Mission Critical

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Chapter 6 - You're Not a Snitch

Morning at the SRT assessment field. Not the junkyard today. My nose is very thankful for that, and I’m sure everyone else’s is, too. Today’s fare? Hand-to-hand combat! You’d better believe that came as a shock to me when they announced it! I didn’t see that anywhere in the assessment description! I’m pretty surprised that they have that as part of the assessment. I’ve never heard of SRT going hands-on with a suspect the way patrol officers do. We get an awful lot of drunks and run-of-the-mill jerks in this town who want to fight, so you’re going to get in your share of punch-ups if you work patrol. But SRT? Who calls a tactical team to go toe-to-toe with an obnoxious dork who just needs his ass kicked? But that’s what we’re doing today and so that’s what I’ll do. I already see the pugil sticks piled up at the end of the field. We used those in the academy. I didn’t see the point in them – I know the military uses them to beat the hell out of each other and I don’t see the point in that, either – but I got the impression they were to test your “fighting spirit.” You know: can you stay in the fight no matter how much it hurts or how frustrated you get? I did it back then and I can do it now. They’re also going to have us go through some real hand-to-hand combat techniques: arm locks, wrist locks, chokeholds, sweeps and takedowns. Well, I’m pretty good at those. I’m no black belt – though I’ve considered finding a school and learning – but I always kept my academy fighting skills fresh and I’ve still got them. I’ll do all right. I won’t win a lot of fights out here, but I’ll do all right. It’s different in training, you know. Out in the field, cops don’t fight fair. We crack assbags with nightsticks, flashlights, and blackjacks; not to mention the occasional two-by four or trash can lid. We don’t get paid to fight fair. We get paid to win fights. Too bad they won’t allow me to knee my opponent in the nuts. That usually works. I’m really good at that one. Most women are.

We gave the computer information the Sarge had to the tech heads before we came here. We’ll see if they can trace the posts to the sources. They didn’t seem too optimistic, but they’ll try. He’s still a little sour about the fact that I didn’t throw on my clothes and come racing down to the station last night, but I don’t care. I needed a good night’s sleep. To be honest, I looked at those messages and I wasn’t as excited about them as the Sarge was. They seemed like pretty generic questions: “Well, what happens if you get shot? What do you do? If you go to a hospital, the cops will catch you for sure. Any suggestions?” That sort of thing. The timing of the post was pretty telling, but I really don’t have a strong feeling that it came from our assbags. I’ll say this for our professor of bank robbery: he knows his shit, even when it comes to the gritty stuff. The response he gave? He pointed out that gunshot wounds are always pretty dirty, so if you don’t get it treated right away, you’re going to end up with an infection that’ll probably kill you. Don’t try to treat it yourself and for God’s sake, don’t be a tough guy and try to just suck it up. Smart man. Everyone around here has a gun and a lot of people do stupid things with them and end up accidentally shooting themselves. And every one of those dickheads who waited to get treatment for it wound up with a nasty infection that could’ve killed them easily. Trust me, you don’t want one of those. I remember one guy who had to have his leg bone scraped – you heard me: scraped – to clean out the infection. I don’t even want to imagine what that must’ve felt like. The hospital told me it was every bit as horrible as it sounded.

The security guard who got shot woke up early this morning, so our Robbery detectives are going over there to try to talk to him. I’m thinking he’s going to have something worthwhile to tell them. You don’t forget somebody that you shoot. He’ll probably remember something we can use. I certainly hope so. That’s assuming he doesn’t suddenly die from medical malpractice. For some reason, they took him to Ledermann Hospital. Don’t ask. Just never, ever go there! I don’t care how badly you’re hurt; get on your hands and knees and crawl to a better hospital! I mean, you’d be better off at an animal hospital. That place is a notorious butcher’s yard. What I was just saying about infections? People go in there with little more than a hangnail and end up in the morgue. Yes, it’s really that bad.

It looks like we’re about to start. Once again, the Lieutenant’s got his clipboard of doom. I have a feeling that when this is over, we’re all going to steal that thing and ceremonially burn it. It just seems so…ominous. That’s the right word, don’t you think?

“Listen up, candidates! We’re going to start off with basic arm locks and wrist locks! Here’s where we find out if you remember what they taught you in the academy! Just because you’re SRT doesn’t mean you won’t find yourselves having to deal with a combative suspect. The same rules for physical force that apply to the rest of the department apply to SRT. You can’t bash a suspect over the head with a flat sap when all he needed was a simple twist lock. So…who wants to go first?”

Why not? I remember that stuff. Unlike a lot of officers I know, I used that stuff all the time in the field. Raise my hand and…

“Number five! Very good! Now, if this officer was a mildly combative suspect…”

And he picks the biggest SRT guy in the bunch. Remember what I said about mild hazing?

“How would you take him down?”

Huge arms. What is it with guys and huge arms? Do they spend all of their time in the gym doing curls? All right, time to show him why huge arms can sometimes be a liability. With those big muscles, your arms are more susceptible to a good arm lock. If you know what you’re doing, of course. Grab his arm at the wrist and the spot right above the elbow and…

“Let’s go, pal. You’re under arrest.”

“Fuck that!”

And he tries to pull his arm away and across his chest, just like I figured he would! All right! Shift position, pull his arm down, bend it back and…spin him! Down you go, big boy! He’s down! Keep his arm locked up!

“Say ‘uncle!’ Say it!”

He’s tapping out! Got him! I don’t think he expected that! I told you I knew how to do that shit! It works! And if something works, I stick with it! The SRT guys seem plenty impressed! I’ll bet they give big boy here no end of grief about it! He just got his ass kicked by the only girl in the class!

“Nice work, number five! Textbook takedown, by the numbers! I hope the rest of you were paying attention, because I expect the same from each and every one of you! Pair up! One and ten! Two and nine! Three and eight! Four and seven! Five and six!”

So I get Robbie Yeager. Good. He’s not much taller than me, so it won’t be hard to bend him into a pretzel. He’s a good guy, too. I always liked him. I worked with him a few times when I was in the Traffic unit. He looks a little unhappy about it, though.

“What’s wrong, Robbie?”

“What’s wrong? Lieutenant, sir! It’s not fair! She’s a sergeant! If I kick her ass, I’ll end up taking days!”

Oh, give me a break! Suspension days for taking down a sergeant in a training situation? Like that’s really going to happen!

“There are no ranks here, number six! Do whatever you have to do! No going easy on her!”

My thoughts exactly. And frankly, he should be happy about it. I’m the only woman here and this is hand-to-hand combat. Basically, he’s got a free pass to grab my boobs and ass, which I’m sure he’ll do more than once. You see, Robbie and I used to work together in Traffic and I got the impression he had a little thing for me back then. This is his big chance to sample the goods, right?

“Make it real and let’s see what you’ve got, Robbie!”

“You got it! Come and get me!”

Oh, I’ll get you, all right! You’d better enjoy the chance to grope me while you can because your ass is going down, pal!

Back at the station. Today’s assessment was only a half-day because they didn’t want any of us getting injured and washing out. Good call, too. Everybody took the hand-to-hand combat a lot more seriously than we ever did at the academy. There were a few very minor injuries, but nothing major. That’s something that had me worried from the start: blowing my chance because I got injured. It happens all the time. I’ve known a few guys who had to drop out of SRT assessment because they got injured. You’re automatically allowed to try again after you heal, but it’s not like they hold tryouts every year. You might have to wait as much as three years for another shot at it. I hope to God that doesn’t happen to me.

The hand-to-hand combat training was pretty intense. Everybody did well on it. I sure did. I have no doubt I got a great score on that phase of the assessment. I’ve got to hand it to Robbie: he did well, made it real, made it challenging for me, and he still managed to grab my boobs and ass more times than I could count. And not all of them were what you’d call “necessary for the technique” grabs, either. Let me tell you, he got his money’s worth, so to speak. At one point I nearly had him in a headlock when he grabbed me, picked me up, and slammed me to the ground. He did it by grabbing me by the shoulder and the thigh and his right hand ended up with a firm grip on my crotch, right in the good old sweet spot. I don’t think it was a coincidence. Hey, I didn’t mind. He got me fair and square and let’s face it: it’s been a little while since I had a guy’s hand down there. Don’t tell him, but I kind of liked it. Actually, I liked it a lot. Hey, you know what I’m like! I’m a naughty, dirty girl! I’m weird that way. Oh, and I might have done the same thing to him a few times. You know, grabbing his junk and giving it an unnecessary squeeze or two? I’m weird that way, too. And spare me the feigned outrage and cries of “Me, too!” I know the difference between some sleaze trying to grope me and a guy I happen to like having a little fun when we’re forced into an unscheduled hand-to-hand combat session. I know how to deal with guys who get out of line. This wasn’t one of those. Besides, I did the same thing to him and you wouldn’t hear anyone from that crowd screaming about that, would you? No, I didn’t think so. Some people really need to get over themselves.

On a more mundane front, the tech heads said the post on that Q&A forum came from somewhere here in the region. They couldn’t narrow it down to this city or a specific address, but it was within a range that they could definitely say it was local. I guess I owe the Sarge an apology. It’s looking like there’s a real possibility that it came from one of our assbags. If it did, then we know that whichever one of them got hit, it was more than a scratch. He’s got to turn up at a hospital. The problem is, he might not be hit bad enough that they’d have to take him to a local hospital. They might drive him to New Mexico or Nevada to get him looked at. We wouldn’t get an alert from an out-of-state hospital unless the dork was stupid enough to give a local address on the admitting forms. Nobody’s that stupid, are they?

At this point, I really think we should try to interview the guy behind the book and the website. I don’t know if he knows anything that could help us, or even if he’d talk to us. If he’s gone straight? He might do it. If he’s just working a new angle and he’s the same assbag who robbed all those banks? He’ll tell us to fuck off and talk to his lawyer. But he seemed really sharp in his videos. Sharp like a guy who might’ve figured out that some of his loyal viewers are actually putting his teachings into practice. If he has, then he’ll remember which ones they are. He might not know who they are – we’re talking about social media – but he’ll remember them. And right now? We’ll take whatever we can get. These guys have already escalated to deadly force. One of them almost certainly got shot. The next job? They might start blasting people as soon as they get inside the bank.

Here comes the Sarge. What’s he got there? A big envelope.

“What’s in the envelope?”

“Your bank robbery book. It’s no little pamphlet; that’s for sure.”

I’ll say! This thing is heavy! Don’t tell me it’s a hardback book. If that assbag is making enough money from his how-to bank robbery business that he can afford to have his book printed in hardback, I’m going to scream! Let’s take a look…wow! It’s not a hardback, but it’s a pretty big paperback. Good Lord! This thing’s got to be at least three hundred fifty pages long! It’s huge! This is bigger than a college math textbook! Look at this thing! And it’s no schlock printing job, either! This is top-notch stuff! This guy didn’t spare any expense putting this thing together, did he?

“He didn’t turn this out in a week! Look at this, Sarge! It’s mostly text! Plenty of pictures, but still! This is a whole trade school course on how to rob banks!”

“More like a graduate course, Rane. I still can’t believe it’s legal. This stuff is way too specific. It’s got to cross the line; Supreme Court be damned.”

Neither can I, but that’s out of our hands. Now I see why the FBI wanted this thing taken off the market! This is no bullshit book cribbed from TV shows! Look at this shit! Bank procedures and how to take advantage of them! How to control the room while you steal all the money! Planning considerations for during and after the heist! FBI procedures for catching bank robbers! Police procedures for responding to a bank robbery! Choosing getaway routes! Disguises! Weapons selection! How the cops trace the money after you steal it and how to beat them! How to hide your money overseas! Setting up alibis before you rob the bank! How to prevail in court if you get caught! This is one totally dangerous book!

“They should use this in our Detective school! Look at this! There’s got to be a million times more information in it than in the book they gave me!”

“And we’re still going on the assumption that this is the book those guys are using? Come on, Rane! What are the odds? The first book we come across is the one they’re using? That would be the wildest stroke of luck in the world!”

I know. I was thinking about that earlier. I’m not stupid enough to think that there’s no such thing as a coincidence, but I’m smart enough to know that coincidences like this don’t happen very often. So what’s the answer? I think I know, and I’m not too crazy about it.

“Maybe it’s not a coincidence?”

“What do you mean?”

This is the part I really don’t like!

“Sarge, we didn’t find that book or the website. LC gave it to us. What if it wasn’t just a friendly recommendation? What if LC was trying to tell us who these guys are?”

“Come on, Rane! You’re reaching for shit!”

“Sarge, you know what he’s like. He’s a total conspiracy nut. He knows tons of things he shouldn’t know. Even Agent Nunez said so. What if he knows these guys and he’s trying to steer us in the right direction without letting on that he knows?”

“What makes you think a guy like LC would know about a bunch of assbag bank robbers?”

“He knew about Fortis Brasmer and his bomb factory, didn’t he? Face it, Sarge: there’s a whole other world out there that we know nothing about: this underground community of conspiracy freaks and anti-government groups and whatever. The southwest is ground zero for them and some of them are serious people. Total assbags. It stands to reason a guy like LC would know some things he’d rather not know, right? Some of the people who frequent Cydonia? Maybe some of them aren’t just gearing up for the apocalypse? And after the last time, he probably wouldn’t want to come right out and tell us how he heard about this crew. He’d do something like this instead. It makes sense, doesn’t it?”

“Now that you mention it? Yes, it does. He’s in a bad spot: he’s got to protect his license if he wants to stay in business, but he probably comes across a lot of information on some serious shitheads. And being an anti-government nut job, he doesn’t want to reach out to us even when he knows he should. You’re right: this is the sort of thing he’d do if he wanted to help us out without looking like a snitch.”

And one thing LC would never, ever do is become a snitch. We’ve had to walk a fine line with him to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“So how do we approach him? You know what he’s like. You remember how hard it was for him to tell us about Brasmer, and that guy was a major assbag. He doesn’t want to be thought of as a snitch.”

“He’s not a snitch, Rane. You should know that by now. Snitches are guys on the inside who sell out their partners to get something for themselves. LC gave us Brasmer because he knew how dangerous that guy was. He put his life on the line to give him up. But you’re right: we have to make it clear that he’s not snitching and we don’t think of him as a snitch.”

Which we don’t. We even told Lieutenant Jutras that LC was no snitch and don’t let any of the detectives try to turn him into one. The Sarge is right: LC gave us Brasmer because he knew what that psychopath was capable of. He did the right thing, and it got him put on the Aryan Brotherhood’s major shit list. They still want to kill him. They’ve already tried, but LC has a truckload of firepower at his disposal. It didn’t end well for the assbags, as I’m sure you’ll remember. LC’s action movie real-life minigun that shoots like half a million rounds per second? Yeah, that one! You can still see the bloodstains in the parking lot at Cydonia.

“We’ve got to find a way to get him to talk to us.”

“As long as it doesn’t involve you posing for another calendar.”

That’s what he’s worried about? If LC gives us these assbags, I’ll be happy to pose nude for his next year’s calendar. It would be more than worth it to get three dangerous shitheads off the street, don’t you think?

“We need to talk to him, but that’s not the only thing we need to do. What about going straight to the author of this book?”

“I mentioned it to Lieutenant Jutras. He said he’d think about approaching the captain about it. But remember, Rane: you’re not a detective anymore. You’re a patrol sergeant. If the captain signs off on it, they’ll send two detectives to go talk to him. We won’t be involved.”

“That’s fine with me as long as they get something useful out of the guy. Come on, we need to get over to Cydonia.”

Back to Conspiracy Central. If this keeps up, I’m going to ask LC to give me a reserved parking space. One right where they’ve got a security camera so nobody messes with my car. I may be their pinup girl right now, but I’m still a cop and they’re still Conspiracy Boys and overall whack-jobs. All things considered, it’s not a good mix. My car’s a piece of shit, but it’s the only one I’ve got.

And here we are at Lunatic Central again! And this is something new: there’s a guy in the parking lot staring at the sky. That wouldn’t be so strange, but he’s wearing a gas mask and what looks like a giant green trash bag and bright yellow boots. Not only that, but he’s got something on a tripod that looks like a ray gun. Or a ray cannon. Or something. My brain is trying to process what I’m seeing, but I think it’s melting away inside my head as I speak. What the fuck is up with this loon?

“Sarge? There’s a guy wearing a gas mask and a trash bag in the parking lot.”

“I see him. And it’s not a trash bag. That’s an army MOPP suit and poncho.”


“What’s a MOPP suit?”

“It’s a protective suit for fighting where the enemy uses chemical or biological agents. He’s wearing a full level four MOPP.”

Of course. Silly me. Everyone knows that, right?

“And he’s wearing it because…?”

“Because he’s a nut job, Rane.”

Nail on the head, Sarge! Nail on the head! I think this bears a little investigation. I’m going to go talk to him. It’s a good thing I’m not in uniform. He might freak out if he saw a uniformed cop walking up to him.

“Hey! Guy! What’s with the moon suit?”

I had to ask, didn’t I? And I’m not calling it a MOPP suit. He’s lucky I didn’t call it a trash bag because that’s totally what it looks like!

“Are you crazy, girl? You need to get inside! Get inside now!”

Excitable little guy, isn’t he?

“Why? Are we under attack?”

It seemed like a reasonable question under the circumstances. Maybe that’s what the raygun is for?

“Are you going to shoot down the enemy with that…raygun?”

“It’s not a raygun, stupid! It’s a Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope! It happens to be a precision instrument!”

OK, now I feel a little stupid. But in my defense, I never saw a telescope like that before. I definitely get the precision part. Up close, it looks really expensive.

“You know, I don’t think you can see the stars through that thing while it’s still light outside.”

If it turns out you can, I’m going to feel like a total idiot. But I’m pretty sure you can’t.

“Do I look like I’m stargazing to you? No! What does it look like I’m doing?”

Does he really want me to answer that? No, he most definitely does not!

“I don’t know. What are you looking at?”

“Are you blind? Look at that!

He’s pointing at the sky. And I see…nothing. Not a damned thing. Maybe I need the telescope to see it?

“What am I looking at?”

I can’t see his face because of the gas mask, but I get the feeling he’s looking at me like I’m the dumbest bitch in the universe. I’m starting to feel that way. See what this place does to me?

“The chemtrails!

Oh, I get it. He’s one of them! Now it makes sense.

“I don’t see any chemtrails, guy. I just see a lot of blue sky. Are these invisible chemtrails?”

Hey, maybe there are such things? How will I ever know if I don’t ask?

“They’ve dissipated! The barium is falling to ground level right now! Do you know what’ll happen if it gets on your exposed skin?”

No, because I have no idea of what barium is. It might be something he made up for all I know. If it’s real, I have no idea what it would do. I think I’m about to find out, though.

“I’m guessing it won’t make it silky smooth to the touch, will it?”

“It’s lethal, honey! Acute barium poisoning causes tachycardia! Hypokalemia! Paralysis! It’s the perfect toxin for airborne dispersion over large populated areas! Don’t you read the CDC’s bulletins?”

No, but something tells me he does. Every last one of them. And he can quote them chapter and verse.

“That sounds pretty bad. I’d better…get inside right away. Are you going to be OK out here with the…what did you call it? Barium?”

“I’m protected. I’ve got the suit and the mask. You should get one while you’re in there. Make sure your jacket and trousers have the charcoal lining. It acts as a filtration barrier.”

There are clothes lined with charcoal? For real? That’s a new one on me.

“I’ll look into it. Good luck with…this.”

“You need to read up on what’s happening if you plan to survive! Our shadow government’s using the chemtrails for population control! Vast areas are targeted for numerical reduction! They use a chemical mixture to induce heart attacks! Make it look like death by natural causes! They manipulate agencies like the CDC and the WHO to keep anyone from discovering the cardio-clusters popping up all over the world! Why do you think Trump withdrew the U.S. from the WHO?”

Something tells me it wasn’t for that. I always got the feeling that President Trump just…did things, you know? He didn’t seem to think about them very much. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t thinking about chemtrails or barium or whatever the hell this nut job is talking about.

“I’ll look into it. Good luck, pal. Fight the good fight.”

“I always do. Somebody has to.”

The way he said that? I halfway expected some dramatic music to start playing in the background. Why do I do this to myself? We came here to ask LC about a bunch of bank robbers. Now I’m going to go home and actually think about this nut job and his whackadoo conspiracy crap! I’ll probably even start to feel the invisible barium slowly working its way into my skin! Oh, screw this! Grab the Sarge, get in there and find out if LC actually knows who these assbags are! Before I get contaminated with government barium or the conspiracy virus or whatever!

“It seems we have to look at some charcoal-lined clothes to protect us from the chemtrails while we’re in there.”

“Rane, did you ever see those signs at the zoo that say ‘Don’t feed the animals?’ Don’t talk to the nut jobs when you come here.”

“Then we’d never talk to anyone when we come here.”

Hey, it’s the truth, isn’t it? And it’s not so easy to just brush them off. It might seem to you like these whack jobs are nothing but the three paranoid guys from that TV show The X-Files, but remember: this place sells guns. Big, powerful guns that shoot a shit ton of bullets with one pull of the trigger. You can’t exactly dismiss them out of hand, can you?

And we’re in. It’s pretty crowded in here; a little more so than usual. They must be having a sale on radiation suits or something. Where’s LC? I don’t see him.

“I’ll find LC. You find us some of those charcoal anti-chemtrail suits.”

“Knock it off, Rane. I’m really starting to worry about you.”

“What for? Do I look like one of these nut jobs?”

“Says the woman who talks to a little plastic ball.”

I never should’ve told him about that! I knew he wouldn’t understand!

“The Sphere of Destiny happens to be different! And I don’t talk to it! I beseech it for mystical insights into the future, thank you very much!”

“You fit right in with this crowd, princess. You just won’t admit it. The next thing you know, you’re going to be their High Priestess. There he is. Over there in the corner.”

I guess the corner offers the greatest protection against the chemtrails, right?

“LC! Hey, do you know there’s some total whack-job in the parking lot…”

“Fitz! Damn it! I told him not to set up in front of the store!”

“He’s looking for chemtrails. I didn’t see any.”

“And you won’t. Those are contrails, not chemtrails. Ice crystals from jet engines. We’re right below the departure line from the airport. Those are commercial airliners flying over us. They don’t use commercial airliners to spray chemtrails.”

I know I’m going to hate myself for this, but I’ve got to ask.

“Why not?”

“Because you can’t load the chemical tanks at a commercial airport without people seeing it. When the covert program started, they tried doing that, but too many people got wise to it. The shadow government had to ‘disappear’ a bunch of people: mostly ground crew workers who knew the tanks didn’t contain jet fuel. It brought too much attention to the program. People who knew the truth started spreading the word. The shadow government couldn’t have people rising up to fight them in the open. Fucking Crypto-Fascists! There’s one thing they can’t stand: the light of day!”

See? I told you I’d regret it.

“How about we go out back for some Cubans?”

In case you forgot, “Cubans” is their little code word for going out back to their makeshift secure room where we can talk without being recorded or having any Crypto-Fascist spy satellites eavesdrop on our conversation. Or spray us with chemtrails.

“Chuck! I’m taking a smoke break! Be back in ten! Come on, let’s go. You know where.”

Yeah, their little Cone of Silence. That’s from the old TV show Get Smart. And yes, I’ve actually heard the Sarge call it that. Through the back room where they store all of their apocalypse stuff. God, where do they find this crap? I wouldn’t even know where to look for it! It’s not like you can buy this stuff on Amazon!

“So what’s up? What do you want to talk about that we couldn’t talk about inside?”

I guess I should go with the direct approach. LC’s not a “beat around the bush” kind of guy.

“I want to know the truth: these bank robbers? Do you know who they are?”

That look on his face tells me he does. It also tells me he’s not surprised to see us here asking about it.

“Come on, LC. We know you’re not involved with them. You’re not into that crap. But you didn’t just pull that book out of thin air, did you? You wanted us to see it because you knew we’d realize they were using it to plan their robberies. They shot someone at the last hit! You know it’s only a matter of time before they’re going to kill somebody!”

“OK, so maybe I thought you guys should know. Yeah, I might’ve heard a thing or two. Look, I don’t want to get a reputation for running to the cops if I happen to hear something…”

“You won’t! I can guarantee it! So can the Sarge! LC, nobody thinks you’re a snitch and they never will. What happened? What went wrong? These guys hit only banks that didn’t have an armed guard. The last one? They ran right into one and somebody started shooting. What happened?”

“I don’t know. I heard on the news that guard only just started working there. Look, there’s this guy…he’s not a regular, OK? He’s kind of…I don’t know. He’s a wanna-be, you know? A real Melvin. I didn’t think much of him. So he came in a couple of times and we got to talking and told me about that book. Said the guy laid out the whole operation in it. So I said whatever, you know? I don’t give a shit about some guy who writes a book on how to rob a bank. I’m not into that shit. So then this guy tells me the dude does videos on it, too. He’s got his own website. He shows it to me. But I still don’t give a shit, right? The guy’s going to do what he’s going to do, you know what I mean?”

Sadly, that’s the truth. If someone’s determined to rob a bank, they’re going to do it no matter what anybody else tells them.

“Pretty much. But these guys are a crew. It’s not just one guy.”

“I know. A couple of weeks ago, I see that guy hanging with two other guys. Serious guys, you know? Not the kind I would’ve figured he’d link up with. They were at the Glen Arden shooting range. They way off in a corner of the range by themselves. They were doing close-quarters drills: multiple targets, closed space. But they weren’t doing a lot of shooting. It was more like they were working on positional tactics, you know? Like where to put your ass if you want to cover an entire room full of people? When the first robbery went down and I read about the details, I put two and two together. And since you two are here asking questions, I’ve got to figure I was right: those are the guys, aren’t they?”

Yes, I’d say those are probably the guys we’re looking for. I noticed he hasn’t mentioned any names. That suggests he doesn’t have any. That’s not good.

“I take it this wanna-be didn’t leave his name?”

“Not even, babe. He wouldn’t even sign up for the mailing list; always paid cash when he bought something. He’s a little paranoid.”

That describes about ninety-nine percent of his customers, I think.

“You know, when you two came in here asking about a book on bank robbery, I just about stroked out! I knew you were a pretty good detective, but you’re even better than I thought. You figured it out right away, babe. I’m impressed.”

“Thanks. We still have to find these guys, you know. Any suggestions?”

“Talk to the people at Glen Arden. Maybe they know who they are?”

“We’ll do that. Hey, what did he buy here? I’m guessing he didn’t buy any guns.”

He’d have to fill out the forms for that, and he’d have to give all his information on them and go through the instant background check.

“No guns, no ammo. He didn’t even look at any while he was here. He bought a police scanner, a radar scrambler, a pair of RCDs for his plates; that’s about it.”

RCD is Red light Camera Deflector. It’s a plastic cover for your license plates that deflects a red light camera at an intersection so you don’t get a ticket. That plus the scanner and the radar deflector tells me this guy definitely doesn’t want anyone to know who he is. And he clearly doesn’t want to be stopped by the police for a traffic violation. Maybe he’s wanted already? It’s possible.

“Do you have a description of his car?”

“Not even. He knew we had cameras in the parking lot. He told me he parked at the gas station a quarter mile away, and they don’t have security cameras. I’ve got a couple of customers who do that a lot. I told you this guy was paranoid.”

And they don’t keep the security videos from inside the store for more than a few days. The people who work here are paranoid, too. So we’re not going to get a look at him on video, he didn’t use a credit or debit card that we could trace, and he didn’t buy anything that needed a paper trail. Don’t you hate paranoid people who know what they’re doing? I do!

“We’ll see what we can find out. We really appreciate your help, LC. And you’re not a snitch. We don’t think you’re one. You’re just trying to do the right thing. If we have to, we’ll stage an arrest for you: failure to cooperate with a police investigation. That’ll convince people you’re not snitching.”

“I may have you do that. I got a reputation to uphold, you know.”

That much, I know. And he’s not just blowing smoke. He’s actually got a reputation in the Conspiracy Boy world. A damned good one, too. I still remember Agent Nunez ranting and railing about him and his conspiracy theory activities. Say what you will: you’ve got to be pretty hardcore to get under an FBI agent’s skin.

All right, let’s head over to this Glen Arden place. I hope the Sarge knows where it is because I’ve never heard of it. I hope it’s not too far from here. It’s getting late and a lot of the outdoor ranges shut down around five or…whoa! Problem! We’ve got a huge guy in full tactical gear blocking our way! And that’s one of those fifty caliber Desert Eagle pistols strapped to his leg!

“You two are cops. What are you doing here?”

My psycho detector just hit about nine-point-nine! This is not good!

“We’re just looking for some answers.”

“Did you find any?”

This guy is totally creeping me out! But if I make a move for my gun, I think we’re going to be in a fast-draw shootout! And this nut job’s wearing a vest that looks like it would stop a tank shell!

“No. That guy LC told us to fuck off, as usual.”

Is this lunatic going to start shooting? I honestly can’t tell!

“What are you searching for?”

Now that’s a weird question! I didn’t know we were “searching” for anything.

“We just want to know the truth.”

Hey, I didn’t know what else to say! I can’t even turn around to see if there’s anyone else behind us! I am not turning my back on this fucking gorilla! That gun he’s got can shoot through the both of us!

“Then you may pass.”

And he steps aside. “We may pass?” Well, isn’t that generous of him! Weirdos! Total fucking weirdos! I can not handle total fucking weirdos! Especially when they’re carrying hand-held cannons! Get me the fuck out of here! Pronto!

Would you look at the Sarge? He’s grinning from ear to ear!

“What’s so funny, old man? Did you see the size of that nut job?”

“I guess he’s not one of your fans, princess.”

This is not funny! That guy could’ve tossed us both across the room with one hand!

“Eat shit and die, old man! You know, you could’ve stepped up back there! A little command presence? That weirdo was looking at me like a dog looks at his lunch!”

“He liked what he saw. You can’t blame him for that.”

He’s enjoying this way too much! I’m going to find something really solid and heavy and hit him with it the first chance I get! What a fucking dickface! I really thought that nut job was going to kill us! He scared the shit out of me! I find nothing funny about that!

The Glen Arden shooting range. I don’t think we’re going to find anything here today. It’s almost closing time and there’s almost nobody around. We’ll talk to the guy in the office, but I’ve been to enough of these places to know they’re not fond of the police asking questions about their customers. They usually give us the whole laundry list: right to privacy, the Second Amendment, police intrusion, the works. I get it. I really do. I wouldn’t want anybody poking around in my business if I wasn’t doing anything wrong, and people in this part of the country take their rights and privacy very seriously. That’s fine with me. I happen to agree with them. I’m only interested in assbags who are breaking the law and in this case, shooting innocent people. Nobody’s got a right to do things like that.

We’re in the office and I see exactly one guy in here. He looks like he’s playing video games. When there’s nothing else to do, play video games. Welcome to the twenty-first century.

“Excuse me? I’m Sergeant Rane and this is Sergeant Varanasi. We’re…”

“You’re the Sniper Girl, aren’t you?”

My reputation precedes me, I see.

“That’s me. Look, we want to know if you remember three guys who were here a few weeks ago. They were off in a far corner of the range…”

“Sergeant, we’ve got eight ranges here. You’re going to have to narrow it down. A few weeks ago? We get a lot of people coming through here.”

“They all have to sign in, don’t they? You check IDs when they pay, right?”

“Sure. You got names for these people?”

No, I don’t. We could be sorting through a lot of names on a list. And that’s if he gives us the list, which he probably won’t. His customers would hit the roof if he did. They’d take their business someplace else.

“I’m afraid not. Look, these guys were doing close-quarters handgun drills in a confined space. Maybe one of the rangemasters…”

“The only range with a rangemaster on duty is the benchrest rifle range. The others aren’t supervised.”

That’s what I was afraid of. These guys probably signed in, picked a spot out of the way, and didn’t attract any attention. We’ve going to have to get LC to tell us exactly where he saw them if this lead is going to pan out.

“We’ll come back when we have a little more information.”

“Good idea. What did these guys do, anyway?”

“They robbed a bank. More than one, actually.”

“So what are they doing here? Bank robbery? The smart ones don’t use a gun. They use a note. Even if they use a gun, they don’t shoot anybody. The gun’s supposed to be empty. It’s a lesser charge. You should know that. Use a loaded gun; it’s a deadly weapon. Use an empty one; it ain’t. It’s the difference between six to ten and twenty-five to life.”

Good Lord! Did everybody in this town read that book and watch that guy’s videos? Everybody seems to know a hell of a lot about robbing banks, don’t they?

“I don’t suppose any of your customers mentioned anything about robbing a bank?”

“If they did, we’d have called the cops. Don’t need that kind around here. We don’t want any trouble with the cops, you know.”

Sound thinking. Assbags like that really bring down the neighborhood.

“Come on, Sarge. Let’s go. I don’t suppose you’ve got any ideas?”

“Not yet. We’re way behind these guys, Rane. They’ve done their homework. Literally. But we’ve got some solid leads and we’ll work on them. Something will crack. You’ll see.”

I know. I’m just hoping it cracks before somebody gets killed. I’m beginning to realize just how dangerous these guys really are. They’re like what Anthony called “script kiddies:” guys who hack into computers by following a written script. When something goes wrong or they run into something unexpected, they panic. They don’t know what went wrong or what to do. But when a script kiddie panics, they just turn off the computer and throw a temper tantrum. These guys run into a snag and they start shooting people. It’s not the same thing, is it?

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