Project Wraith

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Summary

Detective Sergeant Allison Rane and Sergeant Frank Varanasi find themselves facing a drug cartel and a mysterious branch of the government intent on maintaining secrecy at any cost. Fighting to shut down an industrial-scale meth lab while dealing with shadowy federal operatives seeking a conspiracy theorist who claims to have a fragment of a UFO stolen from a top-secret government laboratory, Allison and the Sarge are in the crosshairs of two determined and seemingly unstoppable forces who operate above the law. The pressure mounts and Allison is forced into an alliance with the powerful and corrupt Randall Schoen to put an end to the threat to the city and a threat to national security at the highest level. Will they survive a war with two opponents with unlimited resources and power beyond reason? Book six of the Allison Rane Sniper Girl series.

Genre:
Action / Drama
Author:
Haley Donohue
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
36
Rating:
4.9 14 reviews
Age Rating:
16+

"Need to Know Only"

Oh, the life of a typical American police officer! It’s not what you probably think. She’s not going from one blazing shootout to the next, despite what a million TV cop dramas would have you believe. While I’ve had more than my share of shootouts in the last two years – due more to a string of bad luck that never seems to end rather than anything else – most of my time on-duty is filled with far more mundane tasks. In fact, I’m performing one of them right now: writing traffic tickets. If you’re a police officer in America, then writing tickets is going to be a big part of what you do. At least until you make lieutenant, anyway. I don’t imagine there’s a police force in the country where lieutenants and above write many tickets. Some departments don’t have sergeants writing tickets, but smaller ones – like ours – still do. Tickets generate revenue for the city or the county or whatever your department serves. They also educate the public, though I think the only real education is for the cop writing the ticket. Write a few tickets and you’ll learn all sorts of new insults courtesy of the person who’s getting the ticket. If you thought you’d heard them all? Trust me, you haven’t. I hear a new one at least every third time I write one.

Now, I don’t have it as bad as a lot of my fellow officers. I’m a woman and I’ve got the kind of physical assets – I think you know what I’m talking about – that can be very distracting to a lot of people. A lot of guys, anyway. Still, nobody likes to get a ticket and most of them are pretty expensive, so the guy will stare at my boobs or my ass for only so long before launching into a profanity or vulgarity-strewn tirade. That’s the right word, isn’t it? Tirade? That’s especially true if I don’t hand them my phone number or just drop to my knees and start blowing them – which I never do, by the way. Kind of like this dork, here. I’m pretty sure they cover in driver’s education the fact that you can’t make a U-turn in a business district. Especially if there’s a big fucking sign in front of you that says “No U-Turn.” This guy wasn’t paying attention to that. The fact that he made an illegal U-turn right in front of my marked police car seemed like a personal insult. It’s early afternoon. The sun is shining. There were no visual obstructions. There’s no way he didn’t see me right behind him. That’s pretty much why he’s getting the ticket.

I usually have to go through a little routine when writing tickets. Most cops walk up to the car, ask for a license and registration and proof of insurance, and then ask “Do you know why I stopped you?” When they say “I have no idea,” then you explain the violation to them. In my case, it’s usually a little different. I make it up to the guy’s car and ask for the license, registration, and proof of insurance and then I have to watch the dork have a conversation with my boobs. I’m talking zero eye contact with me. The look on their face usually suggests they’re wondering what I look like in sexy lingerie or maybe even leather. Then they check for a wedding ring and when they see I don’t have one, they start with the charm – if you can call it that. They might even stop staring at my boobs while they do it. But when they find out they’re not getting my phone number but they are getting a ticket? That’s when the – what’s the word I’m looking for? Invective. That’s when the invective starts. Things frequently go downhill from that point.

Some dickheads see I’m a woman and think they can take me. They might even get out of the car and try to intimidate me. That usually gets them a face-full of Mace. Then there are the ones where the wife or the girlfriend is in the car with them. When that happens, the stupid guys tend to forget she’s there and they start trying to hit on me. You can imagine how that goes over with the wife or the girlfriend. Some girlfriends immediately see me as some sort of threat to their territory and get in my face. I’m not trying to steal your guy, sweetie. I’m trying to write him a ticket. And if the dork I’m pulling over is a woman? Then I can expect either the “How can you do this to me? You’re a woman, too! Whatever happened to the sisterhood?” routine or else the look in her eye that practically screams “Is she prettier than me? Look at her ass! Rotten bitch! I hate you!” I get a lot of both of them. Fortunately, this dickhead is alone in the car. Unfortunately, he’s obviously no stranger to getting tickets and he’s been screaming at me how he’s going to lose his insurance with one more traffic conviction. Not my problem, pal! You don’t want to get tickets? Don’t do stupid, illegal crap right in front of a cop! Is that such a difficult concept to wrap your head around?

“Sign on the line right by the ‘X.’ Your signature is not an admission of guilt. You’ll receive information in the mail regarding how to either pay the citation or request a court trial. If you fail to do either one by the deadline printed on the ticket, the ticket will turn into a misdemeanor traffic warrant and you’ll be subject to arrest.”

“If I pay the goddamned ticket, I won’t be able to drive anymore! Do you know what you’re doing to me? Do you?”

Yes, I do. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let you off the hook. I saw your driving record on the computer in my car. You’re what the Sarge calls a “road menace.” You earned this ticket, pal. And all of the other ones, I’m guessing.

“If you feel the citation is in error, you can always request a trial. You can even have a lawyer represent you at the trial.”

Some of our local lawyers actually specialize in fighting traffic tickets. You see their billboards all over town. It’s not cheap to hire them, but they do seem to win a lot of their cases so maybe it’s worth it in the long run?

“This is a goddamned disgrace! You should be out catching real criminals instead of harassing law-abiding citizens like me! Do you have any idea how much crime there is in this town? Just this year, we had some crazy cult slicing up people in an abandoned house! And then we had some goddamned militia group shooting up everything they happened to come across! But you’re out here harassing people like me! What’s the matter? Are you too scared to go up against a bunch of real criminals?”

I suppose I could tell him how I was right in the thick of both of those cases, but I don’t think I will. It probably wouldn’t make any difference to this guy.

“No, but it might interfere with my traffic enforcement. You sign right by the ‘X.’ Remember, it’s not an admission of guilt.”

“How much is this one going to cost me?”

“I have no idea. They’ll tell you that when they send you a letter about it. If you don’t receive the letter in thirty days, call that number on the back of the citation.”

Rule number one: never tell them how much the ticket will cost. For one thing, you never know. I’m told the fines aren’t exactly set. I guess whenever the city needs more revenue, they jack up the fines. You don’t want to get caught telling the guy that the fine is going to be fifty bucks and he ends up getting a bill for three hundred bucks. That’ll come back to bite you.

“This is going to cost me my insurance! How am I supposed to drive if I don’t have any insurance?”

“There’s always the bus.”

Well, there is! I know! I’ve ridden it more times than I can remember! Besides, he’s a rotten driver. Your license is a privilege, not a right. If you constantly abuse the privilege, somebody’s going to take it away from you.

“You’re a real bitch, you know that? I hope you get hit by a car!”

As long as he signed it, I don’t care what he thinks. Give him his copy and…

“Thank you. Try to drive safely. Have a nice day.”

“Go fuck yourself! Goddamned cunt!”

Another satisfied customer. And while I hate to admit it, we have a quota for tickets on this department. Unless you’re a Traffic unit, you have to write at least four of these things a month. In some stations? They want two a day. And if you’re a Traffic unit? They expect four or five per day. I used to write a lot of them when I was working Traffic. I hated it. Not so much the constant insults, but I really hated going to traffic court so much. I’ve never seen a bigger waste of time in my life than traffic court. What they should be able to do in twenty minutes usually takes eight hours. And that’s if they even get to your case on the day of the trial. I’ve sat in traffic court for three days, nine hours per day, just to take care of one traffic ticket. The motorcycle officers write twenty of those things a day, five days per week. I don’t know how they stand it. It takes a special kind of masochist to be a motorcycle cop, don’t you think? You get a cool bike, though. That’s something.


Another traffic scofflaw taught a valuable life lesson by the heroic boys and girls in uniform. Wasn’t that fun? Yes, about as much fun as a root canal with a dull drill and no Novocain. You ask ten thousand cops if they enjoy writing tickets and I guarantee at least nine thousand nine hundred and ninety are going to tell you they hate it. But that’s the life of a uniformed patrol officer; even a Detective Sergeant like myself. It’s your old pal Allison Rane: ever-fighting champion of justice and trained police sniper. Oh, and scourge of traffic scofflaws. I can’t forget that one, can I? It’s a new year and I’m hoping for peace and quiet, though I’m not likely to get it. You know what I’ve been through in the last two years so you know my life is likely to fall apart on me at any moment now. That’s the Allison Rane curse, as I’m sure you’re familiar with it. It’s what’s gotten me my reputation as a total shit magnet, but I really think that’s putting it mildly. I don’t just find myself getting into shit. No, I get into full-blown apocalyptic shit that destroys everyone and everything in sight. I really wish I could get that curse lifted. I just don’t know how to do it. Magic and curses and spells and stuff aren’t exactly in my wheelhouse. I don’t know if they’re in anyone’s wheelhouse. I think I’m stuck with it. Total bummer, huh?

You’re probably wondering how I’ve fared since the great raid on the Painter ranch. Well, about as well as can be expected. I’m sure you remember what happened. Who could possibly forget it? We got hurt and we got hurt massively. We didn’t have the people or the tools or a bunch of other things we needed and it came back to bite us worse than an alligator snapping his jaws shut on your hand. I can’t say that’s ever happened to me, but I’ve seen plenty of videos on YouTube about it. As you’ll recall, we got shot to shit. First, we went up against what we thought was a bunch of anti-immigrant psycho militiamen called the Arizona Auxiliary Force, but it turned out they weren’t. They were an auxiliary crew to a prison gang. The dorks called themselves the Sixth Commando. The prison gang thought we’d been working a member of their gang as an informant and they wanted payback, so they got their flunkies on the outside to impersonate the AAF and wage a guerilla war with the police. We ended up fighting a war on two fronts when the real AAF showed up to help Clevis Painter’s stupid kid murder him so he could inherit his old man’s property. Some kid, huh? And in the end, he ended up murdering two of our officers. He’s sitting in jail awaiting his trial, which might not start for a year. Imagine having that cloud hanging over your head for that long and you’ll get an idea of what I’ve been feeling like lately. Oh, and to top it all off? Clevis Painter got a total walk. We didn’t really have any charges against him. I admit, it was pretty nice of him not to shoot me when he had the chance, but that tax beef he had with the IRS? His lawyer got it knocked down to almost nothing. I’m talking about pocket change. Painter’s back on his ranch with his daughter and we haven’t heard a peep out of him since then. I hope it stays that way.

On that note, you’re probably wondering what’s up with the police force these days. It’s been three miserable, horrible, depressing months since the Sixth Commando and the Arizona Auxiliary Force turned our fair city into a total war zone. Some aspects of the investigation are still going on, if you can believe it. I thought the thing with the Nine Signs cult was bad, but this recent one really tore the city apart. We weren’t ready for it and we were too shorthanded to deal with it and we got hurt. We got hurt massively. Officers shot, officers killed, and officers left wondering why the hell they were still doing the job. Officers who’d never fired their weapons in the line of duty winding up with more shootings in a couple of weeks than most cops in America get into in a career. Officers with serious wounds that might not ever heal completely. Officers who put in their papers and left for greener pastures, as the Sarge would say. Yes, we got hurt. And it’s not over yet.

Some of us – including yours truly – got saddled with trying to hold everything together. We had to set the example and try to raise morale in a department where morale was completely devastated. We had to encourage everyone to keep going every day and do the job as if none of that crap had ever happened. Throw in the anti-police sentiment that’s been turning the country upside-down these days and I think you can imagine how that worked out. I’ll tell you this much: I’m massively proud of everyone. Even the people who decided they couldn’t take it anymore and left. The fact that they didn’t all go crazy and turn into hopeless alcoholics is a testament to each and every one of them. I think it’s more than character. They’re just fantastic people. If any good came of it, it’s that I can appreciate that now. There was a time when I wasn’t so invested in the job and I’d have probably been one of the first people to bail on everyone. My, how times change, don’t they?

Were there any rays of light, you ask? Well, I’d have to say there were a few. The war with the Sixth Commando and the AAF coming so soon after the great shootout on Grey Hawk Plain pushed the city into action. Hearings were held by the city council into the deficiencies of the police response. We laid it out for them in no uncertain terms: we weren’t deficient. We were underfunded. We were understaffed. We didn’t have the manpower, we didn’t have the equipment, and we didn’t have the resources to deal with that kind of insanity back to back. Anyone who so much as hinted that it was all due to something else got an earful from us. We had officers gathered over at City Hall for every day of the hearings. We were going to force them to listen to us and that’s exactly what we did. We made it clear that we wouldn’t accept any bullshit promises to do something in the future. We needed help and we needed support and we needed the city to fork over some serious cash right now! Not in a few years. We did a good job of getting the citizens on our side, which totally pissed off the city council. One of those dorks actually got on the local news and said he didn’t appreciate the police putting so much pressure on them. Well, boo-hoo! How the hell do you think we felt? Going out there every day and every night knowing those assbags were out their waiting to put some bullets in us? We’re lucky we didn’t wind up with a dozen officers killed! As far as we were concerned, those hearings were nothing less than a fight for our very survival. We weren’t going to lose. No way, no day!

Some of the testimony was gut-wrenching. Listening to Jimmy Corrales talk about watching Cassie Vincenzo get shot point-blank in the head? Or the Sarge talk about how we had to scrape together a team out of officers who weren’t trained to go up against a force like the AAF? Even listening to Agent Nunez lay out his superiors in Washington over how they withheld critical information from us about the Sixth Commando and who they represented? Their ties to the Aryan Brotherhood? I’m sure you’ll remember how angry I was with him at the time, but he definitely stepped up for those hearings. I was wondering if he’d still have a job by the time he was done, but it looks like he does. Even his boss testified that leaving us in the dark was practically a crime and they had blood on their hands because of it. The FBI’s big case against the Aryan Brotherhood? It went nowhere. In fact, all they ended up doing was making the Brotherhood stronger by locking up a bunch of those Sixth Commando dickheads. Now that they’re locked up for the rest of their lives? They’re all full-fledged members of the AB in the federal prison system. New soldiers for their private war. How nice, huh?

It wasn’t just the police and the FBI who testified, either. We had citizens testify about how they wanted their “Vigilance Committees” given official sanction by the city council. They argued that the police were too shorthanded to protect the citizens so they should be able to do it for themselves. I think you can imagine how that went over. It did present an opening for old Randall Schoen to get on his soapbox and talk about how what the city really needs is more of his goons taking over the law enforcement duties. No one was very happy to hear that, but he already made a killing – pardon the pun – on the carnage we experienced. Businesses all over town signed contracts with RSS Security Services to provide protection for them. There’s even a rumor that Schoen’s created some tactical unit within RSS that can compete with the Green Berets or some such nonsense. Word has it they’re armed like you wouldn’t believe. In the meantime? Half the calls we receive lately are about idiots who mixed it up with RSS and got beaten to a pulp. What can we do about it? Not a damned thing. Randall Schoen’s too powerful. If we arrested any of his thugs, they’d be out before we finished the paperwork. That’s how it works around here. It really sucks.

In the end, we received a major infusion of cash for equipment and training. Our SRT unit is finally going to get the tools they need for the job and we’re cycling as many officers as we can through an intensive officer survival training course. I’ve been conducting a lot of it with what’s left of our SRT unit. Sigma team is the only full-strength SRT unit left, so Lima team – or what’s left of it – is handling most of the training. It’s hard and intense, but everybody knows what’s at stake. We never want to be caught unprepared like we were back at the Painter ranch. We can’t train everybody up to SRT standards, but we’re going to try to train as many people as we can the best that we can. Some people aren’t happy about that – the whole “militarization of the police” thing again – but we’re not listening to them. Not after what we went through. If this is what it takes to keep our people alive out there, then that’s what we’re going to do. I don’t give a damn if it makes people uncomfortable. Let them put on a uniform and do the job and then we’ll see if they feel the same way about it. I don’t think they will. Remember that dork Alan Sherman? The one who was with me in the abandoned building when those Sixth Commando dickheads tried to kill me? He wasn’t the strongest witness we had, but he testified that he didn’t see any other way to deal with psychos like that than with overwhelming deadly force. He was right, too. And remember: he was no conservative right-winger. He was definitely a liberal guy. He was a member of that committee that was sent here because they thought we were getting into too many shootings. They really didn’t expect him to be testifying in support of us and our tactics. It came as quite a shock to them. That whole investigative committee kind of disappeared after that. They kind of ran out of steam in the wake of it all. We weren’t sorry to see them go.

So here we are, even more shorthanded than we were during the whole AAF thing. Our people are overworked and stressed out like you wouldn’t believe. It’s taken a toll. A lot of them have been banging in sick for all sorts of ailments that the city doctors say are related to stress. And the people who got shot? Bullet wounds don’t heal in ninety days. Not most of them, anyway. The city had to offer special monetary incentives to get some of them to agree to come back on light duty just so we could put every healthy officer out in the field. I wish the solution were that simple. Some of the people they’ve put out in the field? They haven’t been out there in years. They were basically the lazy ones who just wanted to do as little as possible and collect a paycheck for it. They’re not what you’d call hard-chargers and the effects of it are showing: arrests are down, response times to calls are way up, and a lot of them just aren’t doing anything except for driving around and trying not to get involved in anything until they can go back to their desk jobs or whatever they did before. It’s made me appreciate the real cops on this department a lot more than I ever did. It’s also made me ashamed that I spent a lot of years doing this job without really understanding what it was all about. I wasn’t a drone, but I was definitely one of the sleepwalkers. Thank God I got over that, huh?

So here I am, trying to hold things together and wondering every minute if I’m making the right call. Thank God I’ve got the Sarge to guide me. He’s a rock, just like always. A lot of us have been looking to him for leadership, particularly since Lieutenant Shears is still laid up. He came back to work a week ago, but he’s still all messed up and walking with a cane sometimes. The doctors think he’ll make a full recovery, but he’s not certified to be in the field so he’s stuck at his desk and you’d better believe he’s not happy about that. I’m still officially an Element Leader for SRT even though we never figured out how I’m supposed to do that when I’m the lead sniper. Since Lima team isn’t ready to handle callouts, it hasn’t been an issue. But it will be sooner or later, so somebody’s either going to have to figure it out or I’m going to have to take this diamond off of my sergeant’s stripes. Believe me, it’s about the least of my worries right now. Working patrol is actually one of the things that’s keeping me sane these days. Normal police work. It’s kind of a Godsend to me. How weird is that?

So what else is new? Well, drug dealers. We’ve always had them – this town is awash in drugs and has been since the seventies – but it’s gotten especially bad lately. You see, the Mexican government finally pulled their head out of their ass and launched a crackdown on the meth labs just across the border from us. That chased a lot of them out of the country, and where did they go? Straight across the border and into Arizona. It turns out that wasn’t the brightest idea in the world. The border’s become a real hotspot since the last election. The dickheads have been moving north ever since; trying to get away from the Border Patrol and the local extremist militias. Yes, Arizona has extremist militias. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to you. If the Border Patrol doesn’t arrest them, then the extremist militias either shoot them or hang them. You heard me right: they sometimes hang people. That’s been happening a lot and none of the cases have been solved. I don’t think they will be. People in these parts don’t have a problem with drug dealers getting a little frontier justice, if you know what I mean. So it comes as no surprise that the dealers found their way up here; far enough away from the border but not too far from it. The dealers didn’t set up in town, but they’re just west of us out in the desert somewhere. Word has it they’ve got a pretty big setup out there. Not some rinky-dink trailer park meth lab, but a big place with lots of equipment and who knows what else. Word has it they’re in cahoots with one of the Mexican drug cartels. The result? In the last three weeks, we’ve seen more meth in this city than in the last three years combined. Rumor has it the stuff’s been tinkered with, though I don’t exactly know what that means. What’s to tinker with, right? Because it’s local and there’s so much of it, the price has dropped to rock bottom. The local meth heads are absolutely giddy. It’s not a good situation. And the worst part? We don’t know where the meth lab is. We’ve had Aviation and drones flying all over the place trying to spot it, but so far we haven’t been able to find it. Wherever it is, it’s well-hidden. It’s a major problem, too. I don’t know what we’re going to do about it.

Beyond that, we’re just hanging on by the skin of our teeth. We’ve had a lot of people resign, go to other departments, go out on stress, or just take longer than we thought to come back from their injuries. Jimmy and Lonnie are back, but they’re not full-duty yet. As soon as they are, we’re putting them in SRT whether they like it or not. They’re a couple of battle-hardened veterans now and we need them. We need twenty more just like them, but we’re not likely to get them. Nobody wants to join SRT right now. I think you can understand why. A lot of our people are walking around in a daze, which isn’t a good thing for a cop under the best of circumstances. Our people all need a break and there’s no way to give them one. Not when we’re so damned shorthanded. The brass has been making all sorts of grand promises about “as soon as we’re back on our feet, we’re going to make sure all of you get…” Sure, pal. Blah, blah, blah. The only thing we’re getting for certain is a pay raise. The union had to make sure the city put it in writing that they couldn’t hold up the money or use it for anything else. Our city leaders? They probably had that money spent six different ways before it was even scheduled to get to us. This way, they can’t steal it. It’s something, but not enough. The big hiring push? Forget it. Not in this economy. Between the new federal taxes that they promised wouldn’t hit anyone who wasn’t rich – you can guess how that one turned out – and the inflation that’s hitting the whole country, they said they can’t afford it. We’ve got exactly eighteen people in the academy right now and they’re already talking about canceling the next class. As the Sarge would say, we’re the Lost Patrol. The world forgot about us, but we’re still here and we’re still trying to find our way back home. It’s definitely slow going.

On the good news front, the Sarge healed up nicely for the gunshot wound to his leg. Through-and-through. He’s lucky the bullet didn’t start to tumble. At the range he was shot? It could’ve blown his leg right off. He’s fine. He’s his usual grumpy self, but it’s one of the things I love about him. We’re still training like crazy and we’re looking at revising the entire SRT sniper course to place more emphasis on long-range shots. We’re starting to envy those guys in the major cities. We trained with some cops from New Orleans last month and they said the longest sniper shot they’ve had to take inside the city was one hundred thirty-one yards. Imagine that! That’s practically point-blank range compared to some of the shots I’ve had to take. They said most of their shots are taken at fifty yards or less. It must be nice, huh? Out here? I’ve had to take shots at people who were in a different zip code. We need to get everyone up to speed on shots like that. Who knows if someone else will have to take a shot at that distance because I’m not around to do it? We need to be ready. We all need to be ready.

Because we’ve been doing so much training of current officers and of the ones who are crazy enough to try out for SRT, we’re not really on a set schedule. I had some time to kill so I went out on patrol just to keep my head in the game. I’ve been on-duty since six o’clock this morning and it’s almost six in the evening, so I’m going back to the station to pack it in for the day. A twelve-hour shift with no lunch break is enough dedication for one day, don’t you think? And I even wrote two tickets. Our Watch Commander Sergeant Kettering will be happy with that. The brass is on everyone’s ass to write more tickets. Uncle Sam may have jacked up all of our taxes, but the city doesn’t seem to be getting any of it. They need some locally-generated revenue. I guess I contributed at least two hundred bucks’ worth of revenue to the city’s coffers today. Assuming the drivers decide to pay them, that is. A lot of people don’t pay their tickets. When I was working Traffic, I sometimes thought I was the only person in the city who didn’t have an outstanding traffic warrant. And yes, that included some of my fellow officers.

There’s the station. Home, sweet home. I think I’m spending more time on-duty than off-duty, so that’s not really an exaggeration. These long shifts are really cutting into my schlock movie time. Not to mention some other more important and enjoyable activities, as I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

“Three Lincoln, show me at the station and end of watch.”

“Three Lincoln, roger. Have a good one.”

I’ll settle for a decent meal. My cooking skills are coming along, but not fast enough. I’m thinking a roast beef sandwich and a side of rice from Jake’s will do for now. I just have to keep it away from Beefy the dog. Roast beef? That’s like crack cocaine to a dog. The sun’s going down and by about ten o’clock it’ll probably be in the low fifties out at our cabin. Fine by me! I’ll crawl into bed, pull the blankets over me and get a good night’s sleep. I need it. I’ve been working myself to exhaustion at the training field. I start with the Sarge and my sniper training and after a grueling four hours, I start in on training everybody else. Some days, I get so tired that by about three in the afternoon, I’m not really paying attention anymore. Time off? Forget it. I’m lucky if I get a full two days off per week. The job is running me right into the ground and I’m not the only one. We really need to find a way to let up on the pressure before we all start collapsing.

Right now, I’m hoping I don’t fall asleep on the drive home. I’ve got half a mind to go home in uniform so I don’t have to change my clothes at the station. You know how when you’re dead tired and there’s a bench to sit on, changing you clothes can suddenly become the most difficult thing in the world to do? That’s kind of how I feel right now. I’m afraid I might fall asleep sitting on the bench. I’ve done it before in the last three months. When you fall off and bang your head on the floor? It isn’t fun.

Into the station and the first thing that hits you is the blast of cold air from the air conditioner. It was in the eighties today, but it’s cooled off a lot since the sun started setting. They really need to turn off the blowers. It feels like stepping into a freezer. There’s Sergeant Kettering, our Nightwatch Watch Commander. I swear, I don’t think he gets any days off anymore. It seems like every afternoon, there he is. The stress has been getting to him as much as any of us. Well, that and the fact that the Cardinals choked in the playoffs or something. I think it’s pretty damned good that they got that far, but not to him. He’s a winner-take-all kind of guy.

“Here you go, sir: two moving violations to add to the Nightwatch recap. I’m going home.”

“Good idea. You look like you’re really dragging.”

“Did I miss anything interesting today?”

That look on his face tells me I did, and it was nothing good. There’s a lot of that going around here lately.

“A couple of meth heads went at it over by the truck stop. One of them gouged out the other guy’s eye. By the time our people got him cuffed, the son of a bitch had a stroke or something. He’s over at one of the hospitals hooked up to about a half-dozen machines. This new batch of meth is stronger than anything we’ve ever seen before. Even healthy young people are seizing up from it. The dealers are spiking it with some kind of crap and it’s making the meth heads crazy.”

So I’ve heard. And our Narcotics people don’t know what to do about it. The stuff’s everywhere. It’s everywhere and it’s dirt cheap. It’s easier to find crystal meth around here than it is to find a place that sells beer. What does that tell you about this town these days?

“Just tell me none of our guys got hurt.”

“Not this time. Not that we could afford it. We just lost another officer on the day shift to injuries. Muldoon got bit by a coral snake. What does that make? Three for him?”

I think I told you about Muldoon: the man with absolutely zero luck with animals. Yes, I think this would be the third time he got bit.

“We’ve got coral snakes here?”

“Oh, yeah. Arizona coral snakes. The venom’s worse than a rattler. They say it’s closer to a cobra. He reached under some boards looking for a dope stash and got bit. His hand swelled up like the Goodyear blimp. He’s over at the hospital getting pumped full of anti-venom. They say he’ll be out for a week at least.”

I honestly don’t know how Muldoon does it. If it’s an animal, he’ll end up getting injured by it. If he ever went to the zoo? He wouldn’t make it out alive. I’m sure of it. So Arizona’s got it’s own coral snake? Just wonderful! Another poisonous creature I’ve got to worry about! As if the rattlesnakes, Gila Monsters, Black Widow spiders, and scorpions weren’t enough! Why does everything in this state have to be lethal? It’s like…maybe the state motto should be “Come to Arizona where everything can kill you!” That’ll attract the tourists, don’t you think?

“Just don’t tell me we’re going back to one-man units. Not after what we’ve been through.”

“There’s no talk about it, but once we get a new chief? All bets are off.”

Yes, our dickhead chief saw the writing on the wall and skedaddled right after the whole thing with the Sixth Commando and the AAF. He was already going to leave, but that really sealed it for him. He was something of a dickhead, but he wasn’t stupid. He knew he was going to come in for massive shit once the hearings on everything that happened got underway. He’s gone. Chief Gone is gone for good. Who will be the next chief? We don’t have a clue. A lot of the brass came in for major criticism because of how bad things got with those nut job incidents, so none of them are currently in the running to be the next chief. Cassidy made it pretty clear he wanted the job, but he got raked over the coals in those hearings. He was in charge of daily operations and we ended up with two standoffs and a hostage situation at the same time, so he wound up looking pretty bad. There’s also the numerous allegations of sexual harassment he’s racked up over the years. That doesn’t go over too well these days. Deputy Chief Drake Coleman is kind of the acting chief, but he doesn’t have any real chief’s authority. He’s just a figurehead. He’s got to run everything by the city council before he can do anything. He’s probably spending most of his days playing Candy Crush on his phone.

“Thanks for that little morale booster. My log’s in the box. I’m going home. Don’t call me for any disasters. I’m going to get something to eat and then I’m going straight to bed. I need the sleep.”

“What if we need your sniper skills?”

“Call Doug Surma. He’s working tonight.”

“What if he’s busy?”

I know he’s just screwing with me. He does this whenever I’m totally dead on my feet.

“There are two deer rifles in the kit room. Improvise! Good night!”

“Allison! I need to see you for a minute!”

Lieutenant Jutras. What does he want? It better not be any detective crap! I’m too tired to put on my detective hat right now!

“Can’t it wait until tomorrow, sir? I’m wiped out.”

“I’m afraid not. This should be pretty quick. Come on back in Detectives with me. There’s a couple of people who want to ask you about something.”

Uh-huh. I don’t think they’re going to like my answers. And I don’t even know what the questions are about.

“Who wants to talk to me?”

“They’re with DHS.”

The Department of Homeland Security? Why the hell would they want to talk to me? For that matter, why the hell would they want to talk to anyone on this department? The only contact we usually have with them is at the airport. The TSA screeners all work for DHS.

He’s leading me into the Conference Room. This had better not be some long, drawn-out thing. I’m too damned tired for that crap. Two guys in suits. One of them looks about fifty. The other one looks twenty years younger. Both of them have briefcases open on the table. If one of them pulls out a list of a hundred questions they want to ask me, I’m going to start screaming. I’m really tired!

“Detective Sergeant Allison Rane, this is Agent McCorkindale and this is Agent Kuehl. They want to ask you about an incident that took place three months ago.”

“Three months ago? I was shooting a bunch of assbags from the AAF and the Sixth Commando. Anything else, I probably don’t remember.”

And Agent McCorkindale rolls his eyes. Hey, I’m the Sniper Girl, remember? I tend to pick up on that crap.

“Sergeant Rane, we’re under the impression that you encountered an individual that we’re currently looking for. In fact, you may be the last person to have seen him. I realize three months isn’t exactly a fresh trail, but we’re trying to work any possible leads. Do you remember a conversation you had with this individual?”

And he hands me a picture of…oh, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me! That’s Myron! The conspiracy nut from Cydonia! The one who said he had a piece of an alien spacecraft that he ripped off from a secret government lab!

“Vaguely. Why do you want to know about him?”

“As I said, we’re looking for him. Do you remember…”

Time to cut through the bullshit and get everyone’s cards on the table so I can go home!

“Agent McCorkindale, is it? Agent, three months ago in this very station, I got an unexpected visit from what I can only describe as five Men in Black. They said they were from the government, but they wouldn’t give me their names or even tell me what agency they worked for. They said they were looking for that guy, too. So first, I want to see your credentials. Both of you. And second? I want to know why you’re asking me about this guy.”

And out come the credentials. Yes, those are DHS agent IDs. They’re for real. That’s a relief.

“All right, you two are legit. So why are you looking for him?”

“I’m not at liberty to disclose the specifics, Sergeant. I take it this means you do know him. Do you have any idea where he is right now?”

I’m not going to play this game with him. I’m too tired and I don’t like the whole “top secret” crap.

“I don’t know. Maybe the aliens took him?”

“Aliens?”

He clearly wasn’t expecting that answer. That’s not surprising. Let’s see how he handles this one.

“Yes, from the spaceship. You know, the one he had a piece of? He showed it to me. It was obviously a piece of a genuine UFO. No way was there any other explanation for it.”

Now this is interesting! Lieutenant Jutras’ eyes just got about three sizes bigger while our two DHS guys suddenly went pale! Hey, after my last encounter with so-called “government agents” about this thing? I figure the best course of action is to just throw it out there and see what happens. It looks like I scored a hit, too.

“He showed you…a fragment? A fragment of something?”

“Yes. An alien spacecraft. That’s what I said. Definitely not of this earth. So why are you looking for him?”

Look at these guys! They don’t know how to respond to that! And they’re not rolling their eyes like they think I’m screwing with them! After everything that happened with the Men in Black and now these guys? I seriously think Myron might’ve had a real piece of an alien spaceship! And if he didn’t? Then these dorks had better tell me what the hell is really going on!

“Sergeant Rane…you don’t seriously think…have you told anyone else about this…impression you had?”

“No, but after this little meeting? I probably will. So do you want to tell me what the hell is going on with this guy, or do I have to ask fifty people in town who might know the answer? Because this ‘need-to-know-only’ bullshit is really starting to grate on my nerves, guys. It’s been a rough couple of months around here, in case you didn’t know.”

What’s this? They’re packing up? That’s it? They’re not going to ask me anything else? Weird!

“Lieutenant, we’ll be in touch. Sergeant Rane, I have to instruct you not to discuss this meeting or anything that was said in it. This is a national security matter. There could be serious consequences if you were to…”

“Yeah, yeah. The Patriot Act, the National Security Act, and other pertinent federal laws. That’s what the Men in Black told me. So are we done?”

“For now. I expect your full cooperation in this matter. Both of you. As I said, we’ll be in touch.”

And away they go! That was definitely weird! Then again, so was my little meeting with the Men in Black three months ago. To be honest, I don’t know why they’re talking to me about this crap. I told the Men in Black that I met Myron only once, for about two or three minutes. I never saw him before or since. And I have absolutely zero idea of where he might be right now. Hell, for all I know? He really was abducted by aliens! This is the Arizona desert, after all. A lot of strange things have been reported to have happened around here. And now that I’m a fixture over at Cydonia? I admit: I’m a lot more open to possibilities like that. Weird, huh? That’s me; Allison Rane: sniper, nympho, weirdo!

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