Tactical Alert

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"Things Fall Apart"

Heading for the aid station on Ardmore and hoping it’s still up and running. Somebody’s got to patch us back together. Did you ever have one of those days where absolutely nothing went right? Well, this is shaping up to be my second in a row. Before yesterday, the second-worst day of my life was the day I was relieved of duty after the Reid shooting. I say it was the second-worst because the absolute worst will always be the one where Harper got shot and nearly died in my arms. Now the city I swore to protect and serve is on fire, people are going ape shit in the streets, and two of our guys – two of the best friends I ever had – are out of action with serious injuries. It was almost three, but the paramedics said that Goren’s leg wasn’t broken. They said it might be bruised all the way down to the bone, but Goren was a pigheaded little shit and insisted he was all right to stay in the field and they caved and agreed. I’m planning on keeping an eye on him for a while. If his leg is as bad as they said it might be, then he probably won’t be able to walk in a few hours. I’ll yank his ass from the field myself if he gets into trouble. I’m not watching any more of my friends wind up in the hospital. No fucking way. This shit ends right now!

Some of the people in the crowd who got hit? They weren’t so lucky. That old lady? Broken hip and a possible fucked-up kneecap. At her age, it’s going to be a long, painful recovery. Another guy has a seriously broken leg and a girl broke her elbow when she bounced off of the windshield. It turs out Goren was trying to pull her out of the way when he got hit. She’s lucky. If he hadn’t done that, she would’ve been center-punched and we’d be scraping her out of the grille. That’s great, isn’t it? She came down to the station to raise hell and tell us how much she hates us and Goren ends up saving her life and nearly getting crippled for his efforts. And if it happens again in five minutes, he’ll do the exact same thing. So would we all. How crazy is that? And the same goes for every cop out here. Well, almost every one of them. It just makes me sick to my stomach and the truth is, I hate feeling this way about people. We’re not talking about dope dealers or armed robbers or even general assholes. A lot of them are just regular people who are going crazy for no good reason. You shouldn’t hate people like that, but right now, I do. I’m hoping it goes away fast. If I keep feeling this way, I’m either going to be a burnout case or a sadist. Neither one appeals to me.

Harper had to fill out a five-line report because he fired on that car. That’s as much as we had time for. I’m telling you, these un-investigated shootings are going to come back to bite us in the ass. I’m not saying they should pull every officer who fires their weapon from the field like they normally do, but people are going to talk all kinds of shit about this and when we say that under the circumstances we just couldn’t do a proper investigation, people are going to scream that we were covering up the murder of innocent civilians. That’s total bullshit, but the idiot fringe won’t care. They’ll say we’re all a bunch of murderers and we just used the riot as an excuse to go wild and gun down people who were peacefully protesting. Have you seen any peaceful protests since this shit began? Because I haven’t. I’ve seen a bunch of arsonists and psychopaths who want to kill us and who are doing their damnedest to make it happen. I’m guessing that part won’t even make it into the newspapers. I really wonder how they’re going to treat this thing? This isn’t some incident. This is history in the making. This is the sort of thing people write books about. I’m not sure I’m going to read them. I think I’ll have Harper read them and if he thinks they’re safe, then I’ll read them.

We called Helena and she and Emily are just peachy. Helena took her to the park in the stroller. Jesus, why not just drive a goddamned knife through my heart? I’m not blaming her, mind you. It’s just that I can’t stand being away from her right now. She’s only going to be a baby for a little while and I feel like every minute I spend here is another year of her life that I’m missing. Does every new mother go through this? My mom says they do, but I think she might be a little biased. Just watch: when we get home tonight, she’ll call and tell me that Harper and I are out of our minds and how we need to quit and move to Salem. After seeing this shit on TV? She won’t let up for a year. It’ll be non-stop, every day for a year. Count on it. Emily’s going to think of her grandmother as that crazy lady who called every day and told us to move to her house. Yeah, I’m not looking forward to that. Being a mom is hard enough without having to explain to your baby that her grandmother is a little cuckoo. Then again, my mom is a mother too. She’s a mom and her little girl is all grown up and sitting in the middle of a riot with a piece of tape and a crummy bandage on her face as she heads for an aid station where some volunteer might be there to take a look at her and her friends. That gash on Lieutenant Hagan’s forehead? It looks even worse now. And all of us have our cuts and bruises. Signolo’s got worse than that. Goren might be walking with a limp for a long time. Our own first-aid supplies are down to almost nothing, and every time we manage to borrow something from someone else, we end up using it right away. Pretty soon we’ll be bandaging our wounds with duct tape and old newspaper, just like the homeless. God, then we’ll be real denizens of Central Division! If the people in Grand Alley could only see us now!

The idea of evacuating Woodlawn Division definitely has me worried. You know how Harper’s the big history buff, right? He said that watching the skeleton crew in the station getting ready for the evacuation was like watching a documentary about Vietnam right before we abandoned the U.S. Embassy. He said the only thing missing was the helicopters lifting people off of the roof. I hate to say it, but he was right. I guess the department decided that they couldn’t hold onto everything, so they had to prioritize and Woodlawn drew the short straw. That’s one of the great things about working Central Division that I never really considered: there’s no way they could ever abandon it. Downtown? City Hall? The courthouses? Police Headquarters? The Hall of Records? They’d fight to the last to maintain it. But a dump like Woodlawn? The ’hood? That, they can write off without blinking an eye. I wonder how the people who live there will take it when they find out? They probably won’t be surprised. I get the feeling that a lot of them are used to being sold out. Why should the police treat them any differently? Because we’re supposed to protect everybody, but I guess the powers that be don’t see it that way. I keep saying that the people down here had no reason to riot or even hate the police because of what happened. Then again, if I’m right about this, then they’ll have plenty of reason to hate us. Plenty of reason to go totally ape shit. That’s great, isn’t it? A riot that we didn’t cause turns into us giving them a reason to do it in the first place. God, I hope I’m wrong. Maybe they’ll just decide to hold the fort in Woodlawn and everywhere else? Then we can’t be accused of abandoning anyone. I hope that’s how it goes down. If it doesn’t, then the idea of moving to Salem is suddenly going to be very appealing. Well, at least we’d get there in the late spring. It’s really nice there at that time of year. Harper and I could go fishing every day before work. I always liked the pier and so does he. That’s something.

Oh, my God! I don’t believe it! I don’t fucking believe it!

“Harper, pull over! Stop! Right over there! Stop!”

“What is it? What do you see?”

“In there. Just pull over right there.”

“Why? Dani, it’s a burned-out gas station. There’s not much we can do here.”

“Just do it, OK?”

I don’t fucking believe it! I never thought I’d see this place again! I never wanted to see this place again! It’s burned and wrecked, but I can see it all just like it was yesterday!

“Dani, what is it? What are we doing here?”

“You don’t recognize this place, do you? This is it. This is where it all happened. Right there. Right over there.”

“Dani, I don’t know what you’re…oh, shit! This is where Reid got shot?”

“Right there. That’s where he stopped his car. Right by that pump – or what’s left of it.”

The brick pillars are bout the only things left standing. They’re also what set this place apart. As soon as I saw them, I knew exactly where we were. God, I can’t believe I’m standing here! The last time I was here was the morning of the shooting, when I did the walk-through with the Officer-Involved Shooting Team. Little did I know then what was coming next. They weren’t even going to have me do the walk-through since I didn’t see everything that happened, but they decided to have me do it anyway. I was here for maybe thirty minutes. I thought it was the most open-and shut case in the world. Boy, was I ever wrong!

“Right there. Reid pulled into the lot and stopped his car right there. God, it’s like I can see it happening right now! I can see him standing between the car and the open door! Whaley was right there. His partner was right over there. We pulled our car in right here. Ron was standing there, Rich Bassett was over here, and Gaines walked over to that spot and had his arms crossed in front of his chest the whole time”

“And that’s the pillar you walked around just when the shot was fired?”

“That’s it. In the time it took for me to walk from here to there, my whole life changed. So did a lot of people’s lives. One of them came to an end.”

“Dani, how many times do I have to tell you? You didn’t shoot him. Whaley did. It was a bad shoot and he paid the price.”

Yeah, I know. He’s out now. He was paroled and quietly disappeared. I don’t know where he is or what happened to him. I’m pretty sure he never wants to see me or anyone connected to that night again. The feeling is mutual. God, it’s unbelievable! It’s like I expect to see the window glass on the ground, right here in front of me. I expect to see the lot soaked from the rain. It’s broad daylight, but I can see how dark it was right now! Right in front of me! This was a mistake. I shouldn’t have come here. I shouldn’t have told Harper to stop the car. This was a bad idea.

“Let’s get out of here. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have told you to stop. I never wanted to come back here.”

“Dani, you can’t run away from it. You got caught up in something that wasn’t your fault, that’s all. What happened here wasn’t on you. You and the others got screwed over because of politics.”

Uh-huh. And now I’m standing here in the middle of a fucking riot because of politics. Didn’t anyone ever think that maybe politics in police work is a dangerous thing?

“You know, my whole life came to an end here that night and I didn’t even realize it at the time. I know I’ve told you about it, but standing here now, it’s like…you just can’t imagine what it did to me.”

“Oh, I can do a lot more than imagine it. But you got through it. Dani, you’re still here. And if this hadn’t happened, then you never would’ve come to Central.”

“And I never would’ve met you. Yeah, I know.”

“You would’ve met me. We were destined to be together. I don’t have to be a witch to know that.”

You know what? He’s right. In a weird way, this was the best thing that ever happened to me. I wound up exactly where I was meant to be and I met the guy of my dreams. Now we have a beautiful little girl. What am I bitching about?

“Kiss me before anyone comes by and sees it.”

Two uniformed officers kissing in the middle of a riot probably wouldn’t look good, but I don’t give a shit. God, I’m glad he’s here with me!

“Forty Central to all Central Midwatch units, we’re at the aid station on Ardmore. You’d better get over here. It’s starting to pick up. I want everyone to get checked out and patched up before this place gets swamped. That means you, Lynott!”

Great timing, Sarge! Just when I was thinking about dragging Harper into what’s left of the garage and fucking his brains out! Oh, well. Duty calls.

“Come on, Harper. Let’s get over there before they run out of bandages. Hey, maybe they’ve got some donuts and coffee?”

“Just a second. There’s something I want to do.”

What’s he doing? He’s digging at the pillar. Why? He’s taking a brick from it? What for? So we can throw it at the next asshole who throws one at us?

“What are you going to do with that?”

“Think of it as a memento. A brick from the pillar you walked past. We’ll take it home and keep it as a souvenir.”

“Harper, I don’t think I want a memento of that night.”

“Fine. We’ll put it in the attic with the other stuff we’ve got stored there. You might change your mind someday. Come on, let’s get to the aid station before the guys eat all the donuts.”

They’d do it, too. As hungry as we are? They’d eat everything in sight and lick the icing off of the boxes. I would. Unless it was coconut. I really don’t like coconut. Who puts coconut flakes on a donut? There’s something seriously wrong with that. Like putting M&Ms on pizza. As much as I like M&Ms, you just don’t do things like that. It’s practically a sin.

The aid station on Ardmore. I was wondering where they’d put it. It turns out it’s right next to the library. Good call, people of Woodlawn. It’s probably the best way to protect the books. The idiots aren’t going to try any shit with a bunch of cops and firemen hanging around in the parking lot. If the police don’t shoot them, the fire department will turn a goddamned fire hose on them and break them in half. Yeah, they’re not supposed to do that because it looks like total shit, but anyone who attacks an aid station deserves whatever they get. Actually, I thought it would be bigger than this. I guess they did the best they could with what they had. Most of the gear here doesn’t look like city-issue stuff. It looks like people brought whatever they could scrounge. That doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. Oh, well. We’ll take what we can get. As long as they’ve got some clean bandages and medical tape, we should be all right. A little mercurochrome probably wouldn’t hurt, either. I hope they don’t have iodine. That shit burns like hell. Old people believe in old-fashioned remedies, and I see quite a few old people in there. They might have bottles of iodine left over from their grandmothers’ days. They’re not putting that shit on my face. I’ve done enough screaming for one day, thank you very much.

At least they’re not all freaking out at the sight of a bunch of police officers rolling in. More like we’re staggering in. I’m really starting to feel the aches and pains again. Part of me wants to fill the bathtub with Epsom salts and hot water and just lay there for a week. I’d do it, too. That’s how much I ache. We really need to get one of those huge bathtubs big enough for me and Harper to lay in together. We’ll have to look into that when this is over.

Those ladies over there look like they’re the screening committee. Well, let’s go get screened.

“Excuse me? Do you have any bandages you can spare?”

“Yeah, you look like you could use it. What about him? Is he injured?”

“On his arm. We patched that one, but it probably needs to be changed.”

That’s for sure. Harper was kneeling on the roof of Woodlawn Station and I know from personal experience how filthy it is up there. Between the dirt and the bird shit, he’s lucky that gash didn’t get infected.

“Sign in, both of you. The area captain wants us to keep a record of how many of you come through here.”

Why? So he can send us a bill? Whatever. Harper and Lynott, Central Division Midwatch. Names and badge numbers. It looks like they’ve had quite a few come through here. I see the guys from Northside Division we hooked up with yesterday. Their names are here from about one o’clock yesterday afternoon. There’s Rafael Bustos. He’s an old-timer from Woodlawn. God, he was here an hour after the riot started! Possible broken wrist. At least I don’t see any gunshot wounds or stabbing victims among the officers. Then again, anyone with a wound like that probably went straight to the hospital. Jesus, there’s two Transit Police officers’ names here! It says they were brought in with burns to their legs. Someone probably threw a Molotov cocktail at them. And we’ve got civilians with everything from chest pains to shortness of breath to severe blunt-force trauma, which means those are the ones who got their asses kicked for whatever reason. So this is what a riot looks like? I could do without it.

“You officers are from Central Division? Downtown? What brings you down here? Don’t you have enough problems up there?”

“Not many people live in the downtown area, so they’re not having the same problems as you guys are.”

And she’s looking at me like I’m out of my mind. Why? What did I miss?

“Girl, they set fire to City Hall! Some crazy man threw one of those pipe bombs at the Police Headquarters last night! I’d say you people got plenty of problems up there!”

I guess we need to watch the news more. I knew somebody tried to start a fire at City Hall, but I didn’t know they succeeded. And a pipe bomb at Police Headquarters? I didn’t hear that one at all!

“Was anyone hurt?”

“I don’t think so. They put the barbed wire around City Hall to keep people out. Never thought I’d see the day, but they did it. The place looks like those pictures of the Mideast on CNN. Never thought I’d see the day it would happen here.”

“You and me both, ma’am. Do you have any donuts or anything?”

“Sorry, not anymore. Fools burned down the donut shop yesterday afternoon. Now who burns down a donut shop? What kind of sense is that?”

“No sense at all, ma’am. No sense at all.”

“Go sit over there and they’ll take a look at you. You’re lucky you got here early. We got swamped yesterday and today isn’t supposed to be any better. Lord Jesus help us all!”

Amen to that, lady. All right, let’s get our wounds cleaned and get the hell out of here. This place is depressing. Jesus, look at that! There’s a bunch of discarded Taser wires in a box by the chair! I guess they brought a lot of people here to have the darts removed. Why not? If the hospitals are overrun, they’ve got to bring them somewhere. I wonder if the Jail Division infirmary is still operating? Probably not. I’ll bet they ran out of supplies by yesterday afternoon. I’m really curious about what the arrest stats are going to look like. I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up with over a thousand arrests from just yesterday and today.

There’s Sergeant Hendrickson, getting his knuckles bandaged. Yeah, his fists got a real workout. So did Acevedo’s. At the rate things are going, they’ll both be lucky if they can tie their shoelaces by tonight. Harper’s knuckles don’t look much better. It must be nice to be able to punch like that. Then again, it must suck to get them all torn up from it.

“How goes it, Sarge?”

“I haven’t ached this much since I don’t even know when. How about you? You took some heavy hits back at the station.”

“I’ll live. I need a new face shield, though. I think a lot of us do.”

“Ivanell called over to what’s left of the CP looking for supplies, but he didn’t get anywhere. I could hear him yelling over the phone. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him get that mad before. I didn’t know he had it in him.”

“He’s a good guy, Sarge. There was a time when I would’ve thought that was impossible, but he’s come a long way. He’s surprised the hell out of me.”

“Yeah, he’s going to make a good Midwatch sergeant. You know he’s going to be taking over, right?”

I thought he would eventually, but he makes it sound like he’ll be doing it next DP. What gives?

“He’s coming to Midwatch soon?”

“Very soon. You know Lee Gellar’s going to pull the pin. He’s got heart trouble and I think he’s finally realized he’s got to enjoy his pension while he can. And if I don’t pass that goddamned PFQ, I’m going to be stuck on a desk until I get out of here. Ivanell’s our best bet. He kicked ass at that shootout at the firing range. He’s genuinely interested in being a good supervisor, which is more than I can say for some sergeants. Besides, he’s about the only one you guys will take right now.”

I know Sergeant Hendrickson’s been worried about that physical fitness qualification test, but I didn’t think he’d given up on it.

“Sarge, you’ll pass. You’re as strong as a bull. The last one was…you just weren’t ready for it.”

“I appreciate the vote of confidence, but I’m not a young man anymore. That hit I took at the St. George isn’t healing the way I expected. Right now, my shoulder feels like I got shot all over again. It might be better if I take the desk job. I don’t want to put people at risk if they can’t count on me out here. And it’s not like I’ve got a lot of time left until retirement. Maybe it’s time to take it easy and coast until I pull the pin?”

“But who’s going to take over? One sergeant on Midwatch isn’t enough.”

“What about you?”

Why does everybody keep saying that? They know I’m going to get passed over. Are they just saying this shit to soften the blow for when the promotion list comes out and I’m not on it? I appreciate the sentiment, but I’m also worried about it. When I get officially passed over, I think they’re going to take it pretty hard. Probably harder than I will.

“They’ll make me a sergeant when pigs sprout wings and fly, Sarge. I’m serious. If you retire, who else is there to run Midwatch?”

“Lynott, you’ve been around long enough to know that everyone can be replaced. We all hate to admit it, but it’s the truth. It doesn’t matter who it is; once they’re gone, someone else takes their place. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. That’s the way it’s always been. And nobody around here is giving up on you. Isn’t that right, Harper?”

“Damned right, sir. I keep trying to knock some sense into her head, but she won’t listen.”

“Go easy on that for now. I think our heads have all been knocked around too much as it is. How’s the arm?”

“It stings like a bitch, sir.”

“You’re a Marine, Harper. If pain is good, then extreme pain is…”

“Extremely good, sir. Hooh-rah!

Marines. I love them, but I’ll never understand them. I think it’s supposed to be that way.

“You’re up next, Lynott. And if you see Lieutenant Hagan, tell him to stop hiding in the bushes and get that wound on his head looked at. I don’t want anybody in this unit leaving here until they get checked out. We’re not out of this yet.”

As if we don’t already know that. All right, time to get my face cleaned off. Just don’t put anything that stings on it. It already stings enough. This guy’s wearing a paramedic’s uniform. At least he’s a professional.

“Will I live, Doc?”

“First off, I’m not a doctor. Second, how long you live depends on how long you stay out here. You guys are taking a hell of a beating. I was over in Avalon yesterday. I think every officer in the division came through one of our aid stations at least once. You guys aren’t safe out here.”

“Tell me about it. How bad was it over there?”

“Bad. You know those Avalon cops: they’re all crazy. They were going toe-to-toe with the rioters, outnumbered fifty to one. That’s when they weren’t shooting it out with them. You know how it’s mostly Mexicans over there? So I see this cop put a big picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the door of this discount store. I guess he was hoping it would make the looters think twice. So what happens? Some fat fucker steals the goddamned picture! Just yanked it off the door! About a hundred people ran in right after that. That’s when the shooting started. Some punks in a minivan came by and started blazing away. That’s when I got the hell out of there. They don’t pay me to get shot.”

No, that’s in our job description. Ouch! Go easy on the face, will you? That shit hurts!

“The face is still a little tender?”

“No! It hurts like a son of a bitch!”

“That’s what happens when someone uses it for a punching bag. All right, that’s as much as I can do. That ointment should help keep the cuts from getting infected, but I’m guessing it’s going to swell up in an hour or two. Are you going to be able to stay out here when that happens?”

“Do I have a choice? All right, Harper. Your turn. Try not to scream when they peel that bandage off.”

He won’t. He’s as tough as they come. He’s also pigheaded enough to stay out here when he should be getting his arm stitched up. Yeah, that slash is pretty ugly.

“Someone got you good, Officer. I’m afraid it’s too late to stitch it. We’re going to have to glue it. That’s the best we can do. When was your last tetanus shot?”

“I don’t know. I’m sure it’s been a while.”

Probably since the night he was shot. I never even thought about that. Now, if we were still in Central Division, that’s the first thing I would’ve thought of. That place gives new meaning to the word filthy. Tetanus is a major concern.

“I’m going to give you a shot just in case. That wound looks pretty dirty. I’m guessing it wasn’t a clean knife. Just hang on for a minute.”

Jesus, they’re giving out tetanus shots in an aid station? I didn’t think they had anything that sophisticated. I guess they’re taking this riot thing seriously. What’s next? An improvised surgical hospital? I wouldn’t be surprised.

“Ryan Harper! Is that you?”

Who the hell? It’s another officer four chairs over, but I don’t recognize him. He clearly recognizes Harper.

“Darnell! Holy shit! What are you doing here? Dani, this is Darnell Wanamaker. He was in my class at the academy. Darnell, this is my wife, Dani Lynott. My partner, too.”

It seems Darnell’s been through the ringer. His uniform is practically shredded and he’s got a nasty gash on his knee. That’s a big one. He’s a black guy, so that thing is going to leave one horrible scar. He doesn’t seem too broken up about it.

“Yeah, I heard you got hitched. Nice to meet you, Dani. So how’s life with this guy? Is he driving you crazy with his car talk?”

“You have no idea. What happened to you?”

“Lafayette happened. I only got there this DP. Hell of an introduction. I was in Hawthorne before that.”

Holy culture shock, Batman! From the ’burbs to the battlefield!

“That knee looks pretty bad. Did someone hit you with a two-by-four?”

“No, they hit our sector car with a stolen panel truck! T-boned our ass right in the middle of the street! Damned near cut the car in half! I’m lucky this is all I got!”

“So what brings you over to Woodlawn?”

“Jesuit Hospital’s shut down. There’s a cordon of National Guard troops around it. No one gets in unless they’re brought in by EMS. This was the closest aid station we could find. Can you believe it?”

Oh, I can believe it. And this one probably won’t last too much longer.

“Did you get the guys who did it?”

“Not us. The merchants. A bunch of them were standing in front of a gas station with guns. As soon as the motherfuckers got out, boom! Cut those guys to bits! There’s a lot of that going on over in Lafayette. The merchants are sick of this shit. They’re fighting back. Hey, Harper? Remember Gary Stuben?”

“Black Cloud? Yeah, I’m not about to forget him. Why? What did he do?”

“He was over at the CP this morning. Some guys came by in a car and capped a few rounds at the lot, so Black Cloud tries to yank the tube out of a sector car. He grabbed the trigger by mistake and blew the lightbar right off the roof!”

“Yeah, that sounds like him.”

A little background here: Harper told me about this guy a couple of times. Everyone in the class called him “Black Cloud” because he was like the guy in an old cartoon who walked around everywhere with a black cloud hanging over him. This guy has the worst luck. He rolled the sector car during driver training at the academy. Harper said he totaled it. Then one time he was on the shooting range and dropped his bag of ammunition on the ground and a round went off and hit one of the shooting instructors in the ankle. It was like a million-to-one thing, but it happened to him. He’s got a bunch of stories like that. I’ve never met the guy, but I feel sorry for him. I see his luck hasn’t changed since he got off of probation.

“Excuse me, Darnell? You were at the CP? What’s the story over there? Where is everybody? We’ve got almost no units in Woodlawn.”

“I wish I had good news for you Dani, but there’s nothing good about it. They started moving people out in squads at 0600, but there wasn’t any sort of method to it. Just before they sent us back to Lafayette, word came down that the mayor ordered them to send one hundred officers over to protect City Hall. Another fifty went to protect Police Headquarters. A hundred cops to protect City Hall? The fucking mayor isn’t even there! He’s back at his house in the Palisades!”

Why am I not surprised?

“What about the specialized units? SEU? The Mounted Unit?”

“The Mounted Unit was at the CP. They sent them out this morning in trucks. I guess they didn’t want to risk the horses. SWAT’s on standby for the worst situations. There was a barricaded suspect in Wilmington last night. They got the call. Right now? They could be anywhere. I don’t know where SEU is. They never assembled at the CP. They had their own CP somewhere in Lafayette. For all I know, they’re out in the valley protecting cherry trees. They’re sure as hell not out here.”

That’s what I was afraid of. There’s still no plan. No strategy. We’re just a fire brigade running from one disaster to the next. We’ll never get a handle on it like that.

“So where is everybody?”

“Search me. Deputy Chief Doyle was handing out maps with locations marked on them. I got the impression they were rally points, but who knows? We’ve got a lot more units out in the field, but there’s not much coordination. The only guy on the command staff trying to get shit done is Mancia. He’s been running from one shit storm to the next. Sergeant Paolau said they may pull him from the field. Too many shootings. Too many use-of-force incidents. The command staff thinks he’s fucking it all up. Doyle wants to put this down…what’s the word he used? Benignly. Now I ask you: what the fuck is benign about a goddamned riot?”

Absolutely nothing, but it seems Commander Mancia is the only one who realizes it.

“We ran into two ATD detectives earlier. Are all detectives mobilized?”

“Pretty much. Oh, and you’re going to love this: do you know Captain Neuerath?”

Leslie Neuerath? Who doesn’t? If you’re a woman, then imagine being at the worst second of the worst hour of the worst day of your period, and then imagine being like that for every second of every day of your life. That’s Leslie Neuerath. Most sentences referring to her begin with the words “That fucking bitch…” She earned it. I think she takes pride in it. Just ask her three ex-husbands. Each of them divorced her; not the other way around. When three guys bail on your ass before you’re fifty, then you might want to consider that you’re doing something seriously wrong.

“What about her?”

“She sees this bunch of Narco detectives gearing up in the parking lot. You know, long hair, beards, the usual shit. So she goes ballistic! She tells all of them to shave and get a haircut before they go out in the field! Serious shit! She wouldn’t let them out until they looked inspection-ready! There’s a goddamned riot going on and she’s worried about haircuts? The shit some people think about!”

Actually, I’m not surprised. I heard that when she was a patrol captain, she’d conduct pop inspections of the watches. Most of the officers had to buy those Corfam plastic shoes because no one could ever spit-shine their shoes enough for her standards. She’s a real piece of work.

“So you’re telling me every detective who wasn’t inspection-ready is hanging out at a barbershop in Mid-City, hoping to get a haircut before they can hit the field?”

“Everyone she could catch. I’m glad I’m out here. Something tells me she won’t be anywhere near the firing lines. Same for the rest of the brass. They’re all wondering which of them is going to get tapped for the interim chief spot.”

I don’t even want to think about that right now. I’ll puke all over the place if I do.

“Harper, why don’t you two catch up while I go track down Sergeant Gellar. I’ll be right back. Nice meeting you, Darnell.”

So they’ve mobilized the department but there’s still no plan for taking control of the south end back from the rioters. We don’t have our specialized units out here doing what they’re supposed to do. And some of our leaders are more concerned with appearances than with getting bodies in the field to do the job. Jesus Christ! What does it take? What does it take to get through to them? They’re not going to be happy until every building in the city is on fire!

There’s Sergeant Gellar, sitting over by himself. And judging by that pill bottle he’s holding, I know why. He’s rubbing his knee. I think he got cracked harder than I originally thought.

“Hey, Sarge. How’re you hanging in there?”

“I’m fine, Lynott. I just needed a breather.”

“Uh-huh. And a nitro pill? Don’t bother lying to me, Sarge. That’s not blood thinners. Grandma always made sure I knew where Grandad’s nitro pills were in case he needed them. No bullshit, Sarge: how bad is it?”

“Just a twinge. I’m fine. And I don’t want you spreading this around. I can still run circles around you people. Experience counts, you know.”

“No argument. We need you. But we need you healthy. And we need you to stick around after this is over. Are you really pulling the pin?”

Something tells me he didn’t expect me to know that. The thought of him retiring is enough to kill me right here and now, but I get it: he can’t stay here forever. He doesn’t want to drop dead in the Watch Commander’s Office. Most people don’t.

“After this is over. Maybe not right away, but soon enough. I need to get out while I can still enjoy my retirement, and this shit tells me it’s time to go. Things are going to be different after this, and not in a good way. I don’t think I want to stick around to see how it all turns out.”

“I don’t suppose you could take me with you?”

“Lynott, you’re going to have to be the anchor that holds Midwatch together. Ivanell may have the seniority, but you’re the real leader around here and everybody knows it. Even him. You’re going to have to take the lead. The two of you together can do it.”

Here we go again! Am I the only sane person left on the watch?

“Sarge, I’m going to get passed over and die on the vine. I know it. I accept it. I just had this conversation with Harper.”

“Bullshit! You can’t give up, Lynott. Look around you: this department is going to need you more than ever. The cops out here who do the job and take the risks. The ones who stayed away from the command post and came out here even though they knew it might get them killed. They’re going to need real leaders. Real cops, not building pogues. That’s you. You’re going to make sergeant if I have to go over to headquarters and start taking hostages. And when you do, you’re going to take over Midwatch. I don’t want to hear any shit from you about it. You know I’m right.”

I’m not going to argue with him. It’s pointless. But the thought of being here when he’s not is enough to make me start crying, and I don’t want to do that either. Not here. Not now.

“It’s a hell of a cap to your career, Sarge. The biggest riot in the history of the Emerald City? Every cop who comes on the job after this is going to be green with envy. We don’t often get a chance to make history.”

“And the ones who make it through this are going to know it was nothing to brag about. Look at your face. Does getting punched a dozen times sound like fun to you?”

“I’m hoping that in twenty years, I’ll just remember the good times. What about you? Are you going to be OK? Not just your ticker. I saw you rubbing your knee.”

“I’ll be fine. I’m an old motor cop, remember? I wiped out eleven times on-duty. I broke my leg twice, dislocated my shoulder three times, and blew out my knee four times. I can take it.”

“You’re a regular iron man, Sarge. Hey, how come you never went back to motors to finish it all out? I kind of figured you would.”

“I love being a motor cop. It’s why I came on the job. But right now, I’m with the best bunch of cops I’ve ever seen. There’s no finer watch on any department. There’s no way in hell I’d leave that to climb back on a motorcycle. A watch like this comes around once in a lifetime…if you’re lucky. If you find it, you never want to leave it. That’s the way it should be.”

Yeah, I’ve discovered that. I swear, the thought of coming to work and knowing he’s not going to be there? I don’t think I can handle it. I definitely can’t handle it right now. I need to stop thinking about it.

“Well, you’re not retired yet. And after you do, you’re not leaving us. I told you: my dad’s dead and my mom’s in Salem. Emily needs a grandfather nearby. You’re elected. Unanimous vote.”

“Sounds like a plan. You’re going to make a great sergeant, Lynott. And after that, a great lieutenant. Hell, you might even make a great captain. But if you ever go higher than that, I’ll kill you. You can’t go above captain without being contaminated.”

“Right there with you, Sarge.”

Whoa! What the fuck? Sirens! A lot of them! Jesus, there’s five sector cars screaming this way! What the fuck is going on? They’re not slowing down for the driveway, either!

“What the hell? Sarge?”

“That can’t be good! Come on!”

There are cops bailing out of every car! Oh, fuck! They’ve got wounded! A lot of them! They’re all police officers! What the hell happened?

“I’m Sergeant Gellar! What happened?”

“Officer Kaiser, Lafayette Division! Major 415 at March Park! The shit fell apart on us! People started shooting! We need doctors! Do you have any doctors here?”

“We’ve got paramedics and nurses. They’ll do for now. Get these officers into that tent! Move! Go! Lynott! Get everyone over here now! We need all hands on deck!”

Jesus Christ! These guys look like they went fifteen rounds with a pack of Grizzly bears! They’re all fucked up! Just grab one and help carry him into the tent! Go!

“Is anybody shot? Are there any gunshot wounds?”

“Benavidez! He’s hit in the shoulder! Motherfuckers! They knew we were wearing armor so they aimed for our fucking heads! Montone’s got a hit in the waist! I don’t know about the rest!”

These guys are practically unhinged! They want payback! And something tells me that nobody’s going to stop them from getting it!

“Harper! We’ve got wounded! Get over here!”

That got everybody’s attention! They’re pouring in here now! God, what hit these guys? It was in Lafayette Division, so we didn’t hear about it. Fuck! Why the hell wasn’t there an all-units broadcast? March Park? That place is huge! If they had a demonstration in there, there could’ve been a thousand people there! Why the hell didn’t they send everyone in the vicinity? It’s just over the divisional boundary!

“Harper, we’ve got at least two officers with gunshot wounds! And the rest of them don’t look much better!”

“Yeah, it looks like the crowd tore them apart! God damn it! You don’t keep stomping on a man when he’s down!”

“That’s for later! We need to get every paramedic they’ve got here working on these guys! And somebody find Lieutenant Hagan! The rest of these guys look like they’re ready to start a massacre! Get him in here before they take off looking for scalps! Go!”

And I thought those Avalon guys last night had gone psycho! These guys are ready to tear people apart with their bare hands! Jesus, we’re losing this! We’re losing control of it!

“Sarge! This one’s shot in the waist! Below the vest! He’s losing a lot of blood!”

“Keep pressure on it until the paramedics get here! Where the hell are they?”

Speak of the devil! It’s about time, guys! Do your stuff!

“Pick a patient and get to work, guys! There are no minor injuries here! These guys are all fucked up!”

What they need is a bunch of doctors and we don’t have any! What the fuck? What good is an aid station with no doctors when we’ve got injuries like this? Hang on! That one! She’s bleeding like a stuck pig! Did she get shot?

“What happened to her?”

“Knife wound! In the gut! Went right through her vest! She needs a doctor! Where’s the doctor?”

“We don’t have any! Just paramedics and nurses! Somebody get me a goddamned pressure bandage! Now!”

She’s stuck bad! I’ve seen this a hundred times in Central Division! That’s a bad place to get stabbed! Yes! Pressure bandage! Thank you! I’ve got to keep pressure on the wound until the nurses can stop the bleeding!

“You’re going to be all right! You’re going to be fine! Hey! Look at me! You’re going to be all right!”

She’s in too much pain to talk! She’s terrified! She thinks she’s going to die! And for all I know, she will! God damn it! What are we supposed to do? She needs to go to a hospital!

“Lynott! What’s the situation here?”

Lieutenant Hagan! Thank God!

“They’re Lafayette! Major 415! It went south on them! These people are all fucked up! We’ve got gunshot wounds and stab wounds! Sir, we need to get them to a hospital! This place isn’t equipped for this shit!”

Harper’s shaking his head. What now?

“Sir, Officer Wanamaker's from Lafayette and he said the hospitals aren’t admitting anyone anymore. They’re swamped. They’ve locked the doors to everything except the ambulances. There’s no way we can get enough ambulances over here. Not for this many wounded.”

“Then form a detail and head for the nearest hospital code three and a half! Blow the fucking locks off the doors if you have to, but get these people to an ER! Lynott! Which hospital is the closest?”

“Jesuit, across the border in Lafayette! It’s a straight shot five minutes from here at code three!”

“Gather the units and get them on the road! You’ve got one minute! Move!

“Harper, get on the radio and get every ambulance you can find! They’ll take the worst cases! The rest go in the cars!”

“They’re already en route! Dani, you’re going to have to leave her! No way can she go in a car with that hole in her gut! She’s got to wait for the ambulance!”

God, she’s grabbing my arm! She doesn’t want me to leave! She’s scared out of her mind! She’s what? Twenty-five at best? Fuck! I hate this! I fucking hate it!

“Listen to me! You’re going to be fine! We’ve got EMS on the way! They’re going to stabilize you and take you straight to the ER! You’re going to make it! I swear to God, you’re going to make it! You just have to hang on! I know it hurts, but you have to hang on!”

She’s nodding! Good! I’m telling you the truth! I swear! You’re going to make it! God, please let her make it!

“Somebody grab another pressure bandage and hold it right here! You! Get over here and take over!”

He’s doing it. All right, let’s move out! Get these cops to a goddamned real hospital! Jesus Christ! How much more of this are we going to have to take? How much more can we take?

Jesuit Hospital. They let us in. I think the dozen guns pointed at the doors helped, but they let us in. I can’t blame them for trying to shut down. They’re not designed to handle shit like this. County? Sure. It’s the best trauma center in the city. But this place? This is where people come to have their gall bladder removed. The same with most of the other hospitals in the area. Just because they’re in the south end doesn’t mean they’re geared up to handle violent trauma. The truth is, there are more trauma centers in the suburbs than down here. I think it’s got to do with lawsuits. Everybody loves to sue a doctor. The TV is full of ads for lawyers telling people that if they’re the victims of medical malpractice, just sue and they’ll be rich. Yeah, right! And what are the people going to do when there aren’t any trauma centers left? It fucking sucks. People really need to pull their heads out of their asses.

The good news is that all of the officers we brought in are going to be all right. Even the three that we left for the paramedics are going to make it. They brought them all here and the doctors got right to work on them. Jesus, is this shit going on in every other division in the riot zone? Probably. Nobody in their right mind is going to want to be a cop in this city after this shit. Not for all the money in the world. We’ll be lucky if half the patrol force doesn’t apply for a lateral transfer to another department. Don’t think the thought hasn’t crossed my mind once or twice since yesterday. I’m pretty sure everyone has thought about it. How could they not?

We’re clearing form the hospital now. We caught the news on TV in the nurses’ break room and it’s worse than we thought. Every division in the south end has exploded. Mid-City isn’t doing any better and a lot of Eastside Division is almost as bad. There have been a shitload of incidents in Northside, Morningside, and even Central Division. I’m guessing there isn’t a single division in the city that hasn’t been affected. Even some of the outlying jurisdictions are having problems. The sheriffs have their hands full. County Jail is on emergency lockdown. And us? The scenes from the news were beyond horrible. There are fires everywhere. If it’ll burn, then the assholes set fire to it. Lots of shootings, too. Assholes shooting the police, the police shooting the assholes, citizens shooting assholes, and assholes shooting citizens. I’m beginning to think this isn’t a riot but a civil war. I’m just not sure who the two sides are. Maybe it’s like a horror movie where everyone suddenly goes insane and starts killing anyone within reach? I’d rather not think about that. I don’t want to know where it leads. Nowhere good, I’m sure. Christ, when are these assholes going to run out of ammunition? It took us a week to stock up for this shit. Was everybody stocking up, too?

We called Helena to make sure there wasn’t any trouble in our neighborhood. Fortunately, everything’s quiet over there. I hope it stays that way. Harper called the local sheriff’s station and asked them to give extra patrol to our house. Even if there aren’t any problems in the neighborhood, it won’t stop some asshole from vandalizing out house as a protest against the police. If anyone tries it, I hope Highway bites them right in the fucking balls. I’d give him an extra biscuit for it.

“Are we ready to go, Harper?”

“Yeah. I scrounged some first-aid supplies in case we need them.”

“Don’t you mean ‘when’ we need them?”

“I’m trying to think positive. It’s not easy after seeing the news. It looks worse than yesterday and we’re taking a lot more casualties.”

True, and for every officer or fireman who gets hurt out there, ten civilians get hurt just as badly or worse. There are no winners in this thing. Only losers. Only victims. It’s not fair.

“We’d better get back out there. There’s nothing we can do here.”

“Dani, there’s not much we can do out there. I just saw a report saying we might not get National Guard help until at least seven o’clock this evening. We’re still on our own with most of the department MIA.”

First they were being held prisoner and now they’re missing in action. Great!

“What about the rest of the units? Are they being redeployed to Woodlawn?”

“Nobody knows. It’s still chaos. I don’t think anybody’s in charge at the top. Not Doyle; not anybody. I saw a shot of Police Headquarters. There’s got to be fifty officers in riot gear standing out front. They’ve got sandbags and street barriers all over the place. It looks like the brass is in there just waiting it out.”

Great! Everyone’s abandoning the city but us. We’re the only ones stupid enough to stay. That doesn’t speak very highly of us, does it?

“Grab Signolo and Goren and let’s get out of here.”

“Hey, I got you something. It’s not much, but it’s all they had in the machine.”

Two Three Musketeers bars! God, that’s like a gourmet meal right now!

“Harper, I love the shit out of you! Gimme!”

“You’re welcome. I got you a Coke, too. I figured you’re sick of drinking bottled water. You never did like that stuff.”

“I don’t like water. Fish fuck in it. W.C. Fields.”

“He had a way with words. Come on, we need to get out of here before they shut down the streets around here. Garcia saw a couple of Street Maintenance guys setting up cones and barriers. I think they’re going to try to divert everyone away from the hospital. They’re trying to make it so they can still function. Well, sort of function. I heard some to the nurses talking. Three of their doctors didn’t come in to work today. I guess they’ve had enough.”

So now the riot’s scared away the doctors. What’s next? Suddenly I’m reminded of that line from Yeats: “Things fall apart. The center cannot hold.” Yeah, they sure do fall apart. Too bad Yeats didn’t say who puts them back together. I guess he didn’t know. I don’t know either. I’m not sure anyone does. So what do we do now? Go back out there and look for that rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem? What do we do if we find it? Shoot it? I’m not sure that’ll do any good.

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