Mission Critical

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Chapter 4 - By the Book

Early morning, out at the range and training with the Sarge. Yet another perk of being a sergeant: they give me this time to train with him as part of my duty shift. And here I thought I’d have to start training at six in the evening once I went back to patrol. Well, coming out here today has convinced me of something: I need my goddamned head examined! That assessment yesterday? It was a hell of a lot more exhausting than I expected. A lot more exhausting! That obstacle course? I thought it was pretty easy – the first time! They didn’t say we’d have to run it at least eight times during the day, and that in-between we’d be doing all kinds of other exhausting things! By the time it was over? The last eighteen-foot rope climb? I thought my arms were going to tear right out of the sockets! I had to slide down the rope on the last attempt and it left a nice big rope burn on my leg! My back? It feels like I bent my spine into a question mark! Try making your way through those tube tunnels with ten tons of gear and a rifle that’s three and a half feet long when your back is literally screaming at you to stop! And by the time we were going through the last routes of the training? That rope wall? You know, the kind the soldiers had to climb down from the ships on D-Day? I could barely figure out where to put my feet! I made it – I did everything and I’m sure I passed – but it was ten straight hours of hell. The Sarge didn’t tell me about that part. I’ve got half a mind to shoot him in the ass right now!

Unfortunately, I can’t do that because I need him. If he hadn’t taught me about the assessment, I probably would’ve washed out already. I don’t think I could’ve trained myself to this level of fitness and physical ability, so I definitely need him. He brought that MP-5 to our training session today so I could get accustomed to it, which is why I’ve got it in my hands right now. Once I learn how to handle it like a pro? Then I’ll shoot him in the ass! It’s a nine millimeter. A poodle shooter, as he calls it. He’ll probably live, right? He’s bigger than a poodle. I’ve fired it a couple of times on semiautomatic and I’ll say this for it: it’s damned accurate. Not as accurate as a sniper rifle, but nothing’s that accurate unless you’ve got a raygun like they had in Forbidden Planet. This thing is really easy to hit with when you’re firing one shot at a time. The problem is, it fires fully automatic at about eight hundred rounds per minute. It’s also got a setting for a three-shot burst of fire. Those are what I have to get used to if I’m going to make the cut. Good Lord, would you listen to me? A year ago, I barely knew anything about guns. Now I’m Tactical Girl. What a difference a year makes, huh?

“Set your selector to three-shot burst, Rane! We’ll start at ten yards!”

I’m a lead pipe cinch at that range when firing one at a time. We’ll see how well I do when I’m shooting three rounds with each pull of the trigger. Stand ready!

“Say the word, Sarge!”

“Commence firing!”

Four bursts! One! Two! Three! Four! Cease fire! It’s not as bad as I thought, but it definitely wants to jump around in your hands! So how did I do? Not bad. Not bad at all. I’m used to shooting much smaller groups, but this thing is no sniper rifle. Still, they’re all in the kill zone.

“Not bad, Rane. Not bad at all.”

See? Just like I said it! I think I’m starting to rub off on him. It’s about time, don’t you think?

“It’s not as easy to control as I’d hoped. Those groups are going to open up the further back I get.”

“That’s what we’re here for. Nobody gets this right away, Rane. It takes practice. And despite what you’re probably thinking right now, SRT doesn’t expect you to know this weapon backwards and forwards when you’re just trying out for the team. They know you’ve got no experience with it. They just want to make sure you can handle it. They want to make sure you’re not going to shoot yourself in the foot.”

Or shoot one of my fellow officers. I think they’re more concerned about that. And they should be. Not all of our officers are what you’d call competent with their guns. We’ve had cops accidentally shoot other cops because they never practice with their pistol except when they have to qualify every other month. Hard to believe, isn’t it? TV would have you believe every cop can shoot a bottle cap out of the air in a split second. It ain’t that easy, folks. If you can do it, I’ll pay you a hundred bucks.

“What can I expect from now on? The rest of the assessment, I mean?”

“They’re going to want to see how you fit into a team. Can you find your place in it? Can you blend in with the rest of them? Can you put the team’s interests above your own? That’s why the superstars don’t make it. SRT is no place to shine, Rane. The team shines. The individuals are all essential parts of the mission; nothing more. You’ve already had a taste of that with your sniper training. You understand the role of a sniper and you don’t step outside of that roll in a tactical situation, no matter how much you want to.”

He’s right about that. I saw officers go down at two major shootouts and as much as I wanted to jump in and help, I knew my position. I had to stay in my role no matter how bad things got. It was hell; plain and simple. But I did it. I didn’t feel good about it afterward, but I did what I had to do. I respect that.

“And what’s the best way to fit in with these guys?”

“Watch, listen, and learn. Speak up when you need to. Ask questions when you need to. Don’t pretend you know it all when you don’t. It’s a learning experience, Rane: for the rest of your life. That’s the thing about this job: you’re always learning. No one ever knows it all. Not even SRT. I can attest to that.”

I don’t doubt it. Fortunately, being a know-it-all isn’t one of my failings. I seek guidance from a plastic 8-Ball, remember?

“Anything else?”

“The most important thing, Rane: be yourself. Remember, they approached you for this. That means they already think you can be an asset to the team. You convinced them of that without even trying. Just be yourself. You’ll do fine. I can attest to that, too.”

It’s always good to have a well-informed inside track, isn’t it? Fortunately, I can do all the things he just said. None of them are going to be hard for me. I’m guessing there’s going to be something he’s leaving out that will be hard for me, though. That’s the only thing that’s got me worried.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence. Listen, I want to ask you about those bank robbers. That last job? They went straight for that little room at the back of the depository vault where they put the cash after the drop-off. Most people don’t even know that room exists, but these guys went straight for it. And right after the drop-off. We know they weren’t sitting in the parking lot waiting for the truck and I don’t believe they just got really lucky.”

“And you’re wondering if someone at RSS tipped them off about it?”

“I don’t know. If it were any other security company, I’d be all over it. But RSS? Those yahoos? If they ever found out one of their own was working for the other side…”

“They’d kill him stone dead and we’d never find the body. I know. If you believe what you hear, it wouldn’t be the first time Randall Schoen had somebody taken out of the picture for pissing him off.”

That’s true. Rumor has it old Randall Schoen’s good for at least four or five murders over the last fifty years. Probably more. Probably a lot more. He didn’t get that rich or that well-connected by being a nice guy. Someone once said Schoen gives vipers a bad name. I don’t have a problem believing that. Not for a second.

“So you think these guys just got lucky?”

“I doubt it. Most guys rob a bank, get caught, and go to prison where they learn how to do it the right way. That doesn’t sound like these assbags. They act more like they read a book about bank robbery and they’re taking it one chapter at a time.”

Now that he mentions it, that does sound like what’s happening. Their first robbery? Just the basics: get in, terrorize the room, establish total control, clean out the cash drawers and split. Each time, they’ve managed to get more money. This time, it was another big haul that your average person wouldn’t have known about. It’s like they’re reading one chapter, doing a rip-off, and then reading the next one to do the next rip-off better than last time.

“Are there actually books about how to rob a bank?”

“There are if you know where to look for them. There are a couple of book companies that are famous for publishing how-to manuals for all kinds of criminal shit. Most of them don’t last very long, but there’s always another one popping up. You just have to know where to look.”

As you can see, the Sarge tends to live in the past a little too much. He has heard about the internet, right?

“How hard is that? You just Google it.”

He’s rolling his eyes. I hate it when he does that! It makes me feel like a total idiot!

“Rane, not everything is available with a few clicks of a mouse. Jesus Christ! What are you young people going to do if some terrorist ever wipes out the electrical grid and all your fancy toys stop working?”

Seriously? Most people my age would immediately lapse into a coma and die. Including me.

“So if you can’t find it on the internet, then how do you find it?”

Think, Rane! You were a detective not long ago! We’re talking about an underground publisher who sells manuals about mayhem! Criminal shit! Anti-establishment shit! The sort of thing you’d find on the bookshelf of some complete misfit who hates society, hates the law, hates the government, and bides his time waiting for the total collapse of society! Where would you go first?”

How should I…oh, fuck! Don’t tell me! Please don’t tell me!

“The Conspiracy Boys over at Cydonia?”

Bullseye, princess! As soon as we finish up here, we’ll head over there.”

Kill me now! Right fucking now! Please! Just…finish it! One shot to the head! Anything’s better than having to go crawling to those lunatics and asking for help! Anything!

Cydonia Survival. Ground Zero for the Conspiracy Boys. God almighty, this is becoming my home away from home! If anyone had told me the first time I came here that I’d keep ending up back here for one case after the next, I’d have said they were totally insane! Just as insane as the Conspiracy Boys! But here I am, once again! I mean, look at this place! It’s off the beaten path, outside of town. There’s pretty much nothing else around it. It’s in the middle of the desert. I’ve never once seen an ad for the place. And yet the parking lot is packed! As usual! How do these people even know about this place? Oh, who am I kidding? Because they’re all a bunch of Conspiracy Boys! New World Order! Lizard people living under the airport! Secret societies seeking to rule the world! Banking conspiracies! Business conspiracies! Political conspiracies! Freemasons! Bilderberg Group! Skull and Bones! Alien bases! Religious orders secretly manipulating the world’s governments! The Vatican’s Secret Archives! High-tech surveillance! Secret tracking chips being injected into people who think they’re getting a flu shot! It’s all here: the Mecca of Paranoia! And I’ve become a regular here! And I’m pretty sure it’s going to get twenty times worse as soon as I walk through that door! Why is that, you ask? Just watch. You’ll see.

See what I mean? It’s packed! It’s the middle of the day! Don’t these people have jobs? Besides ranting about conspiracies on internet blogs, anyway. And if they don’t work, then how the hell do they afford the stuff this place sells? I’ve told you about the prices in here. You’d have to be Donald Trump to afford some of this crap! See that rifle on the wall, over on the far left? The custom-made one? It costs fifteen thousand dollars! How do I know that? Well…just watch and pay attention.

“Sarge, where’s LC?”

“I don’t know. He’s got to be around here somewhere.”

You remember LC, of course. He works here. He lives here. Good Lord, he is Cydonia! Paratrooper, decorated veteran, and word-class Conspiracy Boy. Remember Agent Nunez from the biker war case? Remember what he said about LC? He told me the FBI’s file on him runs a couple of hundred pages! And the FBI doesn’t waste ink and paper on run-of-the-mill nut jobs. After that case, I gained a whole new respect for LC. He’s still crazy, but I gained a whole new respect for him. If I had any brains, I’d probably be afraid of him.

There he is; over by the cash register. Ringing up a customer who looks like he just spent more than I make in two months. I sometimes think I’m totally in the wrong business. Paranoia really pays, as you can see by the prices in here.

“LC! Got a minute?”

“Sergeant Rane! For you? Sure thing! Come on over here!”

Not the typical reception I tend to get from him, is it? Keep watching. You’ll see why. If you remember a certain incident from the biker war last fall, you’ve probably figured it out already.

“You’re looking good, babe! Not as good as you look without the fatigues, but pretty damned good.”

No, he hasn’t gotten totally crude on me all of a sudden. There’s a reason for it. Just wait. You’ll see.

“Thanks. Listen, we’ve got a situation going on in the city and we were thinking you might be able to steer us in the right direction. If somebody wanted to learn how to rob a bank by reading a book, where would he go to find one?”

“That’s all you want? Shit! That’s easy! There’s five or six places that have books on everything from fake ID to credit card scams to armed robbery. Take your pick! If you’re into being a better crook, they’ve got you covered.”

The Sarge was right. He always is. Just don’t ever tell him I said that!

“Are these like…internet publishers or something?”

“Not entirely. They all sell over the internet. Books like that aren’t the sort of things your typical bookstore sells, if you know what I mean. These publishers? They don’t publish any bullshit. If they put it out there, it’s the real deal. Companies like that get a lot of heat for selling that kind of information. Fucking assholes! Some people have no respect for the First Amendment!”

I need to cut him off before he goes on a tirade. As you know, LC’s what you’d call passionate about that stuff.

“I don’t doubt it. So how do I find these places? No, strike that. You’re a smart guy. You know what’s what. If you were crazy enough to go into the bank robbery business, which book would you buy?”

I might as well not beat around the bush, right? Go right for the jugular, as they say.

“Easy. I’ll show you. Come over here.”

The computer. I’m really growing to hate computers. The last guy I was hot for was a computer expert and that’s why he’s out of reach for me. The bikers used chat rooms and message boards on the Dark Web. The first information on the sniper case came from the Dark Web, too. Computers really suck sometimes. I have a feeling they’re about to suck even more in about five seconds.

“Right here. This one. It’s the newest and from what I’ve read, the best.”

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me! Bank Robbery: a Scientific Approach to Successful Tactics for Criminals. For real? Somebody actually wrote a book about this shit?

“You read this book?”

“No, but some of my customers did. The guy who wrote it did time in federal for over forty bank robberies. He never got caught on the evidence. Some dirtbag skank he used to shack up with snitched him off.”

I should take offense at that, but not until I find out if she was a total dickhead like my ex. In that case, I might actually feel sorry for the guy.

“And this is some kind of detailed how-to manual for robbing banks?”

“It’s the bible of bank robbery, babe! Almost four hundred pages long; fully illustrated. Thirty bucks is the price of admission. It covers everything: the latest security measures, location of the real vault, controlling the room during the heist; the works. It has chapters on police investigative techniques, FBI techniques; you name it. How to beat the forensics? It’s in there. Identifying and separating the dye pack? It’s in there. Rigging the alarm system? Everything you need to know. If you want to rob banks for a living, this is the place to start. And it’s not just the book. The guy who wrote it? He’s got a website with video tutorials. Check it out: no bullshit here! Everything you need; nothing you don’t.”

I don’t fucking believe this! Look at that shit! He shows you exactly where to position yourself to cover the room! How to isolate the armed guard if they have one! Where the serious cash is hidden when it’s not in the vault! How to ditch the police when you make your escape! And that’s just the teaser video!

“How long is that video?”

“Which one, babe? He’s got a ton of them. But you have to subscribe to his website if you want to see them. It’s not bad: $29.95 a month for full access. He does regular updates and Q&A sessions, too. Straight from the man himself. This guy knows how to market his shit.”

He’s running an online school for bank robbers? How is that even legal?

“Sarge? Are you seeing this?”

“I see it, Rane. I don’t believe it, but I see it. You know, in my day, you had to go to prison to get an education like that.”

And now all you need is a fucking PayPal account! What are we going to do if five hundred guys take this assbag’s course and start robbing banks? This fucking sucks!

“Can’t we arrest this guy?”

“For what? It’s not against the law to write a book about what you know. Or to make videos about it.”

“But he’s encouraging people to go out and rob banks!”

“I don’t think so, Rane. I’m sure he posts the usual disclaimer at the beginning of each video: ‘For information purposes only.’ He’s probably got one in the preface of his book, too.”

And that gets him off the hook? Just like that? That’s crazy!

“And if somebody follows his lesson plan step-by-step and robs a bank?”

“That’s on them, not on him.”

“But he’s teaching people how to commit crimes!”

“Rane, an army demolition manual tells you how to make bombs. They don’t encourage you to make them in your garage, but you could do it if you wanted to. An auto mechanic’s manual could be used to help you steal a car, but that’s not what it’s intended for. Chemistry books can be used to make illegal drugs and explosives, but they’re not meant for that. It’s the same with this stuff: people have a right to know about it, even if they don’t have a right to do it. The information itself isn’t against the law and that’s the way it should be.”

Maybe I’m just dumb, but that seems seriously wrong to me. Why would anyone want to read a step-by-step manual on how to rob a bank if they didn’t intend to rob one in the first place?

“LC, give me the website where I can order that book. I think we’d better have a copy. It might be the one our assbags are using.”

“You mean the three-man robbery crew? They’re using it, all right. Sure as shit, babe. Take a look: this video tutorial? It was posted four days ago. It covers the part about how banks sometimes store the cash drops in a secure room in the upstairs vault. They’re not supposed to keep it in there any longer than necessary, so it says you need to grab it right after the armored car drops it off.”

“Excuse me? How do you know that? You said you can’t see those videos unless you subscribe to the website.”

“I am a subscriber. Hey, for thirty bucks? That information might come in handy someday. When the international banking conspiracy tightens their grip and all the ATM cards suddenly stop working? You never know, right? Better to be Spartacus than a slave, right?”

He’s a subscriber. Why, oh why, am I not surprised?

“Come on, Sarge. I think we’ve got enough for now.”

He’s giving me that evil look. I think I know why.

“We can’t leave just yet, Rane! There’s the little matter of your goddamned fan club!”

Yes, I expected this. I see about a dozen guys staring at me like they’re watching a peep show! There’s a reason for that. Remember how I said you’d see why I wasn’t crazy about coming here? This is why! A little background is in order: in case you forgot, I always keep my promises. It’s a total character flaw with me. And if you’ll recall, last fall when LC gave us some critical information about a bomb-maker who was supplying the biker gangs, I agreed to pose for his store’s calendar: babes in bikinis with big guns; that sort of thing. I felt it was the least I could do in return, seeing as he practically signed his own death warrant to help us out when there was nothing in it for him. I still don’t know why he did it, but he did and we caught a major assbag because of it and it was a serious break in the case right when we really needed one. So I did his calendar. I’m Miss December. I picked the coolest sniper rifle he had in the store to pose with, which is how I knew that masterpiece on the wall cost fifteen grand. That’s the one I posed with. However, the story doesn’t end there. It never does with me, does it? You see, I figured I owed him the best I could give and I just wasn’t happy with the pictures that the photographer took. They were good, but not hot enough for my tastes. I really wanted to go the extra mile for LC after everything he did for us. So what did I do? What do you think I did? In a total Allison Rane moment, I yanked off the bikini and told the guy to take the picture of me nude. I struck the hottest pose possible and flashed the sexiest smile in my arsenal. Believe me, the picture was a total knockout! All I had on was a pair of desert combat boots, cute white socks, and some really cool tactical sunglasses. I struck a pose that wasn’t a full-frontal shot, but it was pretty obvious to anyone that I was wearing nothing but boots and a smile, as they say. It was a great shot of my ass, let me tell you. It’s a pretty good shot of my boobs, too; though my ass was definitely the star of the show. The picture was a major hit with LC’s customers, or so he told me. A lot of guys went crazy over it, even though they don’t know who I am. I signed the picture “Love, Allison” and with the sunglasses on, most people can’t tell it’s me. How they didn’t all put it together after all of the publicity I got from the sniper case is beyond me, but they didn’t. Of course, the Sarge knew it was me, and did he ever hit the roof when he saw it! You should’ve seen the look on his face! It put a smile on my face that didn’t fade for a week! I became an instant celebrity in this place, hence the fan club.

“All right, boys! Yes, it’s me! Buy a calendar and I’ll sign it for ten bucks a pop! But I’m only going to be here for another fifteen minutes! Get cracking if you want one!”

And they go scurrying for the front counter like mice! See? They knew it was me the moment they saw me! They’re regulars. There’s a reason why I didn’t come in here in my uniform: I’d rather not draw attention to the fact that I’m a cop. Does the department know about the picture? Sure. I told them I was going to do it. Did they care? Not at all. I did it on my own time and I wasn’t wearing anything department-related. Hell, I wasn’t really wearing anything at all! The strangest thing is, I haven’t seen one of those calendars in the station and nobody’s said anything to me about it. Like I said, this place is pretty far off the beaten path and it caters to a weird clientele. I guess most of our cops don’t shop here.

Look at LC! He’s practically giddy! I don’t know why. He sells those calendars for twelve bucks a pop. It’s not like he’s getting rich off of them.

“Is it like this every year?”

“Not even, babe! You were the hottest one of the bunch! And you were the only one to do it in the raw! Most years, I’m lucky if I sell out one printing of this thing! This time? I’m on my fifth printing!”

“I’m glad it was a success.”

“You really came through for me. I didn’t think you’d do it. I sure as hell didn’t think you’d go all out the way you did, but I’m glad you did!”

Hence the comment he made about me looking better without my fatigues, in case you didn’t figure it out already. You should’ve seen the look on his face when he got the prints for it.

“You’re welcome. I told you I always keep my promises.”

“And I’ll kick the shit out of anyone who ever says otherwise. You’re a woman of your word, babe.”

I hope he doesn’t expect me to do it every year. Then again, it’s kind of nice to know I’ve got a fallback career as a calendar girl if I ever have to stop being a cop. That’s something, right?

Lunchtime at La Mesa restaurant. I’m picking up the check, seeing as I walked out of Cydonia with one hundred sixty bucks. Maybe I should set up a table there on weekends? I’ll bet I could make a pretty penny signing calendars; at least for a while. I could use the money. Minus the lunch tab, this is going to pay for my electric and water bills this month. Two less things I have to worry about. That’s always a good thing. And with what’s left, I might buy a new Magic 8-Ball. One that doesn’t always tell me rotten things that I don’t want to hear. That would be a nice change, don’t you think? I hear they’ve got a new version that has more answers. If that’s true, then I really have to get one.

I’m not crazy about this restaurant, but the Sarge loves it. It’s a two-star establishment at best, and most of the food they sell is kind of like playing Russian Roulette with your stomach. Half of it ties your intestines into a knot and the other half is hot enough to eat through your stomach and keep burning straight through the earth down to mainland China. How the hell the Sarge eats this stuff and has managed to live as long as he has is one of life’s great mysteries, but he eats here at least three times a week. The one saving grace? The prices are cheap. That makes it a popular spot for cops. I’ve never once seen anybody above the rank of sergeant in here. That should tell you something about the pay scale on our department.

“You seem to be fuming about something, Sarge. What’s wrong?”

“You know perfectly well what’s wrong! I can’t believe you took that picture! Let alone allowed it to be published in a girlie calendar!”

Seriously? I thought we got over that a while ago!

“Come on, Sarge! I told you I was going to do it. LC put his life on the line to give us Brasmer’s name and address. He nearly got killed by a bunch of bikers! Hell, the Aryan Brotherhood still has a kite out on him! Doing his calendar was the least I could do in return.”

“You could’ve kept your clothes on!”

Yes, but that wouldn’t have been as much fun. Hey, you all know what I’m like!

“I was trying to go the extra mile for him. You know, make it so he’d sell a few more than usual. It looks like I succeeded.”

“Of course you succeeded! You were the goddamned centerfold for the whole thing!”

“I don’t know why you’re so upset. I signed one for you when it came out, remember? You know, I was thinking about you the whole time I was kneeling there in the desert without a stitch on. Why do you think I was smiling like that?”

And he gives me the furious look. Oh, bullshit! I’ll bet anything he’s got it pinned up in his house somewhere. He’ll never admit it, but that picture was totally hot and I’ll bet he got turned on by it! Hey, that was the idea! Even I was surprised at how good it came out. That photographer really knew how to take a nude picture, let me tell you!

“Oh, come on, Sarge! You know, I was planning to do this one where I strike a pose like Bettie Page on the beach with nothing but a trident…”

“For Christ’s sake, Rane! Are you trying to give me a heart attack?”

I haven’t ruled it out. But if I do it, it won’t be with a picture. I know much better ways to give him a heart attack, if you know what I mean!

“If I try to give you a heart attack, you’ll know it, old man! I know all sorts of tricks. I’d love to show them to you sometime.”

I know I’ve said this a million times, but one of these days I’m just going to throw him down on a bed and ride him like a cowgirl gone wild! I don’t know exactly when, but someday I’m going to give him the night of his life! I feel like I owe it to him after everything he’s done for me. And something tells me it’ll be as much fun for me as it will for him. That’s important to me. I’ll do things for him that no other woman ever did or even dared to do! Not just because I owe it to him, but because I like doing them! I’m weird like that, as I’m sure you know by now. I also happen to think he’s hot.

“You keep talking like that and the next thing I know, you’ll be moonlighting down at the Prancing Pony!”

As a stripper? No, not happening. I can rock a mean pole dance, but I couldn’t handle the hours. And body glitter makes me itch.

“I’d be happy to arrange a private performance for you for your birthday. It’s in May, right?”


As you can see, I haven’t gotten over my love of torturing him with my sexual innuendos. It’s not really teasing him if I plan to follow through with it someday, right? I think I’m going to have to pull out all the stops when I finally do bang him just to cover all the anguish I’ve caused him. Hey, that’s fine with me. You know how I feel about sex: the naughtier, the better!

“I’m just fucking with you, old man. You know how much I love to do that. Listen, what do you think about this robbery manual? Do you think these assbags are really reading it and following the instructions?”

“It’s possible. Maybe even probable? This is the information age. People want to learn about something? They Google it. They look on some video site for a how-to video. Why not turn to a book? That’s how most people learn things. Or at least, they used to.”

“And there’s no way to hold the assbag who wrote it accountable?”

“Rane, you’re young. If you were a little older, you’d know about the Hit Man case.”

“What hit man?”

“That’s what I mean. It wasn’t a case about a hit man. It was about a book called Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors. It was supposed to be a how-to book for professional killers. Back in ’93, a guy hired a hit man to kill his wife and son. The shooter allegedly used the book as a blueprint for the murders and the victims’ family sued the publisher of the book. The publisher won in the lower court but lost in the appellate court. The appellate court said the book wasn’t protected by the First Amendment. The suit was settled out of court after that, but a lot of people were unhappy about the ruling and pushed for the publisher to take it all the way to the Supreme Court.”

Seriously? Somebody wrote a how-to manual for professional murderers? You know, I’m starting to feel like I’ve been living under a rock! How do I not know these things?

“So what’s the point? The court said the book wasn’t protected speech. We’d have the law on our side.”

“Not exactly. For one thing, it was a civil case. The criminal courts are a lot stricter. The main thing I was trying to say is the issue was never fully resolved because it never got to the Supreme Court. A lot of people didn’t want the case to go that far because they were afraid of the outcome. The Supreme Court tends to give a lot of weight to First Amendment claims. This case? If we push it, we could find it sitting in front of the Supreme Court and we’d probably lose. Would you want your name on a legal precedent that says criminals can publish how-to crime textbooks with impunity?”

Now that he mentions it? No, I wouldn’t. I’m no legal eagle, but even I know the implications of that outcome. Hell, some assbag would publish a step-by-step manual on how to make an atom bomb in your garage!

“So we’re just supposed to ignore the book and the videos?”

“No, we’re going to read the book and watch the videos. If we can tie them to the robbery crew, that will strengthen our case against them. And if we can track down the author, we can ask him if he knows who these dirtbags are.”

That makes sense. I just hope this “author” isn’t living in Vermont. I don’t think the department would spring for a couple of plane tickets to go interview him.

“How would he know? He probably has somebody run his internet sales. I’ll bet he never even sees the order forms.”

“LC said he does a regular Q&A forum on his website. We find out if anyone asked a bunch of questions we can tie to the robberies. He’d remember that, wouldn’t he?”

Not bad, Sarge! Not bad at all! I’m impressed!

“I get so hot when you play detective, Sarge!”


“Think about it, Sarge: if they send us to go interview this guy, that means you and me in a hotel room overnight! Just the two of us! How do you feel about a video camera? I always wanted to make one of those films!”

“For God’s sake, Rane! What’s gotten into you?”

I swear, torturing him like that? It’s the gift that keeps on giving! It just never gets old!

“All units, a ten-ninety at the Seneca Bank; 12252 west Scottsdale Avenue. Units responding, identify.”

That’s a silent alarm at a bank!


“Two days in a row? They’re stepping up their game! Let’s go!”

I guess they got through a couple more chapters of that fucking book! They’ll be gone by the time we get there, but I don’t give a shit! We’re going! Run! Get to the car! And hope to God they didn’t shoot anybody! Seneca Bank? I’m pretty sure they’ve got an armed guard there! This could be a bad one!

Seneca Bank. This town has a lot of little mom and pop banks. Most people prefer them to the big boys. Well, they’re gone, all right. In and out in sixty seconds. And this time, it didn’t go smoothly. I was right about the armed guard: they shot him. They just carted him away in the ambulance. The EMTs said he’d survive, but that doesn’t make getting shot into a minor thing. I speak from experience. He got hit high in the gut. He looked like he was at least sixty; probably some retired guy who took the job to make ends meet and they shot him for it. He returned fire and he may have hit one of them. We don’t know. He couldn’t talk when they were taking him away to the hospital. We’ve got a unit headed over there to stay with him until he’s well enough to talk to our detectives. There were two empty casings next to where he went down, so we figure they were from his weapon. We found one other casing over by the front door. I’m guessing that’s from the assbag who shot him. We’ll see if we can get anything from it. It’s the first solid piece of evidence we’ve had so far. It’s too bad some guy had to get shot so we could recover it.

In spite of the shooting, they still managed to clean out the cash drawers. No extra big haul this time: forty-two thousand dollars in cash. Not bad for sixty seconds of work, huh? I guess if they were going for a bigger score, the security guard screwed up their plan. Good for him. Still, whatever they’re paying that guy isn’t enough. Not even close. Not to get shot. Take it from me: there isn’t enough money in the world to make me want to go through that again. I’m sure that guard feels the same way right now.

Officer Doug Howa is looking at the security video. I haven’t seen it, but he says it’s our same assbags; no doubt about it. So now they’re hitting back-to-back days. I guess they needed more dope for some reason. Maybe they threw a party and overdid it? What difference does it make? They robbed another bank and this time they almost killed a guy. They just moved to the top of our to-do list. I wonder if they know that? I wonder if they care? That’s something I never understood about criminals. I mean, I sort of get the idea that they think they’ll never get caught. People can be self-delusional like that. I saw it plenty of times when I was a detective and more than a few times when I was a patrol officer. But the idea that they don’t give a shit about shooting somebody? That’s something I’ll never understand. I don’t think I want to, either. I had a training officer who said anyone who thinks like that is a special kind of insane. I agree.

“What’s the word, Sarge?”

“The good guy had a nine, the bad guy had a nine, and they shot each other. We don’t know how hard the bad guy got hit. There’s blood over by the front door. Since the guard never made it over there, it’s not his. It’s got to be from one of the suspects.”

No, the guard fell right where we found him. Doug said the security video confirms that. He got hit and he dropped like a stone. He didn’t have a vest. Given what they pay these security guards, he probably couldn’t afford one.


“Plenty, but they’re not going to be of much good to us right now. Everybody’s pretty frazzled from the gunplay. In this little space? Their eardrums probably blew out.”

I noticed that, too. It’s a low ceiling and it’s made of hardwood. The walls are all drywall. Lots of hardwood trim in here, too. Even with the carpet on the floor, there’s a pretty decent echo in here. Those gunshots must’ve been ear-splitting. I’ll bet it was total chaos.

“Did anyone see a getaway car?”

“I’m afraid not. I’m beginning to wonder if these guys are on foot? There’s no parking on the street out front and this is a pretty busy street. Someone should’ve seen the car.”

Bank robbers on foot? That would be a new one, wouldn’t it?

“Was there anything different about this one? Anything to suggest they’re getting better at this?”

“Nothing. If they had a plan for anything new, it went out the window as soon as that guard started shooting.”

And that bugs the crap out of me. We were under the impression that these dickfaces did their homework. They scoped out their targets. If that’s true, then they should’ve known this place had an armed guard. So why risk it when there are plenty of banks without guards? Did they get bolder all of a sudden?

“Officer Montoya! Do me a favor: find the manager and ask him when that security guard started working here.”

“We already did. They hired him after the second robbery. He started the day before yesterday.”

That explains it. They did their recon before they hired the guard, so they didn’t know about him. But even so, that’s pretty careless. If they were following a step-by-step plan, then wouldn’t they have at least sent a guy by here within the last two days to give it the once-over one last time? That seems like common sense, doesn’t it?

“I guess they made their first mistake, Sarge.”

“Let’s hope it’s the one that puts them away for good, princess. I’m developing a real hate for these assbags.”

Amen to that. I wonder what they’re thinking right now? They shot a guy. That’s no little thing. They’ve got to know it changes things, and not for the better. I’m guessing they’re not total psychopaths, seeing as they never fired a shot before now. Are they going to pack it in? Quit while they’re ahead? That would be the smart move, but people who rob banks aren’t usually the smart kind. They’re the dumb kind. Sometimes they’re the suicidal kind. Whatever they are, they’re definitely not the good kind.

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