Stand Your Ground

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An angry tax protest by a Sovereign Citizen turns into an all-out war on two fronts for Detective Sergeant Allison Rane and Sergeant Frank Varanasi. The protest becomes a bloodbath as a violent militia group joins the fight and the police find themselves the target of their guerilla tactics in an urban warfare nightmare. But Allison and the Sarge soon discover that all is not as it seems and the final showdown finds the police outnumbered, outgunned, and outmatched. Can a desperate gamble stop the carnage before it is too late? Or will it prove to be the final, fatal mission of the Sniper Girl? Book number five of the Allison Rane series.

Action / Drama
Haley Donohue
4.9 12 reviews
Age Rating:

"The Usual Problems"

Move! Down the hall! Reload! Two magazines down! Watch up ahead! They could be right around the corner! Weapon up! Focus on the front sight! Don’t lean or brush against the wall! They could hear it! Mover forward and be ready for a strong shooting stance if I have to fire! Be ready to engage multiple suspects! Listen! Watch! The next one could hit us at any second! Expect them to be where we least expect it! Don’t underestimate them! That’ll get us all killed for sure!

“Doug! Marco! Benny! When we clear the corner, give me a two-and-two! Marco up front with me and Doug and Benny in the back covering our six! Fast shift on our positions if we run into trouble and have to reload! Let’s go!”

We’re at the edge of the next corridor! They’ve hit us almost every time we turn a corner! Not much of a surprise attack but it’s keeping us off-balance and it’s forcing us to use up way too much ammunition! We can’t call for reinforcements so we’ve got to make it last! All right, use the tac mirror to clear the corner! And…we’re clear!

“Clear! Go! And watch for anyone jumping out at us! We don’t know how many are left!”

We got almost zero intel on this one! How the hell many assbags are left? We’re about to find out! Move forward! Two-by-two covering front and back! Good Lord! Are they going to come at us through the damned ceiling next? Move forward! Be ready for anything! There! Up ahead! Two of them! Fire! On the left! Two shots! Center mass! Got him! Marco got the other one! Move forward! Before they can bring up more assbags! Go! Fast! We’ve got a door up ahead! Give everyone the hand signal: left and right side! Marco’s the biggest of us so he’s the one who’s going to kick the door if we have to break it down! Try the handle…negative! It’s locked!

“Marco! Kick it!”

It’s open! Good kick! Break right and left! Benny’s the arrow through the middle! Let him take whatever’s directly up ahead of us! I see one x-ray! Fire! Double-tap him! Got him! One to the right! Fire! Double-tap! He’s still up! Go for a head shot! Fire! Got him! Doug and Marco took out the ones behind me! We’re clear! Go! We’ve got to make it out of here before we lose anyone! Reload! Son of a bitch! I’m down to my last magazine! Go! That door! Try the handle! It works! Ready…go! Break left!

Time! Everybody cease fire! Stand down! Good job, Allison! You made it with eleven seconds to spare! Not bad!”

Lieutenant Shears and that evil clipboard he always seems to carry. Not bad? Hey, you try that crap and see how you do! Oh, who am I kidding? He’s done it a million times. That’s how he got to be SRT’s field commander. He could probably ace this course in his sleep.

“What’s our score, sir?”

“Ninety-eight. Pretty damned outstanding! You’re tied for the record on this scenario. I’m impressed.”

“Don’t be. I almost ran out of ammunition.”

“You’re supposed to. That’s part of the scenario. When the shit hits the fan in a multi-hostile situation, you can’t go running back to the car for more ammo.”

And here I thought five magazines was enough. Not even!

“Remind me to carry more from now on. All right, I started out with four officers and I brought all four back alive and well. That’s the idea, isn’t it?”

“It is. You know, most people try to rush through this the first time and they end up getting at least one of their people killed. I’m glad to see you value your people over getting a higher time score.”

“I’m sure everyone figures that out after the first run-through, sir.”

“They do, but that doesn’t do the guy who got killed any good, does it?”

No, it doesn’t. Fortunately, I had an edge: the Sarge has been drilling me on these scenarios for weeks. He wanted to make sure I didn’t embarrass myself – or him. He especially didn’t want me to embarrass him. Priorities, right?

“So what’s your assessment, sir?”

“I think you’ll make a fine Element Leader. When you’re ready. This is just the beginning, Allison. It takes a lot of work to become an Element Leader. Sometimes even the best member of the team isn’t cut out for it. That’s not a bad thing, by the way. It’s just a fact. Leadership’s a whole different ballgame.”

I’m well aware of that. I thought I might be crazy to try for the position – I’m an SRT sniper, after all. Snipers aren’t team leaders. But I want to be able to do every job in SRT, just like I want to be able to do every job as a patrol sergeant. It’s a tall order and I feel like I’ve got an endless amount of catching up to do, but I’ll do it. I know my life or someone else’s life could depend on it someday. That’s something I know all too well, as I’m sure you know by now. Hard lessons, bitter experience. It’s a hell of a way to learn, isn’t it?

“Rane! Damned fine job! All of you! You didn’t lose a man! Not bad for your first time through this one!”

After about three dozen dry runs and live-fire exercises, Sarge! But hey, if he’s handing out compliments? I’ll take it.

“I’ve got you and your training to thank for it. So how many more times are we going to go through this today?”

“I’m afraid just this once. It’ll take too long to set everything up again before we have to be in roll call. And on that note, make sure you clean and oil your pistol before you go out in the field. You put a lot of rounds through it today.”

I know. I’d really like to get another one just like it so I wouldn’t be shooting this one so much, but I can’t justify the expense. I’m not as strapped for cash as I used to be, but this Les Baer pistol costs a crazy fortune. If he hadn’t given it to me as a gift, I never could’ve afforded it. Too bad they don’t issue them once you get to SRT, huh?

“I’ll do that. You know, today’s number one-oh-four. I broke a hundred last week.”

“I know. Let’s hope it stays that way.”

Amen! One hundred four days since I last had to shoot anybody. My last shooting? That crazy bitch sniper who was guarding Anson Giles Scott. I’m sure you remember him: psycho cult leader and all-around evil son of a bitch? I don’t regret shooting either one of them. I’m just hoping it’ll be a long, long time before I ever have to fire a round at another human being. I’m not crazy enough to think I’ll never have to do it again – I’m an SRT sniper – but that doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to it.

And now that everybody else has headed off to grab something to drink and the Sarge and I are alone…

“You know, that’s an anniversary we should celebrate when we get home.”

“What did you have in mind?”

Is he kidding? We’ve been living together since that whole cult mess. We’ve been a couple for one hundred four days! He knows exactly what I have in mind!

“How about blind man’s bluff? Only I get the blindfold first. I expect you to surprise me even more than last time, old man. Keep me guessing.”

“I think I can do that.”

I think you can too, Sarge. And you can keep me shaking like an earthquake when you do that special trick with your fingers! I love that one! I should. I’m the one who taught him how to do it.

“What about dinner tonight? No sandwich shops. I want to try that fish place that opened up on the Promenade.”

“Sounds good. I’ll see you at roll call. Damned good job on this one. I mean that. You’re going to make a hell of an Element Leader, Rane.”

And one seriously hot kiss to keep me going! I don’t know why we both feel like we can only do that when nobody’s around. It’s no secret we’re together now. Hell, most people around here thought we were an item well before we ever became one, as I’m sure you’ll remember. Ours is an…unconventional relationship, to say the least. You’ll notice how he still calls me Rane and I still call him Sarge. I’ve tried calling him Frank, but it just doesn’t feel right. He sometimes calls me Allison, but usually it’s still Rane or princess when he wants to yell at me – which he still does on a regular basis. Some things never change, you know. Well, I don’t care. I don’t care what he calls me as long as he’s mine. I’m the girl who’s had four last names already, remember? What’s in a name, right?

Yes, we’re still together. Did you honestly think I’d let him go after all the work I put in trying to bag him? It was a total shock to me when I came to realize I was in love with him. It was an even bigger shock to me when I discovered he felt the same way about me. We’ve been kind of nervously taking it one step at a time – neither one of us was ever any good at relationships so we don’t want to screw this up – but it’s been really good so far. The Sarge has been a real stabilizing influence in my life and he makes me laugh a lot; something that I hadn’t done enough of for a very long time. I’ve noticed that I breathe a lot easier since we got together. I feel more grounded, if that’s the right word for it. As for him? Everyone’s noticed that he’s got more of a spring in his step. Care to guess who put it there and how she did it? I’ll leave it to your imagination. Good Lord! When word got around that he and I were together? I think every woman in the station bombarded me with questions about the intimate details! If you think only guys try to pry the details out of each other? Let me tell you, guys have got nothing on women in that regard! The strange thing is, I haven’t been willing to share them. This is the first time in my life that I’m genuinely invested in a relationship. I feel like some things should be kept just between the two of us. I have some…shall we say, unusual practices in that regard? And I wouldn’t want anything to get out that might make anyone think less of the Sarge than they did before. Of course, if I did tell them the details? I’m pretty sure they’d only think more of him. He definitely needed to loosen up a bit in the bedroom department, but I loosened him up plenty and I had a ball doing it! Let’s just say the man definitely knows how to take care of a woman. I mean, wow! Does he ever know how to take care of a woman! I’ve got absolutely zero complaints in that department!

Moving on to less…enjoyable matters, we’re still on patrol as sergeants and we’ve spent most of our time doing patrol duties. After that nightmare with the Nine Signs cult, most of the criminals around here decided it was best not to provoke the police for a while. The raid on that compound was the single worst day in the police department’s history: five officers killed, seventeen wounded, three officers injured so seriously that they had to be pensioned off, and four resignations afterward by officers who decided that they’d rather be alive and healthy than go through that again. We also had three officers who had to take extended leaves of absence after seeing that chamber of horrors in that house on the Island. The city demolished the entire development, paved over it, and put in a desert garden in the hopes that everyone would forget about what happened in there. Let me tell you, no one who was in that house and saw what we saw will ever forget about it. I wish I could, but I can’t. That whole episode left a mark on this department that we’ll probably never get over. And the Sarge and I were right in the thick of it the entire time. I wish we hadn’t been, but we were. Don’t think for a minute that we came away unscathed. We didn’t.

The U.S. Department of Justice just concluded an official investigation of our department because of all the people we shot in the last year and a half. They basically came away from it scratching their heads at the sheer amount of bad luck we ran into: the sniper case, the biker war, and then a lunatic cult. It really ticked us off that they did it in the first place – some of the assbags running the show were determined to find fault with us and say we were a trigger-happy bunch of psychopaths – but even they had to admit we didn’t do anything wrong. And when they saw the photos from inside that house? I think some of them had to be committed to a mental asylum after that. The whole thing was a giant waste of time, but we got a fair amount of bad press in the national news because of it. The good thing? People in this town don’t give two shits about the national news. They think most of the rest of the country went to hell in a handbasket a long time ago. They don’t care what outsiders think. As far as they’re concerned, we’re heroes for doing what we did. That’s all that really matters.

And who was the biggest hero of them all? Not me, although a lot of people stopped me on the street and shook my hand for putting Anson Scott’s lights out. No, the biggest hero of the whole thing was my old friend LC: the Conspiracy King of Cydonia Survival. Remember how he showed up in a monster truck with a fifty caliber Gatling gun and leveled the fortified arsenal house that the cult was using? Yes, people around here are seriously big on frontier justice dished out by concerned citizens. He was a really big hit with the locals. It didn’t hurt his business, either. He told me he’s got twice as many people at his shop these days. Well, good for him. He deserves it. He saved our asses and he came through with information that we never would’ve gotten anywhere else. Some of us chipped in and got him a really nice plaque for his shop that said how much the police force appreciated his help. It was the very least we could do for him. I wish we could’ve done a lot more. Don’t worry; I’m sure he’ll cash in on some of those big fat IOUs he’s got on me. You know how I usually end up paying those off, don’t you? I don’t expect that to change.

So how did the Sniper Girl fare in all of this? Not bad, actually. I got the police department’s highest award for bravery for crawling out through the desert to shoot Anson Scott. That was pretty cool, though I never want to do anything like that again. I got interviewed by almost every paper and TV news station in town. They went with a sort of “the Sniper Girl strikes again” kind of angle. I got two offers to appear on national news shows, but I turned them down. I spoke with their PR people when I received the offers and I got the impression they wanted me on there for my looks and not because I’m a cop and it was a major case. One of them actually said to make sure I wore something really hot for the interview. No thanks, dickface! I’m not looking for a modeling career. I’ve got a job, thank you very much. And I happen to be very good at it. Beyond that? It was kind of business as usual for me. I’ve already got a stack of court subpoenas for pending court cases related to the cult members we managed to take alive. They’re all locked up in federal prisons out of state until the trials start. It’s a safety thing: they don’t want those nut jobs communicating with each other. Considering the charges they’re facing, their lawyers are fighting them tooth and nail. Of course they are. If they lose? Their clients are going straight to the death house. Even the anti-death penalty crowd is pretty silent on this one. If they’d seen the pictures from inside of that torture house? They wouldn’t make a peep. They’d probably be willing to throw the switch themselves. I saw a story in the paper that said they’ve already had citizens volunteer for that job. I’m not surprised.

If anything good came of it, it’s that the city council and the mayor decided that they needed to seriously jack up the department’s budget. There’s none of that “Defund the Police” bullshit around here, let me tell you! Not after that crap. We’re supposed to be getting a bunch of new equipment and some special-detail vehicles. And the best part? They say the entire department is going to get a raise! It won’t go into effect until January, but it’s a raise and do we ever need one! And now that I’m living with the Sarge and he owns the cabin and the property it’s on, I don’t have to write a rent check every month anymore. I’m actually saving money for the first time in my life. I don’t go to the ATM and say a prayer before I put my card in it anymore. It’s a great feeling. A little icing on the cake for me. After everything I’ve been through, I think I deserve it. It’s been a big boon to my wardrobe, although most of it is stuff I only wear behind closed doors for the Sarge. I’ll leave that one to your imagination, too.

Last but not least? Beefy the dog is just fine. He loves living at the Sarge’s cabin. He’s got a huge patch of ground to run around on and a lot of jackrabbits and prairie dogs to chase – not that he ever manages to catch any of them. He adores the Sarge almost as much as I do. It took a while to get the Sarge on-board with letting Beefy up on the furniture, but he came to realize that trying to keep him off was a losing battle. Beefy’s not crazy about how stingy the Sarge is with turning on the air conditioner – neither am I, for that matter – but he’s got his fan so he’s not suffering from heatstroke. Me, on the other hand? I can do without the sweating. Of course, when I find myself all sweaty and overheated? It makes for a great excuse to engage in a total bang-fest with the Sarge. Why let a golden opportunity go to waste, right? It saves on the electric bill, too. See? Totally wild sex can be good for the environment. Who knew?

Other than that? It’s been business as usual for everyone around here. Well, as much as it can be “usual” after what we went through. We’ve all been trying to move on from that horrible experience as best we can. We miss the hell out of the friends we don’t have with us anymore. We try our best to make sure they’re not forgotten and that their sacrifices weren’t in vain. We try to remember them and do right by their memories. That’s about all we can do, isn’t it? It just doesn’t seem like enough. I guess it isn’t. But it’s all we can do. Sometimes I think that just makes it worse.

So I’m heading back to the station to get cleaned up and ready for my duty shift. What awaits Detective Sergeant Allison Rane tonight? Who knows? It could be a totally boring shift where I have nothing to do or it could be as busy as hell and I might even have to fire my weapon to defend myself or someone else. That’s the thing about police work: you never know and there’s no way you can possibly know. Not even the mighty Sphere of Destiny – the Magic 8-Ball for the uninitiated – can tell me that. I used to get a sense of unease about that before I started taking the job seriously. Now I respect the hell out of it. I recognize and respect the risks and the dangers. I’m not saying I look forward to them – I’ve got way too much to live for to become an adrenaline junkie – but I respect them and I’m not afraid of them. So come what may. I think I’m ready for it.

The roll call room. I’m dressed and ready. My gear is looking good and my sidearm is oiled and cleaned in case I need it. I even smell good because I just got out of the shower, though sometimes I think you actually end up dirtier after you use the station’s showers than you were before you stepped into them. Oh, and sometimes you find you’re not alone in there. No, I’m not talking about perverts. I’m talking about lizards. This is the desert, after all. Where’s there’s water, the lizards find a way to get to it. I’ve had plenty of occasions to look down at my feet and see a lizard running around down there. Not fun! Don’t ask me how they get in there. I just want them to stay the hell away from me. I can handle little lizards when I’m fully clothed. When I’m standing nude in the shower? Not even! Did you know they can scurry up your leg when you’re soaking wet? Believe me, you haven’t heard me scream until that happens to me! And yes, it’s happened more than once!

Sergeant Kettering is the Watch Commander. Sergeant Lopez is the Assistant Watch Commander. I’m Three Lincoln, as usual. The Sarge is Five Lincoln. Now that he’s a full-time sworn sergeant, he gets the same assignments as any other sergeant. Oh, and another change? Since the nightmare of that cult, we now run two-man units on patrol. It’s about time! No more one-man units pulling up at some nondescript call and getting shot with no backup. Lonnie Arista? He’s back as of last week. I had no idea he’d make it back as fast as he did, but he’s back and he seems to have made a full recovery. He’s got a hideous scar on his neck that goes about a quarter of the way down his chest. You can only see the top of it when he’s got his shirt on, but I got to see the whole thing and it actually hurt to look at it. It makes the gunshot scar on my back look like a paper cut! It’s a miracle he’s back so soon, but he just shrugs it off like it was no big deal. The same with Jimmy Corrales. He came back to full duty two weeks ago. His hit wasn’t as bad as Lonnie’s – he got shot once and Lonnie got shot a bunch of times – but he’s back and as far as I can see, he’s good as new. Tough guys, aren’t they? Damned tough guys! I’m proud to call them my friends.

It looks like we’re about to start. Let’s see what they’ve got in store for us today. I didn’t have time to check the roll call folder and see what happened today that we need to be aware of. I’m as much in the dark as anyone else here.

“Listen up! Roll call! I’m Sergeant Kettering; your lord and master. Sergeant Lopez is your assistant lord and master. Sergeant Rane is your field supervisor Three Lincoln. Sergeant Varanasi is your other field supervisor Five Lincoln. All cluster fucks, shit storms, and other things that I don’t want to deal with shall be brought to their attention immediately. Bypassing your field supervisors to dump some pile of shit on my desk will be met with swift and severe retribution!”

You kind of get the feeling he doesn’t want to deal with any bullshit, don’t you? He’s like that. He also doesn’t give a crap if you desperately need a day off. I don’t care how much advance notice you give him; he won’t care. It sucks, but most people on the watch have learned to live with it.

“I’m under orders to do this at the beginning of each roll call until otherwise instructed: does everyone who suffered any serious wounds in the great cult raid feel physically fit for duty? Arista and Corrales? You two got the worst of it. Are you sure you’re up to working tonight?”

They’ve been doing that ever since the case was closed over Anson Scott’s dead body in that trailer. Some of our guys rushed back to work and found out they hadn’t healed up as fast or as much as they thought. A couple of people exacerbated their injuries and ended up taking way longer to heal than they would have if they’d stayed in bed when they were supposed to. Lonnie seems pretty adamant that they’re fine.

“We’re good to go, sir. Just like last night and the night before and the night before.”

“Don’t be a smartass! I know you’re good, but the captain says I have to ask. All right, you two are Five Baker. Try not to get yourselves shot again. Beckstrand and Sevick, you’re Seven Baker. Enlori and Ramirez, Nine Baker. O’Keefe and Cardenale, you’re Eleven Baker. That’s everyone.”

And only two of them were working Nightwatch before the hell with the cult: Lonnie and Jimmy. Everybody else got sent here sometime during the last three months because of all the injuries we suffered. It’s going to take a while for this watch to gel. Right now, they hardly know each other. I feel like it’s my job to turn them into a cohesive force, but I don’t know how to do that. The Sarge says to give it time, but I feel like we don’t have any time to spare. Am I just being a worry-wart again? I don’t think so. It’s not just a fragmented watch; it’s an inexperienced one. Enlori, O’Keefe, and Sevick each have less than two years’ field experience. They’re not rookies, but they’ve still got a lot to learn.

“Now, we’ve got the usual problems in the southern sector: lots of illegal street races and motorcycle dumbshits trying to do stunts on bikes they can’t handle. They haven’t killed anybody yet, but they will. If you see them? Shut them down! I want citations and if necessary, impounds! I’m sick of hearing about these dipshits turning the streets into racetracks. This is a problem we can solve, so solve it!”

The city could solve it easy by putting in speed bumps on the streets where they do the most racing, but they’re too damned cheap. What else is new?

“East end of the division: a labor dispute. The employees at the Fazicas Metal Plating plant are probably going to go on strike in the next few days. Those of you who’ve been on the job for a while know that’s happened before and it usually turns pretty ugly on the picket line. We’ll keep you advised. If they go on strike and you get a call over there, do not respond alone! Take at least two units for backup! These guys are metal workers. They tend to settle problems with their fists. I don’t want a brawl over there!”

Not to mention the highly toxic environment over there. Metal plating? There’s like fifty billion kinds of cancers you can get from that place. That’s why they’re going on strike: a conflict over safety protocols that supposedly aren’t being followed. I’d rather not go anywhere near it. I don’t want to grow horns on my head, you know?

“North end of the division: illegal food vendors over by the airport. If you see them? Chase them off. First time is a warning; second time is a summons. If they want to do business over there, they can get a permit like everyone else.”

How anyone can eat off of those pushcarts is a mystery to me. Even the Sarge won’t eat that crap and he eats practically anything! The carts are totally disgusting. The only ones safe to eat from are the ice cream carts, but they rarely go over there. It’s an airport. No kids. No kids means no ice cream sales.

“West end: the meth is in bloom, people! The meth dealers are doing a red-letter business over there! They’re cooking that shit out in the desert just west of the city and selling it out of every trailer and mobile home park we’ve got! People, how many times do we have to say it? If you see some white trash asshole stretched out on a lawn chair in front of a trailer or a mobile home? That’s probable cause to search them for drugs! So search them! And if you find anything? Arrest them! Those assholes are doing business in broad daylight in front of fifty witnesses! It’s making us look bad!”

I know Narcotics is working on serving search warrants for a bunch of places at once. If they do, then SRT is going to handle the ones designated as high-risk targets: mainly the labs. We’ll get the callout to handle the warrant service. I really hate meth labs. Meth dealers, I can usually handle. Meth labs are a different story. Too many booby traps, the places are poorly ventilated, there’s toxic chemicals everywhere, and they have a tendency to explode for pretty much no reason. There’s no fun involved. Plenty of fear, but no fun.

“And last but not least, it’s Clevis Painter time again!”

Oh, no! Not again! That assbag? Why doesn’t he just move to Montana with the rest of his kind?

“For those of you who are new to the department, Clevis Painter is our local anti-tax nut job and all-around pain in the ass. He’s got a pretty big chunk of land on the south side of the division and he seems to feel that he doesn’t have to pay his taxes on the property. In case you were wondering, Painter isn’t some rancher being crushed by ever-increasing grazing fees or a farmer facing a bunch of idiotic restrictions on what he can grow or how much water he can use. I wouldn’t give you five hundred bucks for that crap land he’s got, but it gets taxed at the state and federal level and he’s about two years behind on the bills. He’s given interviews to some local radio station and he’s written some pretty extreme letters to the editors of some of the local newspapers. We haven’t had a confrontation with him or his family yet, but we’ve been out to his house and the meetings haven’t been pleasant. This could turn into a situation, so be aware of it. Painter’s got a pair of adult kids living with him and they both seem to think the same way he does, so don’t expect any cooperation from them. Some of you have run across his asshole son Arlen. That loser’s nothing but trouble and he’s been locked up a few times for fighting with the police. Don’t take any chances around him.”

“Sir? Why do we even care? It’s not a police matter! If he doesn’t want to pay his taxes, let him take it up with the IRS! We don’t enforce the tax laws!”

“I know that, Allison. The problem is, this time he’s taken to social media to voice his concerns and he’s starting to get a following. There are some rumors about people coming from out of state to help him. I’m talking about serious people. We’re less worried about what he’ll do than we are about what some nut job might do if he sees his postings. Some of these anti-tax types are seriously crazy and they’re well-organized. They’re also armed to the teeth.”

No doubt. We’ve got our share of “Sovereign Citizens” running around out here. They’re horrible. Go to YouTube and type “Sovereign Citizen Window Smash” in the search bar and watch some of the videos of them interacting with the police. You’ll see what I mean.

“Do we have any reason to believe anyone’s joined him on his…I don’t even know what you’d call it. Sarge?”

“Enormous, worthless vacant lot.”

“Yes, that! Has anyone joined him there?”

“Not so far, but that could change. People, all I’m saying is he’s becoming a bigger pain in the ass than usual and it could turn into a police matter. Sergeant Rane is right: we don’t enforce the tax laws; state or federal. But a bunch of armed psychos congregating on his ranch? That’s definitely a police matter. I want everyone to be aware of it in case you get a call out there. He’s pretty far off the beaten path so if you do get a call at the property, your backup might be some time getting there. Don’t provoke this nut case! Painter’s never taken a shot at a cop before, but that doesn’t mean he won’t try if you give him a reason. His blog posts seem to be a lot angrier this time around and we’re received information that the tax people are serious about collecting the overdue bill. They might do something stupid that sets the whole thing off. Watch yourselves out there!”

I’ve only met Clevis Painter two or three times; always at the local building supply store when he was buying things for his ranch. You can’t miss him: he’s got to be about seventy and he always dresses exactly the same every day. He wears an old Stetson that probably belonged to his grandfather. His cowboy boots are so old that they look like they’re about to fall apart. He’s a really surly assbag, too. He doesn’t seem to like anyone and I’m pretty sure that includes his own family. People around here who know him say he’s never had a kind word to say about anybody. He makes the Sarge on his worst day look downright charming. He’s never been arrested, but he’s had his share of unfriendly contacts with the police. He takes the whole “stand your ground” thing to the extreme. As far as I know, he’s never done anything that would get him locked up. He’s either very smart or very lucky, wouldn’t you say? His son Arlen, though? That guy’s a total whack job. He’s been arrested a dozen times for bar fights and smacking the shit out of whatever girl he’s with at the time. He also doesn’t even go to the bathroom without a gun, or so I’ve heard. He’s a total redneck in all of the worst ways and none of the good ones. I’ve seen him chained to the bench more times than I can remember; usually drunk and yelling his head off. He’s a regular around the station and not in a good way. He belongs in a cage. We just haven’t been able to keep him in one.

“Sir? Are they going to take his property this time? He hasn’t paid his taxes in what? Two years? Don’t they throw you in jail for that?”

“I don’t know, Allison. The detectives reached out to the IRS about that, but I don’t know if they ever heard back from them. I think we can expect real trouble if they try, though. Painter’s made an ass of himself in court plenty of times and he’s threatened to defend his land at any cost. I think we have to take him seriously about that last part. I’m hoping he’ll come to his senses and hire a lawyer and work out a settlement.”

The guy I met? Not happening! I’ve heard him rant and rave about lawyers. He doesn’t like them any more than he likes the government or taxes. Where do these people get the idea that they don’t have to pay their taxes? I mean, when they go to the store and buy something, they pay the sales tax, don’t they? They don’t scream about how they’re not going to pay it, right? It’s just more of the same. Pay the damned taxes! I was broke for years and I still paid them! I didn’t like it, but I didn’t scream like a howler monkey about it! I didn’t want to go to jail for tax evasion.

“All right, people! That’s about it! Football preseason starts next week so the station pool is up and running. You can all bet on how bad the Cardinals are going to do this year.”

I’m not big on football, but Sergeant Kettering really seems to take the Cardinals’ dismal record personally. I never quite understood it. Then again, I don’t understand sports at all. Unless you count miniature golf. As you might remember, I got pretty good at that when I was going through my divorce.

“Sir? Maybe they’ll win this year?”

“Allison, when I die? I’m going to have six of their starting lineup serve as my pallbearers just so they can let me down one last time. All right, that’s it! Everybody go to work!”

See what I mean? I just don’t get it. How does anyone get so worked up about a game when they’re not the one playing it? Then again, I’m from Las Vegas and they didn’t have a football team until recently, I think. Maybe I don’t know what I’m missing?

“Are you going to bet in the pool, Rane?”

Oh, God! This is why he needs me around all the time! He needs me to keep him out of trouble!

“Sarge, what did I tell you? One of the first rules of gambling: never bet on anything over which you have zero control! You might as well set a match to your money!”

He knows I understand gambling. I’m a math major and I grew up in Las Vegas. It’s practically in my DNA. It’s also why I don’t gamble. I’ve seen too many people lose their shirts doing that. No, thank you!

“So what should I bet on?”

Is he even listening to me? Sometimes I honestly wonder!

“Bet on us. That’s the only sure bet you’re ever going to find.”

“I won’t argue with that. Come on, let’s get out in the field. See what the city has for us tonight.”

I’m hoping it’s not too much. I’d like a nice, easy shift tonight. I got up too early and I’ll be here until just after midnight, so I’m a little worn out. Yes, something exciting would wake me up in a hurry, but something exciting is what usually ends up scaring the crap out of me or else sending me home with bumps and bruises – or worse. I’m not looking for the rest of my career to be smooth sailing, but I enjoy the occasional boring night where nothing bad happens and we get off on time. Most of us do. And after everything we’ve been through this summer? We could all use a break.

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