that book? As much as that damned book pisses me off, it told you never to hurt anybody. You don’t need to, it said. Violence is unnecessary. The tellers are all trained to hand over the cash when the robber demands it. Use an empty gun and flash it once so they see it and think you mean business. Take the cash and don’t get all delusional about cleaning out the vault. Get the hell out in sixty seconds or less with whatever you’ve got and you’re probably home free. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s very good advice. If you get caught? The gun was empty. It’ll knock at least a decade off of your sentence. The fact that you went out of your way not to hurt anybody will play well with the judge and the jury. It’s good, solid advice. Why did they stop listening to it? Why did they have to go all gangster about it all of a sudden? Stupid! Stupid fucking losers! That’s all they are! No, I won’t feel too bad if I have to shoot them. I won’t like it, but I won’t lose any sleep over it.

So what do I feel right now? Lonely. I feel lonely. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but I’m not. I don’t handle loneliness very well. I’m not built for it. That’s one of the reasons why my divorce was hell on earth for me: I couldn’t stand being alone all the time and I was in no shape to be anybody’s company. I kind of feel that way right now. I feel like I’m all alone in the world. I’m not entirely sure why, but I do. It really sucks. I don’t really feel like doing anything. I’m not up for a movie and I’m not even listening to the music now. It’s just on in the background. You’ve heard of being “in the moment?” Well, right now I’m “out of the moment.” I’m here, but I’m not really here. I’m somewhere else and I couldn’t tell you where that is. It’s like I’m not even aware of what’s going on around me. I can’t even bring myself to stand up and take Beefy for a walk. I think I’ll just sit here for a few hundred years until the sun comes up tomorrow. And if I do that, then I won’t be any good to anyone when I have to be. I guess it’s not an option. Good Lord, I feel so miserable!

“Rane! Open up! It’s me!”

The Sarge? What’s he doing here? Please don’t tell me something went wrong! The banks are all closed right now, so I know those douchebags didn’t hit again!

“Sarge? What are you doing here? Is something wrong?”

“Negative. I just stopped by to check on you. You had that look on your face when we were going over the tactical plan. I was a little concerned.”

He can read me like a book, can’t he? I still haven’t gotten used to that. No one ever used to be able to do that – or they didn’t care enough if they did. I was married and my stupid ex never seemed to be able to pick up on when I was feeling down or out of sorts. It was only after he dumped me that I realized he didn’t care. Is it any wonder why we’re not married anymore?

“I’m just trying to anticipate the end of the world tomorrow.”

“That’s what I thought. Here, I brought a little liquid gold.”

His weird Thai beer. Well, it tastes pretty good. What is it with guys? They all seem to make a religion out of beer. Did you ever notice how many names guys have for the stuff? Women? We just call it beer.

“Come on in. I’m actually glad you stopped by. I’m in one of my funks again. I keep thinking about…”

“About everything that could possible go wrong tomorrow. Rane, how many times do I have to tell you not to do that? It doesn’t do you any good. If something’s going to go wrong, it’ll happen in its own good time. Don’t go looking for it.”

“Easier said than done. I’m a pathological worrier.”

“I know that about you. You need to stop that. It’ll make you old before your time. Not old and distinguished like me. Just old.”

The worst part? He’s not trying to get a rise out of me. He really believes he’s old and distinguished-looking. He is, but don’t you ever tell him I said that. He’ll never shut up about it. I see Beefy’s happy to see him. He’s sniffing the Sarge’s pockets. And finding no treats, he just kind of meanders away. He’ll be back for the scratching in a minute. He wants the treats, but he’ll settle for the scratching. Life is full of compromises, big boy. Get used to it.

“Do you think this plan is going to work, Sarge?”

“As long as the assbags show up and don’t do anything crazy. Our biggest problem is going to be if there are any people in front of the bank when they show up. I hope they park at the far end of the lot and walk over to the front door. If they do, we’ll catch them easy.”

Which is what everybody kept saying at the tactical plan meeting. All I could think of was “What if they do decide to do something crazy?” I wish to God we could clear out the bank and the parking lot beforehand, but there’s no way we can do that without tipping off these dorks. There’s an entire chapter in that rotten how-to book about how to assess the outside of a location to see if there’s something wrong. I’m sure they read it. It’s good stuff, just like the rest of that fucking book. I get that Prentiss was within his rights to write the thing, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

“What if we picked the wrong bank? What if they think the extra two hundred grand will make us pick the Renaissance so they decide to hit the Vanguard instead?”

“Then we’ll adapt. SRT is all about adapting to a changing situation. The real world rarely goes exactly according to plan. You’ll find that out now that you’re a member of the unit.”

I don’t doubt it. I know a lot of SRT training is about having to adapt to a fluid situation. Things change in a flash and you have to adapt. You have to be able to adapt. It’s not easy. That’s why they train for it so much.

“Sarge, how do you make it stop? How do you stop your thoughts racing about everything that could possibly go wrong? How am I supposed to do my job if every second, I’m thinking about what I might’ve missed? What I didn’t think of? Whether I made the right decisions?”

“Rane, that’s part of being human. It’s also what makes you a good cop. A better one than you probably think. How do you make it stop? You don’t. Good cops are always worried about what they might’ve missed. What you can do is learn to control it. Learn how to make it so it doesn’t overwhelm you. Do that and you’ll be a great cop. One of the very best. And if you ask me, you’re already one of the very best. You have to remember that you can’t anticipate everything and you damned sure can’t control what other people do. You have to accept those things. Once you do, they won’t overwhelm you anymore. It takes practice, but you can do it.”

“Do you really think so?”

“I know so. Do you remember the shootout at the house on Summering Lane?”

Who doesn’t? That was insane. Some stupid meth dealer who didn’t want to give up his illegal dope lab. I was working Traffic at the time so all I did was sit on the perimeter, but I heard the shots. Lots of shots!

“I remember it.”

“Do you remember what happened to that dumb son of a bitch? The tear gas grenades set fire to the house and what did he do? He ran back inside! The place was a goddamned inferno and the stupid son of a bitch ran back in the house and ended up burning to death. Now, when the incident review went before the department’s board, some of the board members asked why SRT didn’t get between him and the house so he couldn’t get back inside. We told them that no sane person would’ve gone anywhere near that fire, so we didn’t consider it. And that was the truth. The stupid assbag did the one thing nobody expected him to do and he got himself killed for it. Why? Who the hell knows? But it goes to show some people do things you don’t expect and can’t explain afterward.”

That’s true. I heard about a dozen officers practically begged that dickhead not to go back in the house, but he did it anyway. He got barbecued for it. I don’t know if he was crazy or suicidal or whatever. You really can’t predict what some people will do, can you?

“I get the point. I’ll try.”

“It’s not easy, but you can learn how to do it. It takes time, Rane. Time and experience. You’ll get there. You’ll still have a million questions, but they won’t overwhelm you like they do now.”

“How did you learn how to do it?”

“Me? I never did. I never had to. I’ve never made a mistake in my life. That’s what happens when you’re the embodiment of perfection.”

I know he’s trying to get a rise out of me so I’ll take my mind off of worrying, but I’m not taking the bait. I’m too tied up in knots right now. Maybe next time.

“Were you born that way or did the Marines make you perfect?”

“Both.”

Uh-huh. My brain’s a little too scrambled right now to figure that out. I’ll put it on my list of things to do.

“So why are you sitting here sulking, Rane? What’s the matter? No hot date tonight?”

Is he for real?

“Not even a tepid one. I’m starting to think I’m destined to be a spinster.”

“Not a chance, princess. I’ve seen you without your clothes on, remember? So has every other guy who bought that calendar. Girls like you don’t become spinsters. I don’t need to be old and wise to know that.”

“I wish it were that simple.”

“It is. How many times do I have to tell you, Rane? Don’t settle for anything less than the best. You deserve it. You should know that by now.”

“Uh-huh. Do you remember what Clint Eastwood said to the sheriff after he shot him in that cowboy movie? He said “Deserve has nothing to do with it.’ I think I understand what he meant.”

He should know. He made me watch it with him. And now he’s giving me that look again. The one that stares right through me like a laser beam. I really hate that look.

“Who dumped you?”

“What?”

“Don’t give me that ‘Who, me?’ crap, princess. This is the old Sarge you’re talking to. Who dumped you?”

See what I mean? That’s why I hate that look!

“I’d rather not say.”

“Fine. I’ll say it: it was Robbie Yeager, wasn’t it? What happened?”

I hate it when he does that! It’s like I’m a teenage girl and he’s my annoying dad, sneaking into my room and reading my diary! He knows everything!

“I made the team and he didn’t. I think it bruised his ego.”

“Rane, the first thing to remember is that you earned your spot. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s something to be proud of. The second? There were only two spots this time around and all of those guys would’ve made fine SRT officers, but we couldn’t take everyone. We could only take two. It’s not a reflection on him that he didn’t make it. He’ll be there soon enough. He just needs a few days to realize that.”

“Yeah, well…it still sucks. It’s like every time I have any success on the job, it costs me in my personal life. Oh, who am I kidding? I don’t even have a personal life anymore! You know what I am? I’m married to the job! That’s it, isn’t it? I’m one of those broken-down old cops who ends up married to the job because no one else wants her!”

“You’re too young, too smart, and too damned pretty to end up like that. Trust me, I know. I was married to the Corps for most of my life. When I retired, I married the police force. You’re not like that. I’d know if you were.”

“Do you mind if I get a second opinion on that?”

“As long as it doesn’t come from a stupid plastic 8-Ball. When are you going to get rid of that thing? Do you know how embarrassing it is to have one of our best cops consulting a toy for life coaching? For God’s sake, Rane! You’re better than that!”

Some people have no respect for the mystic forces that control the 8-Ball. Not me. I know better.

“I’d use a Ouija board, but that needs two people to make it work. Besides, the 8-Ball was cheaper.”

“If I catch you with a Ouija board, I’m having you sent to the booby hatch! How the hell can people believe in that bullshit?”

“Sarge, this is Arizona. Is there anything people around here don’t believe in? People believe in Bigfoot, don’t they?”

“That’s different. Bigfoot’s real.”

Excuse me? Is he yanking my chain? No way does he believe in Bigfoot! He’s not that crazy!

“You don’t believe that.”

“April of eighty-one. I was hunting up in Washington State. We were about three miles into the woods and there was a cutback trail…”

Oh, my God! He’s got his own Bigfoot story? And now I’m going to have to listen to it? What have I done?

“I don’t care what you saw! It was a guy in a suit! There’s no such thing as Bigfoot!”

“Nine feet tall if it was an inch! It must’ve had a five-foot wide stride! It stood up straight, like a man. It was no ape, Rane. And no guy in a suit, either. And the smell! It was worse than a dozen rotting corpses! I remember thinking to myself…”

I’m doomed! It’s never going to stop! He’s going to be yapping about this for the rest of my life!

“If it was really a Bigfoot, then why didn’t you shoot it and make a billion dollars?”

“Because that’s illegal, princess. Shooting a Bigfoot in Washington gets you five years in the pokey.”

“You’re making that up!”

“Not at all. Ordnance 1969-01. Look it up. There are other laws against it, too. Now, would they go to all the trouble of passing a law if it didn’t exist? You tell me.”

Seriously? Someone actually passed a law that says you can’t shoot a Bigfoot? OK, now I’ve heard everything!

“I’m beginning to see why you and LC are friends. I take it he knows about this shit too?”

“Of course. But he doesn’t really care about Bigfoot. He’s all about government conspiracies.”

Truer words were never spoked, Sarge. LC’s way over the deep end with that stuff!

“Of course. What was I thinking? He’s probably more of a UFO guy, right?”

“You say that like you think there’s nothing to the UFO sightings.”

Oh, don’t tell me! He’s just fucking with me! I know it!

“Are you telling me you believe in UFOs? Sarge, I grew up in Nevada. You know, the home of Area 51? I’ve seen those UFO nuts. They’re all crazy.”

“A lot of them are, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to the reports. How many of our guys have had sightings while on-duty? Five? Six? Are they all crazy?”

“I didn’t say that. I just don’t think…OK, the one on Wilburton Road was kind of creepy, I admit.”

One of our guys saw something weird in the sky one night on Wilburton Road. Some kind of aircraft with strange lights that moved like no airplane in the world can move. Not too unusual by itself – a lot of people around here say if you’ve never seen a UFO, you’re just not looking up at the sky very often. But right after it moved out of sight, the officer said there were four or five army-type helicopters going after it and they didn’t have any lights on like aircraft usually do. There were two other officers who saw the helicopters, too. It was pretty creepy. And I know Commander Godowsky called the army base and asked about it and got a “no comment” response. Yes, that was weird.

“Rane, I was in the military for a long time. Let’s just say there are certain things we don’t tell the public and leave it at that, OK?”

If he’s trying to creep me out, he’s doing a good job of it.

“Are you keeping secrets from me, Sarge?”

“Me? Never. The United States Government? You’d have to ask them, wouldn’t you?”

Oh, wonderful! I think I just took another big step toward membership in the Cydonia Conspiracy Club! Just what I wanted!

“How did we get on this subject?”

“You questioned the veracity of my one hundred percent authentic Bigfoot encounter. I couldn’t let you get away with that, could I?”

“Uh-huh. And the fact that it got me to stop thinking about me being dumped and everything else didn’t enter into it?”

“Two birds with one stone, Rane.”

He’s good, isn’t he? Who else would do something that stupid just to make me feel better? Of the people in my life? No one. Just him.

“Sarge, do you want to get married?”

“I think that ship has sailed, Rane. I just never had the time or the inclination for it when I was younger…”

“No, I mean me. Would you marry me?”

“I don’t know. I guess if I were a lot younger…”

“No, I mean now. Right now. Do you want to get married? To me?”

I think I kind of threw him for a loop with that one. I wasn’t trying to. I’m serious.

“Rane, what are you talking about?”

“Face it, Sarge: you’re never going to find a better girl and I’m never going to find a better guy, right? I’m sick of getting mixed up with guys who are either assbags or who get dragged out of my life or who can’t stand the idea that I’m good at my job. And after every disaster, who do we end up with? Just you and me sitting here and commiserating. Admit it: we’re stuck with each other. This is as much as we’re ever going to get, so let’s make it better. Maybe we should tie the knot?”

“Did you start drinking before I got here?”

“I’m serious. I’m also completely sober. Come on, Sarge. You know I’m right. What do you say?”

He’s giving me that look. Well, if he thinks I’m going to suddenly start laughing and say “got you,” he’s wrong. I’m totally serious.

“Rane, did something happen to you today? No bullshit, woman: what’s gotten into you? What went wrong?”

“I’m tired of being alone, is all. I’m tired of wondering where to look for ‘Mister Right.’ I’m starting to think there is no ‘Mister Right’ for me. Except for you. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had. And right now, you’re about the only friend I’ve got left besides Beefy and I can’t marry him. That’s illegal even in Vegas.”

Sorry, big boy. You know I love you, but the law’s the law. And while I’ll do just about anything in the bedroom, I draw the line at different species sex. I’m not that weird.

“Rane, I’m more than twice your age…”

“I don’t care. You’re the best guy I’ve ever known. You’re good-looking, you’re in great shape, and I know plenty of tricks that’ll make you feel thirty years younger.”

“That last part, I don’t doubt.”

“So…why not say ‘yes’ and let me show you a few of them? I’m not yanking your chain, Sarge. I’m tired of sitting here and staring at the walls and wondering if things are ever going to get any better. I’m almost at the point where I’m sure they won’t and I can’t stand it! I don’t handle being alone very well. And the clock’s ticking. I swear to God, I can feel it ticking. It scares the hell out of me. I’m afraid if it keeps up, I’m going to pick up a bottle and never put it down.”

“Like your mother did?”

See? He can read me like a book. Who else can say that?

Just like my mom. And I can guess how she ended up. I saw enough before I left.”

“Rane, you’re not your mother. And you’re never going to end up like her. Do you know why? Because you’re too strong, too smart, and you know better than to go down that road. Trust me, I’ve known more than my share of alcoholics in my day. You’re not the type. And you’re not going to be alone for the rest of your life. You’ve just hit a rough patch is all. Everyone does. I’ve been there. You’ll get through it. I did and I didn’t have your…assets.”

At least he noticed them. It’s a start, right?

“They could be your assets. Say ‘yes’ and you’d get to use them any way you wanted, whenever you wanted.”

“Rane!”

“I’m serious, Sarge! Think of all the things you could do with them. And I’d never say ‘no’ or how I’m too tired or anything. All the things you ever wanted a girl to do for you and all you’d have to do is ask. You know I’m up for them.”

“I’d never survive the honeymoon!”

“Sure you would! You’re as strong as an ox and besides, I know CPR. Come on! And think of the advantages besides just the sex? With my salary and your consulting fees and your pension from the Marine Corps, we wouldn’t have to worry about money. We’d be a two-income couple. Both of us could benefit from that, right?”

Lord knows I could. I don’t know if he’s ever had money problems in his life. He probably lived in the barracks the entire time he was in the Marines.

“You’ve got a point with that one.”

“See? And I’d have the benefit of your years of experience right here every day. And you’d have the benefit of all the totally naughty things that I’ve got experience in. I’d become a better cop and you’d have a smile on your face that would last the rest of your life. Pretty good deal, huh?”

“Rane…I think you’re just down in the dumps and…”

You’re not getting off the hook that easily, old man! Time to close the sale! Straddle him! Right on his lap!

“I mean it, Sarge. Just say ‘yes’ already. We can seal the deal right here. You can undress me or I can strip for you, nice and slow. And then I’ll straddle you just like this and move back and forth, just like this…”

“Rane!”

Grab his hands and put them right on my ass! There! Just like that!

“Only you’ll be deep inside me and I’ll be moaning like you wouldn’t believe! And you’ll pull me down on you just like this…”

Rane! For God’s sake!

“Don’t try to tell me you don’t like it! I can feel how much you like it!”

You’re damned right I can! My tight little twat is pressed right up against his dick and I can feel how hard he is! God, I want that inside me right fucking now! Spread my blouse open more! Get a good look, old man! I’m about to grab your head and bury your face in my boobs! God, yes!

“Say ‘yes’ and they’re all yours, Sarge. What do you say? You can grab them if you want. I want you to.”

“Have you lost your mind?”

“I know exactly what I’m doing, old man. Have you ever done a girl stagecoach? You take her from behind while you hold her ponytail like you’re holding the reins? Do you want to do that to me? I want you to do it to me. I’m not wearing this ponytail for nothing, you know.”

Another minute of me doing this and he’s going to pop! I know it! Come on, Sarge! Say “yes” and fuck me! Do it! I want you to do it! God, I want you to do it! Tear off my blouse! Rip off my bra and suck on my boobs! I want you to do it! I need you to do it! You haven’t moved your hands from my ass! You don’t want to, do you? Stick them down my shorts! I want to feel your hands on my bare ass! Do it! Pull them right off! Pull them off and let me pop your dick out of those trousers and slide it right into me! Do it! Please!

What the fuck? Both of our phones are ringing at once? What the hell is going on? Oh, my God! He’s answering his! What? Am I losing my touch? Are you fucking kidding me?

“Yeah, this is Varanasi. What’s going on? What? Are you sure? You got a positive ID? Yeah, I’ll be right there. I’m sure Sergeant Rane will be, too. Goodbye.”

What in the name of God Almighty could be happening right now?

“Sorry, princess. Your seduction will have to wait. That was the Watch Commander. There’s been a homicide. The officers at the scene say the victim is one Calvin Steadlow. Ring a bell?”

Of course it does. He’s the guy over at RSS who’s been selling information on cash shipments, or so our mysterious “Mister Colfax” said. Something tells me this proves the information was correct.

“You’re saying our assbags are covering their tracks the old-fashioned way? Oh, wonderful! Another deviation from the how-to book!”

“There’s no time to toss you in a cold shower, princess. Let’s go. They want us over at the station right away.”

I don’t believe this! I was this close! This close to getting him to hammer me! Why do you hate me so much, God? Why? What did I ever do to you? This isn’t fair! You’re just picking on me! Why? Tell me what I did wrong and I’ll fix it! Please!

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