Mission Critical

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Chapter 8 - Hang On for Your Life

I’m home, I’m tired, and I’m hungry. I didn’t get to eat anything because I had to go over to the scene of that bank robbery. Between getting up early, working my ass off at the SRT assessment, and looking at a bank full of traumatized people? I’m wiped out. It was all I could do to peel off my clothes and collapse on my bed. Beefy decided to join me immediately. And I’m just hoping he doesn’t have one of his fits and start thrashing around and kick me out of the bed because I’m honestly too tired to argue with him. I’ll end up sleeping on the floor. I guess it’s true what they say: once you hit thirty, it’s all downhill. I feel more like eighty right now. I need to stop running myself into the ground. They say exhaustion makes you highly susceptible to injuries, and the SRT assessment is like a playground for injuries. We haven’t lost anybody yet, but we’re all watching out for it. One mistake and you’ve blown out your knee or your shoulder or you’ve thrown out your back and that’s it: better luck next time. I know some of the guys are already trying to hide some pain that isn’t going away in a hurry. It could get a lot worse before this is over.

Why don’t I just order a pizza, you ask? Poor planning. You see, I was so tired and I had so much sand in my clothes that I didn’t really pay attention when I was peeling them off, so now I’m lying on my bed without a stitch on. I’m too tired to get dressed and I don’t think it would be a good idea to meet the pizza guy at the door completely naked. I’m sure it would be a treat for him – he’d probably think he was in a real-life porn film and he was about to get the best tip of his life – but I don’t think it would be good for me. Then again, I’ve sometimes fantasized about banging a delivery guy. You know, no strings attached; just invite the guy in and fuck him every which way but loose and never see him again after that. For you guys out there, I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret: a lot of women have fantasized about doing that. More than once, in fact. Most of us just never work up the nerve to actually do it. Sorry to burst your bubble if that’s what I just did. But hey, don’t despair! Maybe you’ll be the exception and find that total nympho girl who’s into that sort of thing? She gets a few drinks in her and decides to go for it. They’re out there. Hell, look who you’re talking to. Maybe you’ll catch me at just the right moment? You never know, right?

Lieutenant Jutras said he agrees with me that this bank robbery crew is getting more dangerous. They really hurt that teller this afternoon and we both agreed that she probably won’t be the last one. These dickheads may be following a script from a book, but it looks like they’re writing their own chapter and it’s all about hurting people while you steal their money. Not good. Not good at all. I’m betting it’s because our mister wanna-be hooked up with a pair of hardcore assbags and they’re tired of listening to a guy talk about a book. They’re reverting to their natural assbag nature. That’ll cause a lot of friction between them and if that happens, they’re likely to put their newfound wanna-be friend six feet under. That old adage about there being no honor among thieves? It’s basically true.

The Lieutenant is warming up to the idea of us going out to Las Vegas and trying to talk to the author of that book. We’re both thinking that any crew that dependent on the thing is likely to have reached out directly to the author for advice. Right now, I think there’s a good possibility that the dickhead knows who these guys are. I mean he could give us names, or at least one name. That would be enough to break the case. Depending on how we arrange the interview, we could be there and back in one day; two at the most. And since Vegas is within driving distance, it’s not like it would be a major expenditure. I don’t think the department is going to spring for a room at the Mirage, so it wouldn’t cost very much. I’ll just have to keep the Sarge away from the craps table. Remember when we went there to interview that guy who served with Corey Faisse, our mad sniper? The Sarge really wanted to hit one of the casinos and play some craps. No matter how much I told him it was a lousy idea, he insisted. Fortunately, we didn’t have the time. He might not be so willing to listen to me this time. What is it about guys and gambling? Having spent most of my childhood in Las Vegas, I saw more than my share of degenerate gamblers and most of them were men. Not all of them, but most of them. It’s like men have a genetic defect that makes them want to gamble, even if they don’t understand a damned thing about the game they’re playing. It’s totally ridiculous. Women degenerate gamblers are rarer, but – and I hate to say this, ladies – they’re a lot dumber. Most of the women degenerate gamblers I saw were addicted to the slots. They’d park their ass in front of a machine and sit there pumping dollar coins into those one-armed bandits until they were ready to fall off of the stool. In case you didn’t know, the slots are the absolute worst odds of any game on the strip. You might as well take all your money, put it in a pile, and set a match to it. You got it: they’re that bad. I like to think that on the whole, most women are basically a little smarter than most men. But when we’re dumb, we’re massively dumb. Case in point: the dickface I married. What the fuck was I thinking? My brain was totally out to lunch that day, wasn’t it?

“Beefy, I’m hungry. If I give you a few bucks, will you go down to the store and get me something to eat?”

Who am I kidding? He’d spend it on himself and eat it before he ever came home.

“Scratch that. Plan ‘B:’ call the Sarge and ask him to bring me something to eat. Can you do that for me?”

Beefy’s all excited now because I said “The Sarge.” He knows who I’m talking about. He loves the Sarge. For all of his “mangy mutt” cracks, he spends a lot of time scratching Beefy when he’s here. The Sarge is definitely a dog person. I don’t know why he doesn’t have one of his own.

Hang on! Someone’s at the door! I’m not expecting any company. Who could it be? It had better not be the landlady telling me the rent went up. On this place? I’m paying more than it’s worth as it is. All right, time for the bathrobe. Like I said, I’m too tired to get dressed. This had better not be somebody selling a bunch of magazine subscriptions! I hate those guys! They all claim to be high school kids and half of them are old enough to have tenure at college! All right, gun at the ready just in case, look through the peep hole and…it’s the Sarge. Damn! What is he? Psychic?

“Sarge, what brings you here?”

“Dinner. Here you go, Rane. I knew you were hungry and I figured you’d be too tired to go get something yourself.”

“How did you know?”

He’s giving me that look again! I hate that look!

“Because you were bitching about it back at the station non-stop.”

OK, I might have mentioned it…five or six times. Hey, I was starving and the candy machine was totally empty! Whoever’s in charge of that thing seriously dropped the ball!

“You’re a lifesaver, Sarge. What did you get me?”

“Chicken teriyaki and rice. I know you like that stuff; God knows why.”

Uh, because it tastes really good and it isn’t trash from a taco truck? Sergeant Junk Food! I’m telling you, he’s got no appreciation for a decent meal! I see he brought some for himself. Watch: it’ll be some horrible burrito or a steak and cheese sub. I know the Sarge: he’s as predictable as a Swiss watch. See? Burritos! And I’ll bet they came from Lucy’s Taco Truck! How is he still alive, eating that crap?

“What’s with the satin robe, Rane? Are you getting ready for a hot date?”

Is he kidding? He knows me better than that.

“Hardly. I threw this on to answer the door.”

“Nice of you to do that. I’d hate to think you’d answer the door in your underwear.”

Maybe he doesn’t know me as well as I thought?

“What underwear? I’m not wearing a stitch under this thing.”


“Sarge, if I’d known it was you, I wouldn’t have bothered with the robe.”

Hey, it’s true. If I weren’t so tired, who knows what might’ve happened? After I eat this thing, it still might.

“How the hell are you still single, princess?”

“Have you got about two hours to listen to the answer?”

“I don’t believe that for a minute. I’ve told you before, Rane: you’re a real catch. I’m sure somebody will figure that out soon enough.”

Promises, promises!

“Make me an offer, Sarge. Who knows? Tonight could be your lucky night.”

I’m not just messing with his head. If he makes me an offer, I’ll be out of this robe and going down on him before he knows what hit him! And it’ll be a hell of a lot better for him than that burrito!

“I really hate it when you sell yourself short, Rane. You’re better than that.”

“I’m not selling myself short. What guy is better than you, Sarge?”

“You’re right. There’s no such thing. Good point.”

See? He agrees with me. The more I think about it, I may just bang him right here on the couch. I’d probably have to hold him down at first, but seeing as we just finished our hand-to-hand combat exercise the other day, I’m ready for it. It might even add to the enjoyment, if you know what I mean. If he tries to spin me around to restrain me, I could slide down on his dick and you all know how much I love getting nailed from behind!

“Lieutenant Jutras is thinking about sending us to Vegas to talk to the author of that book. I think he’s going to try to track him down and see if he’ll talk to us first. Do you think this guy would be willing to talk to the cops?”

“It’s hard to say. I did a little checking on him. When he got out of prison, he wasn’t released on parole. He maxed out on his sentence. That sounds like a tough guy to me.”

Me, too. You don’t see many convicts who max out on their sentences. Once in a while, they cut a deal where the prosecution says “We’ll cut you a break and give you ten years, but you have to do every day of it.” But that’s rare. Most of the time when you see someone who maxed out, it’s either because they were a total dickface when they were in prison and never got parole or because they’re a major hardcase: no remorse, no compromise, and tough as hardened steel. Something tells me this dork is the latter type.

“So you’re thinking this guy is going to tell us to go jump in the lake?”

“He’s been in and out of prison, Rane. I don’t think he’ll be that polite.”

Good point. I’ve been a cop long enough to know what prison does to a man. I’ve had ex-cons use language that isn’t even in the book yet. Every sentence usually begins with “Motherfucker, you can…” Yeah, like that.

“We’ll see what happens. Is there any update on the condition of the woman they beat up?”

“Detective Rhee told me she’s got a concussion and a hairline skull fracture. She hit that wall hard. I don’t think she’s ever coming back to that job. She was sure they were going to shoot her right in the face. It’s a shame. Young girl like that? I’d like to catch the son of a bitch who did it and give him a taste of the same.”

“Right there with you, Sarge.”

With any luck, we’ll get the chance. I wouldn’t stop him from kicking the crap out of the guy who did it. Would you?

“Sarge, how long do you think it’ll be before they hit again?”

“Not long. These assbags seem to get their jollies robbing banks. I don’t think they’re doing it just for the money. They’re getting a thrill out of it. I spoke to Chennault over at Narcotics and none of their snitches know these guys. Nobody’s been spending a lot of cash in the dope houses lately. They’re not dope fiends unless they’re buying from out of town.”

You know, a thought suddenly occurs to me. Maybe we’re looking at this from the wrong end?

“Sarge? What if they’re not dope users? What if they’re dope sellers? You need money to set up a dope business, right? Like, if they’re cooking meth, they’d need a lab for that. They’d need to rent a place for their setup, buy the equipment, maybe buy some trucks or cars to haul it? Maybe they’re ripping off banks to get their startup money?”

“That’s not a bad idea, but these guys have already stolen enough cash to start ten meth labs.”

“So maybe it’s something more expensive than a meth lab? Maybe it’s some other kind of drug?”

He’s thinking about it. He didn’t shoot me down right away. Did I guess right?

“You may be onto something, Rane. What if they’re in bed with one of the cartels? Smuggling drugs across the border? The cartels don’t deal with local yahoos. They only deal with serious people. Narcotics once told me that when people want to go work for the cartels, sometimes the bosses want to see a lot of cash up front so they know they’re not dealing with a bunch of small-time punks.”

“And you think they might be trying to buy their way into the drug smuggling business?”

“Why not? This is Arizona. The Mexican border is just a couple of hours down the highway from here. Smuggling is big business, Rane.”

That’s for sure. Big risks and even bigger payoffs. You can make enough from one successful load to put your kids through Harvard.

“Yeah, but the border’s a fortress. The Border Patrol’s all over it. ICE, too. And the DEA…they search just about every car that crosses it and those guys are really good at finding your contraband.”

“Who said anything about cars?”

I think I see what he’s getting at. Good call, Sarge!

“Are you talking about airplanes?”

“Why not? We’ve got tons of private pilots in the state. Private airports, too. There’s a million places where you could land a plane in the desert. I’ve seen people do it. The cartels need pilots who are willing to take big risks. Getting a pilot’s license is easy. Getting an airplane takes a lot of money.”

Good point. Any airplane that can haul some serious dope is going to cost some serious cash. Like the kind of cash these assbags are stealing. I know it’s just a theory, but it’s all I had when I started on the sniper case, right?

“We should talk to Narcotics and see if they’ve heard anything about some crew trying to get into the smuggling business. Or about the cartels putting out any offers for pilots. They’re the ones who’d know about that stuff.”

“I agree. And it just so happens, they’re working tonight.”

What? Is he insane? Does he not know how tired I am? I don’t want to go in right now! I’m stark naked under this robe, for God’s sake!

“Can’t it wait until morning?”

“They’re not working tomorrow morning. Come on, Rane. Duty calls. This is the life of a sergeant. You’d better get used to it.”

You’d better get used to my foot right up your ass, old man! I barely ate four bites of my dinner! This totally sucks!

“Wrap up the food, old man. We’re taking it with us.”

“That’s the spirit!”

No, this is me knuckling under, you asshole! God, I can’t believe this! I was going to eat my dinner and go to sleep! So much for that!

“I’ll be right back. I’ve got to get dressed.”

“Make it snappy, Rane!”

Make it snappy? How about I snap you, old man? He just loves ruining my night! Well, I can still fuck with him. Watch this: stand in the doorway to the bedroom, look over my shoulder in my best sultry fashion, and…


Drop the robe! Yes! Get a good look at my bare ass, old man!

“You can come in and watch if you want.”

“Rane! For God’s sake!”

That scream tells me I got him good! Hey, he had it coming! I know I’ve said it a lot of times, but that shit never gets old! And it’s not like he’s never seen me naked. He’s got that calendar with my picture in it, remember? You know, his reaction when I do things like that should be giving me a complex. Not to blow my own horn, but I happen to know how good I look; especially without any clothes on. Most guys would be all over me if I made them an offer like that, but not him. It’s that damned Marine Corps discipline! Oh, well. I like a challenge. I’ll wear him down. You’ll see. It’ll make the final victory that much sweeter.

Narcotics Division. A suite of offices in a glass and steel box across the street from City Hall. They moved Narcotics here when their old offices got flagged for mold. You heard me: mold! In the desert, no less! Some of their secretaries who had to spend eight or ten hours a day in there got really sick. How’s that for a low-budget police department? They’re here until the Health Department says the mold is completely out of the old place, and that’s going to mean tearing out the adobe walls and completely rebuilding them. That’s going to take some time. I don’t think our Narcs are in any hurry to leave here. This place is really nice and the air conditioning is so powerful that this is the primo spot in the department during the summer. Some people have all the luck.

We’re looking for their main guy. The top detective in Narcotics is Wendell Roy Alden the Third, better known as Roy. We’ve got a lot of people named Roy out here, in case you hadn’t noticed. Nobody calls him Wendell. Not if they want to live, anyway. I always thought he looked amazingly like Johnny Cash. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the cover of the album Johnny Cash Live at San Quentin and then tell me he doesn’t look like his twin brother. I think Roy goes to the same hairstylist as Johnny Cash did. How else could they get the exact same hairdo? Roy has a reputation for being…well, let’s just say he’s not the most approachable guy in the world. Kind of like Johnny Cash when he was on a bender, or so I’m told. I’m not a big country music fan. I just hear things. I also tend to ramble about things, don’t I?

“Detective Alden?”

“Hey! Pretty girl! What brings you down here to the salt mines at this hour?”

Did I mention he sort of talks like Johnny Cash, too? Just don’t expect him to break into song.

“We need your expertise. We’ve got a bank robbery crew and we’re thinking they might be trying to raise cash for a smuggling operation.”

“Why would anyone want to do that? Those cartel boys got all the cash they need for that kind of thing.”

“What if somebody wanted to get into the smuggling business on this end of it? They’d need to make contact with the cartels, right? And they’d need an airplane. They’re expensive.”

“So they went to all the trouble of stealing from the banks? Sounds like a dangerous way to make a living, pretty girl.”

And smuggling drugs for some psycho cartel isn’t? Compared to dealing with those nut jobs, bank robbery seems like a pretty safe bet.

“It’s a theory we’ve got. Do you know how a bunch of guys who wanted to break into that business would do it?”

“Sounds pretty thin to me. Well, I suppose you’d make contact with one of their middlemen on this side of the border, but you’d need someone to vouch for you. You don’t just go in and fill out an application.”

I didn’t think you could.

“Who would you make contact with? You guys have got to know someone who’d be in charge of that around here.”

Well, he’s not chasing us out of here. He’s thinking. That’s a good sign.

“Izzy Santos. He’s got the connections for that. Get him to vouch for you and you’d get hired.”

“I don’t suppose this guy is one of your cooperating witnesses?”

And his eyes just got three sizes wider! Wrong question, Allison!

“Izzy? Not even close! I’d like to stick his fucking balls in a blender and flip the switch! He’s an asshole!”

That doesn’t sound too promising.

“Do you know where we can find him?”

“Well, if the cartel hasn’t killed him yet, he’s probably over at The Third Degree. That’s his unofficial headquarters.”

Our city’s lame techno music club. Yes, we have one of those in our city – to our eternal shame.

“Any suggestions on how to get him to talk to us?”

“How about a leaded flashlight and a soundproof room?”

That’s a Johnny Cash kind of thing to say, I guess.

“Uh, any other suggestions? Ones that don’t involve assault with a deadly weapon?”

Why is he looking at me like that?

“I’ll bet you’d look great in a little black dress and a pair of stiletto heels. You could try that.”

Not exactly what I had in mind.

“Something that doesn’t involve pimping me out, please.”

“Pretty girl, Izzy’s a weasel. He stays alive because he doesn’t trust anyone and he’s damned careful about who he lets around him. You get yourself all dolled up and he probably wouldn’t make you for a cop. Anyone else? He’d smell cop on them as soon as they walked through the door. Sorry I can’t be of more help. You really think these punks are trying to break into the drug-running business?”

“Well, it’s just an idea we had. We can’t find any other explanation for why they’re hitting so many banks. They’re not drug addicts. At least, they don’t come across as drug addicts.”

“Did you ever stop to think that maybe they’re just greedy sons of bitches?”

Gee, why didn’t I think of that?

“Only about five hundred times already. We appreciate your help. Let us know if you think of anything, OK?”

“Will do. You come back and see me again, pretty girl. Don’t be a stranger.”

“I’ll do that. Thanks again.”

He’s probably hoping I’ll come back in that little black dress and stiletto heels. Don’t count on it, pal. Roy Alden’s got a reputation, if you know what I mean. I’m not about to become another notch in his bedpost. Besides, I’m not really his type. He’s more into the big hair, tattoos, and Jägermeister type of girl. I hear he’s a semi-regular over at Rudy’s strip club. The girls over there? You’d better make sure you have all your shots before you touch one of them. And no, that’s not me being catty. Make sure your rabies shot is up to date. Trust me on that.

“Well, Sarge, it was worth a shot. Maybe we’re making too much of this? Maybe these assbags are just going to Vegas and blowing it all at the poker table?”

“I wouldn’t rule it out. I’ll see you tomorrow at the assessment phase. Try to keep your clothes on, will you?”

He acts all snarky about it when I do things like that, but I really wonder what goes through his mind when I mess with his head like that. Sometimes I think it’s all he can do to keep the little head from taking over for the big head, so to speak. And if that’s true, then I’m glad. I like to think I give him a thrill sometimes. It’s the bad girl in me. I just can’t help it, you know?

Morning at the assessment field. We spent the last two hours on advanced marksmanship drills. I’ll say this for my fellow candidates: they can shoot! They wouldn’t be here if they couldn’t. SRT won’t even consider you for the team unless you can shoot Expert. Thanks to the Sarge’s training, I don’t have to worry about that. Most of these guys grew up with guns, like a lot of people out in this part of the country. That’s something that sets our department apart from a lot of others: we run into all sorts of assbags who know how to shoot. It makes being a cop in this town a hell of a lot more dangerous than being a cop some major cities. When these dickheads take a shot at the police, they have a depressing tendency to hit what they’re aiming at. You’d be amazed at how many of our officers have taken a bullet over the decades. Unfortunately, I’m one of them.

Today is the one test I’m worried about: Hang On for Your Life. That’s what it’s called. You grab onto a big rope that’s attached to a ladder bridge over the pool and you have to hang on for five minutes. Sounds easy, right? Wrong! The thing is, you can’t use your legs. You can’t wrap the rope around your leg or even squeeze it between your knees. It’s a test of upper-body strength, plain and simple. I’ve been working out like mad and practicing in the station’s gym for it and I’ve got it down pretty good, but it’s still murder. Women don’t have the upper body strength of men, and this test is pure pass-fail: you pass or you’re out. I believe I can do it, but I’m not looking forward to it.

The key to passing the test is to keep your arms and elbows pressed tight against your torso. The Sarge taught me that. It definitely gives you an edge. If you try to superman it – hold on with just your grip – you had better be a real superman or you’re going into the drink. Since they’ll probably do it by the numbers, I’m number five so I’ll be right in the middle. This is the test where most women who try out for SRT fail and get washed out. Not me. I can do this. I’m not going to blow it. I don’t care if my arms pop out of their sockets; I’m going to pass this test!

I saw them setting up the rope a minute ago, so I guess it’s the next test. You know, you’re at least fifteen feet above the water and it suddenly occurs to me: I don’t know how deep that pool is. I hope it’s deep enough so that you don’t break your legs if you slip and fall off of the rope. They wouldn’t do that to us, would they?

We’re about to find out. Here comes Lieutenant Shears with his evil clipboard. This is it!

“Candidates! This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for! Hang On for Your Life! You’ve all seen it, you’ve all heard about it, and you all probably think you’re ready for it! We’re about to find out, aren’t we? It’s not as easy as it looks!”

Lieutenant, nobody thinks this is an easy test! And nobody thinks it looks easy! We’ve all seen SRT’s home videos of people falling off of that rope and splashing into the water. They used to do this test over a pond from a helicopter, but I guess the helicopter got to be too expensive. Somehow, I don’t think this is any easier. For one thing, you have to climb up that ladder bridge, make your way to the middle, and then lower yourself down to the end of the rope without falling off. Does that sound easy to you?

“Since we’re all old-fashioned gentlemen here; I think we should go ladies first! Number five! Sergeant Rane! You’re up!”

Gee, thanks! Just what I wanted! How fucking chivalrous of you! Here comes the Sarge. A last-minute pep talk, I suppose.

“Rane, you can do this. You’ve done it before plenty of times in training. This is no different. Just remember that.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Sarge. You’re right: I’ve got this.”

“Good girl! Show them how it’s done!”

I’m actually more afraid of embarrassing myself than anything else. All right, up I go! I wonder how tall this thing is? Really tall! Just keep going. Up the ladder. Damn! This thing looks a lot higher from up here than from down there! Don’t think about it! Just focus on the task at hand. Now I’ve got to walk across the horizontal ladder. Take it nice and easy. Make sure each step is solid. I don’t want to slip and fall off of this ladder. A little further…I made it! Now for the hard part!

“Lower yourself down that rope, Sergeant! When you get to the bottom, hang on for your life!”

Easier said than done, Lieutenant! Almost there…now! My legs are free! Start the fucking clock! Don’t think about it! Don’t try to count the seconds! Just hang on and keep my arms and elbows tucked in! Breathe! Breathe deep! Don’t swing! That’ll just make it harder to hang on! Try to remain still! And for God’s sake, don’t look down! Just hang on and let my mind go somewhere else! Don’t think about the time! The time doesn’t matter! I can do this! I will do this! I’m going to ace this fucking test!

“One minute!”

Thanks for the fucking update, Lieutenant! I’m trying not to think about the time and you go chiming off like a damned cuckoo clock! And how do I know he’s not lying to me? They said they’d try to psych us out throughout the assessment! Maybe they’re trying to psych me out now? Just hang on! It’s a good thing we’re not doing this in the middle of summer! I’d be cooking in the sun up here if we did! Thank heaven for small miracles, huh? Just hang on! Don’t think about it! God, my hands are starting to weaken! Just hang on! Hold my elbows in tight! Push them against the rope! That’s allowed! Push! Hang on!

“Two minutes!”

I really wish he wouldn’t do that! You know, it’s not easy to concentrate up here when I’m hanging from this rope like a goddamned cat toy! I’m trying not to swing my legs, but it feels like if I don’t, then I’m going to scream! The Sarge said don’t swing your legs because it puts more of a strain on your grip! I won’t swing my legs! No fucking way! Just hold still! Hold as still as I can! Breathe! Don’t forget to breathe! God, my arms are beginning to burn! I can feel my muscles burning! Don’t think about it! Don’t think about anything! Just hold on!

“Three minutes!”

I’m going to kick him in the fucking dick when I get down from here! Who the fuck cares what time it is? Just let me know when I can let go of this damned thing! I want to shift my grip, but that could be a bad idea! I might lose what I’ve got and if I try to get it back, I could slip and fall! Don’t do that! Just hang on with what I’ve got! I can do this! I’m not going to fall! I’m not going to blow this! Hell, no! I can do this! I’ve done it before lots of times! I’ve done it with a goddamned sniper rifle hanging from around my shoulder! I don’t even have all of my gear on this time! This is easy! Just keep saying that! This is easy! I can do this! There’s no pain! I can do this!

“Four minutes!”

One minute left! Sixty seconds! That’s only four sets of fifteen seconds! Six sets of ten seconds! Two sets of thirty seconds! I’ve got this! Oh, God! My arms feel like they’re going to tear off! My shoulders feel like they’re going to tear open! Don’t think about it! Don’t think about the pain! Don’t give up! I can do this! Everyone is rooting for me! I can hear them! Just hang on! Don’t give up! Don’t fall! I won’t! I’m going to make it! I’m not going to quit! I’ll stay up here for a fucking hour if I have to, but I’m not going to quit! I can do this! I’ve done it before! Don’t think about the pain! There is no pain! There’s nothing! I’ve got this! I can do this all day! I’m going to pass this goddamned test! I won’t quit! I’ll never quit! This thing isn’t going to beat me! I’ve got this!

“Time! Five minutes! Let go, Rane! Drop!”

Oh, thank God! Let go! Down I go! Brace for it! Oh, fuck! I’m in the pool! I didn’t hit the bottom! Damn! This pool is seriously deep! And trying to swim is harder than shit! My arms are killing me from my fingers to my shoulders! My back is killing me! Just shut up and swim, Allison! Before I fucking drown! That’s it! I’m up! I can breathe! Swim over to the side! Nice and easy! I did it! I fucking did it! See? I told you I could do it!

“Nice work, number five! You did everything right! Congratulations!”

Thanks, but I think I’d like a towel right now!

“Has anybody got a towel?”

“Oh, yeah. Right here. Dry yourself off.”

Dry myself off? I’m not wearing a damned bathing suit, Lieutenant! I’m fully dressed! I’m soaked through and through! And my boots are totally waterlogged! Now I understand why people take off their shoes before they jump in the water to rescue someone! Trying to swim with shoes on is impossible!

I’d ask why he didn’t have a towel waiting for me, but it suddenly occurs to me why: they wanted the whole “wet t-shirt show.” Well, I hope you enjoyed it, boys! I’m going to go sit down and try to press my arms back into the sockets!

“Outstanding, Rane! I knew you could do it!”

“It seemed a lot harder this time than in training, Sarge.”

“Of course it did! It’s always harder when there’s so much on the line. You had everyone looking at you and you didn’t want to fail. You knew this was the real deal. That makes it harder. If you had to do it again in an hour, you’d probably find it was a piece of cake.”

Is he for real? Piece of cake? That test is never a piece of cake! Not even in training! Supporting your entire body weight with just your hands and arms for five minutes? Hanging fifteen or twenty feet in the air? There is nothing easy about that!

“Just don’t ask me to do it again in an hour, OK?”

“You’ve got a deal.”

I hope to God that’s it for me today, because I can barely lift my arms right now! I couldn’t do one pushup if you held a gun to my head! I probably couldn’t hold a gun in my hand right now! I sure as hell couldn’t hold it steady enough to shoot anything with it!

“Here you go, Sergeant.”

Robbie. With another towel. That was nice of him.

“Thanks. At least someone’s a gentleman around here! Hint, hint Sarge!”

“What do you need a towel for, princess? You know, when I was in the Marine Corps and we did our jungle training…”

Oh, God! Not another Marine Corps story! Somebody throw me back in the pool and drown me! Quick, before I have to listen to him anymore! Please!

Wrapping up for the day. It’s a little after four in the afternoon. No, they didn’t let me go home after the rope test. I did get to sit there and recuperate while everyone else did the test, though. Everyone passed. Some of those guys made it look easy, but then they had arms like a superhero and hands the size of a catcher’s mitt. I’m pretty sure no one really had an easy time of it, but we all made it through with flying colors. One funny thing: it seems that not all of our candidates are strong swimmers. Some of them actually had more trouble swimming to the side of the pool than they did with the rope test. Seeing as this is the desert, there’s not a lot of call for cops to swim, but I know SRT goes out to the lake to do water training from time to time. Some of them are going to have to work on their Australian crawl. It wouldn’t be seemly if an SRT cop had to dog paddle to stay afloat, would it?

We spent the rest of the day doing timed runs, which wasn’t too hard since we didn’t have to use our arms. Sadly, it didn’t end there. No, there were timed runs and obstacle course training and a whole lot of pushups and crunches and lying leg lifts that just about killed us. These guys take their physical fitness seriously, don’t they? I think I have a couple of blisters on my feet because my boots still haven’t dried out. Don’t ever try to run in a pair of soaking wet boots. It’s totally miserable, let me tell you. Fortunately, I have another pair of boots at home. I’ll wear those until these dry out – which will probably be in a year! In the meantime, I’ll be popping blisters on my feet tonight. I hate getting blisters on my feet! If you’ve never had them, they make trying to sleep next to impossible. You have to smother them in foot cream and put on a pair of really soft socks and even then, it’s a total bitch. And what about tomorrow? How the hell am I going to be able to walk with half the skin on my feet peeling off? I’m trying not to think about it right now. My feet are already burning. It’s only going to get worse.

Luckily for me, the Sarge drove me here this morning so he can drive me back home while I stick my feet out the window. Undignified, but the wind will help cool them off. When I get home, I’m going to pop my blisters, rub the foot cream all over them, and sit with my feet pointed at a fan. God, that sounds so good right now! This day really kicked my ass! I’m pretty sure it kicked everybody’s ass. I’m also pretty sure the assessment cadre knows it, too. They said tomorrow will be a half-day and they’ll see what kind of shape we’re all in before they decide what to do. Don’t these nut jobs ever take a day off? I’ve heard of dedication to duty, but this is ridiculous! If they give me the day off, I’m taking it! And I’ll bet all ten of us will!

I’m trying to get these boots off, which isn’t easy since my feet swelled up and they’re still soaking wet. I guess these aren’t the ones that are designed to dry out in an hour. Yes, they make combat boots like that. No, I can’t afford them. Well, probably not. Remember: I’m still getting my finances back in order. Let me tell you, the bump in pay from making sergeant definitely helps. If I make it onto the SRT team, I get a small raise plus hazard pay, which adds up to a nice little raise for me. Yet another reason why I want to make the team. If I seem to obsess about money, it’s because for two years I didn’t have any. I was flat broke – literally! As you no doubt remember, my stupid ex bent me over and fucked me in the ass in our divorce. I had to pay him alimony, as I’m sure you’ll recall. I couldn’t believe how broke I was. I went from a comfortable house and a comfortable living to not knowing if I’d have a roof over my head from week to week. Paying my lawyer didn’t help, either. I only paid him off last year. Before that? I was eating ramen noodles four or five nights a week and praying that I wouldn’t run out of gas for my car. It was a horrible time that seemed to go on forever and I guess it left me scarred. Believe me, I don’t like it one bit. That’s why I worry about money so much.

“Can I give you a hand with those, Sergeant?”

Robbie. Nice of him to offer to help me, since I feel like half the skin on my feet is going to come off once I get these boots off. Maybe he can help me avoid that?

“Please. You know, you used to call me Allison when we worked at Traffic Division together. I’m still Allison, by the way.”

“Sorry. It’s just…”

He’s intimidated by my rank. Yes, that’s one of the risks you take when you promote. I’ve seen it plenty of times: someone who was one of the boys makes sergeant or detective and all of a sudden they’re no longer one of the boys. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I didn’t change. I just got a new job title.

“Just nothing. If I pull up on one of your calls, I’m a sergeant. Otherwise, I’m just Allison. Plain old Allison.”

“There’s nothing ‘plain old’ about you, Allison.”

That was a nice touch. Not bad, Robbie. I’m kind of a sucker for a sincere compliment. I don’t think he knows that, though.

“I appreciate the sentiment. Grab the boot and pull gently! I’m afraid my skin’s going to peel off.”

“I know what you mean. You need to get some waterproof socks when we train in water. I knew we were doing this today so I wore them.”

We didn’t train in water. We fell in the pool after hanging on to a rope until our arms were ready to come out of the sockets! Waterproof socks? They make such things?

“Where do you get waterproof socks?”

“Bayfield’s Uniforms. They’ve got them.”

That’s where almost all of our officers buy their uniforms. I don’t remember seeing any waterproof socks there. Then again, I didn’t know they existed so I wasn’t looking for them.

“I’ll remember that. You’re over at Southside Station, right?”

“That’s right. Nightwatch. I’m on loan to days until the assessment’s over. What about you? Are you going to stay put or go somewhere else?”

“I’m probably going to stay put. I’ve got sort of an unofficial partner in Sergeant Varanasi, so I don’t want to screw that up. I like working with him.”

“You know, I heard about what you did in the sniper case. That was some real above-and-beyond shit. Everybody’s really proud of you for what you did.”

“You mean getting shot because I let that son of a bitch sneak past me and blow a hole in my side?”

“Come on, Allison! That guy was a stone cold expert! He did what? Two tours in Afghanistan? You’d been training with Varanasi for a couple of weeks. You can’t beat yourself up for that. You did a hell of a job and you got the guy.”

Yes, I got him. My first sniper kill. I can still see his head explode through my rifle scope. I’ve had nightmares about it. I don’t think I’m ever going to forget that one.

“It was a team effort. If the Sarge hadn’t been there, I’d be dead right now.”

“I’m just glad you’re not.”

There was something distinctly non matter-of-fact in the way he said that. Very interesting.

“So how come you didn’t come visit me in the hospital?”

Dumb, Allison! Why did you have to put him on the spot like that? Stupid!

“I didn’t…I guess…I guess I thought it wouldn’t be…appropriate.”

Hang on! I think I see what’s going on here! God, I am so stupid sometimes!

“Robbie, you know I’m divorced, right? My stupid ex dumped me. He didn’t even bother to come see me in the hospital. Except for the lawyers, we haven’t spoken to each other since the split.”

“You’re kidding, right? He dumped you?

“He dumped me like a trash bag. That was over two years ago. If I ever see his face again, it’ll be too soon.”

I guess it never occurred to me that he didn’t know I was divorced. Everybody at our station knows about it – mainly as a result of my constant bitching and moaning about it – but over at his station, I guess the word didn’t get around. That’s right, Robbie: I’m back on the market. I also happen to be unattached right now. So if you’re interested, you’d better strike while the iron is hot. Who knows? I always thought you were a good guy. Maybe I’ll decide to find out just how good you are? Stranger things have happened, you know. Play your cards right and they just might happen again.

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