Mission Critical

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Chapter 7 - Script Kiddies

Morning again. Back at the SRT assessment. That’s all I do anymore: come here, sweat and ache, go to work, then go home and crawl into bed. IU don’t even have the strength to watch any of my schlock films. This is really putting a crimp in my pathetic excuse for a life, isn’t it? So what’s been on the agenda today? Lots of pushups and situps so far, though I couldn’t tell you why. I think they just want to torture us. Torture us and exhaust us. If that’s the plan, then they succeeded. It’s been a rough, stressful few days already. We’ve all been dying to know how we’re doing so far, but we haven’t received any real feedback. Why is that, you ask? One of the SRT guys quietly told us that when they do their assessments, they take a page from the army’s Delta Force book: they never tell you if you passed a section. They never really tell you how you’re doing. They just say “Do your best.” Damned sadists! It certainly adds to the stress, which is pretty high already. Everybody wants to succeed. Everybody wants to make the team. Everybody’s worried about screwing up or missing something important. I think that last one is about to get a lot worse now, since we’ll be going through tactical drills: room clearing, dynamic entry, building searches, extracting a wounded officer; that sort of thing. That’s where you worry about making a mistake or forgetting something important. You can almost feel the tension in the air around us. There’s a fair amount of nervous chatter when the SRT guys aren’t hovering over us. I’m not immune to it, in case you were wondering. I’ve got just as much on the line as anyone.

I was reading that how-to-rob-a-bank book last night and let me tell you, it freaked the living shit out of me! I can’t believe how much detail is in that thing. How much information that would enable some assbag with zero criminal experience to turn bank robbery into a decent living. I wonder how much money the dickface who wrote it has made off of it? It’s not like it’s available from Amazon or any of the retailers, but the website he’s got seems to have quite a following. I’ll bet a lot of people who bothered to subscribe to it ended up buying the book. And I’ll bet he’s busy writing another how-to book on some other kind of crime: car theft, credit card scams, or God knows what else. He mentions in his book that he trained himself to be an expert at lock-picking, which stands to reason since he’s obviously a total klepto. Maybe his next book will be about how to burglarize somebody’s house? I wouldn’t be surprised. I think I’m going to buy a new lock for my front door. A really big one.

There was a very interesting section on how to put together your very own robbery crew. How nice, right? How to recruit the best people to steal shit with you! He spends a lot of time talking about how you need to pick the right people because one dickface in the crew can get everybody caught and sent to prison. The slammer, as he likes to call it. I didn’t think anybody under the age of eighty used that term anymore. This guy’s not that old. He must’ve picked it up somewhere. I’m wondering about the two guys that this dork picked up for his team. LC said they’re serious guys. That means they’re major assbags. Hardcases. I wonder why two guys like that would want to hook up with someone LC calls a wanna-be? A total Melvin? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Hardcase types tend to seek out other hardcase types; not some wishy-washy wanna-be type. Guys like that tend to get on peoples’ nerves, and you really don’t want to get on somebody’s nerves if they’re a total hardcase, right? You’d probably wind up getting your ass kicked – or worse.

Right now, my biggest concern is that these dorks are due for another robbery. This is a fast crew. They don’t wait very long between jobs. It’s like they’re feeding a massive dope habit or something. They need money in large quantities and this is how they get it. The only reason they haven’t hit again is because one of their people took a bullet. I still don’t know how bad that guy got shot, but if it was serious enough, then they’ll probably get someone to take his place. Do crooks hold tryouts? I don’t know. I just figure we’ll be hearing from them very soon. I want these dickheads out of commission. I’m not really concerned with how that gets accomplished. I just want them out of action before they rack up a body count. Bank robbery is an inherently violent crime no matter how hard you try to make it non-violent. These guys? We know their guns are loaded and they’re willing to use them. They don’t back down just because somebody else waves a gun in their faces. Sooner or later, something’s going to go wrong and somebody is going to end up getting killed. I don’t need a book to tell me that.

Oh, well. I’ll worry about all of that later. Right now, it’s time to focus on the assessment. I think they’ll break us up into small teams for the tactical exercises. I’m wondering who I’ll get paired with. I wouldn’t mind at all if they pair me up with Robbie again. He’s a good guy. I’m sure most of the rest of them are good guys, but I just happen to know Robbie’s good people. He’s kind of cute, too. When he had a thing for me back in Traffic, I was married so nothing ever came of it. If I’d known my husband was a total dickface, I probably would’ve taken Robbie up on his infatuation. Now I’m single again. Interesting turn of events, huh? Judging by the way he was grabbing at me during the hand-to-hand combat yesterday, I’d say he’s still interested. Very interested, in fact. Maybe I’m interested, too? How many times do I have to say it? I could really use a good old-fashioned wild bang-fest. We’ll see.

Here comes Lieutenant Shears with the evil clipboard. We’re about to start. Let’s see what they’ve got for us today. Given that drywall structure they’ve got set up? I’m guessing room-clearing drills are first on the agenda.

“Listen up, candidates! We’re going to start off with some tactical drills today. You’ll be split up into two groups. One, ten, two, nine, and three! You’re group one! Four, five, six, seven, and eight! You’re group two! Gear up and be ready when we call you!”

Interesting way to split us up, but at least Robbie’s on my team. Since we’re group two, we’ll probably go second. We won’t be able to see the first group go through the scenario, though. That would give us an unfair advantage. We should be able to hear it from here, though. They set up a building that looks like it’s made out of pressboard walls and tires: flimsy, but sturdy enough for us to maneuver through it. I hope they don’t plan to shoot live ammo in there. It’ll rip right through those walls and kill the lot of us. I didn’t sign up for that. I didn’t sign up to go deaf, either. Live ammo in that place? With all of those hard-surface walls and nothing to absorb the sound? Even a nine millimeter would sound like a cannon going off.

“Go over to the table and collect your primary weapons. Your weapons have been modified to fire Simunition paint marker rounds only! You crank off a live round in one of those weapons and you’ll probably get an explosion in your face! No live ammunition anywhere! All magazines will be checked and double-checked before you begin! We don’t want any catastrophes today! You will not carry so much as one live round of ammunition on your person during the simulation! You will be required to turn out your pockets to make sure of it! No live ammo at all!”

Good advice. I’ve fired those Simunition rounds before. They’re like paintballs, but they sting like a bitch when they hit you. I’ll bet because I’m the only woman here, they all key on me. Well, bring it on, boys! I know how to shoot! I’m fast and accurate and I’m trained on multiple moving targets! I’ll chew them up and spit them across the yard! Right after they put a few into my cleavage and right on my ass, no doubt. As long as I win, that’s what counts.

Since we’ll probably go second, I want to get a jump on our planning while we have time. We don’t want to go in there completely cold. In fact, since the SRT cadre isn’t rushing anybody right now, they might be expecting everyone to do that. We need to move fast.

“Robbie, gather the rest of our team. We need to set some things up while we still have time. We need to know who’s going to hold which position, what we’re going to do, and how we’re going to move while we’re in there. I want to have at least a thumbnail plan in place before we start.”

“Good idea. Wait here. I’ll get the rest of them.”

Sure it was a good idea. The problem is, I don’t have another one waiting right behind it! Here they are. I hope they’re not all expecting me to come up with something by myself just because I’m a sergeant. These stripes don’t come with magic powers, you know.

“All right, Allison. What’s the plan?”

Exactly what I was afraid of! Maybe I should’ve kept my mouth shut?

“Well, we need to have at least some idea of how we’re going to handle it. We’re using these paint rounds, so that tells me there’s going to be SRT guys in there posing as x-rays.”

“X-rays?”

Not everyone speaks Sergeant Varanasi’s language, I see.

“Bad guys, Robbie. There’s five of us and four directions in each room. Straight ahead from that doorway is north, so we’ll need one officer to cover each direction: north, south, east, and west. Robbie, you’re north. Steve, you’re east. Miguel, you take west, and Larry takes south.”

“I guess that makes you team leader.”

“Uh, that wasn’t my intention. I was just going to back up whoever was in the lead for whatever direction we have to go.”

“Forget it, Allison. We need a team leader. You’re elected. You’re Leader. I’m Alpha, Steve’s Bravo, Larry’s Charlie and Miguel’s Delta. Everybody remember that. If she calls out your designation, it means we move in your direction. Leader stays in the middle and immediately backs up the point man. We move in a unit and each guy covers his area no matter what. If one of us engages, the rest stay focused on our designated area. Leader backs up the guy engaging. Everybody got it?”

That’s pretty much what I was going to say. He just said it a lot better. I think maybe Robbie should be the team leader, but it looks like I’m stuck with it.

“Then it’s settled. I’ll also watch the high ground if there is any. That building they set up doesn’t look like it has much room for one, but we won’t know until we get in there.”

I saw this movie once where a SWAT team goes busting through a door looking for a hit man, but the guy pressed his feet against the walls of the hallway and wedged himself right up against the ceiling so he’d have the high ground and get the drop on them. None of the cops bothered to look up and the assbag killed them. I know it’s just a movie, but it always made me think that just because there’s no real high ground, it doesn’t mean that some assbag can’t make one. They’re sure to throw us a curve or two in there. We don’t have time for a real plan, so I want to be ready for as many of them as possible.

There’s Lieutenant Shears by the front door. I guess they’re ready to start.

“Team number two! Let’s go!”

So much for going second! All right, let’s do this!

“All candidates, I want to see your weapons cleared. Turn out your pockets. I don’t want to see a single round of live ammo on your person! Let’s go!”

Good idea. I see they’re going to give us the magazines loaded with the paint cartridges. Well, if somebody put a live round in one of them, it’s on them. Not us. All right, we’ve got the all-clear. Here we go!

“Listen up, team two: you have a man with a gun barricaded somewhere inside of this building. Shots have been fired. Your only description is male Hispanic, red t-shirt. Everybody keep your face shields down. I don’t want anybody getting hit in the face. The SRT officers inside of the building who are wearing the gold t-shirts are the referees. Don’t shoot them! They’re not part of the scenario! They’re there to decide if any of you get killed, or if the suspect is neutralized. If they say one of you is out of commission, you clear your weapon]n and step to the side. You’re out of the game for the rest of the scenario. If they give you an order, you follow it! No questions! Don’t worry, they’re not in there to interfere with you. Does everybody understand the rules?

We do. They’re easy enough.

“All right…begin! The door’s been knocked down! Enter the building!”

We’re in! Everybody’s fanning out the way they’re supposed to! I’m in the center! I see three doors: north, east, and west! East and west are closed! North is open!

“Everybody hold! Bravo! Check your door!”

“It’s locked!”

“Delta! Check your door!”

“Locked over here!”

We don’t have time to kick them and search! The north door’s open, so that’s where we go!

“Alpha forward! Charlie, watch our six and make sure nobody comes through those doors! Bravo and Delta, secure your areas in there! Forward! As a unit!”

We’re in the second room! One door on the left and one straight ahead! Scan the high ground! Nothing! Both doors are closed! Shit! Which way?

“Alpha! Check your door!”

“Locked!”

“Delta! Check your door!”

“Not locked!”

Shit! It could be a setup!

“Everyone stand clear of that door! Out of the line of fire! Cover your areas!”

Fuck! Shots fired! Behind me! It’s Larry!

“X-ray down!”

He got him! The son of a bitch must’ve come through one of the locked doors in the first room! There’s the referee…it’s a kill! We got him!

“Jesus! You’re wasted, man! He got you! Off to the side!”

One down! And he’s not dressed like the suspect in the description! I had a feeling there’d be more than one assbag in here! Just because the call says one guy and this is what he looks like doesn’t mean it’s accurate information! Every cop knows that!

“Everybody! Forward Delta! Cover your areas! Let’s go!”

Through the door! Fan out! Nobody in here! Two doors! Alpha and Charlie! Shit! Where the fuck is this guy?

“Charlie! Check your door!”

“Locked!”

“Alpha! Check your door!”

“Not locked!”

“Clear away from the door! Watch your areas! Alpha! Open it!”

And…gunshots!

“Shots fired! X-ray in Alpha zone! Alpha! Take him out!”

Robbie’s shooting! Did he get him?

“He’s behind a table!”

He’s supposed to be a male Hispanic! This may be one of those curves I was talking about! He might pretend he doesn’t speak English!

“Miguel! Order that guy to toss his gun and come out with his hands up! In Spanish first!”

“Suelta tu arma y sal con las manos arriba!”

He did it! He tossed the gun! He’s got his hands up!

“Tell him to come forward and lay down on the ground! Everyone! Watch your areas! Watch for another suspect!”

It looks like he’s giving up! He’s down on the ground!

“Alpha! Move in and cuff him! I’ve got your back! Delta! Cover down on that table! Everyone else hold and watch your areas!”

Move in! Sweep the room! I don’t see anyone else! Watch that overturned table! There could be another assbag behind it! Robbie’s got him cuffed! Now I need to clear that table! Kick it! Hard! If there’s anybody behind it…no! It’s clear!

“We’re clear in here! Suspect in custody!”

A whistle! Who? It’s Lieutenant Shears!

“All right, team two! You’re clear! One suspect KIA, one in custody! Rane! Why didn’t you shoot Enrique? He fired on you.”

Good question. Maybe I was thinking like a patrol officer and not an SRT cop?

“He’d stopped firing. We gave him a chance to surrender. I thought it was what we had to do, sir.”

He’s grinning. Did I just make a fool of myself?

“You’re right. If you can give the suspect a chance to surrender without endangering yourself or your team, then you’ve got a duty to do so. Besides, you didn’t know why this guy was barricaded in here. You don’t know if he knew you were the police. Why did you have Miguel give the command in Spanish?”

“Because you said the suspect was a male Hispanic. Maybe he didn’t speak English?”

Which is a distinct possibility in this part of the country. Arizona is thirty-one percent Hispanic and a lot of them are very recent arrivals.

“Good call. If you’d called him out in English, Enrique was going to pretend he didn’t understand you and see if you guys did something dumb. All right, you guys are clear. Stand down. Clear your weapons and go out the way you came in.”

“How did we do, sir?”

“Everything’s fine. Don’t worry about it. Just do your best.”

There’s that damned Delta Force crap again! Just a little feedback, maybe? Would it kill you to do that? We’re on goddamned pins and needles here! Just one little word on how we did? Is that too much to ask? Or am I just being a total bitch about it? I’m honestly not sure right now. I think I’ll just shut up and wait to see what happens. I know we did well. And we’re not supposed to know everything these guys do. Not yet. I’m sure they realize that. Would you listen to me? I’m going to make myself crazy with this crap! Shutting up now!


Five hours later! It felt like five years! I guess we’re done with the tactical exercises. We went through the building a second time and faced three suspects instead of two. None of them had shimmied up the wall like that guy in the movie I was talking about, but the second time around nobody gave up. We had to shoot them all. I don’t know if team one faced the same scenarios as we did. Both times, they seemed to fire a lot more rounds than we did. I don’t know if we missed something or if the scenarios were different or whatever. To tell you the truth, I’m a little nervous right now. Did we miss something? Were we not aggressive enough? I don’t think so, but team one clearly did something a lot different from what we did. In both scenarios, I didn’t fire a single round. Team one? All of their guys fired their weapons. I think we’re about to find out who did it the better way. Lieutenant Shears has his clipboard and he’s been scribbling on it for a good five minutes now. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s probably a bad thing, but for who?

“Listen up, candidates! We know this exercise probably threw you a bit. That was to be expected. We wanted to see how you operate right now, as opposed to after you’ve undergone any training with us. Who can tell me what was different about the two approaches the two teams took in there? Anyone?”

I don’t see how any of us could. We don’t know what they did and they don’t know what we did. All we could do is stand outside and listen. I see Victor has an idea, though. He was in team one.

“Sir! We could hear team two yelling commands the whole time!”

Good obs, Victor. We were yelling commands and information. And we didn’t hear anything like that from them. I’m starting to get a little nervous.

“Good obs! Team two! Did you hear any shouting of commands from team one while you were out here?”

I’m the sergeant, so I guess it’s my responsibility to answer him. Besides, I was the one shouting commands. If we screwed up, it’s on me.

“No, sir. All we heard were the gunshots.”

“And do you know why you didn’t hear them shouting out commands the way your team did?”

Just own up to it and hope it didn’t torpedo us.

“No, sir.”

“Well, I do! The reason you didn’t hear them but they heard you is because team two went in there with a plan! A pretty simple one, given the time they had to formulate it. But it was a plan. Team one, you people didn’t have a plan, did you? You just went in, used the tactics you’ve practiced on the street, and dealt with whatever you came across when it happened.”

I suddenly feel a lot better about how we did. He’s right: we did have a plan. Not much of one, but it was a plan. I didn’t know the other team tried to just cowboy through it. I guess that accounts for the number of rounds they fired.

“That’s not how we do things in SRT. We never move into a situation without a plan. Not even once. Team two picked a leader, designated each member to cover a direction of fire, assessed each room before taking any action, and maintained constant communication with each other. Every one of their people knew what they were supposed to do, every step of the way. Everyone on team two knew what was going on at every moment in the scenario. Team one was winging it. Team one did a good job, but they ended up firing at least three times as many rounds as team two did. And team two took the main suspect into custody without shooting him. Team one ended up killing the suspect. So which one sounds more like an actual SRT operation?”

Victor doesn’t seem convinced.

“Sir, if we could hear Sergeant Rane yelling out commands, then the suspects could hear her, too! She gave away their plan!”

“Of course she did. What choice did she have? If you people were SRT, you’d have trained in these scenarios a hundred times. You’d have well-rehearsed plans for dealing with building searches and room-clearing tactics. You’d know them backwards and forwards, and you could rely on hand signals to keep your intentions from the bad guys. But you people had about three minutes to figure out a plan and you’ve never worked together on something like this, have you? If it’s a choice between going into a situation with a plan and risking the bad guys hearing your commands or going in with no plan at all and keeping quiet, which one do you think SRT would choose?”

When he puts it that way, I see his point. And he’s right: we’re not SRT. Not yet, anyway. We’ve got to work with what we’ve got for now.

“I told you all on day one: you’ve got to be thinking always! SRT is always looking for the best way to accomplish a mission, because our missions are usually mission critical! The ideal SRT mission is no one gets hurt; good guys or bad guys. If we can take a dangerous suspect into custody without firing a shot; that’s a damned good outcome! Nobody looks at our arrest stats, but we take more people into custody without firing a shot than most people think.”

Team one is looking pretty nervous right now. They’re thinking they blew it and now they’re going to wash out. I can’t believe it’ll come down to how everyone did on this thing. Maybe I can set their minds at ease a little?

“Lieutenant? You guys were expecting all of us to blow this one, weren’t you?”

“As a matter of fact, yes. Most of the time, both teams fall short. This was designed to make you see how things are a lot different when you’re SRT. It wasn’t a pass-fail kind of test. It was designed to open your eyes; nothing more. I think we succeeded, don’t you?”

“With flying colors, sir.”

“Good! So I don’t want anybody to sweat this one! This was just a taste of what you can expect! It was designed to get you all in the right frame of mind. I’m pretty sure all of your minds are in the right place now. You can all start breathing again.”

And that, boys and girls, is the sound of ten very relieved cops! I know I feel a hell of a lot better having heard him say that!

One of the SRT guys is calling the Lieutenant over. I wonder if they just got a callout? They said on day one that they might have to interrupt the assessment if they get called out on something.

“Sergeant Rane! That was Sergeant Varanasi! He says – and I quote – ‘Those goddamned assbags just hit again!’ I take it you know what he means?”

Another goddamned bank robbery! Just what we need! I guess the dork who got shot is all better now! Or they found a replacement!

“Yes, sir. There’s been another bank robbery. It’s got to be the same crew.”

“The one you’ve been after for the last week or so? Hey, is it true these guys are using a how-to book on robbing banks?”

“It looks that way, sir. You should see that book. It covers everything. Even what to do if the police deploy a SWAT team on you. And it’s not a bunch of bullshit, either. You might be surprised at what’s in it. Actually, you might be terrified.”

“I’d like to see it. I’ve heard about these how-to-commit-crimes books. Most of them are a load of crap, but some of them…”

“This one was written by a professional bank robber, sir. He was ripping off banks before I was even born. Trust me, he knows what he’s doing.”

That didn’t exactly make him happy. It shouldn’t. I thumbed through that section on SWAT team responses. The guy seems to know how to mess with their heads. He said SWAT teams need time to set up and execute their plan, so whatever you do, don’t give them any. Pressure them into a hasty setup and make your move before they can regroup. He says it’s not perfect, but it’s your best bet. I think he’s right. Once our guys get settled in, you’re not getting away. Not unless your name is Houdini.

“What about this robbery crew? Are they any good?”

That’s the big question, isn’t it? I don’t know if they’re any good. Maybe they’re just lucky? Maybe they’ve studied that book backwards and forwards? Who knows?

“Honestly, I’m not sure. We think the main guy is some kind of wanna-be, but he’s hooked up with a couple of real hardcases. At least, that’s what we’re going on for now. I’ll say this much: they haven’t made any mistakes so far. We think one of them got shot by a security guard, but I guess he wasn’t hit bad if he’s back in action.”

“Or they got a replacement.”

See? I was thinking about that possibility, too. I think I’ll find out when I check with the Sarge. The witnesses will tell us if it was just two guys, or if they describe the third guy as someone different from before. We’ll see.

“Maybe. I don’t know. I just know they’re a pain in the ass and at least one of them isn’t shy about shooting people. I want them out of commission before they end up killing somebody or taking a bunch of hostages in a bank.”

“And that’s the nightmare scenario for us: armed suspects trapped in a location with hostages. There’s no good way to handle that unless the bad guys realize they can’t get away and they give up. We’ve studied a number of incidents where the bad guys took hostages and didn’t surrender. They didn’t end well.”

Yes, I know. I’ve heard about some of those incidents myself. Some of them turned into real bloodbaths. I don’t want that to happen in this city. We’ve had more than our share of bloodshed for one year, thank you very much.

“We’ll keep you informed. I’m hoping we can catch these assbags before it gets to the point where we need to call you guys.”

“So do I. Keep me posted. Let me know what you learn over there. You’re dismissed. Good luck.”

I’m going to need a lot more than luck if we’re going to bring this to a successful resolution. We don’t even have a name for our wanna-be dickface. We really need a break with this one. Otherwise, this could go on for a very long time.


First Capital Bank: a small chain of banks in the southwest. It was our assbags, all right! The security video shows them as clear as day: same three guys, same clothes, masks and gloves, and the same tactics as in the other three robberies. None of them looked like they’d been shot, either. Maybe that blood we found was from something else? Something besides a gunshot wound, I mean. Nobody was limping or had their arm in a sling. Who knows? We’re just guessing, and having to guess is really frustrating. I want answers, not guesses. Too bad we don’t have any.

They didn’t shoot anybody this time, thank God. But they were a lot rougher with the people in here than before. One of the tellers slammed her cash drawer shut as soon as the assbags came in with guns and when she couldn’t open it fast enough, one of them kicked her so hard, she slammed against the wall and hit her head. I can’t tell how bad she’s hurt. She was so terrified that the EMTs had to sedate her. I don’t think she’ll be returning to work ever again. She was totally traumatized. These guys were always intimidating, but now they’re just plain mean. Everyone here said all three of them had really short fuses and it scared the hell out of them. The scrawny guy went from being firm but polite to being edgy as hell. The other two took a more active role in this one. We’re running out of time. They’re coming unglued; maybe because of the strain. Pretty soon, they’re going to lose it. And when that happens? Somebody is going to get killed. No doubt about it.

“How much did they get, Sarge?”

“They’re not sure. The manager thinks it’s about ninety thousand. They’d just replenished the cash drawers and the assbags cleaned out every one of them. Even the stuff they hadn’t entered into the logs yet. Another case of exceptional timing, wouldn’t you say?”

Yes, I would. And it looks like there were a whole lot of cash drawers. This is a pretty big bank. I guess it’s not surprising they didn’t go for anything else. The cash drawers are the easiest target and they cleaned up massively with this place.

“Did anybody see how they got away this time?”

“Two of the customers said they heard a car start and tires squealing almost as soon as they ran out the door. That guy over there seems to have some idea of what kind of car it was.”

White guy, looks like maybe mid-fifties, a little on the hefty side. I’m guessing he didn’t chase after them.

“Excuse me, sir? You heard the suspects drive away in a car?”

“Not a car. It was a truck. Probably a big one. Long wheel base. Plenty of power under the hood, too. I heard the engine start and the tires screech when they pulled out onto the road. Sounded like they could use some new rubber.”

Seriously? How could he possibly know all that if he didn’t even see the thing?

“What makes you think it was a truck? How could you know? You didn’t see it, right?”

“No, but I heard it. Trucks are my business, Sergeant. Here, see for yourself.”

He’s giving me his business card? Floyd Emmet. Senior salesman. It’s a Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep dealership. He’s a car salesman. No, he’s a truck salesman. It says right here: “Truck, Van, and Commercial Vehicle Specialist.” I stand corrected. I guess he knows a thing or two about trucks.

“Is there anything you can tell me about it? Like, did it sound like a new truck or an old beat-up one?”

“New or near-new. The engine fired right up and it sounded smooth. Gasoline engine; not a diesel. I think I heard three doors slam, so it was probably a king cab model of some kind. Stock exhaust. I’m guessing it had a lot of torque by the way it tore ass out of the lot. If I’d seen it, I could tell you all about it. As it is, about the only thing I can tell you is it probably wasn’t a Dodge. That’s what I sell and it didn’t sound like one of ours.”

That’s a hell of a lot more than we had before. This guy definitely knows his business. Remind me to recommend him if I come across someone who wants a truck.

“Can you tell me anything about the three guys?”

“Punks. Lots of yelling and threatening. One guy stood on the counter right over there and kept moving his gun around to keep everybody covered. The other two came over on that side and went down the line, cleaning out the cash drawers. I saw them toss a couple stacks of bills on the floor. I don’t know why they did that.”

I do. Those were the dye packs. They tossed them so they didn’t get activated by the sensor in the door frame and explode. They definitely paid attention to that chapter in the book. I wonder why they decided to hit today? Maybe they needed some dope? Withdrawal’s a real bitch.

“Did they seem at all nervous to you?”

“Nervous? No, I wouldn’t say that. Just angry and mean. Even the little guy, though he seemed a lot more on edge than anything else. I don’t know what, but something got under their skin. I don’t think it was anything that happened here. They were that way as soon as they came in the front door.”

I don’t get it. These guys are hitting a lot of banks. That usually means they’ve got a drug habit to feed, but these dickheads don’t seem to act like drug addicts. So why are they ripping off so many banks? Why take the risk?

“Did any of them seem injured?”

“Not that I could tell. Those two fellows who took all the money were moving real quick. The other one jumped up on the counter right away. Cleared the whole thing in one jump, lickety-split. They all seemed pretty healthy to me.”

“All right. You know, you don’t seem to be too shaken by all this. Everyone else is a basket case.”

“I’ve been through worse and I’m still here, aren’t I? They didn’t shoot me and they didn’t steal any of my money. I’m not going to lose sleep over it. Sometimes bad things happen. That’s all you can say.”

This guy’s got a good attitude. If we ever manage to catch these guys, he might be a good witness at their trial.

“That’s a good way to look at it.”

“How’s the girl? They one they kicked? There was no call for that, Sergeant. None at all. She was trying to do what they told her to. It’s like I said: they were just mean.”

None of the other witnesses ever described them that way before. I wonder if they’re starting to break under the strain? Or maybe they’re just massively ticked off because the last job went sour on them? Too many questions and not enough answers. I thought I left that crap behind when I went from detective to sergeant. The curse of Allison Rane just keeps rolling along, doesn’t it?

“Rane! Got anything?”

The Sarge. Well, I’ve got a truck. It’s not much, but it’s something.

“That’s Mister Emmet over there. He said the suspects got into a truck and took off at a high rate of speed. He didn’t see it, but he heard it. He sells trucks for a living, so he seems to know what he’s talking about.”

“Make and model?”

“No such luck. He says it was a new or near-new truck, a big one like a king cab, and it probably had a lot of power. Oh, and it wasn’t a Dodge. That’s what he sells.”

“This is the first time they’ve brought their getaway vehicle onto the lot. Are they slipping up?”

“I don’t know. Maybe after the last time, they wanted to be able to make a getaway a lot faster. We’re still going on the assumption that one of them got shot, but Mister Emmet said none of them looked like they’d been injured.”

“So maybe the guard just winged the son of a bitch?”

It’s looking that way, isn’t it? Crooks are always the lucky ones, aren’t they?

“These guys have ripped off a ton of cash already. It’s not looking like they’re drug addicts. What the hell are they doing it for? They don’t sound like the type that does this for the thrill of it.”

“Maybe they need the money for something else?”

“Or they’re just total greedy dickheads. These assbags don’t know what they’re doing! Anthony was right: script kiddies! They’re reading a book and hoping if they do what it says, they’ll be all right! Stupid motherfuckers! One slip-up and they’re going to freak out and shoot someone! They’re going to make a mistake and it’s going to get somebody killed! I’m sure of it!”

Amateurs! That’s what we’re dealing with: amateurs! They’re like the kids who stole a copy of the answer key to a final exam! As long as they do everything right, they’ll ace the test. One screw-up? One unforeseen hitch? One mistake in the order of the questions? They’ll blow the whole thing. Then they’ll be on their own and they won’t have the slightest idea what to do. So what will they do? Start shooting. That seems to be the go-to answer for assbags. What are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to catch these guys? Just hope we get lucky? Hope we run into them when they’re headed into a bank? Hope one of them has a wife or a girlfriend who turns them all in? That’s not a plan. That’s a prayer.

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