Tactical Alert

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"And You Haven't Heard the Half of It"

We’re at a parking lot about a mile from the Oberlin Gardens Housing Project, pretty much licking our wounds. We may have won the battle, but we definitely took our lumps. The only reason that asshole with the pipe didn’t bust my head wide open was because I was wearing my riot helmet. Still, it did plenty of damage to my back. I can’t even lean over and touch my toes without practically screaming. Everybody else has plenty of bruises to show for it, too. We’re going to be black and blue by tomorrow, and right now, tomorrow seems like a very long way off. Harper and I took the brief pause in this disaster to call Helena and check on Emily. She’s fine, and Helena said don’t worry about anything. She’s going to take Emily back to her house for the night. God, she won’t get five minutes of sleep! But the strange thing is, I get the impression that Helena doesn’t need much sleep. The woman is a human dynamo. I’d give anything to have her stamina. I’m sure it’s some old Russian secret. God, if she could bottle it, she’d be the richest woman in the world!

That “scratch” on Harper’s chin is a little bit more than a scratch. He’s also got a welt on his arm just above his elbow from where some asshole whacked him with a stick. He’s trying to play it off like it’s no big deal, but I can tell he’s hurting. We all are. Frankly, we’re lucky to have made it this far. Things are going to be a lot worse from now on. It’s night, and the real assholes are out and about all over the division. It sounds like the Fourth of July around here, but those aren’t firecrackers. They’re gunshots. People are doing a lot of shooting all of a sudden. Sergeant Ivanell said they don’t have an accurate count of how many people have been killed in this thing already, but he said it’s in the double digits and it’s probably going to go a lot higher. Judging by the number of gunshots we’ve heard, I don’t doubt it. The news media is warning people to stay out of the south end and to keep the freeways clear for emergency vehicles. I don’t know how well it’s working, but we’ve seen a lot less traffic around here than I can ever remember. I guess the only people headed down here are reporters and assholes looking for trouble. They certainly came to the right place. Now that it’s dark, you can see the fires a lot easier. The sky to the east has this strange orange glow from the fires on the horizon. I’m actually afraid of what we’re going to find when we head over there, and we definitely have to head over there. That’s where the biggest housing projects are, and we’ve already heard at least a dozen emergency calls go out about shit happening over there. This riot isn’t anywhere near over.

I’m really worried about Sergeant Gellar. He took a hell of a pounding back at the Oberlin. Christ, I didn’t even see it! He’s got a nasty bruise on his left eye and his right knee got smashed pretty good, and he took some hard shots to the gut. He hung in there the whole time, but he’s not a young man and he’s already had some trouble with his heart. I want him to go back to the station, but he won’t do it. He’s as pigheaded as the rest of us. If he gets seriously injured out here, I’m going to kill him. He doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone and he should know it by now. Half of me respects the hell out of him and the other half wants to kick him right in the balls for being so goddamned stubborn. If he takes another thumping out here, I swear to God I’ll lock him in the trunk and drive his ass back to Central Division myself! He is not going to get killed out here! No fucking way in this or any universe known to man or God! He’s going to enjoy his retirement for the next forty years! I’ve already decided it!

“Dani! Over here! There’s a broadcast from the command post!”

Harper was listening to the radio, scanning different frequencies to see if we were getting any help out here. Maybe this is it?

“What did they say?”

“Just to stand by for a broadcast from the commander of the Emergency Operations Center. I didn’t know there was a commander of that thing.”

“I guess somebody decided to stick his neck out and take the reins. If he doesn’t fuck it up, he might just be the next chief.”

Frankly, I don’t give a shit about who’s in charge over there. I just want them to send all of those officers back into the field before we’re overrun by assholes or just die of exhaustion.

“All units, all frequencies, this is an order from the Emergency Operations Center. The department is now in full mobilization. Repeat: the department is now in full mobilization. All units in South Bureau and Central Bureau are to report to the command post immediately to be assigned to squads and await deployment orders. All stations in South Bureau and Central Bureau are to put Code 100 contingency plans into effect immediately. The Emergency Operations Center will be broadcasting on tac four for the duration of the emergency. Stand by for additional details.”

So there it is: we’re finally mobilized. They sure as hell took their sweet time about it! But they didn’t say they were sending anybody out from the CP. That means they’re not planning on redeploying until the morning. And what about the National Guard? When are they getting here? Shit, are they ever getting here? They didn’t say anything about the governor declaring a state of emergency. Without it, they won’t deploy the Guard unless the President federalizes it. Oh, this fucking sucks!

Titus looks as confused as I am. I wouldn’t think he understood what just happened. They don’t spend a lot of time on major citywide emergencies in the academy.

“Ma’am? What does it mean, the stations are to go to Code 100 contingency plans?”

“Code 100 is the emergency code for a police station under attack. They’re saying the stations in South and Central Bureaus are to batten down the hatches and turn into little fortresses for the duration. Translation: we’re not getting any help until morning. Hell, if the units still out here follow that order and head to the command post, we’ll have even less help.”

“We’re not going there, are we?”

“Hell, no! We’re not going anywhere near that place! We’re going to stay out here and do what we can. It may not be much, but we’re going to try. Do you have a problem with that?”

“No, ma’am. I didn’t sign up to sit in a parking lot and watch the city burn.”

Now I’m seriously impressed. That’s pretty damned gutsy for a guy fresh out of the academy; especially after what he just heard. He’s going to make a hell of a cop someday.

“Good man. All right, gather everybody up. We’re headed back out. Ask everyone if they’ve got everything they need. I don’t know if there’s anything left over at Woodlawn Station, but this is probably our last chance to grab anything before they lock the place down. We might not be able to get back in there after that.”

“What about the gas pumps? Some of the cars are running low.”

Sharp guy. He thought of that without me having to remind him.

“We’ll gas up over there before they go on lockdown. Once they do, they’ll shut off the pumps. We’ll have to drive to West Bureau to fuel up, and that’s a long-assed drive from here. Tell everyone this is our last chance to fuel up for the night. Make it fast. I don’t want to stay here much longer. Some idiot is likely to do a drive-by on us.”

“Ma’am, some of the guys are asking about food. Every place around here is either shut down or on fire. Any suggestions?”

“Nothing good. We may have to find a roach coach somewhere. They’re still out and about.”

“I really hate those things. I’m not complaining, but the food from those trucks makes me sick.”

“Then we have something in common. Come on, we need to get moving. We don’t have much time before Woodlawn drops their bandit barriers and bolts the doors.”

God only knows if that’ll be enough. If some psycho decides to plow a stolen car through the front entrance, that steel barrier won’t do much good. Of course, they’d have to get the car up the stairs first, but I wouldn’t rule it out. People have gone ape shit today. Anything’s possible.

I want to talk to Sergeant Gellar before we head out. I know he won’t stand down in the face of this shit, but I’m afraid he’s going to end up in the hospital if we run into another angry mob.

“Sarge! Got a minute?”

“What’s on your mind, Lynott?”

“You are. Are you sure you’re OK? You took a nasty thumping back there.”

“Says the girl who got hit with a pipe and knocked on her ass.”

Fair enough. I admit it: I’m the pot calling the kettle black. But right now, I don’t have a problem with that.

“Sarge, I’m what? About half your age? I’m really worried about you being out here with this shit going on. And now that it’s dark, things are going to get a lot worse. You heard that gunfire earlier. A lot of it is going to be flying at us.”

“I may not be as young as you are, but I’ve seen this before and you haven’t. You need me out here.”

“Sarge, nobody’s seen this before. This is ten times worse than any riot that happened in the seventies. Even Lieutenant Hagan said so. We’re not getting any relief until tomorrow morning at least. By sunrise, we’ll all be dragging. And that’s if we can even stand up. You know you’ve got a heart condition…”

“God damn it, Lynott! It’s a little angina is all! I’m fine! And I don’t want to hear any shit from you about it! When you’re the sergeant, you can tell me what to do. Not before then! Got it?”

“Roger that, sir. I’m just worried about you is all.”

“And I appreciate it. But I’m worried about all of you. This is my watch and you guys are in the line of fire with damned little backup. The units that are still in the field? At least half of them are going to heed that order and head straight for the CP. God only knows if they’re going to send anybody out anytime soon, what with that walking cluster fuck Doyle running the show.”

Deputy Chief Doyle? He’s running the EOC? How? He’s over at Detective Support Division. He’s one of the least hands-on members of the command staff we’ve got. He’s also one of the newest. Chief Mooney promoted him a few months ago. How is he the guy in charge of operations in a riot zone?

“How did Doyle end up in charge, sir?”

“Because nobody else wanted to stick their necks out and assume command. Not if they’ve got a prayer of being the next chief. Doyle’s got zero time in grade, so he’s not in the running. He probably thinks that if he sits tight and lets this thing play out, he can claim to have been the voice of reason while everyone else was losing their heads. He’ll set himself up for a future bid for the chief’s spot.”

More like they’ll crucify him for sitting on his ass and not doing shit in the face of a full-blown riot. Jesus, I think the entire command staff has lost their minds! Everyone except for Commander Mancia, and God only knows where he is right now. Doyle may have him under house arrest. If he’s the recognized commander of the EOC, then he’s got a shitload of discretionary power out here. Everyone is going to let him do whatever he wants. That way, they can point the finger at him if it all goes to shit. Ain’t politics grand?

“Sir, what about the National Guard? Anyone with a TV knows the Emerald City’s gone to hell in a shit basket. Where are they?”

“Ivanell’s looking into that as we speak. He’s got a contact over at the EOC feeding him information. I’m beginning to think he’s got the whole department wired. He knows somebody everywhere!”

Fortunately, he’s on our side now. We’re going to need that to survive this thing.

“What did he say?”

“That the governor’s waffling, but he’s scared shitless that the President is going to step in and take the decision away from him. Right now, it looks like we should have the Guard here by tomorrow afternoon. Don’t quote me on that. A lot can go wrong between now and then. Not to mention the fact that if they activate the Guard, we’ll lose some of our officers.”

Yeah, the department’s got more than a few guys serving in the Guard. If they get activated, it’s “Turn in your blues for camouflage, boys.” That’ll definitely suck. Fortunately, none of our watch is currently in the Guard.

“We still need them. The sight of military troops might take a lot of the wind out of this shit. Tomorrow afternoon?”

“I told you, Lynott: don’t quote me on that. That’s what Ivanell’s source over at EOC told him. Now that we’re mobilized, I’m hoping they’ll start pulling units from West Bureau and Valley Bureau and get them over here.”

“What watch are we on, Sarge?”

“Do you want to go to the CP and ask them?”

Yeah, not hardly! I’m not going anywhere near that fucking black hole! I don’t want to get sucked into it. I’ll probably never be seen again.

“So we’re pulling an all-nighter?”

“Unless we hear otherwise. As soon as we pull out of here, I want you and everyone else to keep your eyes peeled for somewhere to eat. Anywhere! I don’t care what it is, I need to get this watch some food. Going outside of the division is a no-go. The Highway Patrol is diverting traffic from around here. If we leave Woodlawn, we might not be able to get back in. Did you see any places while you were out there?”

Yeah, but they were either on fire or had their windows shattered and their doors kicked in. I think pretty much every place in this division is closed for the duration.

“Negative, but we’ll keep a lookout for something. In the meantime, I told Titus to take an inventory of everyone’s unit to see if there’s any gear we need. I figure we’ve got one last chance to grab shit from Woodlawn Station before they go into full-on lockdown mode. At least we can fuel up the cars there before they shut off the pumps.”

“Good thinking. I’m telling you, Lynott: you’re going to make a hell of a sergeant.”

“Yeah, when pigs sprout wings and fly.”

“I mean it. When I leave this watch, I expect to hand it over to you. I can’t think of anyone better qualified to take over.”

I think that blow to the head hurt him more than I originally thought.

“I’ll believe it when I see it. Come on, let’s go save the city – or at least, one block here and there.”

Maybe that’s it, isn’t it? We’ll get a block named after us down here. “On such and such date and time, Central Midwatch kept this one block of shitty real estate from being burned to the ground.” Somehow it’s almost fitting, don’t you think?

Back out in the war zone. We fueled up the cars, cleaned out what was left in Woodlawn Station’s kit room – which wasn’t much – and now we’re back out here. When we came in past this block on Symington, it was intact. Twenty minutes later, I can see at least three buildings on fire. Jesus, what do we hope to accomplish out here? We chase the assholes away and as soon as we leave, they come back with a can of gasoline and it’s flame on! This is fucking insane! It’s also taking a toll on all of us. I swear to God, Lieutenant Oliver looked ten years older than when we first saw him. Hey, I’m not surprised. His division’s been hijacked by lunatics, his officers are being held as virtual prisoners over at the command post, he’s had one officer shot in his division – two if you count Mossman – and he’s got almost nothing left to work with. When we pulled out of the parking lot, they were rolling down the steel bandit barriers in front of the station. They’re going to need it, too. There must be a dozen new bullet holes in the wall by the door and we counted exactly six people left inside. The busiest, most violent division in the city and they’ve got six people to hold down the fort. This shit would make anyone old before their time.

Lieutenant Oliver said he was staying put no matter what happens. I don’t know whether to admire him or to have him committed to a mental institution. I think it could go either way. There’s nothing on the outside of Woodlawn Station that will burn, but if some asshole cooks up a bomb and sets if off right next to one of the walls, fire is going to be the least of his worries. I guess the other South Bureau stations are doing the same. I wonder how many officers they’ve got left? Probably damned few, what with that new order for everyone to report to the CP. The ones who are left out in the field might think that because we’re mobilized, they’ll be sent out in squads like they were supposed to have been in the first place. Fat chance! They’ll be sitting on their asses until sunrise, and who knows what will happen after that? Doyle might decide to send everyone to a few predetermined locations to try to protect them, and if he does, then you can bet those places won’t be anywhere near where the shit is happening. Not to mention the fact that a few hundred officers who’ve been standing around in a parking lot since this morning won’t be in much shape to go out and fight. So as far as Woodlawn Division is concerned, it looks like it’s just us. Sixteen cops in a division where thirteen of them have never been before, operating under the worst possible circumstances. What’s wrong with this picture?

Before we left, Lieutenant Oliver said there were at least six confirmed homicides in the division that were riot-related, not counting the assholes. Six people who died because of this fucking riot. On a normal day, if six people were murdered anywhere in the city it would be front-page news. But today? One of the detectives was saying that if they get through this with only six homicides, they’ll consider themselves very lucky. And that’s just one division. Lafayette, Wilmington, Avalon, Eastside, Mid-City, and maybe even parts of Central Division? They’re all in the line of fire. Hell, the Westside divisions could be going to shit as well. We honestly don’t know. The news coverage we’ve been able to watch is all focused on the south end. The media says if it bleeds, it leads. They’ll have an abundance of lead stories thanks to this shit. At least somebody’s going to benefit from all of this misery.

Sergeant Gellar just radioed everyone that there’s a major 415 incident over at some fast food chicken place not too far from here. About thirty people in the parking lot fighting and the assholes trashed the place pretty good. We’re headed over there to see if anyone’s been hurt and if we can clear them out before someone gets killed. Just the thought of another melee with an angry mob makes me ache all over. Imagine how I’ll feel after I take another twenty punches? It’s times like this that make me wonder what the hell I was thinking when I signed up for the police department. I can almost hear my mom telling me “I told you so!” This has been one seriously rotten day. Here’s hoping it doesn’t get any worse.

“Guys, when we get to this place, I don’t want to wade into another brawl. I think we should stay in a linear formation and try to push them out of the lot. One more thumping and some of us aren’t going to be able to stand up straight.”

“Right there with you, Dani. Titus, you stick close. We’ve had a lot more experience with crowd control than you have. We tend to stick with the basic squad formations, but out here you have to be able to adapt on the fly. Just follow our lead.”

“Will do. Is this really accomplishing anything? I mean, we chase them out of one place and they just go hit another one.”

“Until we get a lot more help, that’s the best we can do. You’ve got to learn to savor the small victories. There aren’t a lot of big ones in this line of work.”

Well said, Harper. I really need to stop looking at the big picture and focus on what we can actually accomplish. It may not be much, but if even one person is alive at the end of this because of us, then it’ll be worth it. I have to keep reminding myself of that. We may not be able to save the property, but at least we can save a few lives and that’s what’s important.

“Dani! There it is! And it’s on fire!”

So much for grabbing a few pieces of chicken while we’re here. He’s right: the whole place is going up like a bonfire. And there are a bunch of people in the lot, and they don’t look too peaceful. Here we go again!

“Sixteen Central to all Central Midwatch units: we’re here. It’s just up ahead on the right side of the street. The one that’s burning.”

I can see in the mirror that the other units are hitting their lightbars. I’ll do the same. We want to show them the police are still on the job. Sometimes a show of force is just as effective as real force. God, I hope this is one of those times!

“Sixty Central to Sixteen Central, how do you want to handle this one?”

“Sarge, I think we should go in with a skirmish line and try to push them out. Don’t let them flank us. It’s our best chance of not getting into another knock-down/drag-out.”

“I agree. Sergeant Gellar and I will take the ends of the line. Give me Forty-Four and Ivanell for an arrest team if we need them. Force them out of the lot and into the one west of it. That’s a pretty small space, so they won’t be able to regroup and hit us again. I want the riot shields up front. Make sure everyone’s covered. And give Lieutenant Hagan that gas gun. I don’t know how useful it’s going to be in an open area, but maybe the sight of a few tear gas rounds will do the trick.”

“Roger that, Sarge. Just remember: we don’t have a lot of rounds for it. Sixteen out.”

There’s not much of a breeze going right now, but in a wide open area, that tear gas will disperse pretty fast. It’s much better suited to indoor use. If we only had SEU out here with us! They’ve got tear gas grenades that are specifically designed to work outdoors. Needless to say, they don’t let patrol go anywhere near those things and SEU is sitting over at the command post playing Candy Crush on their phones right now. All right, time to get into formation! Thank God Midwatch knows this shit backwards and forwards. We’ve had plenty of experience in Central Division mini-riots. This one is the real thing, though. All right, we’re in a single skirmish line and we’ve got the riot shields up front. Some people in the crowd are taking notice of us, but a lot of them are too busy fighting each other. I guess everybody’s come unhinged today. Trust me, that’s not a good thing.

“Sergeant Gellar! Call it!”

He’s right beside me and Harper so I can at least keep an eye on him. Stand by! This is it! He’s about to give the order to advance!

“Attention! This is the Metropolitan Police Department! This is an unlawful assembly! We order you to disperse immediately! Anyone who does not leave immediately will be subject to arrest! Leave now!”

And of course, they don’t pay a damned bit of attention to him. What else is new?

“Squad! Forward, march!

Here we go! Once more into the breach, as they say! March in step and try to look as intimidating as possible. Gee, a line of cops in riot helmets and shields with their nightsticks drawn? That should intimidate any sane person. Unfortunately, I think sanity took a vacation from the Emerald City today. Closing in on them! They’re not leaving, but they’re not forming up as a single crowd against us, either. What the fuck? They can’t really be that oblivious to us. Nobody is that stupid! A quick look over my shoulder and I see Lieutenant Hagan is about to let loose with a tear gas round. There he goes! Nice shot! Right in the middle of the crowd and he didn’t even hit anyone! I just hope they scatter before we get to that thing. We’re not wearing our gas masks. You can’t see for shit with those things on. About fifteen yards to go. Come on, people! Leave! We don’t want to hurt anyone and you definitely don’t want to get hurt! Go! Scram!

“Harper, do you see any weapons?”

“Not yet. I just hope no one gets in a car and tries to run us down.”

Yeah, thanks for reminding me about that! As if I didn’t have enough to worry about! Stand by! This is it! Just a few more feet! Some of them are turning to face us, and they definitely don’t look like they’re backing down! Contact! The fight’s on! Hit them! Jab them with my nightstick! Got you! You, too! There goes another tear gas round! Shit! We’re going to be right in the middle of it! Don’t think about it! Fight! Hit them! Titus has the shield! Don’t get too far away from him! Out in the open, it’ll be a knock-down/drag-out for sure! Everybody’s in the thick of it! Acevedo’s taking on two guys at once! Ruiz is swinging for the fucking bleachers! Focus! Stay in the fight! Hit them! Force them back!

“Lynott! Look out!”

Fuck! Right in the fucking face! What was that? A fucking beer bottle? God, that hurt! Shake it off! Keep fighting! I’ve got one squaring off with me! All right, motherfucker! You want to fight? Try fighting when you can’t see! Gas his ass! Right in the face! Hose him down good! Yeah, you’re fucking blind, now! Hit him! Again! He’s reaching for me! Whack his wrist! Got you! I think that broke it! He’s backing off! Yeah, but he can’t see! He just ran right into another guy and knocked him on his ass! Thanks for doing the work for me, asshole!

“Ma’am! Are you all right?”

“Still in it, Titus! Mover forward! Jab them! If they grab the shield, gas them!”

I think we’re getting the upper hand, but we’re taking a nasty pounding! There! That asshole’s got a bottle! Hit him! Don’t let him throw it! Again! Hit him again! Jab him in the gut! Now crack him on the collarbone! He’s down! Leave, motherfucker! Get the fuck out of here! We need to…fuck! I’m hit! Jesus, how did they get behind us? Oh, shit!

“Harper! Give me a hand!”

Christ! I’m down on the ground! That son of a bitch tackled me! He’s trying to take my gun! Hold it in! Hold it in the holster! Go for the backup gun in my pocket! Shoot him! Shoot this motherfucker! I’ve got it! Aim and…shit! Gunshots! Someone’s shooting! Who? It’s Titus! He dropped the suspect! Oh, Jesus! That was a kill shot! Right in the fucking head! This guy’s dead for sure! Christ, I’ve got blood all over me!

“Dani! Dani! Are you hit? Are you hit?”

“I’m all right, Harper! It’s not my blood! Nice shooting, Titus! I owe you one!”

He looks pretty freaked out. Jesus, if he didn’t hit anybody before, he sure as hell did this time! That’s a fatal shooting and he knows it! God almighty! This guy’s head is split wide open! Titus must’ve used a contact shot!

“Titus! Ease down! Holster your weapon! It’s all right! You did what you had to do! Holster up!”

At least he’s got the presence of mind to holster his gun. Holy fucking shit! One month out of the academy and he just had a point-blank fatal shooting! I’m amazed he’s not losing it right now!

“He was trying to take your gun, ma’am! I didn’t…I had no choice!”

“That’s right, you didn’t. It’s all right. You did the right thing. I was trying to shoot him myself. It was a good shoot. Are you OK?”

“Just…just a little shaken up. We need a sergeant.”

“We’ve got three of them and a lieutenant. It’s all right. You did good. You saved my ass. Thank you for that.”

“I think it freaked out the crowd. Most of them are running.”

Yeah, he’s right about that. They saw that asshole’s head explode like a cantaloupe and realized we weren’t fucking around! Jesus Christ! I’ve got his brains on my shirt! Fuck! Well, at least they’re not my brains!

“Sarge! Sergeant Gellar! We’ve got an OIS! Fatal!”

“Yeah, I saw it! Are you all right, Lynott? You took a hell of a hit from that guy!”

Actually, I was so startled by the gunshot that I didn’t even think about it. Now that I am, it hurts like a son of a bitch! He really slammed into me!

“I’m all right. He was going for my gun, Sarge. I’d just pulled my backup when Titus took him out. Two rounds; at least one to the head. It was a justified shooting.”

“I know. I saw it. Good work, Titus. Do you need a minute?”

“Maybe more than one, sir. I never…killed anyone before.”

“And you didn’t now. That stupid son of a bitch killed himself! He just made you the instrument of it! Don’t ever forget that. You did the right thing! You sure as hell cleared out the crowd, too! They started running as soon as they heard the shots!”

Yeah, I can hear a few people screaming over there. Watching a guy’s head explode will do that to you. There’s a woman over there who’s completely unglued, but there’s two guys dragging her off. Good! You all should’ve left when you had the chance! Especially you, asshole! Then Titus wouldn’t have had to JFK your fucking ass!

“Lynott, you and Harper take Titus back behind the line. Lieutenant Hagan just broadcast to Woodlawn Station that we’ve had another shooting. I don’t think they’ll send anyone out. They’re on total lockdown.”

“So what do we do about the fatality?”

“Take plenty of pictures and use your recorders to get a quick statement from anyone on the skirmish line who saw it go down. EMS will take him to the hospital and dump him in the morgue. I’m guessing that’s as much as we can do right now. Make sure Titus is OK to stay in the field. Don’t push him, though. If he’s too shaken up, then we’ll send him to the CP. The kid’s got five minutes on the job and now this shit happens? I’m amazed he’s not a complete basket case!”

You’re not the only one, Sarge. I remember my first shooting, and I had a lot more time on the job when it happened. I was a total mess. Titus seems to be taking it a lot better than most cops would under the circumstances. Very impressive, and I’m not just saying that because he saved my ass. I’m going to put him in for a commendation when this is over. He really held it together.

Here comes Lieutenant Hagan. Good. If anyone can reassure Titus that he did the right thing, it’s him.

“Are you in one piece, Lynott? You went down hard.”

“I’m fine, sir. I’ll be sore when this is over. Titus had to shoot the guy. The son of a bitch was going for my gun.”

“I saw it. Don’t worry, it was a textbook shooting. Someone goes for an officer’s gun, they get shot – no two ways about it. I’ve got EMS en route. They’ll take the body. Harper, I want you to check on everyone else. Some of them took some pretty serious hits. Get me a sit rep: who’s able to keep going and who needs to drop out.”

He needn’t bother. No one is going to walk away from this shit no matter how badly they’re hurt. They won’t back out now. They’re Midwatch. They’re all too dedicated to the job and to each other.

“Sir, I think you should talk to Titus. It’s his first fatal shooting. He fired a few rounds back at the junkyard, but this was up close and personal. It was pretty messy.”

“Yeah, I can see that from your uniform. I’d tell you to go change, but we don’t have anywhere for you to do that. I’ll talk to him. Is he going to be able to stay in the fight?”

“I think so. He’s pretty shaken up, but so are most of us the first time.”

“So was I, and that was in a full-on war. See if you can find some water to wash the blood off of you. You all did a hell of a job. I wish I could say it was over, but we’ve got a long night ahead of us. I need everyone to hang in there. We’re not getting any relief until tomorrow morning at the earliest.”

Tell me about it! This place should be crawling with cops right now, but nobody wants to do what has to be done! Jesus, what the fuck are they going to do when this shit is over and they see how many people we either shot or beat the shit out of? They’d better not try to blame anything on us! This whole watch will kill them if they do!

Back in the war zone. Harper found a store that had been broken into and took me in there to change my uniform. The fucking blood was so thick, it soaked right through my shirt and t-shirt. I was standing in the middle of a wrecked store in the pitch dark in my underwear, scrubbing myself with a bottle of water and some paper towels with nothing but a flashlight to see with. Well, thank God we all brought a couple of extra uniforms just in case. At least I don’t have that asshole’s blood and brains all over me now, though my leather gear is still pretty bloodstained. I can live with that for now.

Titus is doing a lot better. Whatever Lieutenant Hagan said to him must’ve done the trick. I’m betting he’s still pretty stressed out, though. You don’t get over your first shooting in a few minutes; not unless you’re a psychopath. He’ll be all right. Basically, he seems like a pretty stable guy and that’s what it really comes down to. He did what he had to do and he knows it and that’s that. The department might try to give him a hard time about not coming out of the field, but this isn’t exactly a standard operating procedure-type circumstance. Besides, there’s going to be plenty of officers screaming bloody murder about how the brass tried to wait this shit out. Hell, there’ll be plenty of citizens screaming about it, too. Especially the ones who lost someone. They’ll have plenty to say when this is over. I just wonder if anyone will listen to them?

We’re headed over to a medical park where we’re supposed to meet Commander Mancia. I’m not sure what for. I guess he’s going to bring us up-to-date on the situation, though I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of the situation already. Still, I hope he’s bringing us some good news. We’re tired, aching, stressed out, starving, and basically in a foul mood. That’s not a good state of affairs for a police officer under any circumstances, but in this shit? It’s a recipe for disaster. Right now, I’d give five years of my life for a good cheeseburger. No, I’m not kidding. That’s how hungry I am. I’m guessing everybody else is, too.

“Dani, is that the place?”

Probably. It doesn’t have any place that carries recreational drugs, so most people avoid it unless they’re eighty and have bladder problems. It hasn’t been burned to the ground. I’m guessing this is it.

“That’s got to be it. Look for the Commander’s sector car. Assuming it’s still functional. He’s probably parked out back so as not to be seen.”

Which is actually good thinking, since if anyone saw a lone police car out here, they’d trash it in a heartbeat. Yep! There it is. Well, it’s still relatively in one piece. Of course, now he’s going to have a shitload of sector cars pulling in here, so we’re not what you’d call low profile. We may draw an angry crowd and the assholes who are out right now aren’t interested in protesting police brutality. They’re interested in causing mayhem.

There’s Commander Mancia. God, does he ever look thrashed! I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s got a bottle of bourbon stashed under the seat. The way this day has gone, we could all use a few stiff belts right now. All right, let’s see what he’s got to say. Probably nothing we want to hear.

“Good to see you again, sir. How goes it?”

“If I could make it to headquarters, I’d probably put in my paperwork and run like hell. You guys look like shit. I guess I don’t have to ask why. Is your Midwatch still in one piece?”

“We lost the Northside guys. One of them got shot over at a junkyard earlier. He’s going to be OK, but we really couldn’t afford to lose them.”

“I heard about it. Officer Mossman. I got an update on his condition about an hour ago: he’s doing all right. The other officers are headed back here, but I don’t know where they are. I think there’s three units left in Woodlawn besides you guys. From now on, you’re my fire brigade. I need you to handle the most serious trouble spots.”

What did I tell you? Definitely not what we wanted to hear!

“Sir, I’ve got to tell you…we’re pretty thrashed. We’ve taken a pounding and we’ve been going full-speed since this morning. We haven’t eaten anything and we don’t have any idea when we’re going to be relieved. I don’t suppose you could throw any light on that?”

And that look on his face tells me everything I need to know. We’re not getting any help anytime soon.

“Lynott, I don’t have anyone to relieve you. They’re not going to move out of the CP until zero-five-hundred at the earliest. Right now, they’re calling everybody who isn’t already on-duty and telling them to report to the CP with their riot gear no later than that. Right now, what we’ve got is all we’ve got. I know it sucks, but I’m going to have to ask you and your people for a lot more tonight. Right now, I need you to go over to the Royce and see if the rumors of a gang gathering are true. The CP’s been getting reports of gang members hanging out in the lot over there. A lot of them. If it’s true, then they’re gearing up for something bad. We need to know either way.”

“So have the air unit fly over and see who’s down there. Problem solved.”

“I wish it were that simple. The air units are tied up in Wilmington and I don’t think they’re going to get out of there anytime soon. I need a report on what’s happening over there and you’re all I’ve got right now. Just get in and get out. See what you can see. Don’t engage if you find a shitload of gangbangers in there. Try to determine what gangs we’re dealing with. A lot of the gangs are crossing boundaries in the south end, which leads us to believe that they’ve got some kind of agreement going on. If you see anyone who shouldn’t be in there, then we’ll know it’s true.”

Uh-huh. And if it’s true and there’s fifty assholes gearing up for a fight, we’re going to be outnumbered and outgunned. Throw in the fact that the Royce is huge and it’s damned hard to get out of there in a hurry and I can see all sorts of disasters happening to us. Still, I knew we were going to have to go there eventually. We might as well get it over with.

“Is there any chance you could dig up some food for us, sir? We’re starving. All of us.”

“You get in and out of the Royce in one piece and I’ll make sure you get fed. I’ll bring it in from another division if I have to.”

“You’ll have to. No one in their right mind will bring it in here with this shit going on.”

“Yeah, I know. Even the pizza places won’t deliver to the CP anymore. Some of the idiots saw their drivers leaving the place and attacked the cars. Guilt by association. Nobody likes us today.”

“Nobody ever likes us, sir. We’re from Central. We’re used to it.”

Hey, you’ve followed our exploits for a while. You know what the people of Central Division think of the police.

“Fair enough. I need to talk to your lieutenant and the sergeants. Let everyone know what’s on the agenda, will you? Lynott, I know I’m leaning on you guys a lot today, but I don’t have a choice. I need people I can rely on and right now, you people are all I’ve got. No way do I want to send a mixed unit into the Royce. You and what’s his name…Officer Acevedo? You’ve both worked down here before. You know the Royce. Right now, that’s as good as it gets.”

Yeah, lucky us! Sometimes it really sucks being good at this job.

“Don’t worry, sir. We’re all volunteers. Nobody on the job got drafted.”

“That doesn’t make me feel any better. I know I’m running you guys into the ground and the night’s young. It could get a lot worse before daybreak. I need you and your people to keep it together. We’ve been taking a real beating out here. Cops are frustrated. Some of the officers in the other divisions are starting to show it. If we don’t get a handle on this shit before long, we’re going to have guys taking matters into their own hands and we can’t have that. We can’t let this turn into a circus. We’ve got to stay professional, as hard as that is. Can you do it?”

I’m beginning to wonder. I’m ready to lash out at these assholes and it’s only the first day. By tomorrow? I might be up on a rooftop with Harper’s rifle. Don’t laugh. I’ve actually considered it.

“We’ll keep it together somehow. But when this is over, we’re all taking a vacation. I don’t care if the deployment suffers. We need some time off.”

“The whole department’s going to need a vacation, Lynott. But if you guys can hold it together for a little while longer, I promise you you’ll get that time off. That’s one promise I can keep. Good luck out there. Keep your head down. If half of what I’ve heard about the Royce is true…”

“It’s all true, sir. And you haven’t heard the half of it.”

Yeah, the Royce Gardens Housing Project is the stuff of nightmares in this division. I’ve got a really sick feeling in my stomach. We’re going to get into some shit over there. I know it. I just don’t know how bad it’ll be.

“Harper, Titus, gather ’round. We’re going into the Royce Gardens. The whole watch. Commander Mancia says there’s word of a major gang group gathering over there and he wants some intel on the situation. The air units are in Wilmington, so they’re out. And since this is an information-gathering mission…”

“We can’t go in there in force. We’ve got to go in quiet.”

That’s Harper for you: he always understands the tactical situation. Jesus, the whole watch going into a housing project at night and hoping that somehow nobody sees us? This thing spells disaster in any language you care to name! What the fuck did I just get us into?

“There’s a couple of ways into the Royce, but we’ll have to leave the cars at least three blocks away. We can’t haul a lot of gear in there. The places we’ll be going through are too small. We’ll have to stay close to the buildings. The main courtyard is huge and they’ve got floodlights lighting the place up at night. The walkways along the front doors are pretty dark, but if anyone comes out of one of the apartments while we’re moving into position, we’re fucked. Titus, have you ever been in there?”

“Sorry, no. My TO avoids the projects. He doesn’t like to get into shit.”

That figures. Well, Officer Titus, you’re about to get a real Woodlawn education. You might even need to use your gun again.

“Acevedo knows that place like the back of his hand. We’ll split into two groups: one with me and the other with Acevedo. We’ll go in through the east side fence. There’s a hole in it right between the carports. We make it across the parking lot and we’re in the main complex. The lot’s pretty narrow there. Acevedo can bring them in through the laundry room on the northwest side. He’ll still have the key to the door. We’ll converge at the south end and check out the main parking lot. That’s where Mancia says they’re supposed to be. There’s no cover except for whatever cars are back there. Also, everybody hates us in there. Be ready for it.”

“Dani, should we call Officer Woodward? He’s got to know that place, or some of his people do. We could use the help if things go south on us in there.”

Which they almost certainly will. It’s a good idea.

“Call him and see if he’s available. Tell him to bring as many parole officers as he can muster. The people in there might think twice about taking on a bunch of parole officers.”

“Roger that. Dani, what’s wrong? You don’t look good. We can handle this.”

He wouldn’t be so confident if he’d worked here before. Whenever we’ve gone in there in force, it’s ended badly. Lots of fights and more than a few shootings. They hate us in there and right now, they hate us more than ever. I’ve got a horrible feeling about this. I’m afraid some of us are going to get hurt. I’m talking seriously hurt. I don’t know why, but I just can’t shake it. God, I wish we’d done this hours ago when we were still strong and alert. We’d have a better chance if we get surrounded by an angry mob.

“I want everyone to be extra cautious in there. This place can go to shit on you in a heartbeat. Most cops who’ve worked Woodlawn for a while have a few horror stories about it, including me. I don’t want any friendly casualties. We get in, get out, and we don’t take any chances. Commander Mancia said there are maybe three units left in the division, so if we yell for help, no one’s coming. And in this shit, no EMS unit will go anywhere near that place. We’ll be completely on our own. I want this over with fast: safe, quick, and easy. Understood?”

Yeah, they understand. And so will everyone else. We’re not going to take any chances in there. It’s not worth it. We’re lucky we haven’t lost anyone yet. I don’t want to press our luck. The way I feel right now, we’re pretty much all out of it right now.

En route to the Royce Gardens Housing Project. It never ceases to amaze me how many of the housing projects down here are called “gardens.” I’m sure someone thought it would make them sound more attractive to the people who were assigned to live in them, but it always seemed really stupid to me. There’s nothing garden-like about them. They all look like they were run down the minute the builders sunk the last nail in the last board. They’re painted with cheap, flat paint in blues and greens that remind me of a schoolhouse for some reason. They’re ugly, run down, and in a lot of ways, they’re not much better than sleeping in a tent. They’re all practically war zones. Some are worse than others, but none of them are good. Nobody lives there because they want to. They live there because they have to. They can’t afford anything else. The projects are the largest subsidized housing units in the city and without the subsidies, the rents in this town will put you in the poorhouse in no time at all. When I was in the academy, I could barely afford the rent on my apartment and it wasn’t even in the city. Affordable housing is a bad joke around here. There isn’t any. Not unless you count the projects, and you have to qualify to live there and then you get put on a waiting list that could take years before you get an apartment. And once you finally do, that’s when you discover who your neighbors are: gang members, dope dealers, parolees, mental cases, and all-around assholes. Decent people can’t survive in there for long. They usually become victims in a real hurry. If they survive, they end up running for their lives. Some of them go halfway across the country before they stop running. And now we’re headed straight in there. They really hate the police in these places. It’s not an exaggeration to say that most of the people in there have been arrested at least twice. And given the fact that a lot of them make a living out of crime, they’ve all had bad experiences with us. We’re walking into the lion’s den, and these lions shoot back.

“Sixteen Central to all units, we’re going to have to leave the cars here. Everybody switch off your lights and pull in behind the building. We don’t have anyone to stay and watch the cars, so we’re just going to have to hope no one finds them while we’re in there.”

Woodlawn officers use this place to park their cars when they want to sneak into the Royce, but they don’t try to do it with seven police cars. I’m really worried that we’re going to get into some serious shit and discover that our cars are all on fire. If we have to make it out of here on foot, some of us are going to get killed for sure.

It’s over two blocks to the projects. I’d have chosen a place further away, but there’s no way in hell that we could sneak fifteen officers in full uniform all the way over there on foot. When I was with the gang unit, we’d use dualies. Unmarked cars. Not this time.

“All right everyone, listen up! Eight, Twenty-Two, and Sergeant Hendrickson are with us. The rest of you are with Acevedo. He knows this place, so listen to him! Most of you haven’t seen anything like the Royce before. It’s huge, it’s a shithole, and the gangs own it! Our mission is to get in there, see if there’s a serious gang gathering, and get the hell out! Nothing else! If we get spotted, there’s going to be a fight for sure. Officer Woodward said he’d try to get over here, but State Parole has told their people to head back to the barn until things die down. We’ve got no air units and no backup. We’re on our own. Don’t take any chances! There’s enough firepower in there to take out the whole watch. No heroics! Get in and get the hell out! We’ve got plenty of shit waiting for us after this one. Lieutenant? It’s your show. Give the word.”

“Right. I’ll be going in with Acevedo’s group. They’ve got the longest way to go to get to the south lot. Once inside, hug the walls and stay in the shadows. Try to move in twos. Keep the noise down. Radios down low. If you’ve got earpieces, use them. Broadcast only if you have to. Harper and Lynott, you two are the eyes up front. See what you can see and get out of there fast. If you don’t see anything, say so and we’ll all get the hell out of there. This place is every bit as bad as you’ve heard. Lynott’s right: don’t take any unnecessary risks. There are hundreds of apartments in there and they’re full of people who’d love nothing more than to kick the living shit out of a bunch of cops. Has anybody got anything? No? Then let’s do this!”

And that’s that: we’re going in. We have to get there without being seen, and then we have to get in and out without being seen. I don’t see anyone on the street, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. They may not be able to disappear right before your eyes like the homeless in the alleys of Central Division, but there are plenty of decent hiding places around here. I’m getting a sick feeling in my stomach again. Just keep it together, girl! Focus on the mission. Jesus, what was it they said when Daniel got tossed in the lion’s den? “Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee.” God, I hope so! I pray to God he will! We’re going to need it in there. We’re walking into the lion’s den, and the lion is hungry. Very hungry!

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