Tactical Alert

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"Way Over the Deep End"

Avandia Terrace. This is pretty typical of Woodlawn Division: one block over, it’s all nice houses with manicured lawns and older people who’ve been living there since the seventies. They’re good people. They just want to live in peace. But here? On 74th Street? It’s asshole central: gangs, drugs, run-down houses, and no hope for anyone. I’ll bet fifty bucks that not one of these families can tell you who lives in the house next door. There’s no community here. Not anymore. And the vultures are waiting for the last of the old people to die so they can take over the rest of the neighborhood. The Senior Lead Officer once told me there are a dozen shady real estate brokers going around trying to convince the old people to sell their houses before the property values drop into the basement. Fucking assholes! I hate shitheads who prey on old people like that. Imagine if someone tried to do that to my mom? No, she’d just beat them to death with her garden hoe and use the body for fertilizer.

We heard what sounded like a couple of gunshots when we got about two blocks away, but right now it’s pretty quiet. I’m hoping it stays that way. There’s usually a bunch of cars out here on the street with gangbangers hanging out of them and drinking, but not tonight. The street’s clear and I don’t hear a car stereo anywhere. That tells me there’s something seriously wrong going on. I don’t even see anybody sitting on the porches or the front steps. It’s pretty warm out here tonight. This place should be crawling with people. I don’t even see a stray dog wandering around. Something’s definitely wrong. Time to get out of the car and take a good look around. We need to be ready for anything. Grab the shotgun. Harper’s got his rifle and the other units are headed out on foot. Sergeant Hendrickson told Forty-Four to stay in their car and be ready to respond if anything happens. Let’s hope it’s enough.

“Stay sharp, everyone. We could be walking into some real shit. Does anybody see anything? Anyone?”

Harper is scanning the area through the scope on his rifle. A little aggressive-looking, but it’s better than being blindsided.

“I’ve got nothing, Dani. I wish this thing had a thermal imaging scope.”

And I wish I had that Ted Williams rookie car from Titus’ uncle, but we can’t afford either one.

“Just keep looking and listening. Titus, fan out over by that house. Watch the driveways. They go all the way back to the rear of the house, so somebody could pop out of there before you ever see them.”

“Roger that, ma’am.”

You know, I’m going to kick the shit out of him if he doesn’t stop calling me “ma’am.” I’m too damned young to be a “ma’am.” My mom is a “ma’am.” Not me. Not yet, anyway.

“Rosen, Vinell, and Sergeant Ivanell, you guys take the north side of the street. Keep plenty of space between you. Don’t bunch up. Keep your eyes and ears open.”

There’s an alley that cuts north-south about a half a block down from here. In neighborhoods like this, that’s where a lot of the shots are fired. Parents have to tell their kids never to go in there. It’s like having to tell your kids not to play in the minefield. Some life, huh?

“Sergeant Hendrickson, You’re with us. There’s an alley half a block up. If anyone’s out here right now, that’s probably where they are. We’re going to move up along these lawns. Stay off the sidewalk. It might give us a chance to surprise them.”

“What about the people in these houses? If they see someone walking across their front lawn in the middle of the night…”

“They already know we’re here, Sarge. Believe me, we’ve got plenty of eyes on us right now. I don’t imagine a lot of people are sleeping soundly tonight. Not in this neighborhood.”

Judging by the number of lights that are on in these houses, I think I hit the nail on the head. These people have probably been glued to the TV since the first fires started. The ones who aren’t out raising hell, anyway. All right, here we go! Move nice and slow. Stop, look, and listen. No way are all of the assholes in this neighborhood out somewhere else. They’re here somewhere. A lot of them, at any rate. The punks in this neighborhood are all gangbangers. They’ll be expecting someone to make a move against them tonight. They’ll be waiting for it. They’ll be waiting for us, too. That’s the part I’m worried about.

Keep moving. So far, nothing. I haven’t even seen anyone looking out a window. They know better. At night, the only peek through the curtains when the lights are off in the room. They keep it dark so you can’t see them but they can see you. God, we stand out like sore thumbs! Blue police uniforms aren’t made to camouflage you. They’re made to make you stand out so people can see you. Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now. Just keep moving forward. Hang on! I think I hear something. Voices. Up ahead. In the alley? Maybe. Sound behaves funny around here and it’s a lot quieter than usual. It could be from the alley. Give everyone the hand signal: stop! They see it. They’re all stopping. Harper’s asking what I’ve got. Point to my ear and then point in the direction I heard it. They’re all nodding. We’re all on the same page. Nice and slow, keep going. Try to hear what the fuck is happening over there. Try to pinpoint where it’s coming from. I can’t make out what they’re saying. Hell, it could be a couple of people sitting in a backyard drinking beers. Then again, it could be a couple of drunken gangsters with guns. We’re about to find out. There’s the wooden wall at the edge of the alley. It’s got to be at least six feet tall. I can’t see over it. Both Harper and Sergeant Hendrickson are over six feet, but I’m not about to ask either one of them to peek over it. Time for a tactical mirror. Stick it on the end of my nightstick and see if I can get a look at what’s going on in that alley. I hope there’s some light in there. All right, just lean it around the wall and hope to God the assholes aren’t looking out through the mouth of the alley, because if there’s any light in there, this little plastic mirror is going to catch it and shine like a Christmas tree!

Well, there’s a streetlight down there. I can see a car and at least two people in there. Hispanics. Young guys. I can see a shitload of beer cans, too. They’ve been knocking them back hard. There’s too many cans for just those two, so there are definitely more people back here. I just can’t see them.

“Harper, pass the word: we’ve got at least two people back there, about fifty feet down the alley. Male Hispanics, young, and probably drunk. They’re hanging out by a parked car. The passenger door is open.”

“Gangbangers?”

“I can’t tell, but until we find out otherwise, we’re going with that. There’s no way in there except through the mouth of the alley. We’ve got to go right in through the front door. If there are more guys in there waiting for us…”

“You don’t have to tell me, Dani. I’ve done this before, remember? Our best bet is going to be to jam in on them fast and hard. Prone them out in a hurry and clear that car. We’ll deal with whoever else is in there when we see them. I’ll tell the others.”

Fifty feet. We’ve got to cover fifty feet before we’re on top of them. That’s a lot of time for them to take off running or pull a gun and start shooting. Frankly, I’m hoping for door number one. They definitely aren’t on alert. It looks like they’re just hanging out and drinking. That’s the life of the average gangbanger for you: nice work if you can get it.

“Dani, everybody’s on board. The Sarge radioed Signolo and Goren to go one block south and come up through the alley northbound. If this thing goes to shit, watch your fire. They’ll be headed straight for us, lights and siren.”

Dangerous, but it’s the best chance we’ve got to keep them from getting away if they start running down the alley. They won’t try to drive away. They’d never get that car started and in gear before we were on top of them. This is going to be a foot race and our fastest man is stuck in a car. That doesn’t bode well.

All right, here’s everybody else. One more look around that corner to see what’s up. Nice and slow. Yeah, they’re still there. One of them’s got…oh, shit! He’s got a gun!

“Gun! Everybody! One of them is armed!”

Shit! Gunshots! What the fuck is he shooting at? Fuck the mirror! Take a quick peek around the fence! Jesus, he’s shooting up in the air! Drunken motherfucker!

“He’s shooting up in the air. Wait for him to stop and put that thing away. Then we move. Everybody ready?”

They’re all nodding. Yeah, they’re ready. I’m not! Charging up on some snockered asshole with a gun? Definitely not a safe play! All right, stand by! The shooting’s stopped. Take another peek around…yes! He put the gun away! He’s cracking open another beer. Good! Just don’t reach for it again and we’ll all be just fine!

“The gun’s put away. Everybody ready? Go! Go!”

Hurry! Down the fucking alley! Run! Run! Jam up on them! Shit! They see us! Guns up!

“Police! Hands in the air! Hands in the air! Don’t reach for that gun! Show me your hands!”

There’s Forty-Four! Coming up the alley! These guys don’t know what to do! But they’re not putting their hands up! Shit! Where the fuck is that gun? If one of them makes a grab for something…

“Hands in the air! Do you want to get shot? Do it! Hands in the air, motherfucker! Right now!”

Jesus Christ! He tossed it! That idiot tossed the fucking gun! I could’ve killed him! He almost got his goddamned head blown off! Stupid motherfucker! Titus has the first one on the ground! Harper’s got the fucking brain donor! Yes! We did it! Nobody got shot! We got them!

“Sarge! Clear that car! Vinell! Secure that gun! It’s right over there by the fence!”

“I got it! Hey, asshole! Do you know how fucking stupid that was? You almost died, shithead!”

Fuck! The Sarge found someone in there! In the car! There’s somebody in there! It looks like he’s got it under control.

“Get the hell out of there! You! Let me see your hands! Get your ass the fuck out of that car! Try anything and I’ll drop you right here! Move it! Out!”

That guy’s fucking hammered! He was probably sleeping it off in there. The Sarge is giving us the all-clear. Thank you, God! Nobody got hurt!

All right, let’s see who these idiots are. This guy in the white t-shirt’s got a bunch of tattoos on his arms. So what have we got? Yeah, I knew it! ATL! Avandia Terrace Locos! They’re gangbangers! Stupid fucking gangbangers at that!

“What do they call you?”

“Joker.”

Yeah, I’ll bet you’re a barrel of laughs!

“You know your stupid friend almost got the both of you killed! What the fuck was he thinking, tossing that gun right in front of us?”

“I don’t know. That fool’s shitfaced.”

“He’s not the only one. Guys, search these two and toss them in Forty-Four’s car. We’ll clear the rest of the alley down to 75th Street. If we don’t find anyone else, we’ll call this place secure for now.”

God knows we made enough noise to wake the dead. Anyone left in this alley should be running like mad right now. Hey, that’s fine with me. I’ve had enough excitement today to last me for ten lifetimes!

“And somebody run the plate on this car. I doubt it’s stolen, but at least we’ll get the name of the registered owner. We’re not going to get a tow truck out here tonight, so we’ll…”

“Look out! Through the fence!”

What the fuck? Gunshots! Someone’s shooting at us! Get down! Behind the car! Fuck! They’re spraying lead all over the place! Stay down! Jesus Christ! What was that? Harper! He shot back! There! In the fence! There’s a gap in the fence! I didn’t even see it! There’s a guy down! Harper shot him! Christ, that was almost point-blank!

“Harper!”

“Stay down! Everybody! Hold your positions! I’ve got one down and one running through the yard!”

“Don’t go after him! Harper, you stay put! Nobody chase him!”

Fuck this! I’m coming out! I need to see what’s going on! Fuck! That asshole is dead for sure! I can see the exit wound in his back! I could put my fist through it! The shot must’ve been dead center in the chest! Nice shooting, Harper! As usual! Damn! He had a big fucking gun! That looks like a .357! I guess this dork was old school. He doesn’t look that old, though. He’s still a goddamned kid! Not anymore!

“You got him, Harper. He’s got to be dead. Christ, you practically cut him in half!”

“If Titus hadn’t warned me, I would’ve been…oh, fuck! Titus!”

What? Did he…oh, my God! He’s down! He’s been shot! Titus got hit!

“Officer down! Officer down! Sarge! Titus is down!”

Oh, fuck! He’s got blood all over his face! His neck! He got hit in the neck! Christ, he’s bleeding all over the place!

“Titus! Titus! Just hang on! Help’s on the way! Somebody get EMS! We need the paramedics! Just hang on, Titus! Do you hear me? Don’t you fucking die on me!”

“Yes…ma’am. I’m…I can’t…”

Christ, he can’t breathe! Do something! What? What the fuck am I supposed to do? He’s shot in the neck! I can’t fix that! What do we do? Please, God! Tell me what to do!

“Just hang on, Titus! You’re going to be fine! Just try to breathe! Slow! Nice and slow!”

I can’t tell if he’s breathing! He’s fighting it! God, what do we do? Somebody tell me what to do!

“Harper, what do we do? He’s hit in the neck!”

“I see it! Hang on, Titus! That’s an order! Dani, give me your pressure bandage! Hurry! Titus, I’ve got to put pressure on the wound! It’s going to hurt like hell, but I have to do it! Ready? Just hang in there!”

Oh, God! He’s trying to scream but he can’t! That’s got to hurt like a motherfucker!

“Harper, is this going to work? What else can we do? We’ve got to stop the bleeding!”

“Somebody get me a fucking first-aid kit! I need another pressure bandage! Hang on, Titus! I know it hurts! I know it hurts like a bitch! We have to do this! You’re going to be all right! You’re going to make it! I’m telling you, you’re going to make it! Just hang on! Help’s on the way!”

Lieutenant Hagan’s got the first-aid kit! Where the hell is that pressure bandage? Here! I’ve got it! Hurry! Get it on the wound! Hurry!

“Harper, hold his head! You’re going to make it, Titus! We’ve got the bandage! I’ve got to put this on you! It’s going to hurt! Scream if you want! It’s OK! You’re going to make it! You’re going to get out of here! I promise! Just hang on!”
“Lynott! What the hell happened?”

“A gunner came out of the fence! I didn’t even see him! Titus warned us to get down, but he got hit! Harper killed the son of a bitch!”

“Officer Titus, you listen to me! You’re going to be fine! We’ve got all the help in the world headed this way! You just hold on! That’s a goddamned order! You hold on and you’ll be all right!”

He’s scared! He’s scared to death! He thinks he’s going to die! What am I supposed to do? I’m not a doctor! I don’t know what to do! Christ, that bullet could’ve hit an artery! There’s blood everywhere! He sounds like he’s choking!

“Harper, what do we do?”

“Just talk to him, Dani. Try to keep him calm. Keep his heart rate down. The faster it beats, the more blood he loses. Just stay with him and try to keep him calm. Somebody get me something to put under his head! Lieutenant, prop his feet up! I don’t want him going into shock!”

Talk to him? About what? It’s all I can do to keep from crying! I can’t let him see me do that! He’ll think he’s a dead man for sure!

“Titus, you did good! You saved us! You warned us in time! You’re a hero! A real-life hero! I just…I’m supposed to talk to you, but I don’t know…I don’t know what to say.”

“Officer…Harper? He got…got the shooter?”

“Yeah, he got him. He’s history. Just don’t…don’t try to talk. Save your strength. Just breathe. Nice and slow. We have to…we have to keep…keep your heart rate down. We’ve got your feet propped up so you don’t go…we don’t want you going into shock. You’re going to be all right. I promise. We’re going to get you out. We’re going to get you to a hospital. Harper, shouldn’t we transport him? We could take him…”

He’s shaking his head. Yeah, I know. He’s hit too bad. If we tried to transport him in one of our cars, it would probably kill him. We just have to wait for the paramedics. God, where are they? What the fuck is keeping them?

“You know…your girlfriend is probably going to be really pissed at you; getting yourself shot like this. I think she’ll…God, I don’t know what to say. I’m supposed to just talk to you, but I don’t know what to say.”

“You never…told me…why you can’t…order a pizza.”

Jesus, he remembered that? Of all the…oh, why the hell not? Maybe it’ll take his mind off of the goddamned hole in his throat?

“OK, but you have to promise not to tell anyone this story. I only ever told Harper about it. You promise?”

He’s smiling. Jesus Christ, he’s actually smiling! How the hell can he do that right now?

“It was…you see, I used to live in an apartment and there was this rumor that we had a porn star living in there somewhere. I don’t…I don’t know if it was true. But I heard that some of the pizza delivery guys were always hoping to deliver a pizza to her. I guess they thought she’d…you know…that’s what I heard. So one night, I was…I got really drunk. I was fucking hammered! So I…I don’t know why I did it, but for some reason, I called the pizza place and I kind of put on this crazy sexy voice and I told them my name was Dani Destiny or some shit like that. You know, a typical porn star name? God knows why I did it, but I did.”

“No way!”

“I swear it’s true! So when the guy came to deliver the pizza, I put on this totally see-through negligée and started acting like a complete tease. God, I can’t believe I’m telling you this! Well, I didn’t bang the guy, but I definitely put some ideas in his head, if you know what I mean.”

Christ, he’s actually cracking up! He’s laughing! He’s not screaming or gasping for breath! He’s actually laughing!

“The next morning when I sobered up, I was so embarrassed! I couldn’t believe I did that! So after that, I had pizza guys knocking on my door almost every night. It got so bad that I had to change my phone number and I couldn’t…I could never order a pizza again. Now, you can never tell anyone that story, you hear me? You’re sworn to secrecy! You rat me out and I’ll kick your ass, mister!”

What’s that? It’s EMS! Finally! Get your fucking asses over here!

“Somebody get that ambulance in here now! Titus! See? EMS is here! You’re going to make it! You just need to hang on! You hang on, mister! I’ll punch you right in the balls if you don’t! You hang in there!”

God, the bleeding won’t stop! He’s going to die right here!

“Officers! What’ve you got? How bad is he?”

“I don’t know! Gunshot wound to the neck! He’s lost a lot of blood!”

“All right, give us room to work. Billy, get on the radio to Whitechapel! Tell them we’ve got a male, approximately twenty-three, through-and-through GSW to the neck and another one in the left side of the abdomen. Conscious and labored breathing.”

He’s shot in the gut? Jesus Christ! I didn’t even see that one! But I do now! I can see the blood all over his trousers! Christ, how the fuck did I miss that?

“He’s going to be OK, right?”

“It’s not good. We need to get him stabilized and transport ASAP. I need you to step back. We need to get an I/V started right away.”

“Can’t you give him something for the pain? He’s in agony!”

“Not until we get him stabilized. It could kill him. He’s just going to have to bear with it. All right, we’ve got this! Give us some room to work! Somebody get a light on him! We need to see what we’re doing! Officer, we’re going to have to immobilize your head. We don’t want you moving around. It’s going to hurt like a bitch, but we have to do it.”

He’d be screaming his head off if he could. I can see his neck’s already swollen up like a balloon! God, how can he even breathe like that? Please, God! Please let him live! He’s lost so much blood! Please let him live!

“Dani? Are you OK?”

“I’m a lot better than he is. You did a hell of a job with him, sweetheart. You may have saved his life. God, did you see him? That hole?”

“I thought I left that shit in Iraq. I’m telling you, every minute of this crap reminds me of it. It’s like I’m right back there. How the hell did this happen? This is America, for God’s sake! We don’t have this shit here!”

“We do now.”

And so we all stand here, staring at them as they shove him into the ambulance. There’s nothing we can do for him now except pray. It’s the most helpless feeling in the world. If you have any idea of what it’s like, then you have my sympathy.

“Lynott? Are you all right?”

“Lieutenant? Yeah, I’m fine. Just peachy.”

“It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. These assholes have the home field advantage. They know every inch of this place. A sudden ambush? There’s no way to predict it and no way to defend against it. Tell her, Harper.”

“He’s right, Dani. You never know about it until they open fire. That’s just the way it is.”

Yeah, I know. War is hell. Whoever said that was a stupid motherfucker. Hell doesn’t even scratch the surface of it.

“It doesn’t make me feel any better. He’s the second boot who got shot on me today. I was responsible for him. Look how it turned out.”

“You did everything you could, Lynott. He’s young and strong. He’s got a fighting chance. It’s up to the doctors now. No one could do any more than you two did for him. I mean that. You both did an outstanding job. You two know how to take care of your people. I won’t forget it.”

Maybe not, but I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life. I’m going to see it in my sleep. Every time I look at some fresh-faced boot right out of the academy, I’m going to see Titus lying there with his face and neck covered in blood. I’m going to hear him gasping for breath. I’m going to feel the gravel pressing against my knees as I helped Harper push that bandage down on his neck. And that’s all I’m going to remember. Forever.


Back on patrol. We just cleared from the scene. It was a real zoo. Some of the neighbors came out to scream at us in Spanish, but a bunch of older black people showed up and started screaming at them. They saw what happened. I guess the sight of a young officer choking to death on his own blood was too much even for them. I could hear some of them saying over and over again: “That poor boy! He was so young!” He still is. I’m not giving up on him. I’m not giving up until I know for sure he’s dead and I won’t let myself believe that he’s going to die. No fucking way. Jesus, is that what it takes for people around here to realize that we’re as human as they are? For some poor guy barely old enough to buy a drink to get his neck torn apart in their own backyard? I hope they saw him and they never forget it, just like I’ll never forget it. I hope it lives with them for the rest of their lives. We came here to help. Titus came here to help. He didn’t have to. He was one month out of the academy and his FTO bailed on him. He could’ve headed off to the command post and nobody would’ve thought any less of him for it, but he came out here because he’s a cop and he wanted to help. If people can’t or won’t understand that, then we’ve already lost this thing and we might as well resign and go do something else. It has to mean something. It has to be worth something. If it’s not, then we’re the stupidest motherfuckers who ever lived.

I blew up at Commander Mancia as soon as he got here. He didn’t deserve it, but I did it anyway. He said something about too many shootings and how he thought he might have to pull Harper out of the field because he killed that little piece of shit and I just lost it. I told him he was lucky we didn’t start shooting these assholes on sight because that’s exactly what they deserve! He didn’t argue with me. I think he knew I’d hit the breaking point. Then I told him I expected him to keep me up to date on Titus’ condition. I said I wanted regular reports and I wanted to know the instant he was out of surgery. He didn’t say anything. He just nodded and wrote everything down in his field officer’s notebook. I’m kind of surprised he even had one. Most people, once they hit the rank of sergeant, refuse to carry them. Those are for the grunts; not for brass. Anyway, he wrote everything down and nodded like he was going to do it. Maybe he will? He’d better. Right now, I’m ready to kill the next son of a bitch who so much as pisses me off. I know I can’t do that, but that’s how I feel. Sue me.

Commander Mancia said things had quieted down a lot, but that there were still plenty of incidents going on. A lot of shots fired calls. Apparently, it’s worst over in Avalon Division right now. The few units they’ve got left out there have all come under heavy fire since midnight. Lots of ambushes and sniper fire. Right now, everyone’s just waiting until daybreak. After that, we expect it to start up all over again. Commander Mancia says the intelligence people are expecting today to be worse than yesterday, if that’s even possible. How could anything be worse than yesterday? He didn’t have a body count, but he did say that Titus has a lot of company. Several officers have been shot, stabbed, or burned. He didn’t know exactly how many, but this was a red-letter day for the department. Red as in blood red. Harper was right: we’re watching history in the making. Too bad it’s the kind of history we don’t want. So we’re just plugging along. It’s after four o’clock in the morning and we’re still hearing the occasional gunshots. Christ, don’t these assholes ever sleep? No, they’re afraid they’ll miss something good. That should tell you everything you need to know about them.

Commander Mancia didn’t bring us any food. He grabbed a bunch of pizzas for us, but the brass at the CP decided to keep them for themselves. That figures. I hope they fucking choke on them! My stomach’s gone from growling to screaming out in pain. So has everyone else’s. The next time somebody tells you they’re starving, tell them they don’t know what starvation is. I’ve never been so hungry in my life. Or tired. It’s all I can do to stay awake. I’m scared to death that I’m going to doze off in the car. I don’t know how Harper does it. He looks like he’s still going at full speed. I’d usually say it was a Marine thing, but I don’t think even they could train you to keep it together like he has. God, I love him! Looking at him through this shit, I don’t think I’ve ever loved him more. Don’t ask me why. I just feel that way right now. When he and I get home, we’re going to put Emily in her crib in our bedroom, crawl into bed and not come out for at least a day. Maybe a week? Yeah, I think we deserve a week. We’ve definitely earned it. I’ll bet we could even convince Helena to bring us our meals in bed. She wouldn’t even let us pay her for it. Sounds like a plan to me.

We’re headed for the border with Avalon Division. We don’t plan to leave Woodlawn, but if Avalon’s getting hit as hard as Commander Mancia said, then we thought we should head up that way and see if we could help them out. The Commander said that one of the proposed staging areas for the National Guard was the Water and Power parking lot near Avalon Station, so if the Guard bothers to show up in the morning, Avalon will be one of the first divisions to see any relief. It sounds like they earned it. We’ve got Titus’ radio tuned to Avalon frequency, but so far, it’s nothing but dead air. That’s really creepy. Avalon Division is the busiest radio frequency in the city. Having it go silent in the middle of a riot? That can’t be a good thing.

“Dani, what’s the word?”

“Still nothing. I don’t understand it. How could the whole division go dark? They didn’t take out the main transmission tower. It’s thirty miles away and we’re still getting radio broadcasts over the other frequencies, so I know they’re still sending.”

“Maybe they took out the repeaters?”

“All of them?”

That’s not possible. It would take every asshole in the division to locate them and knock them out. Besides, they’re not that smart. Those police radio repeaters? They look like any old cellphone repeater. They’d never know the difference.

“This is Sixteen Central Midwatch broadcasting on Avalon frequency. Any Avalon unit still in the field, come up on Avalon frequency.”

Nothing. Not a peep. Are they all gone? Did they get an order to withdraw? That’s a lot more likely than all of the repeaters being destroyed, but Avalon Division? Those guys are as gung-ho as they come. Avalon cops are legendary for being crazy motherfuckers who never quit. No way would they abandon the place. Not unless the brass dragged them out of there kicking and screaming.

“I say again, this is Sixteen Central Midwatch broadcasting on Avalon frequency. Any Avalon unit still in the field, please respond. What is your situation? We are in Woodlawn Division. We are just south of the Avalon/Woodlawn border. We can render assistance if needed. Any Avalon unit still in the field, please respond.”

“It’s your call, Dani: do we cross the border?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never worked Avalon Division. I don’t know it very well. Just the major streets. We don’t know what we’d be getting into.”

“All right, how about this: we stay here until the rest of the watch catches up to us. Once we’ve got the whole watch, we decide whether to go in or not. Sound good?”

It sounds a hell of a lot better than just rushing in there and running into God only knows what.

“Good deal. We’ll just patrol nice and slow through here.”

“Hold that thought! We’ve got a car wreck up ahead! See it?”

See what? There’s so much smoke from the fires around here I can barely see the front of our car! Oh, there it is! Jesus, that’s a bad one! That car is practically torn in half! What the hell did they hit? I don’t see another car.

“Let’s check it out. I’m sending a message to everyone to meet us here. Let them know where we are. Be careful, Harper. This could be a setup.”

“Exactly what I was thinking. Come on, let’s check it out. Keep your head on a swivel and your eyes and ears open. Especially your ears. Visibility is almost zero right now.”

I can’t tell if there’s anyone in that car. Jesus, it looks like Godzilla grabbed it and tore it in half! I’m surprised we didn’t hear about this wreck over the radio. With that much damage, it must’ve sounded like an explosion when it happened. Yeah, there’s someone in there all right. The driver. I can’t see if there’s anybody else. Harper’s moving up with his rifle covering us. Whoever that driver is, she’s not moving. She looks like she’s maybe thirty or so. I’ll guard while Harper makes the approach. He’s checking her out. Now he’s making a slashing motion across his throat. She’s dead.

“Her neck’s broken. There’s nothing we can do for her.”

That’s an understatement. Her head’s lying on her left shoulder. Her neck must be broken completely through. What the hell happened to her? What did she hit?

“Any gunshot wounds?”

“Negative. But she’s got a load of what looks like stolen shit in the back seat. She must’ve been out looting and plowed into someone.”

There’s a purse on the front seat. Maybe she’s got some ID? Let’s see…yep. She’s got a driver’s license. Leticia Sellers. She’s thirty-one, or at least she was. She’ll never see thirty-two.

“We’ll take the license back to Woodlawn Station. They’ll need it for the report. Unless there’s more to it, it’s a fatal traffic collision. We’ll be lucky if they even bother to investigate.”

“Dani, take a few pictures of the crash site. Just in case.”

I’ll say this: this is going to be the most well-documented riot in history. With all of the cellphone cameras? They’ll be sorting out the pictures for the next ten years at least. As for the detectives who are going to have to piece together their investigations from a bunch of bad photos and videos from our cellphones? I don’t envy them.

“I guess we can clear from here. There’s nothing more we can do. Harper, tell the Sarge…”

Fuck! Gunshots! Someone’s shooting at us!

“Dani, get down!”

They’re too close! They’ve got a bead on me! I need to get to cover! Run! Run like hell! Get the fuck out of this position!

“Dani!”

“Harper, take cover! Stay down!”

Jesus Christ! They’re still shooting at me! Keep moving! Don’t let them get a lock on me! Fuck! Whoever it is, they must have one hell of a vantage point! They can see me all the way over here! Run! Stay low! I need to find some cover! Somewhere so I can figure out where that shooter is and blow his fucking brains out! I swear to God, I’m going to kill this motherfucker! Run! Stay low! Over there! That block wall! That’s my cover! Run! Get there! Move it, girl!

Made it! Thank you, God! I don’t think the shooter can see me! He’s not firing at me anymore! But he’s sure as hell firing at someone! Harper? Is he…hang on! That’s Harper’s rifle! He’s shooting back! Kill the son of a bitch, Harper! Blow his fucking brains out! It’s stopped! Did he get him? Did Harper get the gunner? Where’s my radio? Christ, I don’t even know where I am right now!

“Sixteen Central, Harper! Harper, are you all right? Answer me! Harper!”

Shit! More gunshots! Lots of them! But those are coming from up ahead of me! Who the hell is shooting now? They’re not shooting at me, at least. Not unless they’re totally fucking blind!

“Sixteen Central! Harper! Harper, come up on the radio! Harper!”

Hang on! There’s a car coming through the smoke! It’s…red and blue lights! It’s a sector car! Jesus, they’re really moving at a crawl! Who the hell is that? They’re coming from north of me. It can’t be one of our units. Not from that direction. Whoever it is, I’d better be damned careful. They’re not broadcasting, so they probably didn’t hear me. If I stick my head out from behind here, they might just blow it off!

What the fuck? Am I hallucinating? Am I really seeing this shit? What the fuck is going on? Holy shit! Now I know I’m hallucinating! This is just…Christ almighty! That sector car! There’s a guy on the hood with an M-16 and two more kneeling on the trunk with rifles! Coming through the smoke, it’s like something out of an acid trip! What the fuck is going on?

“Central Midwatch, coming out! Hold your fire!”

They’re stopping. Jesus, this is…this is just fucking insane! What the fuck am I even looking at?

“Was that you guys shooting at the sniper?”

The black officer on the hood is just looking at me. No, he’s looking right through me! Jesus, look at these guys! Their uniforms are all fucked up! They look like somebody dropped them in a giant blender! These guys have been through some serious fucking shit!

“Who are you guys? I’m Officer Lynott, Central Midwatch. Are you a Woodlawn unit? I didn’t think there were any left out here.”

“We’re Avalon. What’s a Central copper doing in the ’Wood?”

I guess the black officer is the leader. Leader of what? These guys look like they’ve all gone stone cold psycho! They look like they came out of the movie Apocalypse Now!

“Our watch came down here when the riot started. We’ve been here ever since. You guys are Avalon? We’ve been trying to reach you on the radio. The frequency’s dead. What happened?”

“We’ve got no commo. Nobody does. Whatever’s left of us.”

I don’t like the way this guy is talking. Or the way he’s looking at me. His voice is…Jesus, look at his eyes! The lights are on, but nobody’s home!

“Where’s your sergeant? You guys do have a sergeant, right?”

“Sergeant Leland. You know him?”

Seriously? Who doesn’t? David Leland is a legend. A real kick-ass field sergeant. I think everybody on the department knows about him.

“I’ve heard of him. He’s a good guy. Where is he?”

“Dead. Bought it over on Gramercy around eighteen hundred hours. We were there.”

He’s dead? He got killed? I don’t believe it! How the hell did we not hear about it?

“I’m…sorry to hear that. Are you guys…are you OK? You guys seem a little…”

No, something tells me I shouldn’t finish that sentence. These guys look like they’ve flown the coop big time! I mean they’ve really gone over the deep end! Way over the deep end!

“You’re out here alone?”

“No, my partner’s over there somewhere. The rest of the watch is supposed to be headed over here. You can link up with us if you want. We could use the help.”

One of the guys on the trunk doesn’t seem too happy with that idea.

“We ain’t goin’ anywhere, honey. This is our division. We’re staying right here. Time to get some payback.”

Uh-huh! That guy’s definitely gone over the deep end! These guys are seriously fucking scary! So I’m actually in Avalon Division? I knew there was one part of the division that dipped below San Tomas Boulevard. I guess this is it. Welcome to Avalon Division, Dani!

“All right. We can…we can spare a couple of batteries if you want. Get your radios back up and running.”

Their leader doesn’t seem too impressed with that idea.

“Don’t need them. Got nothing to say on the radio. You want to come with us?”

Now the others are really unhappy! They didn’t like that suggestion one bit!

“She’s not Avalon, partner.”

“She’s not one of us.”

“Yeah, but she’s Central Midwatch. They’re pretty badass. Climb on, Lynott. You can come with us.”

Uh, no thank you! Something tells me I want to stay very far away from you guys! It would be like accepting a ride from a car full of serial killers! And that’s exactly what these guys seem like to me! Jesus, what the hell happened to them? I mean, I get that their sergeant was killed, but…damn! They look like they’ve gone full-blown psycho! What did they see to turn them into…I don’t even know what!

“No thanks. I’m going to go find my partner and link up with the rest of my watch.”

And he just nods. He doesn’t say a word. I think these guys are about an inch away from becoming non-verbal! Christ, they’re practically animals! What the fuck happened to them? What did they see? I don’t know, and I don’t want to know! Not ever! And away they go, still moving at a crawl. Hunters! They’re hunting assholes! I swear to God, if I hadn’t seen that with my own eyes, I’d never have believed it! Not in a million years! Not in ten million years!

“Dani! Dani! Where are you?”

“Over here, Harper! I’m fine! Are you?”

There he is. He doesn’t look any the worse for what just happened, thank God!

“I’m good. Whoever was shooting at us took off running before I could zero him. Good thing, too. That guy could shoot a little too well for my tastes. Are you sure you’re OK?”

“Yeah, I didn’t get hit. I’m fine.”

“Are you sure? You look a little spooked. I know some of those shots came pretty close.”

How the hell do I explain what I just saw to him? How do I explain it to anybody? That shit was downright surreal!

“I saw something…I don’t know what I saw. It was just…weird. I’ll tell you about it later. If I can figure it out.”

“You say that like you saw a flying saucer. Are you sure you’re OK?”

Is he kidding? A flying saucer, I could handle. But that shit? I thought I’d seen just about everything working skid row, but that shit? There aren’t any words. There just aren’t.


Back on patrol. We told the watch about the sniper. I also told Lieutenant Hagan about the Avalon unit. Well, I sort of told him. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t exactly explain it. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t snitching them off. I’d never do that. No, I just thought he should know that some of the guys out here have totally flown the coop. From what he was able to piece together from my gibberish, I think he got the picture. He didn’t seem too surprised, actually. I guess that’s to be expected. Under this much stress, there are bound to be a few crackups. If it goes on much longer, there are going to be a lot of crackups. Some of us may be among them. The fact that I almost got my ass shot off back there didn’t really hit me until the rest of the watch showed up. Then it hit me pretty hard. How much longer can I keep getting lucky? How much longer can any of us keep it up? I don’t think I want to know the answer to that. I don’t think anyone does.

I’m also physically exhausted. I didn’t realize what that term meant until now. I swear to God, I don’t think I can take another step. I’m going to fall asleep right here in the car any second now. I’ve heard about how some units in the military go through training where they have to stay awake for a week with only a handful of hours of sleep, but I’m not one of them and besides, nobody tries to kill them during the training. I feel like I’m dying and so does everyone else on the watch. You can’t go through this shit forever. Everyone has a breaking point. Harper and I have taken to playing loud music in here through his cellphone. He’s got one of those external speakers in his gear bag and we were hoping it would be enough to keep us awake. It isn’t, and it’s not safe to be blasting the radio when you’re out on patrol. That’s why police cars don’t come with stereo systems. This shit is going to be the death of me. I just know it.

“Twenty-Two Central to all Central Midwatch units, we’re at 93rd Street east of Patuxent. We just got into a TC. We are involved. Repeat: we are involved.”

Oh, hell! That’s Rosen! He and Vinell are working Twenty-Two since both of them lost their partners. Now they just wrecked!

“Ten Central to Twenty-Two Central, how bad is it? Is anybody hurt?”

“Negative, sir. We sideswiped a telephone pole. Just a little bent sheet metal on the left front fender; no big deal. We’re still operational. It was my fault, sir. I dozed off at the wheel.”

See? They’re as wiped out as we are! They’re probably in worse shape than anyone else because both of their partners are lying in hospital beds!

“Harper, take the next left and go three blocks down, then west. Patuxent is about half a mile down. It’s a dinky little street. Hell, I think I know the pole they hit. It kind of leans out into the street since a tree fell on it about fifteen years ago.”

“Heading over there. I guess that’s one way to wake you up, huh?”

“Yeah, but for how long? What time does the sun come up?”

“A little less than an hour. Do you think they’ll let us go home for a while once ‘A’ watch is deployed?”

“If they don’t, then you and I are going to find out the penalty for going AWOL.”

“Do you want to hear something strange? I was thinking the exact same thing. What do you think? Fifteen days?”

“I hope not. Two weeks without pay would put a hell of a strain on us right now. I wish they did things the old way, where you could just do relinquish days.”

That’s how they used to suspend you back in the days of clamshell holsters and six-inch .38 Special revolvers: if you took five days, you didn’t get docked any pay. You just had to work without pay for five of your days off. Lieutenant Hagan told me about it. He took his share of relinquish days when he was new. Real suspensions were only for when they hit you with a heavy penalty for some serious shit. I don’t know if they let you do fifteen relinquish days, but even if they did, it would be worth it right now.

“There! That’s 93rd. Take it straight down. And watch out for assholes. This neighborhood isn’t the safest one around here.”

Then again, it’s so damned late that even most of the assholes have got to be asleep. I envy them. How sad is that?

“Dani, I see their lightbar. It looks like they’ve got company. There’s more than one unit down there.”

Yeah, we were all sticking pretty close together. Sweeping one sector after the next and making sure nobody was killing anyone or starting any fires. Oh, don’t worry. In a few hours, they’ll all be right back at it. Only they’ll have had a decent night’s sleep while we’ll all be falling asleep on our feet.

“Sixteen Central to Twenty-Two Central, we’re coming up right behind you, westbound on 93rd. Are you sure you’re all right?”

“We’re fine, Dani. They can hammer out the dent and a little Bondo and paint and she’ll be as good as new.”

“You sound like Harper when you talk like that, Rosen. I’m glad you’re both all right.”

I’m also glad it wasn’t worse. There’s no way in hell we’ll get a tow truck out here tonight, and we can’t replace the car until they release the units from the CP. God, I hope somebody took a picture of that parking lot. It must look like a police convention with all of those sector cars gathering dust. Just one more thing to make my blood boil, I guess.

Yep! I knew it! They hit the tilting pole! How do I happen to know about that thing? Because they’re not the first ones to scrape up against it. There’s an apartment building down the way on Patuxent that’s a well-known dope spot. More than a few pursuits have started there and more than a few units have scraped that pole taking the turn too fast. Why doesn’t the city fix it? Are you kidding? It takes ten years to get the city to trim the trees in this division. No, I’m not making that up. Ten years. And if you get sick of it and do it yourself? The fine is a couple of thousand dollars. City government at its best!

“Guys! I should’ve warned you about this corner. That pole is a little tricky.”

Rosen’s giving me a thumbs-down. I guess he’s not about to blame the pole.

“It was my fault, Dani. I fell asleep at the wheel. I remember turning down 93rd, but after that? I didn’t wake up until we hit it.”

Well, I’m not about to let him take a rip for it. He fell asleep because we’re all so damned tired that it’s become dangerous.

“Lieutenant Hagan? Sir, can’t we find somewhere to take a break? We could go back to Woodlawn Station. Even an hour’s sleep would do us some good, sir. If we try to stay out here non-stop, we’ll all be plowing into parked cars or worse.”

“Woodlawn’s buttoned up tight, Lynott. I’m not sure they’d open the screens to let us in. Is there any place else around here that’ll hold us all and our cars? Someplace where we won’t be ambushed?”

Good question. There are a bunch of dumpy little motels around here, but there’s no guarantee they’d let us in. They’re up to their necks in all kinds of crooked shit, so they don’t like the police very much. We could try to crash in one of the looted buildings, but our cars would be a magnet for any asshole with a gun or a firebomb. We could all end up getting killed.

“Negative, sir. I think it’s Woodlawn Station or nothing. We can blast the sirens and pound on the doors until they open up and let us in. If Lieutenant Oliver is still there, I think he’ll do it. It’s against orders, but I got the impression he’s a pretty level-headed guy. He won’t leave us hanging out here. Not after everything we’ve done for his division, sir.”

“You’ve got a point. He owes us.”

“And if we go there, we won’t have to have some of us stay awake to stand guard. We could all grab some sleep. What do you think?”

That’s a pretty stupid thing for me to ask. What does he think? He can barely think straight at all! He’s as worn down as the rest of us. I can see it in his face. I’ve never seen him like this before. If he’s reached his breaking point, then so have we all.

“All right, we go to Woodlawn and try to get some sleep. Hell, we can raid the vending machines for food if there’s any left. We’ll get in if we have to tear down the gates. Everybody, gather up! We’re going back to Woodlawn Station. We’ll try to get some sleep and hope something doesn’t happen in the next fifteen minutes, but if it does, we’re right back out here! We’re not leaving this division to the rats, no matter what! Understood?”

Hell, yes we understand it! He could’ve said that in any language in the world and we’d have understood it!

“Lynott, I want you to do a brief inspection of everyone before we head out and see who’s been injured. I don’t want anyone brushing off anything. I want to know exactly how banged up this watch really is.”

“Starting with yourself, sir? Your right eye is already turning black, your knuckles are split, and I saw that limp you were trying so hard to hide.”

Don’t look at me like that, Lieutenant! I notice these things! I’m concerned with every member of this watch and that includes you!

“You don’t miss a trick, do you?”

“No, sir. How bad is that leg? The tear in your trousers tells me somebody hit you with something. Something big and probably sharp. A two-by-four, maybe?”

“Back at the Royce. The son of a bitch got me good. What about you? I saw you take plenty of lumps tonight.”

“Tonight? How about yesterday morning, afternoon, night, and since midnight. If I fall asleep, you and Harper may have to help me stand up afterward.”

“We’ll get an engine hoist from the garage if need be. Get to it. I don’t want to stay here any longer than we have to.”

So we’ll finally get some rest. I don’t know how much, but we’ll get some. And we’ll clean out those vending machines if we have to smash the fucking glass to do it. So what will we get before we have to come back out here? An hour? Half an hour? Twenty minutes? I don’t know. Whatever it is, I’ll take it. We all will. If we don’t get a break – any break – then we’re all going to break down and go stark-raving mad. That much, I’m sure of. So is everyone else standing here.

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