Tactical Alert

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"Five-Finger Discount"

I don’t fucking believe it! There’s at least four bodies in front of the place! And with the floodlights out front, I can see blood all over the sidewalk! What the fuck happened here? Those bodies aren’t security guards. That much is certain. They’ve got to be looters. There’s a car smashed through the front doors of the building. I guess this place got hit and they fought back. God, did they ever fight back!

“It’s a massacre, sir! I saw at least four people down and they’re not moving! There’s blood everywhere! The looters crashed a car through the front doors. I didn’t see anyone else out there. Sir, this place was a free-fire zone, and that’s just out front!”

And they cut the phone lines and somehow knocked out the cellphone service. God, what does it look like inside? There could be people dead and dying all over the place!

“Lynott, did you see anyone out front? Anyone moving around?”

“Negative, sir. If anyone’s still out there, they’re hiding. And I don’t know where they could be hiding in front of the building. It’s wide open. There’s a little park across the street, but it doesn’t have any big trees or anything. It’s just a flat, open piece of grass with a bunch of picnic tables.”

“Can we get in through the front entrance?”

“Probably. I only caught a glimpse, but that car looks like it punched a pretty big hole through the doors. Since the front lights are on, I’m guessing they’ve still got power in there. We’ll be able to see, at least.”

“Lee, get on the radio and call over to Woodlawn Station. Tell them where we are and what we’ve found.”

Good call. And while you’re at it, Sarge? Tell them to send a shitload of ambulances! Those dead bodies out front are going to attract a bunch of gangbangers looking for payback! It won’t matter that the dead guys aren’t gangsters. They’re black and the guards are Hispanic. That’ll be all it takes to get those assholes to come down here and shoot the living shit out of the place. Tensions between blacks and Hispanics have been growing for a long time. The Hispanics are the newcomers and they’re changing the demographic of the division. It’s not what you’d call a peaceful transformation.

“All right, I want Harper, Lynott, and Titus up front with me. We go in there and the first thing we do is find a goddamned light switch. If the lights are off, I want them on. We’re better off being able to see than fumbling around in the dark. If we’ve got people with guns in there defending the place, I want them to see we’re the police. Harper, you and Lynott have the long guns. Get up front, get through the door, and set up a defensive position that’ll let you cover the rest of us while we make our way in there. Radios down, hand signals once you’re inside. And for God’s sake, everybody check your fire! We don’t want to shoot any friendlies in there!”

“Sir, we should have Garcia and Acevedo with us. They’re fluent in Spanish and in this place, we’re going to need it.”

“Good idea. Lee, get them up here. Lynott, get everybody ready. Where’s this security office?”

“On the second floor, all the way in the back. It’s on the far northeast corner at the end of a hallway, right beside the restrooms. They have to buzz you in, though. It’s a security door. It’s made of steel.”

“Then let’s hope there’s somebody in there to hit the buzzer. Everybody, guns up and chamber a round. Titus, you and I are going to be the lights in case that place is dark. Flashlights up, Harries technique with your pistol, and maintain silence until we know what we’re dealing with in there. Let’s go!”

Yeah, let’s hurry up and walk right into a fucking shooting gallery! With those tank barriers out front, God only knows what they’ve got inside! But we have to go in. It’s our job. No matter what’s waiting for us in there, we have to go in. Does anybody want to be a cop right now? No, I didn’t think so. Move out!

OK, I was wrong. I see six people down on the sidewalk! None of them are moving. I’m guessing they’re dead. We don’t have time to check on them. We need to get in there and secure the location. If we try to render aid and there’s some clown in there with a rifle, we’d be sitting ducks. There’s the car. It’s probably stolen. Steal a car and crash it through the front door. It’s an oldie, but it works. A little further…watch the high ground! Nobody’s peeking over the top of the roof. So far, so good. Now for the hard part: getting past the car and through what’s left of the doors. I hope there’s room enough for us to squeeze through. If we have to move that car, it’ll make a total shitload of racket – and that’s if we can move it at all. All right, I think we can get past it on the left side. It looks like there’s enough room. Please, God! Don’t let there be anybody waiting in there with a weapon trained on that spot!

I don’t hear anything. That’s a good sign. All right, give everyone a signal that I’m going through. They’re nodding. They understand. It really sucks being the smallest one around sometimes! Squeeze past the car. I see a few lights on in there, but not many. The light is probably coming from the display cases. Jesus, this place got hit all right! There’s broken glass all over the floor! It looks like a lot of the shelves have been knocked over. Just fucking great! That’s going to make getting through this maze ten times harder! Give everyone the hand signal to proceed with caution. Point at the glass on the floor. Titus is in, and here comes Harper. Now we’ve got some firepower in here. I just pray we don’t have to use it. Here comes Lieutenant Hagan, and Acevedo and Garcia are right behind them. We’ve got a foothold in here. Now we have to find a place with cover that’ll let us protect the rest of the watch as they come in here. Easier said than done!

Hang on! We may have caught a break. Over there, on the left. That stall looks like it sells furniture. I see a few big tables and a chest of drawers. It’s probably just plywood with a veneer over it, but it’s better than a bunch of glass cases with cellphones in them. Signal to Harper to move over there. He sees it. He knows what to do. He’s waving for Garcia to follow him. Whoa! The lights in the building are coming on! Who’s doing that? What the…it’s Titus! Jesus, how the hell did he know the light switches were over there?

“Titus, how did you know the lights were over there?”

“I didn’t. I just happened to see the box.”

Chalk one up for dumb luck! Now we can see what the hell we’re doing. I wouldn’t have wanted to try to make our way through here with just flashlights. Holy shit! This place got hit big time! I can see bullet holes in the walls of the stalls, and there’s all kinds of shit on the floor! They must’ve had a hundred looters come through here! I don’t see any people, though.

“Lieutenant? What do we do?”

“Let them know we’re the police. Listen up, everybody! Metropolitan Police! Is anyone in here? Is anyone hurt?”

No answer. We’d better have our guys give the announcement in Spanish.

“Garcia, you’re up. Let them know we’re here and we want to help. Ask if anyone’s been hurt.”

“¡Atención! ¡Policía Metropolitana! ¿Hay alguien aquí? ¿Hay alguien herido?”

No answer. Nobody’s responding. Definitely not good. I don’t like the idea of creeping around in here. It’s too easy to run into the wrong person at the wrong time. Anyone hiding in here definitely has the advantage. Hang on, Rosen’s got something. He’s giving me a hand signal…oh, fuck! Gunshots! Get down!

“Everybody down! Take cover!”

Those aren’t pistol shots! Jesus Christ! They’re tearing this counter to pieces! I can’t stick my head out to see or I won’t have a head!

“Harper! Do you have a shot?”

“Negative! Stay down! We’ve got at least three shooters!”

Somebody’s yelling their head off! It’s Garcia! He’s yelling in Spanish! Probably telling whoever’s trying to kill us that we’re the police! Wait! It stopped! They stopped shooting!

“Garcia! Who the fuck is firing at us?”

“Security! We’ve got three guys about twenty yards down the aisle! Hang on! They’re putting down their weapons! Everybody hold your fire! Nobody shoot! They’re surrendering!”

How fucking nice of them! God damn it, they had to have seen us! They knew we were the fucking police! Idiots! Total fucking idiots!

“Tell them to come out with their hands up! Weapons on the ground!”

“It’s all good, Dani! They’re coming out! Everyone hold your fire!”

Yeah, I’ll hold my fire! So that I can beat the living shit out of them with my bare hands! Fuck! One of those shots missed my head by about six inches! I felt the shockwave when the bullet went past me! All right, there they are. See? Fucking security guards! I knew it! And they’re all yammering at once!

“Garcia, what are they saying?”

“They say they didn’t know we were the police. They say they’ve been attacked a bunch of times since the riot started. One of their guys is dead and another one’s wounded. Hang on! Now they’re saying they’ve got a bunch of people in the security office who’ve been injured.”

Yeah, I’m not surprised. They probably got trampled trying to get out.

“What about the bodies out front?”

I don’t speak Spanish, but I’m pretty sure the lead guy is saying he knows all about them.

“He says they tried to break in around one o’clock this afternoon. They crashed a car through the front door and came out shooting. The guards dropped the guys in the front, but more of them got in and took out a bunch of people. It sounds like it was a hell of a shootout.”

“No doubt about that. Tell them to take us to these injured people. We’ll see if we can’t transport them to a hospital.”

We should have enough room in the cars. There’s a hospital about four miles from here. I don’t think it’s a trauma center, though. I only ever went there once when I was in Woodlawn. Still, it’s better than nothing. They’ve got doctors and nurses. Better they handle it than us.

Jesus, these guys really don’t fuck around! There’s the security office, and they’ve got a barricade and two…no, three guys with rifles at the door! They definitely don’t want any assholes getting in there. I can’t believe they’re still here. If it was as bad as they said, I’m surprised they didn’t all take off after the first shootout. They sure as hell don’t get paid enough to make a stand of it. All right, let’s see what we’ve got. I hope it’s just a bunch of people with sprained ankles. We could…oh, my God! What the fuck? There’s got to be twenty people in here! And most of them are covered in blood! Sprained ankle my ass! These people all got shot!

“Guys, fan out! See what you can do for them! Harper, start a triage. See who’s been hit the worst. Lieutenant Hagan! Front and center! We’ve got a situation in here!”

There’s no way in hell we can transport these people! No fucking way in this or any universe known to man or God! Some of these people would probably die if we tried to sit them up in the back seat of a car! Shit! What the hell are we supposed to do? There’s no way we’ll get enough ambulances to take them all!

“Lieutenant…”

“I see it, Lynott. Jesus Christ! They really shot the shit out of this place! All right, we’re going to need transportation for them. All of them! We’re not leaving anyone here to die. Acevedo! You and Titus get out to the road and see if you can flag down a truck. A big one! We’re going to have to stretch these people out in it.”

And they don’t waste any time with a reply. Yeah, anyone with eyes can see how bad this shit is. If we don’t find a way to get them the hell over to a hospital, a lot of them won’t be alive much longer. God, what the fuck is happening in this city? How the hell did it ever get this bad? They turned a swap meet into a gigantic shooting gallery!

Harper’s looking at me and shaking his head. Not good.

“What’s the story, Harper?”

“Some of them are barely hanging on. We’ve got chest hits, abdomen hits, and their bandages are soaked through. These people are going to bleed to death if we don’t get them to a hospital. How close is the nearest one?”

“About four miles east, just across the city line. It’s a little one; Chestnut Hill or something like that. What about an aid station? Wasn’t there one about two miles west of here? That one in the rec center?”

“Dani, these people need doctors, not a bunch of volunteers with bandages and aspirin. Half of them are going to go into surgery as soon as they’re stabilized. It’s a hospital or forget it.”

And we don’t have any way to get them there. What the fuck are we supposed to do? Shoot the ones who aren’t going to make it through the night? God fucking damn it! How the fuck can this be happening? How is this shit even possible?

Here come Acevedo and Titus. They’re out of breath. They must’ve run back here. Please don’t tell me there’s a bunch of assholes with guns headed this way!

“Acevedo, are you guys OK?”

“We’re fine! Lieutenant! We found a truck! A big flatbed! I think it can hold everyone! The guy driving it…he wants a favor, sir. His other truck got impounded and he doesn’t have the money to get it out right now.”

“You tell him if he takes these people to the hospital for us, I’ll order his truck released and the fee waived! That’s guaranteed!”

“Roger that, sir! Come on, Titus! Let’s get these people a ride!”

Thank you, God! I take back everything I said! Now, just let that truck be big enough to hold everyone! Acevedo’s a gearhead. He knows everything about cars. If he thinks the truck’s big enough to do the job, then he’s got to be right. So now it’s a race: can we get them to that hospital in time? I am so fucking sick of not being able to do anything for people in this shit! I am not going to let these people die! No fucking way! Not one of them! Enough! No more! No more people dying in this shit! We’ve lost too damned many as it is!

“Lynott, ask the guards exactly what happened in here. That place downstairs looks like it got hit by a tornado.”

“You’d better have Garcia do it, sir. I don’t think any of them speaks English. Sir, they said one of their guys was killed when the assholes came in shooting. I don’t know where he is. The body, I mean. They wouldn’t have just left him on the floor. Not one of their own.”

“Some poor son of a bitch making fifteen bucks an hour died to protect a bunch of junk. What the hell has this world come to?”

“Sir, I’d like to think he died trying to protect these people. Not the junk.”

“It wasn’t his job to stick his neck out like that. That’s our job.”

“I don’t think it’s about the job, sir. I think it’s about doing what’s right. He saw people in trouble and he tried to do something about it.”

And he’s looking at me like I’m insane. At least he’s doing it with a smirk on his face. For a second there, I was afraid he was going to have me locked up in the nuthouse.

“I never took you for an idealist, Lynott.”

“No, sir. I just think…I don’t know. I guess I just think shit like this brings out the best in some people. Even when it brings out the worst in others. Am I making any sense, sir?”

And now the smirk has turned into a grin. He’s nodding his head. I think that’s a good sign.

“More than you know, Lynott. All right, let’s find this guy. He’s a hero. He shouldn’t be left here to rot. Too bad we can’t get him into Arlington. It sounds like he earned it.”

Yeah, the poor guy came here for a better life. He probably turned handsprings when he got his work permit and got a job paying fifteen bucks an hour. He took his job seriously and tried to help defend a bunch of people who couldn’t defend themselves and it got him killed. A funeral at Arlington would be the least they could do for him.

They’re all pointing to the back office. I guess that’s where he is. Yep, he’s in there. They’ve got him on the couch with a sheet over him. I can see the bloodstains all over it. He must’ve been hit several times. They’ve got a bunch of religious candles burning on the tables at either side of the couch. You see a lot of those wherever someone died in this town: homicide scenes, car crashes, whatever. It’s the last word on this guy’s life. The last line on the log. He’s a statistic now. One of the as-yet-to-be-determined fatalities of the great Emerald City riot. And nobody is going to remember him. We will, but nobody else will. No medals, no flag-draped coffin, no picture on the wall of the station. He’s just some nameless, faceless guy who got killed because the scum of the earth wanted a five-finger discount and they were willing to kill for it. I swear to God, right now I think this city doesn’t deserve to survive. We should all just leave and let the assholes burn it to the ground. All of it. Leave nothing but a pile of ash and concrete dust. Erase it from every map. Wipe the name from every book. But that won’t happen. They’ll rebuild and clean up the mess and pretend like it never happened. There’s no justice in it. There’s no justice at all. We’re all just kidding ourselves. One look at that poor guy is proof of that. It’s just not fair. It’s just not fair at all.


Clearing from the hospital. Thank God that truck was huge. It was an eighteen-wheeler flatbed. The driver runs an auto wrecking yard and Woodlawn impounded his other truck for expired tags. True to his word, Lieutenant Hagan called the tow yard and told them to release the truck and waive the fee or he’d come down there and kill everyone at the impound lot. And let me tell you, the way he said it? Anyone in his right mind would’ve believed him. I sure as hell did. Anyway, we ran escort while Acevedo, Titus, Garcia, and Sergeant Ivanell rode on the bed of the truck and tried to keep everybody from falling over the side. No one did, thank God. The people looked a hell of a lot worse when we put them on the truck. We had to use tabletops as makeshift gurneys to carry them out of the office, but it worked. Somehow, it actually worked. Maybe we’re finally catching a break? It’s long overdue, that’s for sure.

That hospital was none too happy about seeing the police come charging in there with a shitload of shooting victims. They’re not a trauma center, but I didn’t really give a shit. They’re a hospital, so it’s their job to take care of them. I just hope they’re up to it. I told you I’d only ever been there once. Some asshole beat the shit out of his wife and she slashed him with a butcher’s knife, so he went there to get stitched up and we got the call to go collect him. It’s across the city line, so we never had much to do with it. After tonight, I can see why. I ran into some idiot in a suit and tie when we were carrying the shooting victims in and he seemed to think that our presence there somehow endangered the patients in the hospital. He didn’t try to bar us from coming in, but he made it clear in a sort of left-handed way that we should take them somewhere else. It was all I could do to keep myself from shooting him right in the fucking balls. Acevedo almost ripped his head off right in front of me. Needless to say, we won’t be giving that place a five-star review on Yelp.

One of the nurses told me that at least six of the victims were touch-and-go. If we hadn’t gotten them there when we did, they’d have died for sure from the blood loss. Some of them were shot to shit. What the fuck is the matter with people? They’re a bunch of salesmen! Merchants! People who work behind a counter and sell shit at cut-rate prices! Wasn’t it enough to shoot them once? I swear to God, there are some evil motherfuckers in this division! I knew that before, but it never hit home like it has today. They’re fucking vile. They’re not even human. God, I hate them! I just want them to fucking die! Every last one of them! Those pieces of shit lying dead out in front of that building? Shooting them was too good for them! They should’ve doused them with gasoline and lit a match! Even that would’ve been too good for them!

But enough of my ranting. I’ve been doing too much of that since this thing began and I’m sure I’ll do more of it before it’s over. We’re back in the shit, waiting and looking for the next disaster. I’m sure it’ll be along in the next five minutes or so. We’ve been pretty subdued since we finished up at the hospital. I didn’t like the way the people in there were looking at us. Our uniforms were covered with blood and we all looked like hell because we’ve been through hell. And as the saying goes, it ain’t over yet. Not by a long shot. It’s a little after midnight, so it’s now officially Day Two of the riot. Day Two and it’s still a handful of officers scattered throughout the affected areas, trying like hell to do something positive when everything is chaos and there’s just no relief from it. I hope that when this is over they publish a list of everyone who stayed in the field and fought through it. Anyone who stayed out here deserves some sort of recognition. I don’t blame the people sitting in the command post. No, they’re in there because they’re under orders to stay put and they’re pretty much being held prisoner by assholes like Sergeant Satterfield. No, I blame the morons in command who decided that the best thing to do was to do nothing. I hope there’s a day of reckoning for them. I really do. For every cop who got shot, stabbed, or beat to shit because there aren’t enough of us out here, I hope there’s a price to be paid by the ones who made that decision. Somebody should be held responsible for it, and that includes our idiot chief who abandoned ship at the worst possible moment. I don’t believe for a minute that it’ll happen, but it should. Ask anyone who’s out here right now. They’ll tell you.

You know, watching TV on a cellphone for too long really takes a toll on your eyes. Mine are a little blurry from it. We saw a report that the first National Guard troops are in the city, but they didn’t say where they were. They’re sure as hell not out here. I don’t know if they’re waiting for the rest of the units to arrive. I don’t even know how many units are supposed to be deployed. We haven’t heard anything. I plan to ask Commander Mancia if we see him again. Yeah, I’ll do that right after he brings the food he promised us. I swear to God, I’ve never been so hungry in my life. I guess watching the world come to an end all around you makes you really hungry. Either that, or just constant fighting and being terrified does it to you. Oh, I’ve been plenty terrified since this shit started. I’ve never heard so much gunfire in one place in my life, unless you count the shootout at the firing range. I’ve never seen a city going up in flames before. It takes a toll on you. Believe me, it does. It takes a toll on everybody. All of our guys are worn to a frazzle, especially after Ruiz and Kursteff got hurt. We’re running on pure adrenaline and determination. It’s the only thing that’s keeping us awake. And if we get a chance to stand down, I’m betting all of us are going to collapse right where we’re standing. I never knew you could be so damned tired. I never knew you could be so tired and somehow still keep going. My biggest fear right now? That we’re so damned tired that we’re going to start making mistakes. I mean the kind of mistakes that get you killed. That’s got me scared shitless. Half of it is the thought of it and the other half is the thought that I might be the one making the mistake that gets someone killed. You don’t want to know what that feels like. Trust me, you really don’t want to know.

I had hoped that everything would die down after midnight, but that hasn’t happened. There aren’t as many people swarming the stores and stealing shit, but I’m guessing that it’ll all resume tomorrow morning. Anyone with a brain will stay the hell away from the south end. They won’t come in to work and they won’t open their businesses. No, they’ll stay home and age about a hundred years for each minute that passes, wondering if their shop still exists. A lot of them will find out that they don’t. They’ll come back in a couple of days to find a burned-out shell where their business used to be, or the building will be intact but everything inside will be trashed and the merchandise will be gone. We can see the fires a lot better because it’s dark and everywhere you turn, you can either see the flames or the glow in the distance. They’re everywhere. I’m beginning to think Harper was right: a lot of the assholes down here had stocked up for this bullshit. How else could so many fires get started almost simultaneously? Don’t even try to tell me it was all a spontaneous thing. This shit was planned. I’m sure of it.

We haven’t heard a single radio broadcast about the command post since before we got to the hospital. Not one. It’s like it went totally dark. Titus asked if it was possible the CP had been overrun, but I don’t think that’s what happened. Only a total lunatic would attack a place with a couple of hundred police officers waiting to get out here. On the contrary, the idiot fringe probably thinks that as long as they leave it alone, they can stay out here and do whatever they want. By and large, they’re right. There aren’t enough officers left out here to make much of a difference, and since we’re traveling in one large group – usually with our emergency lights flashing – we’re pretty easy to see so they can avoid us. The only ones who get caught are the ones who are stupid enough to be there when we roll up on a location, and even then most of them just take a few hits with a nightstick because we don’t have time to haul anyone off to jail. Hell, we don’t even have a jail! There are two field jails out here that we know of, but not many people are being booked there. Field jails are just processing centers, and it doesn’t seem like we’ve got the units or the cars to take the arrestees north to Central Division and book them at Jail Division. Score another one for the assholes. The worst civil disturbance in the city’s history and everyone has a get-out-of-jail-free card. Where is the logic in that? Can somebody explain that to me?

“Forty-Four Central to all Central Midwatch units, we’re in the parking lot just west of you. Pull in here. We’ve got a surprise for you.”

Goren sounds almost giddy. What have they got? I don’t think it’s something dangerous. Not with the way he sounded. Well, there they are. That smoldering wreck they’re in front of used to be a little bodega. I guess the local shitbags decided the owners had been charging prices that were too high. Then again, they probably torched it just for spite. Signolo’s waving us in. Let’s see what they’ve got. As much as I could use a stiff drink right now, it had better not be a bunch of charred bottles of whiskey.

“All right, Signolo. This had better be good. What’s the big attraction at a burned-out bodega?”

“We managed to scrounge something for you, Dani. Something for everybody. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing. Check it out: a late-night snack!”

Not bad, guys! About fifteen or twenty bags of chips. And they’re not even melted! From the looks of that store, I would’ve figured that everything had gone up in flames.

“Nice score. How many have you got?”

“Enough for one bag for each unit. Since you’re the only woman we’ve got out here, ladies get first pick.”

Well, what do you know? Sometimes it actually pays to be a woman on this job! All right, anything but onion-flavored. I hate them and they make your breath stink. Harper loves them, but I think it’s only to drive me nuts. Sour cream. That’s the one. Since we’ve got three in the car, it won’t go as far. Whatever. Signolo’s right: it’s better than nothing.

“Thanks. You two are all right in my book tonight.”

“Gather ’round and dig in, everybody! It may be the last meal we get for a while. Or maybe ever?”

I’d tell him not to think like that, but that’s exactly what I was thinking. And everybody seems pretty happy to get at least something to eat. Under normal circumstances, we’d have to leave the money on the counter. We can’t just take shit, even though I’m pretty sure that if the owner were here, he’d give it to us. Still, I doubt there’s still a counter or a cash register in there. That place is totally destroyed. I’m sure it was ransacked before they torched it.

“Harper, Titus, dig in. Just save some for me. I’m hungry too.”

Watch this: Harper won’t touch them. As hungry as he is, he’ll let me and Titus have them all. He does that, you know. Captain America. Yep! He just handed the bag to Titus and said he was good. Bullshit! He’s as hungry as the rest of us, but he’s always looking out for everyone else. Even in this shit, he’s always looking out for everyone else. I’ve got half a mind to drag him into a broom closet and blow him right now for doing that. I wonder if there’s one around here we could use? Someplace that isn’t burned down. I’d hate to get soot all over my knees.

“Your turn, ma’am.”

You know, I’ve never been so thankful for a bag of Doritos in my life. I guess this is what it’s come to: a bag of chips is enough to put a smile on everyone’s faces. They certainly seem to have cheered everybody up. People are actually smiling and joking around. After what we’ve been through, we definitely deserve a few minutes’ rest. Even the sergeants are a lot more relaxed. It looks like Goren’s got a question for Sergeant Gellar. No doubt he’s going to try to fuck with him.

“Sarge? Would it be safe to drink one of those beers in there? After being burned to two thousand degrees?”

“If you’re crazy enough to try it, I won’t stop you. Just don’t expect to get any medical attention if your ass keels over. I’m pretty sure the EMS units are all hunkered down somewhere.”

“You mean you wouldn’t try to save me, Sarge?”

“I’d shove an aspirin up your ass, Goren! If that didn’t do the trick, you’re out of luck!”

Somehow, I don’t think that would help. God, I wish we had some cold soda to go along with these things. No such luck. We’ll have to make do with the water we brought, and after sitting in the cars for so long, it’s plenty warm. Oh, well. It’s better than nothing.

“Harper, are you fasting?”

“I just wanted to leave it for you guys. I’ll find something later on.”

Uh-huh. Does he really expect me to believe that?

“You need to eat something. You’re as tired as the rest of us and you’re a lot bigger than me. You need your strength. We all do.”

“You sound like my lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He used to tell me the same thing.”

“And I’ll bet you didn’t listen to him, either! I’m telling you, if I don’t see you eat something pretty soon; even if it’s just a candy bar…”

“I’ll be all right. How are you holding up?”

“If I wasn’t so keyed up from everything, I’d be dead on my feet. I’d probably keel over right here.”

“In Spec Ops training, we got about four hours’ sleep in five days. It was hell. I did it once and I never wanted to do it again.”

Yeah, he told me about that. By the time it was over, he and his friends were so tired and hungry that they were actually hallucinating. One of his friends said he saw pizzas hanging from the trees. That must’ve been a sight.

“You may be Captain America, but you’re not Superman. Don’t let me catch you running yourself into the ground. I’ll be very upset with you.”

“You mean like we already are? I don’t know how much longer we can keep going at full-tilt. This watch needs some rest. Even an hour would do wonders for us.”

Yeah, but we’re not likely to get that right now. Maybe closer to sunrise, but not now. It’s got to die down around four in the morning. The assholes will be gearing up for the next round of looting and mayhem. They need their sleep too. Unless they’re all flying on crystal meth, that is. Fortunately, meth is pretty much a white guy’s drug and there aren’t a lot of them in this division. Jesus, could you imagine if this shit was happening in the suburbs? In the valley divisions? With all of those meth heads? Our guys would be overrun!

“What do you think Emily’s doing right now?”

“I’m guessing she’s asleep. I think she’s used to us coming home in a couple of hours, so she’s getting her nap before we come home to see her.”

“You mean so she can stay up for the rest of the night and we don’t get any sleep?”

“What else? She’s already got us wrapped around her little finger.”

And that’s how it should be. God, what kind of parents are we? We’re out here in this shit when we should be home with her right now. Someday, we’re going to have a lot of explaining to do to her. I just hope we can sort things out before then. I’m afraid that if we don’t, she’s going to grow up resenting the hell out of us. That would be a fate worse than death. I think Harper and I are in complete agreement on that one. Hang on! Acevedo’s got something on the computer. He’s waving us over. I’m not sure I want to know what it is.

“What’ve you got, Acevedo? Did we get another emergency call?”

“Check this out: there’s a warehouse in Lafayette Division that’s under attack by a gang of looters. They called 911 for help and the RTO heard gunfire in the background. She asked if the PR was being shot at, and the guy said ‘No, we’re shooting at them, but we’re running out of ammunition so we need the police to bring more!’ Now that’s fucking classic!”

No doubt. Imagine getting a call like that on any other day. But now? I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve gotten fifty calls just like it.

“Make a note of the location. If they make it through this thing, I want to shop there.”

“You got it. How are you guys hanging in there? It must be tough for you, what with a new kid. I thought we’d all be home by now; other units would’ve taken over.”

“It’s brutal. Every time I try not to think about her, it just makes me think about her more. And we’re not getting any relief until the morning, so we’re in for the long haul. I think we should design a ribbon for every cop who stayed out here while the rest were trapped in the command post. What do you think?”

“Count me in. I’d wear the fucker even if the department ordered me not to. I’ve already traded texts with about a dozen guys over there at the CP. The brass there went and turned it into a gigantic cop jail. They’ve got asshole sergeants patrolling the perimeter and doing head counts. They’re writing up anyone who tries to leave. One guy said he was threatened with sixty-four days if they caught him near the perimeter again. They took away all the car keys and most of their radios. Whoever’s running the show over there doesn’t want anyone leaving. They’re going ape shit in there. They’re all watching the news and seeing the city go to shit on a stick, and they can’t believe they’re not out here doing something about it.”

That’s Acevedo for you: he’s got friends everywhere. That means he’s got better information than anyone else. I should’ve known he’s be on top of the situation back there.

“What about the specialized units? SEU? SWAT? K9? What about the Mounted Unit? A few horses would really break up some of these crowds.”

“Forget it. They’re all doing hard time over there. No one’s getting out. I don’t think the Mounted Unit was even deployed. The brass down at the CP parked the SWAT trucks right where they could keep an eye on them and they made them stuff all of their gear in them. They’re combat ineffective, Dani. Those guys aren’t going anywhere. SEU? I’ve got a buddy who says SEU got moved to their own staging area, but they’re just sitting around like everybody else. A bunch of them are already facing disciplinary charges for going AWOL and getting into the shit. The leadership doesn’t want any of us out here. They’re none too happy that we’re out here. I think they’ve been giving Lieutenant Hagan some real shit about it.”

“Yeah, I figured that.”

“It gets worse. I know this girl at the CP who works Lafayette, and she said based on what she’s been able to pick up from hearing the brass talk, we may be the only fully-functional unit out here right now. Everyone else is stragglers and people who refused the order to report to the CP. Some of them have had to abandon their sector cars. The crowds trashed them or they ran out of gas. Can you believe some of our guys are out here on foot?”

No, and I don’t even want to think about it. God, if they don’t get up off of their asses and send the units back out here by daybreak, there may be none of us left alive out here! A full-blown riot and zero officers in the field!

“Is there any word on Commander Mancia getting us any food?”

“Not so far. Garcia and I sent him the names and locations of at least a dozen places that should’ve been out of the affected zone, but so far, no luck. I think these chips are all we’re going to get. That’s pretty fucked up, isn’t it? ‘A bag of potato chips! The dinner of heroes!’”

I’m not going to argue with that one. How can I? Maybe I should save the bag when we’re finished and have it framed?

“Is there any word on a body count? How many people got killed in this thing?”

“Nothing definite yet. We saw something on the phone when we were back at the hospital: some talking heads over at City Hall. The Mayor’s Office is refusing to speculate on riot-related deaths. I think he’s afraid of the numbers. Same thing with the number of buildings burned. They don’t want to touch it. They’re mostly covering the major demonstrations. There was one over in Wilmington this afternoon, right in a big intersection. People were throwing bricks at passing cars and dragging the people out and beating the living shit out of them. That’s great, isn’t it? They’re pissed at the police, so they trash some poor guy’s car for it and beat him half to death.”

I know. Harper and I saw something about that. It was beyond horrible. Every one of those assholes should be lined up against a wall and shot! Fuck the trial! They don’t deserve one!

“How many casualties?”

“A lot. Lots of injuries. Some of them pretty serious. No ambulances were able to get there. Some of them got driven away by people in other cars, but I don’t think they all made it out. A lot of it is racial, too. Any white guy or Hispanic guy unlucky enough to be down here is considered fair game.”

More like unfair game, but that’s for another time. I wonder if anyone will go to jail for this shit? They might do a few days here and there, but will any of the major assholes responsible for this shit do any serious time? Probably not.

“Are we getting the air units back?”

“Yeah, I saw a message about that. They’ve cleared from that shit storm in Wilmington, so they should be back out – at least for a little while. They’ve probably got to refuel, though. I don’t know how late they’re going to stay out tonight. It’s too dangerous for them at night. The smoke from the fires is really fucking with them. Half the time, they can’t see anything.”

Which means they’re pretty much useless. Jesus, our single best resource out here and they’re useless because they can’t see what’s happening on the ground. Is this what we’ve come to? We’re fucking blind! How the hell are we supposed to do anything if we’re fucking blind?

“We’d better get ready to move out. We’re bunched up in here. We don’t want to stay in one place too long. We make a tempting target.”

“Roger that. At least our radios still work. Sixty-Six Central to all Central Midwatch units, let’s wrap it up! Dani wants us to move out before we get…”

Fuck! Gunshots! Get down!

“Everybody down! Get down! Find cover!”

“You were saying, Dani?”

God damn it! Where the hell is it coming from? Over there! Across the street! That green car! Fuck! I don’t have a shot! And it’s taking off like a bat out of hell!

“Green Toyota! Four door! License 8RTG…damn it! I didn’t get the rest of it!”

Acevedo’s writing it down. We’ll need that if we manage to find the car and arrest the asshole! Yeah, like that’s ever going to happen!

“Is everybody all right? Sound off! Is everyone in one piece? Harper! Titus! Are you OK?”

“We’re good, Dani! No hits!”

Thank God! Those shots hit right near our car! Harper could’ve been killed! What about everybody else? I don’t see anyone on the ground. I guess we got lucky.

“Harper, where did the shots hit? Are the cars intact?”

“We got a couple of holes in the door, but fortunately we were on the other side when it happened.”

“Thank God for small miracles. We need to…”

“Everybody! Signolo’s hit! Signolo’s hit! Officer down! He’s hit!”

What? That’s Goren! God almighty! Signolo got hit! Where is he? How bad?

“Signolo! Signolo, how bad? Just stay there!”

He’s standing up. Did he really get hit? Is he all right? Is he shot?

“Signolo! Talk to me!”

“I’m all right, Dani! It’s just a scratch!”

“I’ll be the judge of that! Where are you hit? Let me see!”

In the leg. It looks like it cut across the surface. Jesus Christ! He could’ve been killed!

“We need to get you to the hospital! Let’s go!”

“I’m not going to the hospital! It’s nothing! You need me out here!”

“Signolo!”

“Damn it, Dani! We already lost two officers! I go to the hospital and they’ll hold me there until tomorrow at least! We’re not dropping another unit! I’m not leaving! No fucking way!”

Pigheaded son of a bitch! I’ll kill him! First I’ll kill him, and then I’ll drag his ass to the hospital!

“You’re going to the hospital! You just got shot! I don’t want to hear any shit about it! You’re going!”

“Do you want to drop another unit? Can we afford it? Sergeant Gellar, you know I’m right! Look, it’s nothing! It’s a fucking scratch! A few stitches at most!”

I don’t believe this! Look at the Sarge! He’s actually considering it! I’m going to kill him too!

“Sarge, he got shot! He needs to get it sewn up!”

“Lynott, under normal circumstances, I’d agree with you. But he’s right: we can’t afford to drop the unit. We’re it. We’re all this division’s got. Signolo, are you sure about this?”

“It’s bullshit, Sarge. It’s a bullshit scratch. I’m fine. I just need a bandage. I can still run circles around the rest of you!”

“That much, I don’t doubt. Come on, Lynott. We can’t afford to lose our fastest man. We’re going to be chasing a lot of bad guys before this is over. Signolo, get it patched up. If it gets to be too much, we’ll take you to an aid station and try to get you a few stitches.”

“Fuck that, Sarge! I’ll sew it up myself if I have to! I’m not leaving the field!”

Goddamned macho assholes! It’s a fucking gunshot wound! There’s no such thing as a minor gunshot wound! Why am I the only one who understands that?

“Go get it patched up. Lynott’s going to keep an eye on you to make sure you’re all right. Isn’t that right, Lynott?”

“I’m going to strangle the both of you before this is over! Count on it!”

“When this is over, you can strangle anyone you want. Right now, I want to get the hell out of here before those shitbags come back with something heavier. Everyone, we’re moving out! One minute! Gear up and get ready! And watch the street! Keep an eye out for anyone who looks like they might take a shot at us!”

Is he kidding? In this division? In the middle of a riot? That’s pretty much everybody!

“You’re on my shit list, Sarge! And that’s not a good place to be!”

“Oh, I know it! Come on, Lynott. Don’t be a mother hen. We have to keep as many of our people out here as we can, at least until we’re relieved. You saw the wound. It’s not serious. He’s going to be fine. And he’s right: he can still outrun anybody on the department. We need him. We need everyone we can get.”

“How long are we going to be able to keep them out here, Sarge? That’s the real question, isn’t it? How much more of this shit can we take?”

“As much as we have to. There’s nobody else to take it.”

He’s right and I know it, and I fucking hate it! I don’t want him to be right! We’re not supermen, for God’s sake! We’re already at the end of our rope! Now we’re getting picked off one by one!

“Harper! Titus! Get in the car! We’re going!”

Titus can tell I’m not happy. He’s got a boot’s sense. You learn very quickly how to read your Field Training Officer. It’s a matter of survival. Harper, on the other hand, is giving me that “Don’t get so upset, Dani” look. I think he just went on the strangulation list!

“Dani, check it out! In the seat!”

Oh, just fucking great! There’s a goddamned bullet hole right in the middle of it, just shy of the headrest! If I’d been sitting there, it would’ve hit me right in the neck!

“I think it’s an omen! We’re out of our minds to stay out here!”

“But you wouldn’t go inside if they let you, would you?”

Like he really needs me to answer that! Fuck! I hate this shit! I fucking hate it beyond belief!

“No! Just get in the car, would you? And don’t tell me to calm down! I don’t want to calm down! I want to sit here and be furious!”

“Yes, ma’am! Hang in there, Titus. She doesn’t stay this way for very long. She’ll grow on you.”

There he goes again! Being all reasonable and sensible and understanding! Do you want to know what’s driving me crazy right now? If he ever starts training boots, he’s going to be the Field Training Officer everybody wants! Every boot in the division is going to request to work with him! I remember not too long ago when that described me! Remind me to kill him when we get home!

All right, enough of this. Let’s see where we’re needed most. At least the assholes didn’t hit our computer. We don’t have any radio calls during a mobilization, but we do get bulletins about emergency locations and situations. Time to browse the latest ones and see if there’s something we can do. Oh, great! Eleven pages of them! And that’s just in the last fifteen minutes! Where do we even start? See which ones are closest to us right now. Jesus, there’s a real mess over by the border with Avalon Division. There’s four…no, five accounts of multiple gunshots in Sector 011. I know that place. It had just started to go to major shit right before I got kicked out of Woodlawn. The neighborhood was changing. It was getting a real influx of first-generation Hispanic immigrants and the long-time neighbors didn’t like it one bit. The gangbangers on both sides liked it even less. I guess this is a perfect opportunity to settle a few scores. Who’s the biggest Hispanic gang over there? Probably Avandia Terrace. They were growing by leaps and bounds the last summer I was here. They’re likely to be the ones doing a lot of the shooting. I remember they had a shitload of youngsters in their ranks. Little pooh-butts without an ounce of brains. They’re impulsive and they think that because they’re juveniles, the system can’t touch them. They’re not completely wrong about that. It makes them dangerous.

“Guys, take a look at this. That area is a real hotspot, or at least it was when I was last here. Black gangs versus Hispanic gangs. Titus, what’s the situation over there now?”

“Bad. A.T. is forcing everyone out. They’ve taken over most of the dope trade from the Cantor Street Crips. There’ve been two homicides since I got here. The Gang Unit says Cantor Street isn’t going down without a fight.”

Yeah, because they’re a bunch of stupid motherfuckers. Cantor Street is an older gang. I doubt they’ve got a dozen members who are under the age of twenty-five and a lot of their guys are sitting in prison. They’re going down in flames. That’s the Gang Unit’s nightmare scenario.

“I’m sending a message to everyone to get over there. We’ve got a lot of reports of shots fired. Maybe a strong presence can clear them out for a while? What do you think?”

“Sounds like a plan, ma’am. Officer Harper?”

“I’m up for it. Send the word, Dani. Let’s go stabilize the neighborhood.”

Uh-huh. I didn’t tell Harper the part where nobody up there likes us very much. They’ve had some high-profile arrests that didn’t go well and it really turned the people against the police department. We might be in for a hot reception.

“Sending the message now. Remember, that’s a residential neighborhood: a lot of people crammed into close quarters. Gunfire has a habit of punching right through thin walls. If you have to shoot, watch your backstop. There are no empty buildings over there. You’ve got to figure that behind every wall is somebody ducking for cover. We don’t want any bystanders getting shot. Understood?”

“Roger that, ma’am.”

“Right there with you, Dani. Where do we go?”

“Start with 74th Street and Cantor Avenue. That’s ground zero. If they’re fighting, that’s where they’re doing it. Hit it, Harper!”

“Hang on!”

This should be good: heading straight into an ongoing gang war on a night when we’ve got no backup and everybody thinks the law has been suspended. Jesus, we really do need our heads examined!

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