Mission Critical

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Chapter 3 - Fast Learners

Out on patrol. So far, it’s a slow day. Nothing’s going on. The radio’s pretty quiet. The only thing I’m worried about right now is a practical joke from the rest of the guys; their “Welcome to the watch” prank. I have no idea what they’re going to do. Cops can get pretty creative with their practical jokes. Since I’m a woman, I have to figure it’ll be something crude like the Sarge said. Boys will be boys, after all. I know that’s not a very “proper” sentiment these days, but I don’t go in for all of the politically correct bullshit. Besides, girls will be girls and nobody seems to have a problem with that. If they did, I’d probably be in big trouble. I can be a total girl if I want to be, as I’m sure you know by now. I happen to do it a lot – when the circumstances are right, of course. So let the boys be boys and let the girls be girls and as long as nobody gets hurt, it’s all in fun. And if they go too far? Well, I’ve been known to play a few practical jokes in my day, too. Ask anyone around here. Revenge can be very satisfying.

So what does a sergeant do on a regular basis, you might ask? Basically, we go forth into the city and look for something to write about. In other words, we do the same thing as the regular patrol officers do, but in nicer cars. We just tend to write about what the patrol guys do. Most of the time, it’s not the most exciting thing in the world. We roll on calls and see what’s up and write a brief description of what happened in our sergeants’ logs and that’s about it. If somebody needs a superior to make a decision or give them advice, we do it. Sounds like an easy job, huh? Well, not always. We have to second-guess our own cops whether we like it or not. We have to perform investigations to see if our cops got out of line. If they did, then we have to take action whether we like it or not. We have to pencil-fuck them when they drive like idiots, which happens more often than I’d care to admit. Those are the parts of the job that are definitely no fun. So far, I haven’t had to do any of them. That will change, eventually. It’s inevitable. But hey, I knew what I was getting into when I took the test, right? I can’t exactly complain about it, can I? I’ll do what I have to do, the same as any sergeant or above.

The worst part of being a sergeant is that you’re a supervisor and there are no shortage of total dickheads who, when they encounter the police, start screaming “I want to speak to your supervisor!” They want to lodge a complaint. They want to bitch and moan. They think that by getting a supervisor there, the officers are going to get into trouble. Some people actually read it off a script. No, I shit you not: they’ve got a written script that they carry around with them and it has “Demand that the officer call for a supervisor” written right there on the checklist. Those people are total mental defectives that go by the name “Sovereign Citizens.” Look it up if you think I’m kidding. Unfortunately, the southwest is full of them. They’re like Arizona Man on steroids. You’ve heard the term “Embrace the stupid?” Well, these dickheads don’t just embrace the stupid. They embrace it, kiss it, bend it over and fuck it every which way they can, and then take it out to dinner and marry it! God, how I hate them! Everybody hates them! Type “Sovereign Citizen” into the search bar on YouTube and watch a few videos of these total brain-donors and you’ll see why! You’ll see a hundred videos of these assbags getting their car windows smashed and then dragged out and cuffed because they’re total, massive dickheads! I absolutely hated them when I was on patrol and I ran into a bumper crop of them, which isn’t unusual. In this part of the country? They’re everywhere.

And up ahead on our left, boys and girls, is the infamous Throttle Go! Bar and Grill! I’m sure you’ll remember that one as one of our most notorious outlaw biker hangouts. It still has bullet holes in the walls from the great biker war just a few months ago. The Black Order and the Storm Wraiths are no more; both clubs were broken by the FBI’s RICO investigation. Some of their members are still around, but with their clubs gone, they have to find a new home. Some of them are already prospecting for other clubs while still others are currently independent assbags. I don’t miss them. Nobody around here does. When a couple of small clubs tried to move into town to fill the vacuum, so to speak? The locals decided they didn’t want to go through that hell again and they took matters into their own hands. Nobody got hanged from a lamppost or tarred and feathered, but they got the living shit kicked out of them but good! Two of them got shot. Not fatally, but they got shot by angry citizens who’d had enough of their biker bullshit. Did we arrest anybody for it? Uh, are you kidding? We were cheering them on! We still have our share of outlaw bikers around here, but they keep a pretty low profile. They learned their lesson. So many of their assbag friends got killed during the war that Mount Pleasant Cemetery nearly had to open a biker wing. Yes, it was that bad. I’m sure you remember the gory details. I certainly do.

“Three Lincoln, Sarge? Where are you?”

“Check your screen, Rane.”

He doesn’t want to say over the air. I’m guessing that means he’s sitting on something. We got burned a few times during the biker war because the assbags were using police scanners. We learned our lesson the hard way. Let’s see…I was right: he’s over at Southwest Allegiance Bank. Probably sitting on it in case our bank robbery crew decides to hit it. Good choice. That bank handles a lot of payroll clients in the city. They tend to have more cash on hand than a lot of the others.

“Understood. Anything yet?”

“Negative. All quiet.”

I guess our bank robbers are taking a day off. That’s the problem with crooks, isn’t it? They keep their own schedules. They’re unpredictable.

“Do you need any company?”

“Not right now.”

So he’s saying he’s not there alone. Good. I’d hate to think a couple of armed guys might come charging in there and he’s all alone. As pigheaded as he is, he’d try to take them on by himself. He’s a Marine through-and-through, and Marines tend to be like that. Crazy, isn’t it?

“Let me know if you do. I’ll stay in your area. Three Lincoln out.”

Hey, I got a message from Lieutenant Shears at SRT. Let’s see…your PFQ is scheduled for tomorrow morning at ten o’clock. That’s SRT for you: they like to spring things on you with little or no warning. It’s part of the whole “be prepared for anything” idea. OK, I’m prepared. I’ve been training for it since November, so I’m ready to go. Respond: I’ll be there. Thanks. And…send! The PFQ, I’m not worried about at all. I’m in great shape. I’m a lot stronger than I used to be, too. All that training in the desert definitely whips you into shape and puts a lot of lean muscle on you. You know how the Sarge likes to devise devious methods to strengthen you and make you miserable at the same time. Now’s the time where they pay off for me. Once I pass the PFQ, I’ll be moved on to the obstacle course and then the basic tactical assessments: shooting, room clearing, and a bunch of other stuff. I’m actually looking forward to it. Now way am I going to blow this thing. The Sarge says the key to success in it is mostly mental, and I’ve got the focus and the drive now. A lot of it, in fact. I’m ready.

“Five Baker, I’ve got a ten-ninety at Calvert Bank on Lexington. Give me an additional unit code two.”

A bank alarm. I think the Sarge and his friends picked the wrong bank! Is this our bank robbery crew? We’re about to find out!

“Three Lincoln, responding code two.”

“Three Lincoln, roger.”

Let’s see if it’s our assbags or some other dork, shall we? It could be a false alarm, too. We get those from time to time: a teller mistakenly hits the alarm button. Let’s see if that’s the case.

The Calvert Bank on Lexington Avenue. It was our crew, all right! Three guys, all with guns, yelling and screaming at everyone. They’re getting better, too. They hit right after the place got its drop-off of cash. They stole one hundred twenty-six thousand bucks. That’s a huge haul for this place. Calvert is a little bank that looks almost like a small-town church. I guess they just stuck a bank in an old building. They’re long gone, of course. The tellers were too scared to hit the alarm until the assbags left. Nobody saw the getaway car and two of the employees said there weren’t any cars in the parking lot, so they probably parked it on the street behind the place so it didn’t show up on the security cameras. Don’t you hate smart crooks? I do. They make our lives difficult.

No shots fired and no one got hurt. Yay for small miracles. The bank manager said one of the assbags was really jumpy. She was afraid he was going to start shooting people. That’s in keeping with the idea that these dickheads are dope fiends. Unfortunately, that also means that we could have a disaster on our hands if this keeps up. One dork can turn a straight-up in-and-out robbery into a bloodbath. It’s happened before. We don’t want it to happen again. And two of the tellers said the small guy was once again firm but very polite. They also said he seemed to be the guy calling the shots. He did most of the work. Weird. You’d think the biggest, meanest guy would be the one in charge. Maybe the little guy is the pro and the other two are along for the ride? That’s possible. I’m just glad they didn’t shoot anybody.

Given the amount of time between when the armored car dropped off the cash and when the assbags hit the place, I’m thinking they were here for the drop-off. That has me wondering: did they deliberately choose not to hit the armored car? If so, they’re smart. They didn’t risk shooting it out with the armored car drivers. Calvert Bank has no security guard inside the place. I’m pretty sure they’re going to have one from now on. A lot of banks probably will. Old Randall Schoen’s going to clean up on the fear. It won’t just be the banks. A lot of places are going to think they’re better safe than sorry and hire armed guards, at least for a while. His is the biggest security company in the city, as I’ve told you before. He’ll be their first call, even though a whole lot of people around here know those guys are a bunch of trigger-happy cowboys. They won’t hesitate to shoot at the slightest provocation; real or imaginary. They could end up blasting some guy who’s just looking for his ATM card in his pocket. This could go sour on us in a real hurry, couldn’t it?

Five Baker is Officer Richard Trumbull; currently assigned to the day shift for wrecking too many cars. Mostly fender-benders, but it’s the same thing. Yes, that’s one of the not-so-creative punishments the department hands out for people who don’t get the message about safe driving. The traffic is so bad here during the daytime that our speed demons go absolutely nuts from frustration. If that doesn’t work, they take away your car entirely and assign you to a foot patrol. Our department is always short of cash, so they don’t take kindly to officers who wind up costing us a lot of money in car repairs. All right, time for my sad attempt at supervisory wisdom.

“Three guys with guns go tearing ass out of a bank with a big bag of cash and nobody out there sees them?”

It was all I could come up with at the present.

“Not so far, ma’am. Some of our guys are knocking on doors, but nobody’s found anyone who saw them. Wherever they parked, it had to be close by. It looks like there weren’t a lot of people on the street.”

Once again: did they plan it that way, or did they just get lucky? I wish I knew.

“And they went straight for the secure room in the upstairs vault?”

“That’s what the manager said. RSS dropped off the cash less than ten minutes before the bad guys came busting in. They knew the cash was there. They made a bee-line for it right away. They didn’t even mess with the cash drawers this time. The short guy told his buddies to forget about them. Pretty smart when you think about it: there’s no chance of getting a dye pack that way.”

In and out in sixty seconds. Even under the best circumstances, our response to a silent alarm is going to be at least two minutes. That gives them a full minute to get out of the neighborhood before the first unit arrives; probably more given the amount of traffic we’ll run into. If they stick to this pattern, we might never catch them. Not unless they make a mistake or someone snitches them off.

Here comes the Sarge and Detective Lowe, and they don’t look happy!

“Sorry, Sarge. You guys picked the wrong horse.”

“Don’t rub it in, Rane! Was anyone hurt?”

“No, but they got away with a pretty big haul this time. One hundred twenty-six grand. They’re moving up in the world.”

“They must’ve hit right after the bank got its cash drop. Perfect timing!”

I know what he’s thinking. I’m thinking it, too: could someone at the armored car company be feeding these guys information about cash drops? I don’t know about that. RSS has hired their share of shady characters, but I think it’s a stretch. Even an idiot knows you don’t shit where you eat. Besides, imagine if they found out one of their own people was double-dealing them? They wouldn’t turn him over to us. Not those yahoos. We’d find that dickhead out in the desert with fifty gunshot wounds to the head and chest. Anyone who works there has to know that.

“Sarge, do you think it’s worth looking at RSS for it?”

“Maybe. If it’s one of their people, then I have to wonder why go to all the trouble? Just take the cash from the armored car as soon as they load up for the day. One good haul and you’d never need another one.”

True. You’d be amazed how much cash those things carry sometimes. Of course, they’d know it was you right away and you’d have to hightail it to Mexico if you wanted to stay out of prison. Driving a truckload of cash across the border? Even the drug cartels can’t manage that on a regular basis. The Border Patrol catches people smuggling cash almost every day. They say something like one load in a hundred gets through.

“Rane, have your people hand everything over to Dave Lowe. There’s a couple of Robbery detectives coming to assist and the FBI will be here soon.”

Ugh! Three letters I hate hearing: “FBI!” I know I’m being judgmental, but you know how much trouble we had with those dickheads during the biker war. Yes, they finally came around and did what they were supposed to do, but not before we went through total hell. They’re not on my list of favorite people these days.

“Should I tell everyone to watch their backs?”

“Rane, don’t be like that. What happened last fall was an anomaly. The FBI isn’t the enemy. They’re good people. We’re going to need their connections on this case. Who knows? These guys might be out-of-state crooks and the FBI’s already got a file on them?”

I know, and he’s right. But after the way Agent Neivers fucked us over with the last one, I’m all out of goodwill for those guys. Yes, Agent Pencil-Neck got transferred to the FBI’s version of Siberia and that was a good thing, but it doesn’t make up for everything.

“I’ll believe it when I see it. Go easy with the employees, OK? Some of them are pretty traumatized. These dickheads did a lot of yelling and threatening.”

“I’ll give them my soft touch.”

Him? Soft touch? Give me a break! The Sarge is about as soft as wiping your ass with sandpaper!

“Maybe you’d better let Detective Lowe handle the interviews? We don’t want these people ending up in therapy for the rest of their lives.”

“You’re going to pay for that one, Rane! Tomorrow at training!”

“Not happening. Tomorrow’s my SRT physical fitness qualification test.”

“And who the hell do you think will be running it, princess?”

Oh, crap! I hadn’t thought of that. He’ll have me doing twice as many pushups and pullups as everyone else. That sucks.

“Then I’ll see you there, Sarge. And I’ll have someone make sure you don’t pencil-fuck my scores.”

I don’t think he’d do that. The truth is, he wants me to make the team as much as I do. He won’t cheat against me, but he won’t cheat for me, either. SRT is his pride and joy. He trained them. He wouldn’t compromise the standards for anyone. Not even me. That’s actually a good thing. When I make it, I’ll know I earned my way there just like everybody else. That’s how it should be.

Home again. It was a pretty uneventful shift, except for the bank robbery. There was a story about it on the news when I was driving home and listening to the radio. I have a feeling that before long, there are going to be a lot of stories about it. One thing about people who rob banks: if they don’t get caught right away, then they don’t stop. Not until they get caught. We’ll hear from them again. And again and again and who knows how many more times before they get caught? The sooner the better, I say. Before they get really stupid and shoot somebody.

It sucks when I’m walking up the stairs to my front door because I have to look up and the first thing I see is the apartment where Anthony lived. I really miss him. I have no idea where he is. Witness protection is like that: they move you to parts unknown and you can’t have any contact with anyone from your old life. I thought he’d find a way around that and try to contact me – he’s a computer expert, after all – but I haven’t received a thing. I know it’s to be expected, but it still depresses the shit out of me. I was beginning to think we’d have something long-term, you know? Maybe even permanent? I was thinking about that at the time and I liked how it felt, as you’ll probably remember. The Sarge said it just wasn’t meant to be. I wish I could be so philosophical about it, but I just feel like I got cheated again. It totally sucks.

But at least I still have Beefy the dog. He’s still a happy pig. He puts up with me even when I’m sitting on the couch and sulking. I do that a lot. More than I should. I’m young, I’m pretty, I’m intelligent, I’m nice to people, and I gladly do things in the bedroom that most women wouldn’t dream of doing. So why am I still a solo act? Why do I keep losing? Why does everything go wrong for me? I’ve got to be doing something wrong, don’t you think? I mean, I could hook up with random guys easily enough, but I don’t want that. I don’t think wanting a real connection with someone is asking a lot, do you? Most people seem to do it pretty easily. What am I doing wrong?

“Beefy! Your mom is home! Come cheer her up! She went and depressed the shit out of herself again!”

Here he is! Eighty-five pounds of shedding hair, slobber, muscle, and wagging tail! How could I be miserable around such a bundle of fun and energy? Impossible!

“So how was your day? We had a bank robbery. The assbags got away. Now, since your mom is no longer a detective, she doesn’t have to lose sleep over something like that. That’s for Lieutenant Jutras and company.”

Door latched, shoes off, park ass on couch. Mission accomplished! Now I can relax – at least until Beefy sits on me.

“Listen up, big boy. I need to know what’s going to happen with these bank robbers. They seem a little too good at stealing shit for my tastes. I think it’s time to consult the sphere of destiny.”

Also known as the Magic 8-Ball, as I’m sure you’ll recall. And for the ten thousandth time, don’t try to tell me it’s just a toy. It’s not. It can see the future. I know. I’ve tested it. If I’d had it before I got married, I never would’ve married that dickface. That’s what can happen when you don’t listen to the voice of prophecy. Consider yourself warned.

“All right, Magic 8-Ball! Time to do your stuff! Are these assbags pros?”

And the answer is…

“Very doubtful. All right, that was an easy one. They’re not pros. They’re just fast learners. How about this: are they going to make a mistake that we can use to catch them?”

And the answer is…

“Cannot predict now. You really suck sometimes, you know that? I’m not asking these questions for my health! I need answers! How about this one: are we going to catch them any time soon?”

And the answer is…

“Better not tell you now. Are you messing with my head? I really don’t like it when you do that! All right, last question! And you’d better not give me one of your cryptic non-committal answers! I want a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on this one! Is this going to turn into another disaster for me like the sniper case and the biker gang case?”

And the answer is…

“It is certain. Are you kidding me? Now I know you’re fucking with me! You totally suck! Beefy! Here! Eat this thing!”

And he won’t even touch it. I don’t know if it’s because it’s made of plastic or because he knows something I don’t. He’s just sitting there, looking at me like I’ve lost my mind. I haven’t, you know. It may look like I have, but I haven’t. You’ll see. This thing is never wrong, no matter how much I want it to be.

“It’s all right. You don’t have to eat it. It’s pretty indestructible, anyway. So we’ve got bad news on the bank robber front. Should I ask it something else? Like am I going to die alone and unloved? No, I’m not sure I want to hear the answer to that one. Enough of the Sphere of Destiny. What should we do now?”

Jumping up and down, tail wagging at a million miles per hours? He wants to go for a walk. I guess I should take him out. But what do I do for the rest of the night? I don’t really feel like watching a movie. The truth is, I don’t have anything to do – again! That sucks, too.

“What do you think, big boy? Should I put on my killer red dress, go to a club and hook up with some random guy and bang his brains out? I’m thirty now. I might not have a lot of time left to do things like that. What do you think?”

While I could certainly use a good bang-fest, I’m just not interested in having some guy I don’t even know pawing all over me. It sucks being picky, doesn’t it? And the whole time, I’d probably be wishing it was Anthony or the Sarge. As you can see, I haven’t given up on banging his brains out one of these days. In fact, with Anthony out of the picture? I’ve been thinking about a wild romp with the Sarge more than ever.

“Face it: I’m screwed. And not in the good way where I pop over and over again. How did I get to be a spinster? I never saw myself as one before. I took a wrong turn somewhere, didn’t I? Pretty pathetic, huh?”

Very pathetic! You know what I need? One of those life coaches. I’d do it, but most of them are full of shit. Not all of them, but most of them. It’s crazy! How are you supposed to know the good ones from the bad? By how many “likes” they get on Facebook? I don’t think so. And I don’t think the Sphere of Destiny is going to be of much help on that one.

“Come on, Beefy. Leash! Leash! I’ll take you for a walk. And then I think I’m just going to crawl into bed and try to forget how pathetic my life is. Present company excepted, of course.”

Yes, I’m destined to be the crazy dog lady. Maybe I should start a website? I can take a lot of sexy pictures with Beefy and post them. I’ll bet I’d get a lot of “likes” on it. And that would be so pathetic, I’d probably want to stick my head in an oven. Where did I go wrong? Can somebody tell me that? How did I screw up everything so bad?

Morning at the SRT training facility. That’s what we call it, but it’s pretty much a huge vacant lot in the desert with a bunch of stuff set up for training. There are nine other candidates vying for spots on the team. I’m the only woman. I just aced the physical tests: pushups, situps, pullups, dead lift, six-foot wall, the usual. If you think I’m turning cartwheels over that, forget it. All of the candidates passed that part with flying colors. That’s to be expected. Nobody puts in for this detail unless they’re in top physical condition. You’d have to be crazy to try if you’re not. Fortunately, it’s not too hot today. I’ll bet doing this crap in the summer is pure murder. Oh, and the hard part hasn’t even begun yet. I already saw some of the SRT guys setting up ten piles of full tactical gear for us for the obstacle course. I came prepared. The Sarge gave me a useful piece of information yesterday: if you’re not the “average” SRT guy, the uniform they give you might not fit. In my case, it might fit like a tent. Since I already have my own SRT fatigues, I brought them with me. I’ll wear what they gave me as long as it fits, but if not? I’ve got my own clothes. And I made sure to wear underwear that isn’t in any way racy. You see, whenever there’s an SRT callout, these guys often end up changing into their tactical gear right at the rally point, which is to say in front of a crowd. I’ve seen these guys strip down to their shorts in the middle of a parking lot with a hundred people watching. Since they’re probably going to make us do that today – mild hazing is alive and well on the police force, you know – I came prepared. Basic black, very athletic, and nothing that I’m going to get teased about later on. It’s all about the preparation, you know.

I can see the obstacle course from here. We run a quarter mile in full gear, then face ten obstacles. Full gear is the full tactical load: rifle, vest carrier with plates, helmet, radio, all of our duty gear, and in my case, my sniper rifle. It’s a lot heavier than it sounds. I can see the first obstacle clearly: hurdles, a zig-zag set of logs that you have to run across and not fall, and then there’s a dummy that you have to pick up and carry through a set poles like on a canine agility course. I have a special duty to ace that one. Why is that, you ask? Because Beefy the pig totally flunked that agility pole test shortly before they kicked us out of the obedience class! The family honor is at stake. There are a lot of fences of different heights we have to climb over and a few rope climbs. The fences, I get. There are always a lot of fences out in the field that you have to climb over. But the rope climbs? I’ve been a cop for what? Ten years? In all that time, I’ve never once come across a rope that I had to climb in the field. But I have to do it here, so I’ll do it. The tunnel tubes and the crawl-under-the-fence obstacles will be the hardest. Going through them with nothing would be easy, but with a full gear load? That’s going to be a bitch. Luckily, the Sarge has had me doing those for weeks in our training sessions. I’m ready for it. I wonder if the rest of these guys are? Believe me, it’s not easy. We’re about to find out.

Here comes Lieutenant Shears with his ever-present clipboard. Time for the real challenges to begin!

“Listen up! All of you passed the PFQ with no problems! That’s the easy part! From now in, it gets progressively harder! Each of you has a number: one through ten! That will be your number throughout the assessment phase! Remember it! You will be referred to by your number and your number only!”

Standard procedure. This is a relatively small department. Most of us know each other. The Lieutenant doesn’t want any hint of favoritism in this thing. Not only that, but it means your rank doesn’t matter one bit out here. My number? Number five. Right in the middle, though that doesn’t mean anything. I just happened to be standing in the middle when they had us count off for our numbers.

“Candidates! Your issue gear is over on the table! Find your number and get dressed and geared up! Move it!”

And we all go running! First order of business: never assume anything! Just because we’re numbered one through ten doesn’t mean those gear piles are going to be in order. See? They’re not! Where’s number five? There! Go! Get moving! Let’s see if it’s going to fit…yes! It’s actually my size! Time to strip down and gear up! I don’t know if they’re timing this, but everybody else is hurrying so I will, too! I’ve got another advantage: since I’ve been deployed as a sniper, I’m used to all of this gear. I know how much it weighs, where it goes on the load bearing vest, and how it feels to move in it. I also know how to put it on. It’s not as easy as it seems sometimes. New fatigues. They’re pretty stiff. They’ll chafe against my skin a bit. Just ignore it. Vest on! Pistol! Radio! Extra battery for the radio! Pistol magazines! Handcuffs! First-Aid kit! Gas mask! Sniper rifle ammo! Magazines for the M-4! Everything in place! I’m ready! I see Guillermo is impressed. He’s one of our SRT guys and part of the training cadre.

“Not bad, number five! You’ve done this before!”

No shit, Guillermo! You’ve seen me at how many deployments during the biker war? I had to carry all of this crap each time I showed up for a tactical mission!

“Now all I need are my rifle and my M-4.”

“No M-4 for you, number five. You’re going for a sniper spot. Your primary weapon is your sniper rifle. Your secondary long gun is an MP-5. Ditch the M-4 magazines and grab six for your MP-5.”

First curveball of the day, I guess. I’m not familiar with a submachine gun. This could be a problem later on during the marksmanship phase, but there’s nothing I can do about it now. Grab the magazines. At least they’re lighter. Every ounce saved is a blessing, right? And I see number eight is going for the same magazines. I guess that means he’s going for a sniper spot. Interesting. I don’t recognize him. I don’t think I’ve ever laid eyes on him before. So much for knowing everyone on the police force. So that’s my competition? He looks pretty squared away. I’m sure he’s a good cop. But as a sniper? I don’t think he’s as good as me. He hasn’t had my training. We’ll find out soon enough, I guess. It looks like we’re all ready. We’ll see what Lieutenant Shears has in mind for us next.

“Listen up! The obstacle course will be conducted while carrying a full tactical load! You will carry your weapon at all times! Drop your weapon while navigating the course and you’re out! Proceed to the truck to be issued your weapons!”

OK, good to remember: don’t drop your weapon. As if anyone needed to be told that. Then again, maybe some of us do? I see the rifles they’ve got on that table and a lot of them look like they’ve been through a tornado! I guess they don’t want to use the good stuff for this kind of thing. Good stuff? Our SRT unit doesn’t have much of a budget to play around with. The Sarge said a lot of their weapons are hand-me-downs from the army and the State Troopers. Those museum pieces on the table? If they’re going to make us qualify with them, I hope they still shoot straight. SRT fires a lot of rounds in training. The barrels could be shot out of those old dinosaurs. I know. I’ve heard the Sarge bitching about it to the Procurement Office. The woman there told him to go pound sand. She said they don’t have anything in the budget for new stuff. It always comes down to money, doesn’t it? I’m actually amazed they gave us new uniforms for this thing. Then again, I heard this stuff is made by convicts in federal prisons and we’ve got a lot of those in the region. They probably got them as surplus on the cheap.

“Number five! Here you go! And here’s your sniper rifle!”

The rifle is mine. The Sarge made sure of that. But this thing? So this is an MP-5. I’ve seen them before, but that’s about it. It’s lighter than the M-4. A lot smaller, too. I should be able to maneuver through the obstacle course easier with this thing. I wonder how it shoots? Nine millimeter? The Sarge hates that cartridge with a passion. He calls it a poodle shooter. Hey, it was good enough that they issued me one, wasn’t it? I never would’ve switched to a forty-five if he hadn’t given me the one I’m carrying. It definitely shoots better and hits harder than my old pistol. This thing? We’ll have to see how it works.

I see number eight is also getting a submachinegun and a sniper rifle. I was right: he’s going for a sniper spot. I’ll say this: his rifle doesn’t look as good as mine. Good enough, I’m sure. But not as good as mine. That may give me another edge. The weird part? A lot of these guys look as though they’ve never handled an M-4 before. We’ve got semiautomatic AR-15s in the patrol cars that are basically the same rifles. So why are some of the guys looking at them like someone just handed them an alien raygun? Weird, huh?

“All right, candidates! Line up in numerical order! Do your best! Keep your focus! It’s not as easy as it looks! No skipping any obstacle! Follow the path of the course exactly as it’s laid out! The course is timed, so keep that in mind! We’re looking for the best! That’s it! Good luck to each of you!”

Good advice and a little encouragement. SRT’s known as a pretty positive detail. They want people to succeed. I like that. I hate when a unit gets all exclusive and they look down on everyone else. We’ve got a couple of those on this department. I won’t mention any names, but you sure as shit won’t see me putting in for a spot on any of them. All right, get ready! A quarter mile? I can do that easy. Just don’t burn out too fast. I’m betting some of these guys are going to try to take this part like the hundred-yard dash. That’s a mistake. Don’t use all of your energy on the run. You’ll need it for the obstacle course. There’s a lot of climbing involved; especially the rope climbs. Get through it fast, but pace yourself. Save your strength for when you need it the most. Strategy. A tactical team is all about strategy, right?

“Number five! Stand by!”

Here we go! Don’t get carried away and whatever I do, don’t drop the rifle! The submachinegun is slung around my shoulder. It’s not going anywhere. I’m ready!

“Number five! Go!”

Run! Straight ahead! Stay focused and stay thinking! That’s what the Sarge said! Sound advice! I’ve got this! I can do this! I’m going to ace this thing and everything else they throw at me! I know it!

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