Kumi called Latoya by cell while Danny maneuvered the SUV toward the Aurora bridge. Alex, Summer and Cliff sat, frozen, in the back seat.
“Does De La Cruz know she’s your mother?” Danny asked Alex, who just nodded his head and looked down at his hands.
“Toya,” Kumi asked Latoya over the phone. “Where’re you now?”
“Just coming off the I-5,” she replied.
“How close to the Aurora?” she asked.
“About the same,” Kumi said. “Meet us there. We need to pick up Winnie. We have reason to believe she might be at risk.”
Danny switched on the headlights. The shrill wail of the siren filled the cabin.
“A new development with Hutch and Peters?” Latoya asked.
“No, we made a bust. Cleaned out a group that may have been trading drugs for girls.”
“Jesus,” Latoya said.
“We missed one, a Julio De La Cruz,” Kumi said. “There’s a manhunt out for him now. He might have reason to carry a grudge against Alex and hit his mother.”
Hutch and Peters pulled their cruiser in front of the Fremont Troll under the Aurora bridge. Hutch opened the back door and stepped onto the sandy cement walk along the edge of the street.
“It was nice catching up,” he said in mock cheer to Winona as she scurried out of the car behind him.
Winona brushed by without a word.
“Have a nice day,” Hutch maintained the charade.
“Eat me,” Winona replied.
“More likely the other way around bitch,” Hutch answered her with a smug laugh.
Elmer rolled over on his blanket and sat upright. Winona, looking grim and serious, clutched her plastic bag and looked through it.
“Remember our little chat,” Hutch said to her. “Next time, we won’t be so sweet and charming.”
Elmer looked at Winona’s sad eyes and stood to face Hutch.
“These fat cops bothering you?” he asked Winona.
Officer Peters emerged from the car with his hand on a device snapped into his belt.
“Climb back into your hole old man,” Hutch said. “This doesn’t concern you.”
“It sure does fat-ass,” Elmer replied. “Mess with my daughter and you got hell to pay with me. I mess you up bad, like in them Golden Glove fights. I kicked them damn gorilla’s asses. Fastest hands in the city. You think it’s coming from the right and I hit you with the left. You don’t even see it til it’s too late. I took out them Puerto Rican fighters, and them big black guys. I take you out too, you mess with my girl.”
Hutch stepped forward. Elmer arched his chin to face the taller officer in front of him. His white chest hair protruded from his saggy brown stained t-shirt. Peters chuckled under his breath.
“I mean it,” Elmer said, curling his hands in an old-fashioned boxing position. “Turn round. Go back to your donut shop and leave us alone here. I mess you up, like I messed them all up before. I hit you hard.”
“Take your best shot,” Hutch laughed, moving his hands outward is if indicating that he wouldn’t even need to raise his hands to dodge Elmer’s swing.
“Oh, don’t tempt me fatty. I decked my share of big apes like you. I knocked out all them bruisers down Portland, Barstow. The old one-two. Never even seen ‘em coming. I even took on that ranked fighter in Vegas. They was bettin on me going down in one, two rounds and I went all the way, man. I went the distance. Fought my heart out. Them pros was shakin’ my hand and pattin’ me on the back. Said I was the toughest they seen.”
Hutch jerked his face forward as if to give Elmer an easier target. Peters retreated to the cruiser at the sound of an urgent call through the radio. Sitting briefly, he listened intensely before popping back out of the car.
“Hutch,” he called out.
Hutch ignored his partner, sneering and laughing at Elmer.
“I want to fuck with her,” Hutch said, ignoring his partner and edging even closer to Elmer. “I’ll fuck with her good. You get me, old man?”
Elmer raised his hands. Peters stepped forward and called his partner’s name again – “Damnit Hutch!”
“I’ll fuck her good and deep, when I want, where I want, many times as I want,” Hutch continued. “And, you ain’t gonna stop nobody.”
Hutch punctuated his point with a stiff shove to Elmer’s shoulder.
Elmer cocked his right hand and swung it forward. Hutch flinched and dodged to the left, but instead of swinging with his right hand, Elmer caught him by surprise with a left cross to the eye socket, which torqued his head sideways and buckled his knees.
Peters rushed around the car, drew his weapon and fired an electrical charge from his taser, which floored Elmer. As the electricity surged through his body, he rolled around in agony. Winona yelped and rushed to Elmer’s side. His body shook and his breathing grew labored.
Latoya arrived at the scene, pulling up behind the cruiser. Her arrival startled Hutch, who had just stepped toward Elmer to kick him in the head. Peters walked over to Latoya and attempted to shield her view of the scene.
“Who the hell are you?” he asked.
“Latoya Benson,” she answered, producing a badge from her wallet. “Child Services. What’s going on here?”
“A little out of your age bracket?” Hutch asked, turning from Elmer’s writhing body to address her. “We’re managing a police matter. What’s your business here?”
Winona touched Elmer’s face. He stopped writhing and appeared to pass out.
“He needs help,” she said. “Call an ambulance.”
From the opposite direction, Danny pulled the SUV right up to the side of the cruiser. Kumi jumped out, launching herself off the running board. Danny exited the driver door and ran to stand by Latoya.
“Who the fuck are you?” Hutch asked.
“We’re with the Squad,” Danny said, revealing his badge.
“Internal?” Hutch asked.
“We were in the area,” Danny said. “There’s a lot going down today. They’re calling in whoever they can.”
“We just got the call about De La Cruz,” Peters said, nudging his partner. “Hutch and I just heard the call.”
Hutch looked confused but played along with his partner.
“That’s right,” Hutch said. “We’re canvasing for suspects.”
Danny looked at Elmer, lying semi-conscious on his tarp, with Winona by his side, and Kumi on her phone contacting 911.
“Is there a problem here?” he asked, squaring with Hutch.
“Routine sweep,” Hutch replied, squaring his shoulders to Danny and glaring into his eyes. Peters noticed Cliff, Alex and Summer in the back of the SUV.
“You got our witness,” he said. “We came here looking for that one. He’s ours.”
“And yet, he’s in our custody,” Danny answered. “And we’re taking the homeless woman too.”
Peters glanced quickly at Hutch, who didn’t flinch.
“Let her stink up your car,” he said. “See what we care.”
Danny paused, staring down Hutch.
“Looks like you’re swelling over your eye,” he said. “Need ice?”
“I’m good,” Hutch said, breaking the eye contact. “You’re taking the woman. We’re taking the old man.”
“I don’t think so,” Danny said, stepping toward Hutch with his chest puffed.
“Ambulance’s five minutes out,” Kumi said with her phone still pressed to her ear.
“Five minutes,” Danny said, holding the palm of his hand upward.
Hutch looked at Cliff in the back of the SUV, at Winona and Kumi tending to Elmer and the bigger Danny in front of him like a brick wall. He stepped back.
Another cruiser rounded the corner and pulled in front of Danny’s SUV, nearly running him down on the street. The tall, lean Captain Nichols emerged from his Supervisor cruiser. He affixed his Captain’s hat over his greying hair as he rose above the hood of the car.
Hutch stepped forward and faced Danny with bolder confidence.
“Captain Nichols,” Hutch said, without taking his eyes off Danny. “We got a couple internal investigators thinking they’re gonna do our jobs for us.”
“This our jurisdiction,” the supervisor said. “We’ll be taking all the witnesses into custody.”
“Right now, we’ve got a civilian down,” Danny said. “That’s the first priority.”
Kumi stood. She moved in front of Winona, acting as a shield. They edged backward toward Danny.
“You can make yourself useful and wait for the ambulance with the injured civilian,” Captain Nichols continued. “We’re taking your passengers.”
Danny clicked the key fab to lock the doors to the SUV and tucked the device into his front pocket.
“You can take it up with my supervisor,” Danny said. “Tomorrow.”
Captain Nichols stepped past Hutch and pushed his face within a few inches of Danny’s.
“I don’t think you understand what’s at stake here,” he whispered. “I’m tight with people in your department. This is not a stand you want to make, son.”
A figure approached from the bottom of the hill. Backlit by the streetlight, Cliff recognized the figure, but couldn’t make out the facial features enough to know the person.
“I heard all the commotion,” said Doctor Kushnick, still in his lab coat from his long day’s work, his car idling across the street from Danny’s SUV. “Let me take a look.”
Oblivious to the face-off between Nichols and Danny, the doctor recognized Winona standing behind Kumi.
“Hello again,” he said, while shining a pocket flashlight into Elmer’s eyes and taking his pulse. “How’s your friend’s ankle holding up?”
Winona shrugged her shoulders and nodded with a smile. Hutch and Peters stepped back. Hutch dusted his uniform with his hands.
“Anything else?” Danny asked, clawing his shoulder radio. “I can bring down superiors from Internal too if we all think that’s necessary.”
Captain Nichols stood his ground, momentarily. He looked over his shoulder at his two officers and moved toward his car.
“Come on Len, Rod,” Captain Nichols said as the group around them grew beyond their ability to control. “We’ve got real criminals to catch.”
They entered their cruisers. Captain Nichols sped off. Hutch and Peters drove slowly past Danny’s vehicle. As they passed, both officers stared into the SUV, glaring at Cliff.
Doctor Kushnick watched the police officers drive away with detached confusion. He explained his credentials to Latoya as he assessed his patient.
“How much room you got in your car?” Danny asked Latoya. “We have to find De La Cruz.”
“I know,” Latoya said. “I can fit them all in my car. Go.”
Danny ushered Alex, Cliff and Summer out of the back of the SUV. They crowded helplessly around Elmer watching Doctor Kushnick work. They waited for the paramedics to arrive with Latoya. Kumi climbed back into the vehicle with Danny. The black rubber wheels kicked sand as they sped away.
Jackson and Duff wandered into the area in front of the troll carrying a bag of McDonald’s food.
“What the hell happened,” Duff asked. “We were gone like an hour.”
Winona explained the events that unfolded over the past 20 minutes. She omitted how she had been abducted and held against her will at the power plant for the previous hour and a half. The ambulance approached with its siren wailing and red lights flashing against the cement sculpture that loomed over Elmer’s still body.
Winona noticed Cliff. He ignored her and she looked away. Alex hugged her as the medics carted Elmer into the back of the ambulance. Latoya guided Cliff, Alex and Summer into the back seat and offered Winona the front. Doctor Kushnick crouched as he entered the back of the ambulance behind Elmer’s stretcher.
“We’ll meet you at the hospital,” she said. “Make sure they take good care of him.”