Tactical Alert

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"When the Real One Hits"

Home again, home aging, fiddle-dee-dee! That’s from Blade Runner, in case you didn’t know. I think I watched that film a dozen times. It took me half that long just to follow the whole plot line. Anyway, we’re back and we’re tired and I think a little bit stressed from what we learned from watching that video. I think that would stress out any cop in the city. It’s like we’re watching a speeding train headed right for a sheer cliff and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. After what we saw, I think that cliff is a lot closer than we originally thought. One felony arrest, one assist, and an assist on two misdemeanor vandalism arrests. Not bad for the night. I’m thinking we should’ve told Sergeant Gellar about seeing that video, but I don’t want to put him on the spot. Besides, he’s probably going to say exactly what Harper said: the brass knows about it, the brass has seen it, so what can we do about it? In a word, nothing. I think I can hear a train whistle barreling down on us.

On the bright side, Helena prepared dinner for us before she left. Actually, she had it ready when we walked in the door. I’m starting to develop an inferiority complex around her. I can barely scramble an egg, but she can make a veritable feast without even thinking about it. She’s definitely from a different word than us; one where people had to do everything by themselves and make do with whatever they had. She learned all of the right lessons, too. That meal smells delicious. I don’t know what’s in it and I don’t care. I’ve never eaten anything she’s made that wasn’t delicious. I’m beginning to think we should ask her to move in with us. We hired her to babysit for Emily, but she’s always doing a whole bunch of other stuff. I’m beginning to think that once spring comes, she’s going to start mowing the lawn and painting the house. You know what she always says: it’s better to have too much work than too little. How many people these days live by that mantra? Do you want to hear something funny? Apparently, Helena has a little trouble pronouncing Highway’s name, so she calls him Rasputin. She says he looks like Rasputin, and after Googling a picture of the guy, I can kind of see the resemblance. Zephyr, she can say just fine. I’m telling you, but the time she’s eight, Emily is going to be fluent in Russian. Maybe it’ll help her in the future?

Right now, Emily is asleep. Helena’s reports about her are always the same: “She is good baby. No trouble.” I sometimes wonder about that. From what I’ve learned about Helena, I sometimes think that her idea of trouble is nothing short of the Nazi invasion of the motherland. Anything less hardly rates a mention. I’ll tell you this much: that’s going to make me feel better if there’s a riot and we have to work a lot of overtime. While there’s no chance of the riot making its way over here, I can imagine Helena holding the looters at bay with an AK-47. She’s probably got one stashed in her attic. And I’ll bet she knows how to handle it, too. And something else I’m glad about: Emily is too young to understand what might happen. If there is a riot, she’ll read about it in history books in school. She won’t have to see it in person. Her mom and dad? We’ll be right in the middle of it. Right in the eye of the storm.

I’m trying not to get depressed about that right now. As I suspected, this dinner is delicious. I’d ask Helena for the recipe if I knew how to cook. We’re a weird family, aren’t we? The only ones in the neighborhood who eat dinner at three o’clock in the morning. There’s something fundamentally wrong with that, don’t you think?

“I think we should adopt Helena. What do you think?”

He’s looking at his food and nodding. Yeah, I think we’re of one mind on that one.

“I could go with that. We’ve still got an extra bedroom.”

The truth is, she’s too independent. She’d never go for it. No matter how hard things are, Helena’s the type who prefers to go it alone. Has your dad or granddad ever told you about how in their day, they used to walk five miles uphill through the snow both ways to go to school? Well, I’m pretty sure Helena actually did that.

“You haven’t said much about the video. Not even in the car.”

“What’s to say? Dani, the brass dropped the ball. They could’ve gotten out in front of this thing and it would be over and done with already. Now we’re on the verge of a full-on civil disturbance and a lot of people are going to get hurt. It makes me sick to my stomach, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

We’re of one mind on that one, too.

“I just keep thinking it’s all an exercise in futility. Harper what are we going to do? Ten of us against a whole division gone wild?”

“It’s actually fifteen of us. Three sergeants, a lieutenant, and Officer Woodward. But I know what you mean. I feel like we’re a sand castle on a beach and the big wave is coming to wipe us out. We’ll be lucky if we can keep one store from being burned down.”

“Do you think there’ll be a lot of fires?”

“Oh, hell yes! I talked to my dad the other day. He remembers the riots in ’68. He said the TV showed fires burning a couple of blocks away from the Capitol dome in Washington, D.C. It was even worse in places like Detroit. It’s going to be bad. I don’t know how many buildings we’re going to lose, but I’m more concerned with how many people. I’m afraid this thing is going to have one hell of a body count.”

So do I. And there’s not much we can do about that, either. It’s not like the civil authorities are going to call for an evacuation in the event of a riot. Where would the people go? Where could you put them all? South Bureau is some of the most densely-populated real estate in the city. We don’t have a Superdome. Hell, the football stadium doesn’t even have a roof. There’s nowhere for the people to go.

“I always prided myself on coming up with solutions to problems. I thought I was pretty good at it.”

“You are.”

“Then why can’t I come up with anything now? I’m telling you, I’m lost. I can’t think of a single thing we could do that would make a difference. We’re going to be running from hotshot to hotshot and accomplishing nothing. We’ll be lucky if we get to a location just in time to see it go up in flames.”

“Dani, do you remember that lady from the shelter where I got Highway?”

Of course I do. She’s the one who said he was as smart as a whip and she could help us train him in no time. She failed miserably. I’ve got a pile of chewed-up shoes to prove it.

“What about her?”

“I asked her once how she could work at a rescue with so many heartbreaking stories. Dogs and cats who never get adopted. Animals who were abused and starved. She told me that the unofficial motto of all rescues is ‘You can’t save them all. You try, but you can’t do it.’ She said they all know it and as much as it hurts when they lose one, it’s the only thing that keeps them sane. Dani, you need to stop beating yourself up over this. Whatever happens will happen and we’ll do the best we can, but we can’t save them all. Not all of the buildings and not all of the people. It’s tragic, but that’s how it is. And nobody but you expects you to somehow come up with the magic solution.”

“I’m the resident witch, remember? I’m supposed to be able to twitch my nose and make everything perfect.”

“That was a TV show. And I read once where Elizabeth Montgomery said she hated it when people asked her to twitch her nose. It was a camera trick. You can’t really move your nose from side to side.”

I know. I’ve tried. Most little girls in Salem give it a shot. We get disappointed when we find out that it doesn’t work.

“I just feel like I’m letting everybody down.”

“You’re not, and you never will. Dani, we’ve got the ten best cops on the department on Midwatch. We’re all trying to figure out a way to maximize our effect in the event we have to go it alone. It’s not all on your shoulders.”

No, it just feels that way. And I know it’s my own fault. I’m basically a masochist for this kind of shit.

“You’re right. Let’s talk about something else. But not about you getting a motorcycle!”

“I didn’t say anything about that. You know, I was looking at the school ratings around here this morning. I knew they weren’t great, but…”

“They suck. I know. I looked at some of them, too. What are we going to do? We can’t send Emily to one of them. She’ll be functionally illiterate by the time she finishes high school.”

“And we can’t afford private schools. Some of them cost more than I paid to go to college. I’m thinking about home-schooling. We could teach her as well as the schools around here. Probably a lot better.”

That thought crossed my mind a few times. But what would she do for friends? We can’t expect her to stay isolated in the house. I never realized how scary being a parent could be. I know this is one thing my parents didn’t have to worry about. I went to public school and I got a fine education. Then again, I grew up in Salem. They take that sort of thing seriously over there. Around here? Hardly! Emily would become a vapid, cellphone-addicted little brat by the time she was in eighth grade. That’s not going to happen.

“With our working hours? Look at us, Harper. We’re eating dinner at three in the morning. We routinely sleep until noon. Later if we work overtime.”

“Dani, we won’t be on Midwatch forever. You’re on the sergeant’s list.”

“And SWAT is interested in you. But they’re not going to promote me and when you go to SWAT, you’re going to be on-call three nights a week in addition to your regular shift. Not to mention the fact that they’ll send you all over the place for training. I heard they sent some of those guys to Guam for some kind of survival training. What for? Where is there a jungle in the Emerald City?”

“The asphalt jungle?”

That just earned you a punch in the balls, mister! I’m serious! What the hell were they thinking? What’s next? Arctic survival training? Sending them to Hawaii for volcano survival training? Don’t get me wrong, I admire the hell out of our SWAT team. But I think they go overboard on the training sometimes. God only knows how much the department spends on them every year.

“Very funny!”

“Dani, we’re going to make it somehow. I’m as worried about it as you are. My mom was laughing her ass off at me when I told her about the schools. She said ‘Welcome to the club! Now you know what we went through with you kids!’ But they managed and so will we. And by the way, you’ll get promoted. They can’t hold you back forever.”

Uh-huh. You have to remember that Harper wasn’t around during the fallout from the Reid shooting. The department hated me with a fiery passion, and something like that doesn’t go away. I gave them the finger by not resigning, and that’s something that they never forget either. I’m not getting promoted. I should come up in the next round or two and they’ll pass me over so fast, it’ll mess up my hair. I keep telling myself that I’ve accepted that, but now? With a baby? Maybe not so much.

“If wishes were horses, then everyone would ride.”

“Not you. I’ve seen you on a horse, remember?”

Oh, he did not say that! Yeah, I’ve had a few bad experiences trying to ride a horse, and one of them was when the damned thing sat down like a dog and I slid right off of the back of it! Harper was watching the whole time and he didn’t stop laughing for about four hours! I bruised my fucking tailbone! Do you have any idea how much that hurts?

“Move over! I’m punching you in the balls!”

“Dani!”

“It wasn’t funny! I could barely walk for two days! You’re a dead man, asshole! Emily! I have to kill your father!”

Oh, where do you think you’re going, mister? You’re not escaping this time! Say goodbye to your balls!

“Dani, you’re taking this too seriously!”

“Murder is serious business! Come here!”

Oh, now he’s going to run away? Good luck! This house isn’t that big! You’re a dead man, Ryan Harper! Stop running and take it like a man! Upstairs? Try again! You’re not locking yourself in the bathroom! I’ll pry the lock open! Say goodbye to your balls, mister joker! Die!


Central Station. Gearing up for roll call. Oh, my God! I ache in ways you wouldn’t believe! You know, we have a weird pattern in the Harper family: I get all pissed off at him for whatever reason and the next thing you know, we’re fucking each other’s brains out every which way we can. Last night was no exception. I finally caught up to him in the bedroom closet and before I knew it, he had my pants off and me pressed up against the wall while he fucked me from behind. My God, it was incredible! He rang my bell so many times, I nearly clawed right through the cedar panels! It never occurred to me to do it in the closet, but it turned into one hell of a night! We continued on the bed, the bedroom floor, the upstairs hallway, and finally the basement where I gave my stripper pole a workout. No stripping, mind you. I was already naked, which just made it even better. I pulled a few moves that I never tried before, and they definitely had the desired effect on Harper. Boy, did they ever! It didn’t even occur to me that my screaming woke up Emily, but I got so loud that it would’ve awakened the dead! We’re going to have to soundproof the place now that we have a child. There are some things that a kid shouldn’t hear her parents doing. I’m also going to have to come up with an explanation for why mom has a stripper pole. In this information age, she’ll probably figure it out by the time she’s eight. We’ll deal with that one later.

You’d think that by now, I’d be used to it. I wouldn’t ache so much. But you know what? I hope I never get used to it! As much as it hurts to bend over and tie my shoes right now, the aches and pains just remind me of how he can send me right over the moon. I’ve said it a million times: he’s a keeper! I just wonder why he doesn’t get the same aches and pains? Probably because he’s a guy and they only get to go once while women can go over and over again and we feel it in more places, if you know what I mean. It’s one of our many advantages over men. Yes, it definitely pays to be a woman sometimes. Of course, he probably didn’t have any problems tying his shoelaces. I, on the other hand, almost had to give up and wrap duct tape around them. Oh, well. I’ll feel better as the night goes on. I always do.

On a less sensual note, Harper and I decided to tell Sergeant Gellar and Lieutenant Hagan that we saw the body camera video last night. We tried to tell the Sarge, but he said to save it for after roll call because he wanted the captain to hear it, too. We also agreed not to tell them that Nick showed it to us, but none of those guys would’ve ratted him out, anyway. No, they’re just curious for some confirmation of what’s on the video. Everybody’s heard the story and now we can tell at least a few people that the stories are true: it was a tragic but reasonable and necessary officer-involved shooting with nothing out of the ordinary on the video. I still can’t believe the department hasn’t released that stuff. For God’s sake, it clears those guys! Get it out there! I’m rapidly losing any shred of respect for our new chief. You know how Harper is a total history buff; especially for military history? Well, that Civil War documentary that he loves so much spent a lot of time talking about how General McClellan was afraid to do anything, so the war lasted two years longer that it should’ve. That’s Chief Mooney: a total do-nothing. We should start calling him General McClellan. It would be fitting, seeing as he had the means to wipe out the Confederate army in a heartbeat but failed to move on it, and the result was Antietam: the bloodiest battle of the war. Abe Lincoln fired his ass after that debacle. I think history is repeating itself right before our eyes, and that’s what scares me.

OK, I’m dressed and ready to go! Gear shined, locked and loaded, and aches in places that I really shouldn’t mention. Of course, just thinking about how I got them is enough to make me want to fill out a deduct slip, go home, and do it all over again! Damn! I’ve really got the naughty housewife thing down to a science! If the rest of the watch only knew! Oh, I’m sure they suspect, but Harper’s too much of a gentleman to engage in the typical locker room talk about that kind of thing. Yes, I know about that stuff. Contrary to what you may believe, women do the exact same thing in here. I’ve had plenty of the female officers in this division try to pry the details of our sex life out of me. God knows some of them aren’t shy about sharing!

There’s Harper, standing tall and proud and clearly feeling no pain. Good! That means he’ll be ready for round two as soon as we get home! This time, I start with one of my stripper outfits and we take it from there!

“Ready to go, Harper?”

“Always. Are you ready for the meeting with Captain Mayones?”

“Sure. We’re just going to tell him what we saw.”

“And we say nothing about Nick’s role in it, right?”

“Nick who? I don’t know anybody named Nick.”

And his smile tells me we’re on the same page. Good. Time to get this show on the road. The sergeants are already in there. And there’s Sergeant Gellar, giving us the stink eye!

“Lynott! Harper! Glad you could join us! Take your seats!”

Hey, we already checked in with him and with Lieutenant Hagan, so it’s not like we were late for roll call!

“We were huddled in prayer, asking God to prevent a riot, Sarge.”

“God stopped giving a shit about this city a long time ago. All right, Midwatch! Roll call! The Watch Commander is Lieutenant Hagan. I’m Forty Central. Sergeant Hendrickson is Sixty Central. Eight Central is Ruiz and Rosen. I want to thank you Sergeant Hendrickson, for ruining my shift last night! And you in particular, Ruiz and Rosen! You brought that asshole from that stolen car in here! Do you have any idea how much paper I had to waste because of you two? I nearly had a Watch Commander commit a homicide and the little punk said Sergeant Hendrickson tried to kill him! And Lynott! He had a mouthful to say about you! He said you tried to murder him with your poison spray!”

“It was pepper gas, Sarge! And I didn’t even spray him!”

“Which didn’t prevent me from having to address his bullshit in my sergeant’s log! Do you see these fingers? Do you see how cramped they are? Ten pages! That’s how much I had to type for that shit! Thank you very much, all of you!”

I don’t see why. “Saw asshole in G-ride and arrested same. No merit to his unspecified bullshit.” That’s all I would’ve written about it. It definitely covers it.

“Moving right along! Lynott and Harper, Sixteen Central. Your friend Elias Woodward collected that rapist you guys brought in and took him straight to San Marco State Prison. There’s an unofficial pool going as to when or whether that asshole will ever be seen again. My bet is on ‘never.’ Five bucks gets you in.”

“Sarge? Is there a category for what condition he’ll be in if he ever shows up?”

“No, it’s either-or. Kursteff and Vinell, Twenty-Two Central. People, I know I rag on you a lot to write more tickets, but Kursteff, this is fucking ridiculous! I want everybody to see this one!”

It looks like a ticket, plain and simple. What’s the big deal?

“People, notice this citation for the dastardly offense of 21955 VC! Otherwise known as jaywalking! I want you to pay particular attention to the boxes on the citation where the officer can check off certain titles: Mr, Mrs., Ms., Dr. etc. Notice how on this one, the boxes are crossed out and what do we find scribbled in the margin? ’Str.!” As in ‘Sister!’ You wrote up a nun for jaywalking! Are you insane? And not just any nun! No, this one was an old-school woman of the cloth, wearing the full black and white habit! Kursteff, you’re going straight to hell! What in God’s name were you thinking?”

My God! That’s just cold! Too cold! A nun? What’s she going to do? The fine is two hundred bucks! Nuns don’t have any money! That’s just sick! And the watch is definitely letting Kursteff have it with both barrels! Good! He deserves it!

“All right, Midwatch! Settle down! Signolo and Goren, Forty-Four Central. I want to thank you two for not causing me any problems during last night’s shift. Too bad the rest of you can’t say the same thing! Last, but not least! Garcia and Acevedo, Sixty-Six Central! Now, I don’t want to get into too much detail about this one, because I don’t want to have to kill another goddamned tree! But I received a civilian report about two officers who shall remain nameless, participating in what appeared to be an unauthorized drag race over by the tracks! I was at first skeptical about the veracity of this report, until the unnamed person reporting said that the other participant was a particularly attractive young female Hispanic! Suddenly, it made sense to me! People, you all know that if they catch you drag racing in a sector car, it’s a twenty-two day suspension and an immediate reassignment to a Daywatch footbeat! So don’t let me hear any more about it ever again! I mean it! The road over by the railroad tracks may be deserted at night, but that doesn’t make it safe! Knock it off!”

I can’t really criticize. We’ve done that a few times. Hey, I work with Harper the hot rodder. It was bound to happen.

“All right, we’ll keep it short and sweet. It’s still chilly, but not as cold as last night. Be ready for fights over sleeping spots and some people getting pissed off at the missions because they didn’t get a bunk for the night. The pharmacy on Meridian had an attempted break-in during the Graveyard shift. They didn’t get in, but it was a serious attempt. Give it extra patrol. You’ve all got your list of suspects wanted by our Burglary detectives. Nightwatch has put a pretty good dent in it, but see if you people can’t clean up the rest of them. We need to clear those case numbers. Has anybody got anything? No? Good! Go to work!”

Short and sweet is right! I hope he didn’t cut things short just to get to that meeting with Captain Mayones. We’d better keep our story to just the facts, ma’am. I don’t think anyone is going to try to make a big deal out of it, but if they do, I want to give them as little ammunition as possible. I’ve been at the center of a department tragedy before. I don’t ever what to be there again.


The Captain’s Conference Room. We told them what we saw: a good shooting where the officers had no choice. They did exactly what they were supposed to do, tried to de-escalate the situation, and when there was no other choice, they fired to protect themselves. End of story. End of suspect, too. Nobody was surprised. We’ve all heard the same account at least fifty times. Still, Captain Mayones is pushing to make sure we didn’t miss anything. Jesus, what’s to miss? The whole thing took about thirty seconds.

“Lynott, Harper; I want to make absolutely sure we’ve covered everything. You said that at no time did either officer say or do anything offensive or demeaning to the suspect.”

“That’s right, sir. They called him ‘buddy’ and ‘dude,’ and when he got all psycho on them, they both called him ‘sir.’ They were straight-up professional. They were pretty shocked when he pulled out that knife, but they kept it professional.”

“What about the responding officers? Anything troublesome there?”

“We didn’t see that far, sir. We were told that there was nothing on either body camera during the entire time that the involved officers were present at the scene. The video stopped after that.”

“No racial slurs were used?”

“No, sir. You could hear both officers clearly. There was nothing like that.”

“And the guy just went off on them?”

I’m going to let Harper handle that one. They need to hear this from the both of us.

“That’s what we saw. Ask Harper. He saw it, too.”

“She’s right, sir. The suspect was clearly agitated when the unit arrived. Almost as soon as he saw them, he put up his fists in a fighting stance. He was challenging and threatening them the entire time; verbally and physically.”

“And they deployed a Taser, right?”

“Roger that, sir. Good hits. Good spread on the darts. The suspect just tore them out by the wires. It had no effect. This guy was huge, sir. Tall and seriously buffed out. He looked like a fighter.”

That’s putting it mildly! He looked like someone who went around tearing the limbs off of trees for the hell of it!

“And you and Lynott claim that the shots that hit the suspect in the back were caused by the suspect spinning when he was struck?”

“That’s how I saw it, sir. I think Dani can confirm it. It looked like maybe two of the shots hit him in the back of his shoulder when he sort of drooped it down. I’m not really sure because he had a dark shirt on, so you couldn’t clearly see the bullets strike him. They didn’t deliberately shoot him in the back. That much, I can tell you for certain. One of the officers even ordered a cease-fire, sir.”

You’d think the captain would be overjoyed by hearing this, but he looks almost pained. He’s a lot closer to the top, so he’s probably got a better handle on what’s going on up there. The fact that he looks like that tells me he knows things are even worse than they seem. This thing just keeps getting worse and worse. We’re going to have a riot for sure.

“All right, this stays in this room for now. I don’t think it matters that you saw the videos, but we all appreciate the confirmation. And nobody is going to ask you how you managed to see them. Lynott, you worked Woodlawn. The report said that Sergeant Chris Adler was the first supervisor on the scene. Did you know him when you were there?”

“Yes, sir. He’s a good sergeant. Lots of experience and he doesn’t tolerate any bullshit.”

“And the suspect had an unusually large knife, right?”

“If by unusually large, you mean something that Rambo would carry? Yes, sir. It looked that big. And the reports that he had a cellphone were true. He was holding one the whole time, but he didn’t seem to be talking on it. He was talking to himself. Actually, it was like he was arguing with himself. He was clearly agitated about something before the officers stopped him.”

“The department is getting a lot of flak for not sending out a team from MCU to deal with him. I think it’s clear from what you described that there wasn’t any time to bring them in.”

MCU is the department’s Mental Crisis Unit, for those of you who don’t speak cop. They’re trained therapists who work out of an office in Northside Division. It would’ve taken them forever to get there even if they’d been called right away. The only times I’ve seen them show up at the scene is when there’s a barricaded suspect. That’s what happens when you’ve got one small unit in a big city. Great idea; lousy implementation. Where have we heard that one before?

“All right, at least we know for sure what’s on the videos. It doesn’t do us any good, but at least we know. Lynott and Harper? You’re not to discuss this with anyone. You weren’t supposed to see that thing, so the less said about it, the better. You’re dismissed.”

And that’s that. Well, at least we’re not the only ones around here who know what’s on those videos. Too bad it’s like the captain said: it doesn’t make any difference. The rest of them are going to sit in there and talk about it. Actually, they’re probably going to say exactly what Harper and I said: why the hell doesn’t the department release them? And I’m betting they won’t be able to answer it any better than we could. That’s life in a police department.


Out on patrol. The Sarge was right: it’s not as cold tonight as it was last night. In a few days, it might be downright warm for the season. It’s like I said: summer’s coming early this year. Yeah, just in time for the riot! The looters will be able to stay out later! I’ve really crossed the line from worrying about this shit to obsessing about it, haven’t I?

“What are you thinking about, Dani? You’re awfully quiet over there.”

“I’m thinking about the city burning down. I don’t want to think about that, though. Give me another topic.”

“How about our vacation? We didn’t get to take one because you were pregnant. We talked about going to Tennessee and getting a cabin in the woods. Are you still up for that?”

“God, yes! Tell me about how great it’s going to be. Lie if you have to, but tell me about how much fun we’re going to have. And don’t skip the part about the lightning bugs. That’s critical.”

I’ve got a thing for lightning bugs, as you probably remember. They were always the best part of the summers when I was a kid.

“There’ll be plenty of lightning bugs. Whole fields of them in the woods. They’ll look like a million blinking stars. I promise. We’ll be able to watch them all night long.”

Damn! You keep talking like that and I’m going to drag you into the back seat and fuck your brains out, Harper!

“Lots of trees, right? And grass. Green grass everywhere. And we’ll be far away from anyone else. Just us in the woods.”

“You’d better believe it. Plenty of fishing and hunting and hiking and no police work. No skid row, no civil disturbances, no junkies, no crackheads. Just us. And Emily, of course. We might even take Zephyr and Highway along. They’d like it out there. They’d get to run around and not have to worry about anything. So would we. We’d have the whole forest to ourselves. Hot days and warm nights.”

That’s it! Pull into a dark spot somewhere and get ready to rock, mister!

“All units, officer needs help. 1556 East 48th Street. Thirty-Three Avalon’s radio alert has been activated.”

Jesus, we’re hearing help calls in other divisions? When did that start? Those alert button activations are usually bogus. Someone hits the button by accident. If that’s the case, then they should cancel that alert any second now.

“Dani?”

“Give it a minute. You know how those radio alerts go.”

Come on, guys! Either cancel that alert or send everyone over there right now!

“All units, officer needs help. Shots fired. Officer needs help. 1556 East 48th Street. Avalon units en route, identify.”

So much for the bogus alert! I can’t believe we’re hearing the call on all frequencies. That never happens. Avalon Division is just south of here, but it’s a part of South Bureau. We wouldn’t just be leaving the division; we’d be leaving the bureau. They really frown on that shit. So do we head down there?

“I’m running that unit’s status. It shows they’re on a call. That’s a community center. A 415 crowd. What the hell happened? A meeting at the community center at this hour? It’s got to be related to the Woodlawn shooting.”

“That’s a long way from here, Dani. Even on the freeway.”

“I know. We could make it there in about ten minutes, but they’d freak out if we left the division to go down there.”

Nobody’s put out a code four yet. And since I’ve never been there, I don’t know how big that center is. It might hold a hundred people or a thousand. Shit! What do we do? There’s nothing going on in our division right now. Should we try to get there and help out?

“Fuck it! Head for the freeway and get down there! Warp speed!”

“You got it! Hang on!”

We’re probably going to catch a ton of shit for this, but I’ve got a horrible feeling about that call. If some lunatic fired into a crowded community center, they could have thirty people shot. Damn it! This is just more proof of how we’re fucking this whole thing up!

“Freeway onramp just ahead! You’re the navigator, Dani! What’s the best route?”

“Straight down to Carmona and cut across eastbound! We’ll hit the lights and siren once we’re on the surface streets! You’re clear on the right! Punch it!”

We can’t go code three on the freeway, or at least, we’re not supposed to. Then again, we’re not supposed to be doing this shit, either! Fuck it! I’m hitting the lights and siren! I just hope to God we don’t have a drunk plow into us!

“Go, Harper! Warp nine! Floor it!”

“Roger that! Switch over to Avalon frequency and see what you can pick up! We need all the information we can get!”

“Switching!”

If it’s all composed and locked down, we can turn around. That will mean they’ve got it under control. But if it’s all chaotic and there are officers screaming into the radio, then we need to get there and do whatever we can. And if they went to a tac frequency and we didn’t hear about it, then we might never know what’s going on down there.

“Nineteen Avalon, we’ve got a major 415 crowd at the southeast corner of the parking lot! We’re taking rocks and bottles!”

“Seventy-Three Avalon, do we have an officer down? Confirm our people are all accounted for! We can’t find Thirty-Three! Does anybody have a location on them?”

“Negative, Seventy-Three! We can’t get near the entrance to the place! Major 415 crowd at the doors! We think they’re still inside the rec center, but we’re not sure!”

“This is Fifty Avalon! I need every available unit over here at the northwest end of the park! We’re going to form up in squads and try to clear out these crowds! Stay away from the southwest part of the park! Initial reports say that’s where the shots came from!”

“Eighty-Five Avalon, we need EMS to respond to the north side of the rec center! We’ve got at least two victims down! Repeat: two victims down! We need EMS for two victims of gunshot wounds! One of them looks critical!”

“Fifty Avalon, I need to know if the officers who put out the call are all right! Does anybody have eyes on Thirty-Three? They’re not coming up on the radio!”

I’d say that’s chaos, all right! That place must be huge! And they’ve got people all over the location raising hell! They’ve definitely got a real shit storm going on down there!

“There! Harper, right there! Carmona Boulevard! Take that off-ramp and head east! It should be somewhere around Florentine Street! Just shoot straight through past Palomar! You’ll still have another five or six blocks after that!”

“How bad is the traffic on that street?”

“I don’t know! At this hour, I’m hoping not too bad! Go! Pedal to the metal!”

We’re definitely in it now! This is the center of Avalon Division! The real asshole part! I’d say we’re definitely outside of our area! Unauthorized code three in an outside division! God, please don’t let us wreck! We’re in enough trouble as it is! At least the other drivers are getting out of the way! Move it, people! Red lights and siren coming through!

“There’s Palomar, right up ahead!”

“Keep going! Look for an ugly blue building on the south side of the street! I’m pretty sure that’s about the fifteen hundred block!”

Pretty sure?”

“I never spent much time in this division! Sue me!”

Yeah, he can sue me if we live! The traffic’s starting to get heavier! Fuck! Get out of the way!

“Dani! We’ve got two units up ahead going code three!”

“Follow them! Those are Avalon units! They’ll know where to go!”

At least, I hope they do! Please don’t let it be a couple of boots driving who just got to the division! Nope! There’s that ugly blue building, and they’re turning south! I guess I called it after all! Jesus, Harper! Tip the fucking car on two wheels, why don’t you? All right! We need numbers! We need to see what streets these are! There! Forty-Fourth Street! We’re almost there! One of the units up ahead is turning left! And there goes the other one!

“Follow them! That’s Forty-Eighth Street! Hit it!”

“Hang on!”

Now we’re taking a big risk! This is a residential street! There shouldn’t be a lot of pedestrians out here at this hour, but you never know! Oh, shit! Is that a cat? Oh, fuck! They hit it! They squished it! It exploded! Fucking gross!

“They hit a cat!”

“Don’t worry! It was an opossum!”

Jesus, how could you tell? It turned into an exploding red water balloon! There! Up ahead! I see a lot of lightbars! That’s got to be it!

“Sixteen Central, show us code six in Avalon Division on the help call. Notify Ten Central that we’ve left the division.”

“Sixteen Central, roger. I also show Sixty-Six Central code six at that location.”

What? Garcia and Acevedo are down here? Damn! They must’ve used a trans-warp drive! Then again, Acevedo probably knows this place like the back of his hand after working the Gang Unit for so long!

“Harper, right there! That’s the northwest corner of the park! That’s where the sergeant said he was forming up a squad! Let’s go! Grab your helmet!”

Holy shit! Look at all of these people! How the hell did they fit this many people into that community center? That thing is a fucking cube! It doesn’t look like it could hold more than a hundred people at once! There must be five hundred people out here!

“Sixteen Central to Sixty-Six Central, Garcia! Acevedo! Where are you guys? We’re at the northwest corner of the park!”

“Roger that, Dani! Acevedo and I are making our way to the north side of the rec center! They’ve got at least two victims down over there! Meet us there if you can get through the crowd! And watch yourself! There are no friendlies in this neighborhood! A lot of these people are out for blood!”

Yeah, I already gathered that much already! These people are definitely furious about something! I can see at least three different mobs in the park, and it looks like there are still a lot of people inside the center. Jesus, who the hell thought packing this many people in there was a good idea?

“Come on, Harper! That way! We’ll have to push through the crowd to get over there!”

“Right beside you! Let’s go!”

Yeah, how nice! A warm-up for the real riot! Out of the way, people! We’re coming through! Move it! Get the hell out of here! Oh, shit! Here come the rocks and bottles! And we don’t have a riot shield! This fucking sucks!

“Harper, watch out!”

“I see them!”

I hate this shit! We’ve got no cover! And some of those assholes can really throw! Keep moving! Push through! Hurry! Run! Get there! Fuck! That hurt! Right on the shoulder blade! Don’t think about it! Run! Get there! I see them! There’s Garcia! I don’t see Acevedo! Almost there! Run! It looks like they’re not throwing shit at us anymore!

“Garcia! Are you in one piece?”

“Barely! Acevedo had to duke it out with some guy! He’s just up ahead! They’ve got two people down right over there and one of them looks pretty bad!”

“Where’s the unit that put out the original help call?”

“I don’t know! Nobody’s been able to find them! Come on! We’ve got to get over there before they surround us!”

Christ! I can barely hear myself think with that air unit overhead! How about taking it up another two hundred feet, guy? There they are! Two male blacks, both young. Yeah, that guy on the right looks pretty fucked up! The other one is moving around. He may not be hit too badly. How the hell is EMS supposed to get in here to treat these guys?

“Harper! Sit rep!”

“This one’s gone! The other one’s got a hit in the gut and one in the groin! We need that ambulance in here or he’s going to bleed out!”

I was afraid of that. Shit! We need that fucking ambulance!

“Sixteen Central broadcasting on Avalon frequency, where the hell is EMS? We’ve got two victims of gunshot wounds at the north side of the community center. One’s DOA, the other one’s in bad shape: gunshot wounds to the gut and groin. What’s the ETA on the ambulance?”

“Sixteen Central, EMS shows at scene. Are you saying they’re not there?”

“Not unless they’re invisible! Tell them to get over to the north side of the center code three and a half!”

Here comes Acevedo. Yeah, he’s definitely been in a knock-down/drag-out! He looks like he took a few good punches!

“Acevedo! Your lip is bleeding!”

“You should see the other guy! What’s the story with getting these people the hell out of here?”

“There’s supposed to be an ambulance around here somewhere. I didn’t see one when we got here.”

“There was one over at the southeast corner of the park, but I don’t know if it’s still there. Where the fuck is everyone else? They don’t have enough units to handle a crowd like this!”

Yeah, no kidding! Every unit in Avalon should be here by now! Where the hell are they?

“Sixteen Central to Avalon dispatch, where is the rest of Avalon Division? We need every unit down here! This crowd must number five hundred people and they’re plenty angry!”

“Sixteen Central, all available units have been dispatched. No additional Avalon units are available at this time.”

That’s Avalon Division for you: busy as hell and everyone’s tied up on something! Fuck this shit! If their Watch Commander isn’t going to call for a tac alert, then I will!

“Sixteen Central, call a tactical alert for Avalon Division!”

“Sixteen Central, you’re not authorized to do that.”

Is she fucking shitting me? She’s going by protocol? Fuck that shit!

“Sixteen Central, you’ve got a small-scale riot in this park! Call the damned alert!”

I know it’s insane, but what the hell else can I do? Oh, I’m never going to hear the end of this one! Their Watch Commander is going to rip me a new asshole! Well, let him! Assuming I don’t end up getting trampled to death in his fucking division!

“Fifty Avalon, do what she says! That’s an order! Call the tac alert on my authority! We’re losing control of this situation!”

Thank you, Sergeant Whoever! Somebody’s got some sense around here!

“All units, this is a tactical alert broadcast. South Bureau is on tactical alert due to an unusual occurrence in Avalon Division. All units, this is a tactical alert broadcast…”

Finally! At least that’ll free up some units to get over here! Now we need to get that fucking ambulance over here!

“Harper, what’s his status?”

“Not good! If we don’t stop the bleeding fast, he won’t make it to the hospital!”

And we don’t even have a first-aid kit! Harper’s using the guy’s torn sleeve to soak up the blood. It’s already soaked through! What are we supposed to do? Send up a flare? They don’t issue us flare guns! We need to get their attention!

“Garcia! Acevedo! Fight your way inside this place and get on their P.A. system! Call that ambulance over here! Tell them to ram through the crowd if they have to, but get them over here! Go!

They’ll get in. Acevedo will deck the shit out of anyone who gets in their way. But we need them to hurry! This guy is going sour on us and Harper’s right: he won’t last much longer!

“Harper, is there anything we can do for him?”

“Not unless you’ve got a battlefield surgical kit in your pocket! I’ve got nothing to clamp off the bleeding and I wouldn’t know how to do it if I had something!”

Neither one of us is a trained medic. This guy is going to die if he doesn’t get treatment in the next few minutes!

“Hey! EMS! Ambulance! This is the Metropolitan Police! Get your ass over to the rec center right away! We’ve got a man down! Move it! Right across the lawn! Aim for the floodlights on the building! Let’s go! We’ve got wounded over here!”

Nice going, guys! And I hear the ambulance squawking its siren! Get the fuck over here, guys! Your assistance is needed!

“Harper, is he still breathing?”

“Barely! His airway’s clear! He’s just bleeding too much!”

Lights! Headlights! Yes! There’s the ambulance! It’s about fucking time! It looks like they had a hard time of it. The windshield’s been shattered! Jesus, who the fuck trashes an ambulance? They’re the good guys no matter whose side you’re on!

“Officers! What’ve you got?”

“Two down! That guy’s DOA! This one’s about to be!”

“All right, give us room to work! Carlos, get a pressure bandage on that wound! We’re going to have to transport ASAP! He’s lost too much blood!”

He’ll live or die now. There’s nothing we can do for him. He doesn’t look like a gangbanger or an asshole or anything like that. He’s just some guy who lives here and came to this meeting for whatever reason. At least, that’s what I think after looking at him. And now he’s lying there with at least two bullets in him because some asshole decided to start cranking rounds off at a community meeting. Welcome to the end of the world! How else would you describe it?

“Harper, wash that blood off your hands and let’s get over to the northwest corner. If they’re forming up into squads, they’re going to need every officer they can get.”

“Right with you, Dani. I hope they’ve got some riot shields!”

So do I, Harper. So do I. I’m guessing they’re going to sweep the crowd directly south. That’ll still leave a lot of people to the east, but if they can get the main body of the crowd out of the park, then they might be able to gain the advantage and clear the place. That’s a mighty big “if.” God, I hope whoever is running the show has a plan up their sleeve!

“Come on, Dani! Let’s go!”

At least the crowd we came through has moved to the south part of the park. It looks like they’ve got about twenty officers in a skirmish line. No riot shields, though. Twenty of us, five hundred of them. We’re outnumbered fifty to one. Great odds! Coming down here was a brilliant fucking idea!

“Harper, fall in at the end of the line! We’ll anchor the east end!”

I don’t see any sergeants. Who the hell is Fifty Avalon? He sounded like he knew what he was doing, so I expect him to lead this thing. Hang on! There’s a sergeant! Christ, I think that’s Sergeant Monroe! I knew him when I was in the Gang Unit. He’s a real hard-charger. I suddenly feel a little better about this shit!

“Sergeant Monroe! Is that you?”

Yep! That’s him! All these years and he doesn’t look any different. That’s encouraging.

“I thought I recognized your voice, Lynott! Welcome to Avalon!”

“You’re working down here now?”

“Unless I get killed in the next few minutes. All right, everybody get ready to move! I want a drag step on the line! Everyone aim directly south! I want them all pushed onto 50th Street! Squad! Stand ready!”

This is it! Get ready!

“Squad! Forward, march!

Drag step forward! Make it look good! Make it look intimidating! They’re just up ahead and they don’t seem to be giving ground! Just keep moving! We’re not going to force them out of here; we’re going to intimidate them out! If they stand and fight, we’re toast!

“Attention! Attention! This is the Metropolitan Police!”

The air unit’s giving the order to get the fuck out of here! Good!

“This is an unlawful assembly! You are ordered to leave the park immediately! Anyone who does not leave will be subject to arrest! This is an unlawful assembly! Leave the park immediately!”

I think some of them are leaving. The rest of them are probably sticking around to see what we’ll do if they don’t back down. There are a few major assholes in the front of that line. They’re trying to gin up the crowd. Here’s hoping they don’t succeed! Keep marching! Hold the line! Watch for anyone trying to flank us! We’re almost there!

“Dani! On your six! K9 units!”

He’s right: two K9 units! That could turn this thing around, at least on this side of the park! Those people may not be afraid of us, but nobody in his right mind wants to be bitten by a police dog. Two dogs. I hope it’s enough. They’re moving up to join the line. One of them will probably position himself on our side. Yep! Here he comes, with Fido the Wonder Dog! Now that’s a big German Shepherd! I wouldn’t mess with him!

“Welcome aboard! What’s your unit number?”

“Lonnie Easley, K9 Eight. This is Hondo.”

Oh, great! Named after Harper’s favorite John Wayne western! He’s going to be doing that horrible John Wayne impression all night long!

“Stand by, Easley. If they don’t start leaving, we’re going to need you and the puppy dog. These people don’t seem to be impressed with us.”

“We’re ready. We’re going to move out in front of the line and let them know what’s going to happen if they try to stand and fight.”

“Sounds like a plan. Go!”

They definitely caught the attention of the crowd! I can hear some of them yelling “dog!” Yeah, an ass full of teeth marks can take the fight out of the toughest tough guy! They’re moving back, but not very much. We’re going to have to crack some heads! Damn it! Just leave! Fucking go home! Don’t do this! It’s fucking senseless!

“Stand ready, Dani! They’re not backing off! We’re going to have to fight!”

I can see that! It’s fucking stupid! There’s no need for any of this! Just leave! Go home! Nobody’s going to come and arrest you! You can leave, free and clear! Do it! Nobody needs to get hurt! We don’t want to do this! God damn it! All right! Now it’s a real fight! Move in! Move in!

Hit them! Hit the knees! Got you! Who’s next? You! Jab him in the gut! Now a power chop to the shoulder! He’s down! Come on, guys! Stay in formation! Don’t split up! Next one! Blue shirt and baseball cap! Last chance, asshole! No? All right, you asked for it! Hit him! Again! Jab him! He’s down! Oh, shit! That guy just whacked Harper good! Right across the knee with a stick! He’s down! Hit him! Knock him out of the fight! Again! Hit him again! You fucking asshole! Yeah, you’d better run!

“Harper! Harper, are you all right?”

“God damn it! I think he popped my knee!”

“Can you stand up? Harper, get up! We’re the anchor! We’ve got to hold this position!”

“I’m OK! Keep going! I’m right with you!”

Yeah, sure you are! That was a bad hit! He’s up and moving, but he’s hurt! Oh, fuck these assholes! If they want a fight, then we’ll give it to them! Hit them! Anyone who isn’t running! Hit them! Hit them all! Is this what you wanted, assholes? Are you happy now? Fucking idiots! Keep hitting them! Again! Again! You’re down, motherfucker! Stay that way!

There goes Hondo! He’s got that guy holding a bat! Fucking tear him up, boy! Don’t let go of him! Yeah, that shit hurts, doesn’t it? At least he dropped the bat! Move in! Knock him on his ass! Down you go, motherfucker! You’re lucky we don’t have an arrest team to drag your ass back behind the line!

“Harper! Are you still with me?”

“Right beside you! Dani, look out!”

What? Oh, Jesus! That fucking hurt! Somebody hit me with something hard! Right across the back! Where are you, you little piece of shit? There you are! Say goodnight, Gracie! Hit him again! Crack him on the knee! He’s down! It’s working! The crowd’s starting to break and run!

“We’re driving them back! Stay in formation! Push them onto the street!”

Yes! More units approaching from the west! It’s working! The crowd is starting to disperse! But it looks like our skirmish line took one hell of a beating! Some of the guys don’t have their helmets on anymore. They must’ve been torn off in the fight. Is this how it’s going to be when the real one hits? Because if I’m right, then it’s going to be ten thousand times worse than this!

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