Tactical Alert

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"Not Even Close"

Where am I? Am I alive? I don’t…it’s dark. What happened? I remember…I think I remember…what is this place? The bed…rails…a hospital. I’m in a hospital. I think I remember…there was an ambulance. I was in an ambulance. I remember. The hospital. They brought me in. I was in the emergency room. I remember that. I was in the emergency room. People were yelling. They cut off my uniform. Put needles in my hands. I remember that part. They’re still there. I see the tubes. In my hands. In my arms. How did I get here? This isn’t the emergency room. It’s dark. I see machines. Lots of them. Am I going…do I have to get an operation? Are they taking me to the operating room? There’s nobody here. I don’t see anyone. I don’t hear anything. I’m alone. Am I going to die? Did they leave me here to die? No, not that. This place…I think it’s the…intensive care. I’ve seen rooms like this before. It’s the intensive care. Do I need surgery? I remember…pain. Horrible pain. But now…now I don’t feel any pain. None. Am I paralyzed? I don’t think so. I can move my arms. Not much, but I can move them. I can move my feet. I can move them a little. No pain. What happened? Where did it go? It hurt so much before. Horrible. It hurt so much. Now it doesn’t. Why not? What did they do to me? I thought I was dead. Almost, but I guess not quite.

How long have I been here? Hours? It’s dark. It was night when I got shot. I remember that. It was night. We were in the projects. The Royce. We were fighting. Shooting. Lots of shooting. I remember that. I got shot. I got shot and it went through…through my vest. Where’s my vest? It’s gone. My uniform, too. They cut it off. I remember that. I remember how everyone…everyone got shot. I remember that. Are they here? Is everyone here? I don’t see anyone. Did they get out? Did they die? I don’t think…no, they didn’t die. I saw them. They got shot, but they were alive. Where are they? What happened to them? Where’s Harper? He got shot. I saw him. It wasn’t…it wasn’t bad. He was shooting…he was standing up. Where is he? Is he here? He was with me. I remember that. He was with me in the ambulance. Where is he now?

“You’re awake. I’m surprised. We didn’t expect you to wake up for a while. How do you feel?”

Who is she? A nurse? Surgical scrubs. She’s a nurse.

“I don’t…know. Where am I? Is this a hospital?”

“You’re in Henry Hudson Memorial Hospital. You suffered a gunshot wound. You had us worried for a while. You were in bad shape when they brought you in here, but you’re a lot better now.”

“I don’t…I’m trying…”

“Don’t try. You’re just a little disoriented, that’s all. That’s perfectly normal. I’m going to wipe your face with water. That should help you wake up a little more. Just hold still. I promise this won’t hurt.”

Damn! It’s cold! Damned cold! But she was right: it woke me up a little.

“Can I sit up?”

“Absolutely not. You were shot right though the torso. You need to lie still.”

“Am I…do I need surgery?”

“You already had it. You’ve got a belly full of sutures. I don’t want you tearing them out. You already tried to pull out your I/Vs. We had to strap your hands down for a while. We couldn’t have you pulling them out.”

“For a while? How long…have I been here?”

“The doctor will come in and see you in a few hours. Right now, there’s somebody waiting to see you. You can come in, Officer. She’s awake. Don’t stay too long. She’s still very groggy.”

Harper! God, he’s here! He’s alive! Look at him! He’s alive!

“Hey, Dani! How do you feel?”

“I don’t know. I feel weird. I don’t…I don’t really feel…anything. It doesn’t hurt anymore.”

“That’s because you’re pretty doped up right now. There are five hundred junkies in Central Division that would envy the shit out of you.”

God, that’s a horrible thought!

“Are you trying to make me laugh?”

“Always. Dani, you scared the living shit out of me! Out of all of us. I’m just so glad you’re all right.”

“They say I had surgery. That was fast.”

“Fast? Dani, you’ve been here for three days. Almost four. You’ve been unconscious since they brought you into the ER. I’ve been praying since then that you’d wake up.”

Three days? It doesn’t feel like that. How is that even possible? Three days?

“Emily! Harper, where’s Emily?”

“She’s fine. She’s with your mom.”

“My mom? In Salem?”

“No, she’s home with Emily. She’s out here. She flew out as soon as she heard what happened. She’s been staying at our house.”

My mom is here? God, she’s going to kill me! She’s going to take one look at me and she’s going to kill me!

“Is she mad at me?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. She’s worried about you, that’s all.”

“Uh-huh. Wait until she sees me.”

“She’s already seen you, Dani. She’s been here most of the time since she got here. She was here until about two hours ago. Don’t worry. You just need to rest. Don’t worry about anything.”

“What about the guys? How bad? Are they…”

“They’re all right. All of them. Lieutenant Hagan took a hit in the back and one in the ass. He was none too happy about that, believe me. He’s supposed to be released in a day or two. Sergeant Ivanell got hit high in the chest, but it missed the vitals. It came out through his shoulder. He’s going to be fine. He’s in a room in here on the fourth floor. Signolo got shot in the leg, just below the hip. Another one in the shoulder. It was a thirty-two. Pretty weak. The doctors say he’ll be running marathons in about a month. Acevedo got the worst of it. His shoulder’s pretty messed up, but he’s going to be OK. They brought him here, but he was released this evening. To be honest, I think they kicked him out. He was being a real brat.”

“You got shot, didn’t you? I remember…”

“It’s nothing. See? A twenty-two to the leg and a through-and through to the arm. They didn’t even put me out when they stitched it up. They just shot me a local and gave me a bottle of Vicodin. I’m fine, Dani. I swear.”

“You can get twenty bucks a pop for those in the Narrow Alley.”

“I think I’ll hang onto them, just in case. Dani, you scared the hell out of me! I thought I’d lost you!”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“I guess that makes us even. I thought I knew what you went through when Ricky shot me, but I had no idea until the other night. I’m sorry I ever put you through that. It was worse than I ever imagined. Can you forgive me?”

“Of course. I never wanted you to go through it. How long do I have to stay here?”

He’s looking at me like I just said something incredibly stupid. Why? What did I miss?

“Dani, you took an AK round through the gut! You’re lucky to be alive! You’re not going anywhere for a long time! You’re staying right here!”

I see the nurse is back. I think she’s going to kick Harper out of here. I don’t want him to leave, but I know what hospitals are like. They’ll kick him out. They always kick you out.

“Officer Harper, I’m afraid you have to leave. She needs her rest. You can come back in the morning.”

“Can’t I stay with her? We’re married. I’m immediate family.”

“So you’ve told us for the last three days. I’m sorry, you’ll have to leave. Don’t worry, she’s not going anywhere. She’ll be here in the morning.”

“Harper, I’m going to fall asleep any minute now. Go take care of Emily. I’ll see you in the morning. I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

And a kiss goodbye. God, he should’ve kissed me on the cheek. If my breath smells as bad as the taste in my mouth, that kiss probably damn near killed him. I’m so tired. I’m so damned tired. I need to go to sleep. I can’t even think straight. I just need some sleep.

I guess it’s morning. I don’t know. There aren’t any windows in this room. I’m still in the intensive care unit and I’m still hooked up to about a half-dozen machines. I can think more clearly now. Last night, I didn’t know what planet I was on. I’m glad I’ve got my senses back. It makes this whole thing a hell of a lot easier to take. Lying here in bed is no fun, but now I can think straight enough to realize that there’s no way in hell I could even get up. I’m a real mess. Getting shot through the gut does that to you. I’d forgotten that I got shot in the leg, too. That’s how out of it I was. I totally forgot that I took a fucking bullet to the leg. It’s actually no big deal. It went in and came out after about two inches. I can’t tell how many stitches are in there because it’s bandaged, but I can barely even feel it. The one through my gut? That’s a different story.

I took a look underneath this hospital gown, but I couldn’t see much. My entire gut is bandaged and taped from my waist up to just below my boobs. I have a feeling I don’t really want to see what’s underneath that tape. I still don’t feel any pain, but I feel really sick to my stomach. Jesus, who am I kidding? I don’t even know if I still have a stomach! For all I know, they had to cut it out. I don’t think so. I looked to see if I had a colostomy bag sticking out of my side and I don’t, so that’s a good thing. I’ve got five I/Vs in my hands and arms, and every time I move my hands, I swear I can feel the needles in them. Not fun.

Everything seems to work. My arms and legs can move and so can my head. I just don’t feel like moving them very much right now. I’m unbelievably weak. I thought I was drained after the riot, but this is ten times worse. Frankly, I’m amazed I’m awake right now. I feel like I might doze off at any time. Well, I’m lying in bed so if I do, I’ll be all set for it. I’ve got a tube shoved up guess where in case I have to take a piss. I really want that one out of there. God never intended for that sort of thing. I really hate hospitals. I’ve usually been in them when something terrible happened to someone I care about. Even when I gave birth to Emily, I hated being in there. I thank God for them, but I hate them.

One of these I/Vs is giving me Demerol. They told me so when I woke up this morning. I don’t like the idea of taking that stuff, but I know that if it weren’t for that, I’d be screaming loud enough to wake the dead. There’s a little remote control that lets me increase the dosage up to a point, but I don’t want to touch it. Wherever it’s set right now is just fine. I’m not in any pain. God, was I ever in pain when I got shot! I didn’t think anyone could feel that much pain and not die on the spot. Half of me wanted to die just to make it stop and the other half was fighting to live. It’s a weird way of thinking, let me tell you. Now I pray to God that I never go through anything like it again. Right now, I’m pretty much just wondering how long it’s going to take me to recover. Judging from what they told me about the wound, it’s going to be a long time. Well, I’m not going to rush it. I may bitch about it later, but not right now. I know better. It was one horrible lesson to learn.

I’ve been watching the news this morning. The riot’s pretty much over. The department is still on full mobilization, but the incidents have died down to almost nothing. I guess it’s true: you can’t stay that worked up for very long. The first two days were the worst of it, and not just because of what happened to us. They still don’t have a final tally on the death toll. One report said the department lost four officers, but that wasn’t confirmed. I’m sure they’ll have a solid number in a day or two. They also said that over forty officers were injured seriously enough to require hospitalization. Yeah, that much, I already figured out. I can tell you the names of at least sixteen of them: all of Central Midwatch, Officer Titus, and Officer Mossman. I know at least two officers who died, too. Their pictures will be up on the walls of their stations in a day or two and their names will be carved on the monument to the fallen. Big fucking deal. It doesn’t even begin to compensate for their sacrifice. Nothing ever will. And how many of the wounded are hurt so badly that they’re going to have to retire? Probably more than a few. The riot is going to leave some very deep scars on the city. Nobody who lived through it is ever going to forget it no matter how hard they try. I sure as hell won’t.

“Lynott? Are you awake?”

I don’t believe it! It’s Lieutenant Hagan! He’s walking! Well, he’s walking with a walker, but the last time I saw him, he couldn’t even stand up!

“Yes, sir. It’s good to see you. I heard you got shot in the ass.”

“Yeah, not the most glorious wound you can get. The bastard shot me with a carbine. It just barely made it through the vest and into my back. I guess that makes me lucky.”

“What does getting shot with an AK-47 make you?”

“Damned lucky. That bullet almost killed you. You nearly died in the ambulance. You also coded right after they got you on the table in the ER. You scared the living shit out of us.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t even see the guy who shot me.”

“And you won’t. Harper blew the living shit out of him. I think four or five of those bullets were post-mortem. In case you’re wondering, I don’t have a problem with that and neither does anyone who matters. I’m just sorry I didn’t get a chance to shoot the son of a bitch myself.”

“You know it was Boone who shot you, right? The guy we were sent to arrest.”

“I heard. And I heard you turned him into dog food. Thank you for that.”

It was the least I could do. He killed one police officer and shot my lieutenant. As far as I’m concerned, he got off way too easily. At least now he’s burning in hell for all eternity. That’s comforting to know.

“What about the others? Harper told me some of it last night, but not a lot of details.”

“Everyone’s alive and they’ll recover. Some of them faster than others, but they’ll all recover. Ivanell is one lucky son of a bitch. That bullet bounced off of his collarbone and came out through the top of his shoulder. If it had kept going straight, it would’ve hit a major artery. As it is, he’s looking at a few weeks of physical therapy. Signolo’s going to recover a lot faster than we thought. The bullets did minimal damage. He’s going to have some nasty swelling for a while, but he’ll be back a lot sooner than expected. Acevedo got it the worst. The bullet fragmented in his shoulder. He’s going to be in for some long, painful rehabilitative therapy. But he’s tough. He’ll get through it with flying colors. He’s already out of the hospital, if you can believe it.”

“I heard they kicked him out, sir. He was being a brat.”

“That sounds like him. The Latin King. Harper’s wounds weren’t serious. He’ll be back sooner than anyone except for Ruiz. He’s already back at the station. Eighteen stitches. He was damned lucky.”

“Yes, sir. If it had been a Skid Row Special, it would’ve come out through his chest.”

“No doubt. Look, Lynott? I know you kind of got bullied into going back to that housing project…”

“No, sir. I volunteered, just like everyone else. We all wanted to catch that son of a bitch. No one got bullied. It fell apart on us. Shit happens.”

“Yeah, well, you might want to tell that to Commander Mancia. He was listening to the thing back at the station. He heard every word of it. Every scream, every gunshot, every officer down call. When I saw him yesterday, he looked about a hundred years older. He knows he sent us in there and he knows he’s the one who vouched for the intelligence. I think you can imagine how he feels right now.”

I can imagine. He told us it would be a quick in-and-out mission and all of us ended up getting shot. We also ended up shooting at least a dozen people, most of them fatalities. God, it was worse than the St. George! And he feels responsible for it. Yeah, I can definitely imagine what he must feel. A screw-up that nearly sent six officers to their deaths? I know how I’d feel.

“If he drops by, I’ll tell him. I don’t think I’ll see him any time soon, though. After that bloodbath, I think he’s got enough on his plate as it is.”

The brass and the Police Commission are probably raking him over the coals right now. There are going to be hearings and investigations for months. It’ll make the shooting of that idiot in Woodlawn that triggered the whole thing look like a minor incident.

“Lynott, I never should’ve let you people volunteer for that caper. We were way under-strength and in no condition to do anything. I should’ve stood my ground and sent everyone home. That one’s on me.”

“No, sir. We all knew it could go to shit and it did. It was a high-risk operation with a high probability of failure, as Harper would say. It’s nobody’s fault. Nobody but the assholes who opened fire. I don’t blame you and I don’t blame Commander Mancia. I blame the assholes.”

“That’s pretty damned generous of you, seeing as you’re the one with the hole in her gut. I feel like shit that this happened. And I know I said how proud of you I am, but after what transpired out there? I don’t have the words. They say the south end cops are the best and the toughest, but you people put that myth to rest. Central Midwatch is head and shoulders above the rest. There isn’t a division or a unit that can touch you guys. I’m damned proud to have served with you out there.”

“I appreciate that, sir. I’d appreciate it if you let everyone else know. I think they should all hear it. Things like that matter to us, even if they don’t matter to a lot of other people.”

“The only people it doesn’t matter to are the assholes I’d never say it to.”

That’s probably true. I still want the guys to hear it from him, though. It’ll matter more if they hear it from him than if they hear it secondhand from me.

“Roger that, sir. And thanks. It was an honor to serve with you out there. It always is.”

“Lynott, if you need anything…if there’s anything I can do for you…anything at all, you just ask.”

“Right now, I just want something to settle my stomach. It feels weird. It feels like I’m going to puke, but there’s nothing in there to puke.”

“I’ll talk to your doctor. In the meantime, you probably heard your mother is here. Tell her the department’s going to pick up the cost for her travel.”

“Does that include the cost of my funeral when she strangles me?”

“I can’t help you with that. She’s your mom. You’re going to have to deal with her. Good luck with that.”

Yeah, sure! Take off before she gets here and leave me to my fate! You can handle fifteen armed gangbangers, but one irate mother? Traitor!

Who’s this? He’s got on hospital scrubs, but he doesn’t strike me as a nurse. He’s got a clipboard and he hasn’t looked up from it once. I’m thinking he’s a doctor.

“Officer…I’m sorry. Is it Mrs. Harper or Ms. Lynott? I’ve got both names down here.”

“It’s both. I’m officially Dani Harper, but everyone on the department still calls me Dani Lynott. Are you the doctor? The one who operated on me?”

“I’m one of them. Sam Balucher. How are you feeling today?”

“A lot better than when they brought me in. Thanks for saving my life.”

“That’s what we get paid for. Listen, I came here to talk to you about your condition and the surgery you underwent. I need to make you aware of some things. I spoke to your husband the other day, but now I need to talk to you.”

This doesn’t sound good. There’s something he doesn’t really want to tell me, and when a doctor doesn’t want to tell you something, then you know it’s got to be some major bad news.

“Are you about to tell me I’ve got three days to live?”

“Nothing like that. The surgery went well, and I expect you’ll make a full recovery. It’s going to take time, though. Your injuries were very severe. You’re lucky to be alive right now. Officer, when they brought you in here, you had massive internal bleeding. That bullet did a hell of a lot of damage. Now, we were able to repair the damage, but if we hadn’t stopped the bleeding when we did, you would’ve died. It’s that simple.”

Whatever this is, I think it’s going to be something horrible. I don’t want to drag this out. Just get it over with.

“Doc, just spit it out. What don’t you want to tell me?”

“All right. Officer, as you know, a woman’s body is different from a man’s. You’ve got some extra organs in your torso that a man doesn’t have. Most of the bleeding was coming from your uterus. We couldn’t repair the damage in time. You would’ve bled out before we finished. In order to save your life, we had to perform a hysterectomy. It was the only way to stop the bleeding. Now, I expect you’ll make a full recovery. You’re young and strong. But you’ll never be able to have another child. Your husband tells me you two just had a little girl. I’m glad to hear that. At least you were able to have a child before this happened. But you’re never going to be able to get pregnant again.”

And that should have me screaming and crying right now, but it doesn’t. I mean, I was the one who said I never wanted to go through pregnancy again. And I meant it. I understand what he’s saying, but right now, it isn’t a big deal to me. Maybe it will be someday, but right now, it isn’t. I’m just glad to be alive. That’s all I care about. Maybe I’ll care about it later, but right now, it’s not that big of a deal to me.

“I understand. Look, it’s not…it’s not that important to me right now. I know it should be, but it’s not. I consider myself lucky to be alive. That’s really all I care about. Maybe that will change someday, but right now, I’m just not…I’m not really broken up about it.”

I don’t know what he thinks of me for saying that, but I have to be honest with him. Never lie to your doctor. It never works out well in the end.

“That’s a little unexpected, but I’m relieved to hear it. And it doesn’t mean that you and your husband can never have another child. There’s adoption, surrogacy…”

“Doc, it’s all right. I’d pretty much made up my mind that I didn’t want to get pregnant again. I’ll be all right. I appreciate your telling me, though. Does my mom know?”

“Your mom? No, I…I didn’t know she was here. I’ve only met your husband. I’ll be happy to answer any questions she has.”

What? Do you mean like “What’s the best way to dispose of your ungrateful daughter’s body?” The scary thing is, he’s a doctor. He might actually know the answer to that question.

“I’ll tell her when I see her. In the meantime, I feel like I’m going to puke all the time. Why is that? Is it from the surgery?”

“Officer, you got shot through the abdomen and we removed your uterus. I’d say that’s enough to make you feel like your stomach is about to jump into your mouth. You probably won’t throw up, though. There’s nothing left in your stomach right now.”

Great! I’ll end up with a terminal case of the dry heaves!

“Doc, the other officers who were brought here? May I see them?”

“Well, you just saw your lieutenant. Sergeant…Ivanell, is it? He’s not really in any condition to come by here just yet. Officer Peter Signolo was already released, and the other one…Tony Acevedo? He was…discharged earlier.”

And the way he said “discharged” makes me think it wasn’t Acevedo’s idea.

“You kicked him out, didn’t you? Why? Was it because he was being a brat?”

“That was part of it. His behavior was…let’s just say it was disruptive.”

He clearly doesn’t want to go into it. That makes me want to know even more.

“What did he do?”

“Besides being a complete pain in the ass? He was taking bets on boxing matches. He was here for two days and he still managed to get quite a few people in the ward involved. I’m sure you can understand why we can’t have that sort of thing here in the hospital.”

“Uh-huh. Seriously, Doc: how much did he take you for?”

Notice how I didn’t have to think about it? I’m a good cop and I know Acevedo. I also know when somebody’s dancing around a truth they’d rather keep to themselves.

“Two hundred. I mean, come on! Perez was a five-to-one underdog! Who would’ve thought he’d beat Castro? The guy was ten and two!”

Yeah, I’ve heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth coming from the men’s locker room after Acevedo fleeces everyone. It sounds just like that.

“Acevedo’s the best boxer on the department. He knows everything about boxing. He picks a lot of winners.”

“Yeah, well, he walked out of here with about a grand. Don’t worry about him. He’ll be fine. He’s going to need some rehabilitative therapy, but they did a good job of repairing the damage done by the bullet. He’s got strong muscles and strong bones. I think he’ll be all right.”

That’s good to know. In the meantime, I can’t go see anyone right now. Not while I’m flat on my back. Well, maybe they’ll come by here? I hope so. I’ll feel a whole lot better after I see them. I need to know they’re all right. Christ, would you listen to me? They’re not all right. None of us is all right. Even Harper. I know he got shot. I know he gave me a load of bullshit that it wasn’t serious, but there’s no such thing as a minor gunshot wound. I’ve said that a million times, but now I know from experience. Horrible experience. I used to wonder just how bad it was. I wasn’t even close. Not even close.

Afternoon. I’m not sure exactly what time it is. I just know they said they might stick me in a room today. That’s fine with me. I want to get the hell out of this ICU. I want a room with a window. It’s weird when you can’t see outside. I keep losing track of time. I really want to get the hell out of here. I feel like as long as I’m here, I’m on display somehow. People come by and look at me and adjust things and check the machines. Sometimes they don’t say a word, even if they see me looking at them. I wish I could go home. I know that’s not going to happen for a while, but I just want to go home so bad. It’s hard to explain. It’s as if…it’s as if the riot never ended. This is just an extension of it. Those two days won’t end until I get the hell out of here. Yeah, right! I’m not stupid enough to think they’re going to kick me out like they did Acevedo. As bad as he got hit, I got it a lot worse. The doctor said he wound up with a cracked shoulder and they had to remove a lot of fragments from the bullet and that’s why it looked so nasty when he got shot. I guess he got hit with a hollow-point round or something. Anyway, they insisted that his injuries weren’t anywhere near as bad as I thought they were. Even Sergeant Ivanell isn’t as bad as I thought. Like Lieutenant Hagan said, the bullet grazed his vest, went in, deflected off of his collarbone and shot straight up and out a few inches from his neck. The swelling made it hard for him to breathe, but they said he’s already a lot better. And I guess Signolo wasn’t too bad off if they already released him. But what about everybody else? Ruiz is home, Kursteff is in a cast, Rosen looked like something out of a horror movie with his shoulder all dislocated, Garcia was….and Vinell got…and Titus was…my God, I have to stop this! I’m going to drive myself fucking insane!

Here comes the nurse. Good news, I hope. Of course, good news for me right now is pretty relative.

“Officer Lynott, we’re going to move you into a little room over there for a few minutes. You’ve got some visitors and one of them can’t be in the ICU. I think they’ll cheer you up.”

One of them can’t be in the intensive care unit? Who could that be? I don’t know any hypochondriacs. Well, off we go. Jesus, little room is right! I’ll bet this was an oversized broom closet before! She’s opening the other door. This is a little weird.

“You can come in now. Just keep this door closed.”

Harper! And he’s got Emily! And my mom! I should’ve guessed they wouldn’t let a baby into the ICU.

“Emily! Come here, little girl! I’m so glad to see you! Did you miss me? I missed you so much! I’m sorry I didn’t come home. Mommy had a little…bad luck.”

God, I’ve wanted to hold her since the riot started! She looks OK. Does she even know what happened? Come on, Dani! She’s a baby! She has no idea what’s going on! That’s a good thing.

“Hi, mom. I’m sorry you got dragged out here. I didn’t…”

“We’ll worry about that later. You look a lot better than you did the other day. How are you feeling?”

“Strange. I feel weird. They said that’s to be expected. I’m not in any pain, though. One of these bags going into my arm is a painkiller. I’m just really glad to see all of you. Harper, thank you for bringing Emily. Little girl you don’t know how much I missed you!”

“She misses you, too. We all do. Zephyr and Highway say hello. I couldn’t bring them here, as I’m sure you know.”

“Highway would sit on me and crush the life out of me. And Zephyr would probably pull these tubes out of my arms. Lieutenant Hagan came by here a while ago. He was walking. He had to use a walker, but he was getting around pretty good.”

“I know. The nurse told me they released him about an hour ago. He doesn’t like hospitals very much. I guess none of us do.”

“I was thinking earlier how much we all hate them, but we thank God for them when we need them. Is there any word on the rest of the watch?”

“Everyone’s home but Sergeant Ivanell. I think they’re going to keep him for a couple more days. He’s doing a lot better. He doesn’t have as much trouble breathing. Everyone’s been calling and asking about you. As long as you’re in the ICU, you can’t have any visitors except for immediate family, but as soon as they move you to a room, you can expect plenty of visits.”

They’ll do it, too. No matter how busted up they are, they’ll come by. That’s how they are. God bless each and every one of them.

“Tell them I said hello and I’m praying for all of them. Emily, were you a good girl with Helena? Did you two have fun? Did she read to you?”

“Helena said she was a perfect little girl. You know what she’s like. She wouldn’t complain if you dropped a bomb on her house. She said to tell you she’s very proud of you. Of all of us. She saw the riot on TV. She didn’t understand why we didn’t just shoot all the looters.”

“You mean like you wanted to shoot all the people in the Royce?”

“Yeah, I kind of lost it back there. Seeing you get shot…I’m sorry I came unglued. I feel pretty embarrassed about it.”

“Don’t. I felt the same way. It’s OK to feel that way as long as you don’t actually do it.”

“Tell that to the people in the projects. I think they’re all hiding underneath their beds right now. I admit it: I was ready to line them all up and shoot them right then and there.”

“I know, but you didn’t. I think you were entitled to go a little crazy. We all were. Everybody has their breaking point. I think we all reached ours and then some.”

You know, if the roles were reversed, I’d be upset with myself for a day or two and then forget it. But Harper? He’ll let it eat at him for a long time. Not just because he lost control, but because he scared the shit out of those people. I think they deserved it, but he doesn’t. Not him. He’s a good guy. A very good guy. How the hell did I get so lucky to find him? I swear, I’ll never know.

Uh-oh! Mom’s got that look on her face. I think I know what’s coming next, and it ain’t going to be good!

“Harper, Dani and I need to talk. Why don’t you take Emily outside?”

And the look on his face tells me he knows exactly what’s coming. Yeah, I’ll bet she’s been laying into him since she got here. Poor guy. It must’ve been hell. Believe me, I know. All right, here it comes! Stand by!

“Dani, I spoke to the doctor. He told me about the surgery.”

Translation: she knows I won’t be having any more kids. Yeah, I can imagine how that went over with her: definitely not good!

“I know. He told me. It was that, or let me bleed to death. Mom, right now it doesn’t seem…it doesn’t make a big difference to me. Maybe it will in the future, but right now, I’m all right with it.”

“You’re all right with it? Dani, you’re never going to have another child! Not ever! And you’re all right with that?”

“I don’t want to argue with you, mom. It happened. I just have to live with it. Right now, I can do that. I’m lucky to be alive.”

“You’re damned right you are! This goddamned job! How many times have I told you something like this was going to happen? How many times have I told you it was going to kill you one of these days?”

“Mom, calm down.”

“Don’t tell me to calm down! You don’t get to tell me to calm down! Look at you, Dani! Is this what you want? Do you feel better? Are you part of the club now? You got shot! You almost died! You’re lying there with about a hundred stitches in you and you’re never going to have another child! Emily will never have a brother or a sister! But I’m sure that’s just fine with you! I’m sure you’ll get a medal for it! That’s what’s important to you, isn’t it? You and Harper left your newborn daughter to go rushing off to a goddamned war zone! And this is what you get for it! I could strangle the both of you!”

I told you! If you thought she’d hold back until I got home, you were wrong. My mom isn’t the type. Not by a long shot.

“We did what we had to do. We’re police officers. It’s our job. The city was on fire and most of the department was hiding out at the command post. We had to do what we could.”

“Like hell! Did it ever occur to you that the ones who hid at that command base knew what they were doing? I watched the news, Dani! All of it! I saw what was happening out here! This damned city looked like something from the Middle East! I almost expected to see tanks in the streets and airplanes dropping bombs on it! You’re not in the army, Dani! You’re a policeman! It’s a job! That’s all it is! What were you thinking? You’re a mother! You have a baby! That comes first, Dani! Nothing else! I shouldn’t have to tell you that, but apparently I do because you’re too damned pigheaded to see it for yourself! And this is the result!”

What am I supposed to tell her? Duty calls? Higher responsibility? None of that makes a damned bit of difference to her. I’m not sure it makes a damned bit of difference to me right now after what we went through. Maybe she’s right?

“It’s not just a job, mom. I’ve told you that since the day I joined up. We had to do what we could to help. Maybe it didn’t make any difference? It didn’t feel like we made a difference. But we had to try. We didn’t expect it to be that bad. No one did. We were caught off-guard.”

“Is that what you call it? It was all just a mistake? Someone goofed? Is that what you’re telling me? For God’s sake, Dani! You were almost killed! Look at you! Look at where you are!”

“What do you want me to say, mom? That we blew it? That we were stupid? That we deluded ourselves into thinking we could actually make a difference? Fine! I won’t argue with you. We were a bunch of fucking idiots for thinking that. We were fucking idiots for trying to help people who didn’t want our help. And for the rest of my life, I’m going to look at this scar on my gut and remember it. I’m going to remember how stupid I was. I’m going to remember what it almost cost me. But we had to try. We had to do something. Those guys at the CP? Some of them are going to have to live with the fact that they hid out there while the rest of us were out in the shit. It probably won’t bother most of them, but some of them are going to have a hard time living with it. I couldn’t live with it. And at least now, I don’t have to.”

“No. No, you just have to live with the results. You and your friends are heroes, Dani. You’re all real heroes and everybody knows it. You all did what they wouldn’t do. You think those other people were cowards. Maybe they were? Maybe they were too scared to go out and do what you and your friends did? Maybe that really does make them cowards? But they’re alive and well, Dani! They didn’t get shot! They’re not barren for the rest of their lives! They don’t have a great big hole in their stomach! Their parents didn’t have to watch the news and wonder if their children were alive or dead! They didn’t have to shoot God only knows how many people! They don’t have to live with any of that, Dani! But you do! For the rest of your life, you have to live with that! However long that is! Because you won’t be so lucky the next time. I know that as sure as I’m standing here, Dani. The next time, it’s going to kill you! So you need to think about that. You need to think long and hard about that. What’s it going to be, Dani? Your job or your life? Because you can’t have them both. Not anymore. You need to choose which one is more important to you.”

Like I haven’t already been thinking about that. She’s right. She’s right and we both know it. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that when I was lying there bleeding out, I knew I was all out of luck. I used it all up. Even if I lived, I knew that I was running on empty and the next time would kill me for sure. I still know it. My account is completely zeroed out. So what am I going to do? I wish I knew. God, I wish I knew!

Morning. Not early morning, but it’s morning. How do I know? Because late last night, they moved me to a room and I’ve got a window to look through. It feels good. It’s not much of a view, mind you. Hudson Hospital is just outside of Woodlawn Division, so I’m basically looking at an industrial district and not a very nice one at that. Lots of dilapidated buildings and empty lots with brown dried grass. Plenty of trash, too. Still, I’ll take it over being in intensive care any day. I also lucked out in that there are two beds in here, but I’m the only one in here right now. I don’t know how long that’s going to last, but I kind of like the privacy. Well, as much privacy as you can get in a hospital. It’s really overcast out there. It might rain. It’s a shame it didn’t rain buckets the other day. The city could’ve been spared a lot of misery.

Now that I’ve got a TV that I don’t have to squint to see, I can catch up in the news. It’s all about the riot. Harper was right: looking around the south end, you’d never know what had happened if it weren’t for the burned-out buildings. The stores are open, people are back to work, and life goes on. For some people, anyway. The reports are saying that the insurance companies are dragging their feet about the claims. Some are even reported as having said they won’t pay on the grounds that the people in those neighborhoods started the riot. I’m pretty sure the business owners didn’t start it. They’re victims, just like the people who got beaten up or killed are victims. But a buck’s a buck and the insurance companies are on the hook for God only knows how many millions of dollars in claims. I’m guessing it won’t get sorted out anytime soon.

As expected, the idiot fringe is on the warpath; particularly about the number of officer-involved shootings. I saw a department spokesperson talking about how each shooting will be thoroughly investigated. Good luck with that! Hell, I can hardly wait until they interview me about the shootout at the Royce. Most of it is a blur to me right now. I doubt I could give them even a thumbnail sketch of it. I remember shooting the asshole who shot Lieutenant Hagan. Boone. I remember that one vividly, but the rest? It’s almost as if I wasn’t there when it happened. I think the investigators are going to have to come up with a special category for riot shootings. That’s a good name for it, don’t you think? Riot shootings. How many times have I said I never wanted to fire my gun again except on the shooting range? It just never seems to work out, does it? Well, I’m sure my name will be on a list that the morons will use as proof that we’re an out-of-control police department that needs to be brought under their thumb. Fuck them. They weren’t there. We were. As far as I’m concerned, that’s all that matters. And there’s not much they can do about it now, anyway. We don’t have a chief, so there’s no one for them to pressure. Funny how these things work out sometimes.

Here comes the nurse. I’m guessing it’s not to bring me my lunch. I’m still eating through a tube up my nose. Lucky me. I don’t have to eat hospital food.

“Officer Lynott? You have a visitor. A Sergeant Gellar. Do you want to see him?”

“Hell, yes! Send him in!”

Good God! Look at his face! He looks like someone almost beat him to death!

“Sarge, are you all right? You look terrible!”

“I’m not the one lying in bed with a bullet in her gut, Lynott.”

“The bullet’s gone. They told me that much already. Your face! You look…”

“I’m fine. Bruises heal by themselves. How are you feeling? Dumb question, I know.”

Not really. All things considered, I’m a lot better than I should be. Hell, I think I’m actually better than he is right now!

“I’m all right. It doesn’t hurt as long as they’ve got me on the painkillers. I’m a little worried about what it’ll be like when they send me home, though. I’m pretty sure I don’t get to take the I/V with me.”

“You look a lot better than you did when they brought you in here. I was there. I got here just before they took you into surgery. My God, you looked…Lynott, I’m sorry I wasn’t there with you in the projects.”

“Don’t be. I’m not. You would’ve been shot, too. I’m glad you weren’t there. It was pretty horrible. What I can remember of it, anyway. A lot of it is just a blur.”

“That’s what happens when you get shot and nearly die from it. I hear you all did one hell of a job. Everybody’s talking about it back in Central. It’s pretty much all they’re talking about. You people just became Central Division legends. I just wish it didn’t come at so high a cost.”

Yeah, I think this story came at too high a price. I guess my dad was wrong: sometimes getting a good story out of something just isn’t worth it.

“How are things back in the division? I guess they’re working without a Midwatch, seeing as all of us are IOD. Did they draft a bunch of people to cover for us?”

“No, we’re still mobilized, so it’s ‘A’ and ‘B’ watches only. Captain Mayones is taking what happened pretty hard. He feels responsible for it. He asked us to go down there. He didn’t think it would be anything like this.”

“No one did. Tell him I said to stop worrying about it. We’re all still alive. We’ll be back. I don’t know when they’re going to let me out of here, but I’ll be back.”

“Yeah, you will. But you won’t be working Sixteen anymore. I brought you a little something.”

What’s he talking about? I’m not working Sixteen Central anymore? What’s he…oh, my God! What the hell? A pair of sergeant’s stripes?

“What are you doing with those?”

“Presenting them to you, Sergeant Lynott. Congratulations. You’ve been promoted.”

This is a joke, right? He’s making this shit up. No way in this or any universe known to man or God did they actually promote me! No fucking way on earth!

“You’re putting me on, right? Sarge, we both know I’m not getting promoted. Not after the shit I’ve been through.”

“Things are different now, Lynott. This riot provided what we like to call a ‘window of opportunity.’ The department’s in chaos and there’s no clear leadership. Some of us decided to use what happened to you people to call in a few favors. This was one of them. You’re a sergeant effective the start of the next DP. I know. I saw the promotion order. Mancia signed it himself. I watched him do it.”

“Commander Mancia? He can’t promote me. He’s not even in charge of Central Bureau.”

“As long as an officer is in line for a promotion, the Chief of Police can promote anyone he wants. And it’s pretty much a lock that Mancia’s going to be the next chief. The rank and file is pissed off like you wouldn’t believe. I think it’s even worse than when that idiot Ellison was in charge, if you can believe that. The city knows they’re going to have to win over the troops if they want to restore confidence in the department and right now, Mancia’s the only one the troops will accept.”

That’s actually good news. I think he’ll be a fine chief. A hell of a lot better than any handpicked candidate from the Police Commission or the mayor.

“So this isn’t a joke?”

“Not at all. He signed the papers. We didn’t even have to push him on it. He knows what kind of cop you are. He saw it for himself. We’re going to need good sergeants and he knows it. Starting next DP, you’re the Sergeant in Charge of Central Midwatch.”

I don’t believe this! This is crazy! I’m lying in bed with a gunshot wound to the gut! I won’t even be there next DP!

“Sarge…what about Sergeant Ivanell? He’s the senior sergeant. He’s got way more time in grade.”

“He’s fine with it. I know. I already told him and he thinks it’s a great idea. Lynott, we both know you’ve been bringing him along since he got here. He knows it, too. He’s a pretty good guy for a former pogue, but he’s still got a lot to learn. He’ll get there. And he’s still going to Midwatch. But Midwatch needs a real sergeant; one who knows the job inside and out. That’s you. And as soon as you finish your year on probation, Captain Mayones is going to promote you to Sergeant II. Midwatch is supposed to be led by a Sergeant II. That’s why I got the job. Now it’s yours.”

“Sarge, did you…did you put in your paperwork?”

“Yeah, I did. I’ll still be here for a while before it’s official, but I pulled the pin. It’s time. This goddamned riot convinced me of it. The department’s going to go through some changes and I don’t want to be there for them. I’ve done my bit. I was lucky to get out of there alive. It’s time for me to enjoy the rest of my life in peace. I think I’ve earned it.”

That’s the understatement of the millennium. He’s earned it a million times over.

“Lieutenant Hagan?”

“He’s not going to stick around much longer. He got shot in the back, but the vest stopped most of it. It cracked one of his vertebrae, though. That’s why he dropped so fast, in case you were wondering. He’s going to have some painful physical therapy before he’s one hundred percent. He’s still bitching about being shot in the ass, though. He thinks it’s some kind of personal ‘fuck you!’ from the gangbangers.”

That sounds like him. It makes sense. He really dropped like a stone. I thought he was dead for a minute. I wish I could wipe that memory from my brain.

“So Harper’s getting a new partner?”

“In a manner of speaking. Harper’s going to SWAT. He doesn’t know it yet, but they already called over to Captain Mayones and requested him. One of the things that came out of this shit was the fact that we need another SWAT platoon. They’ve been dawdling about it for a year already, but this shit got it greenlighted and they need people to fill the spots. Harper’s name was at the top of the list, especially after this riot. A lot of people are talking about what he did out there: last man standing, blasting away at the bad guys while trying to protect the wounded officers. Already wounded himself. That’s some real John Wayne shit, straight out of a movie.”

“Yeah, don’t tell him that. He’ll start doing that horrible John Wayne impression and I’ll have to kill him.”

“I’ll make a note of it. You’re probably going to kill him anyway. Don’t tell him I told you this, but I’m pretty sure he bought Jack Hagan’s Harley.”

He bought a motorcycle? While I was lying here in the hospital? I’ll kill him! I’ll fucking kill him! No, I’ll tell my mom! She’ll kill him! Even better!

“That little asshole! Don’t worry, Sarge. I’ll deal with him when I get out of here. Sarge, I know this is me being selfish, but is there any way I could convince you to stay on the job? I really don’t want you to leave.”

“Not a chance. My day on the department has come and gone. I barely recognize it anymore. No, it’s time. I’m going to miss you guys. I never served with a finer bunch of cops. No one ever did and they never will. I’m counting on you to keep the tradition alive. You know what to do and you’re going to have the backing of the chief. You can do this, Lynott. I know you can.”

I wish I were that confident. The idea of coming to work every day and not seeing the Sarge or the Lieutenant? That’s not something I’m looking forward to. But I knew they had to leave eventually, and I knew that the riot was probably going to be the cap on their careers. Things are going to be different from now on. I’ll have to get used to it. Right now, I feel like I don’t want to, but I’m going to have to. We all are. Change is a real bitch. It’s inevitable, but it’s a real bitch. Sometimes it even breaks your heart.

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