Friday, November 27, 2009

L.E.O. -- Chapter Eight

Camp Liberty, Iraq, 2005

Lieutenant Osborne waved Johnny over to him as Johnny hopped out of his Humvee. Johnny waved back. He hustled over to his commanding officer, who was just finishing up a conversation with a civilian in a shirt and tie.

"Sergeant Teal."


"Looks like I'm gonna have to send you right back out again. Sorry about that -- you were probably due for some rack time."

"I'm good to go, sir."

"Good, because I need my best guy on this. There's a convoy leaving for FOB Danger in an hour. You're in it. I need you to run protection for a couple of contractors -- they have a meeting with 1st ID brass in the morning."

"On it, sir."

Johnny didn't like night convoys, but he understood why they were generally safer -- harder to shoot at speeding targets one couldn't see. He'd been on a few already this tour, though, and had been shot at on all but one of them. Thankfully, he'd escaped injury so far.

He had his Humvee fueled and ready to go in fifteen minutes, and had loaded up on gear and ammo. The contractors showed up ten minutes later.

"Right, then. Sergeant Teal? You're our ride, yeah?" the shorter of the two said. He was British, and dressed in khakis and a polo.

"That's me, sir," Johnny said.

"Paul Stevens. My compatriot here's Aaron Kendel," the short Brit said, nodding at his tall partner. Johnny shook each of their hands.

"Are you armed, gentlemen?" he asked.

"MP5's and Glocks," Kendel replied. He was also British.

"Good. I'd suggest you carry extra ammo, as we will most likely get shot at," Johnny told them.

"Already handled, mate," Stevens said. If his accent hadn't confirmed him as British, his smile did.

"Then it looks like we're good to go. Hop in, gents. Long drive ahead."

As the sun started to dip below the horizon, Johnny pulled his Humvee into position near the end of the waiting vehicle column. There were two other Humvees and three Chevy Suburbans in front of him.

Johnny checked the time -- 20 minutes until the column rolled. He put the Humvee in park and hopped out to have a cigarette. Stevens jumped out and stood next to him.

"Get one of those off you, mate?"

"Sure thing," Johnny said, tipping the pack toward him. As Stevens lit up, another black Suburban pulled into the column behind them.

All four of the SUV's doors opened, and four men in civilian clothing with Haji scarves around their necks hopped out. The driver smirked.

"Cheese it, boys! It's the fuzz!" the driver laughed.

"How ya doin', Sergeant Cohane?" Johnny sighed.

Riley lit a smoke and grinned.

"How long you been back in the Suck, Sergeant?" he asked

"November of last year."

Alex Kelley waved from the passenger door.

"Looks like we're rolling to Danger with you. Keep your foot on the gas, Sarge. Don't wanna get clipped," Kelley said, smirking.

"Not my first convoy, Specialist."

Kelley shook his head.

"Sergeant, now. Same as you."

"Congratulations," Johnny said flatly.

"He's right, though, Sergeant. We're behind you, so keep it floored, yeah?" Riley said.

"Will do."

"Good man. See you at Danger."

Johnny and Stevens finished off their cigarettes and climbed back into the Humvee.

"So I take it you know those guys," Stevens said.

"Yep. They're assholes," Johnny sighed, starting the huge vehicle's engine.

* * *

Stevens, it turned out, was quite a guy. He wasn't a contractor in the sense Johnny had initially thought -- a hired soldier. He and Kendel were both engineers, both math geeks. Kendel slept through most of the ride, but Johnny and Stevens got a chance to talk. It turned out both were fans of Texas Death Machine.

"Saw them at their third show ever back in '97," Stevens told him.

"Manchester? Where they got their recording contract?"

"Fuck yes. Last of their hometown shows that year. Great gig."

Johnny was about to ask him what the gig was like when bullets bounced off the Humvee. "Shit, do we fire back?" Stevens asked, bringing up his MP5 and shaking Kendel awake.

"Nah. We're five minutes from FOB Danger. We should be able to outrun --"

Johnny never got a chance to finish his sentence. Behind them, he saw a flash of light and heard a crash. He looked in the rearview just in time to see the black Suburban behind them roll over several times and land at the side of the road. Its undercarriage was on fire.

Johnny stood on the brakes and threw his vehicle into reverse.

"Stay low!" he shouted at his passengers.

He made it to the overturned SUV in seconds and threw the Humvee back into gear.

"Paul! Take the wheel!" he yelled over the gunfire. He opened his door and hopped out onto the road as Paul slid into the driver's seat.

"Straight down that road, and keep it floored! Danger's only a few minutes out!" Johnny yelled.

"What about you, mate?" Stevens shouted back as bullets peppered the side of the Humvee.

"I gotta check on my guys! Report our position and send help!"

Paul nodded and closed the door.

"Good luck, mate. Stay alive."

An RPG exploded just behind the Humvee.

"Go, go, go!" Johnny yelled. As the Humvee took off, he brought up his M4 and slid off the road. Johnny stayed low, crawling on his stomach over to the wrecked Suburban. He could smell gasoline.

"Shit. It's gonna blow," he muttered. He scuttled over to the driver's window and saw Kelley hanging upside-down, out cold.

"That you, Teal?" he heard from inside the SUV.

"Sergeant Cohane? You all right?"

"Legs are wedged under the dash. Don't think they're broken, though. Truck on fire?"

"And then some."

"Get my boys out first. I'll try to loosen myself up."

"Shit! Afraid I'm gonna have to ask you to wait one, Sergeant!" Johnny yelled. He'd just slipped on his night-vision goggles and seen several hostiles, AK-47s in hand, running to the truck.

Johnny went into a crouch. He thumbed off his M4's safety and opened fire, dropping six men before emptying his magazine. As he reloaded the M4, he fired his Beretta. He brought up the now-reloaded M4 and shot more hostiles as bullets bounced off the truck behind him. He'd killed 12, but they kept coming.

As Johnny ran behind the overturned truck for cover, he felt four rounds slam into his chest as several more whizzed by his head. The armor plate stopped them, but they hurt like a bitch. Johnny ended up crouched next to Cohane's window as he reloaded.

"How many?" Cohane asked.

"Many many, sir. More than 20 left."

"How are you on ammo?"

"Last mag," Johnny answered, slamming the clip into the M4.

"I'm almost loose. Take this," Cohane grunted. He pushed a compact FN P90 through the open window at Johnny's feet.


Johnny popped up and fired his M4 again until the ammo ran out, then quickly dropped the weapon to his chest and snatched up the P90. He fired that weapon until it was empty, too, then dropped back into a crouch. The gunfire around the truck had calmed down significantly.

"Got 'em?" Cohane asked, squirming around inside the truck.

"One left."

"Here you go," Cohane said, tossing an HK-417 out the window. Johnny grabbed the rifle, popped up, and dropped the last hostile just as Cohane crawled out of the SUV. He was bleeding from his forehead.

"I'll start pulling my guys out. Keep me covered?" Cohane said.

"Roger that, Sergeant."

Cohane clapped Johnny on the shoulder. He disappeared back into the Suburban, and a couple seconds later, Kelley crawled out the driver's side window and hustled over to Johnny.

"Sergeant," Kelley greeted. His voice was calm. "I'll trade you some 5.56 for my 417."

Johnny smirked and handed the weapon to Kelley. Kelley reached into his cargo pants and pulled out two M4 magazines, one of which Johnny immediately loaded.

"Need another set of hands!" Cohane yelled from inside the Suburban.

"You're stronger than me," Kelley said.

Johnny dropped to his stomach and looked into the SUV. He could see that Cohane was trying to push one of his men to the front of the cabin -- he reached in and grabbed the man's arms. He pulled. The man limply slid into the front seat, and Johnny pulled him clear of the truck. He checked the man's pulse.

"He OK?" Kelley asked.

"Alive, anyway," Johnny answered.

"One more coming up!" Cohane said.

Johnny pulled that man from the truck, as well. His pulse was weak.

"That all of you?" Johnny asked.

"Yeah. M4s and med kit coming up," Cohane said, pushing the rifles and small bag ahead of him. Johnny pulled the weapons and bag out, then grabbed Cohane's arm and dragged him from the vehicle.

"We gotta move, Riley," Kelley said. "I'm shocked as hell this fucking thing hasn't blown already."

Cohane picked up the P90 and reloaded it.

"Alex, weapons and gear. Teal, grab Holt there. I'll carry Edison. We're running for that wall," Cohane said, nodding at a crumbled pile of brick 20 feet away.

Johnny picked up the larger man -- the one with the thready pulse -- and threw him over his shoulder. He could feel blood run down his back. Cohane lifted the other man on his shoulders while Kelley slung the rifles and bag.

"Go!" Cohane spat, and the three of them were off. As they ran, bullets flew at them from across the road. They made it to the wall in seconds and dove behind it as bullets chipped the brick.

Cohane set Edison on the ground, then popped up to return fire. Kelley unslung the medical bag as Johnny laid Holt on the sand.

"Medic?" Johnny asked.

"Holt," Kelley said, grinning.


Johnny looked at Holt -- blood was gushing from the side of his neck. He grabbed the med kit from Kelley, found some Curlex, and started pressing it into Holt's neck wound. Kelley joined Cohane in firing.

"How's he doing?" Cohane yelled as he dropped behind the wall to reload.

"Needs a doctor!"

"'Least he doesn't need a priest yet!"

Johnny's back was to them as he worked on Holt's wound. As he glanced up from his work, he caught movement in the distance -- more hostiles.

"Hajis on our six!" Johnny yelled, bringing up his M4 and firing. He saw two men drop and another go into a crouch and raise a weapon. He fired a few rounds, but saw the man fire anyway.

"RPG!" Johnny yelled, throwing himself over the two injured men on the ground.

The grenade exploded just to Johnny's right, showering all five men with sand and debris. Still covering the two men, Johnny raised his M4. He pumped four rounds into the man with the grenade launcher, and the night suddenly went quiet.

"Everyone OK?" he said after a moment.

"Yeah," Cohane answered. "We got inbound vehicles -- Humvees. Looks like our ride finally showed up."

Johnny saw the headlights. He counted six vehicles coming from FOB Danger.

"Teal. Stand up and wave 'em in, will ya? We're in Haji gear," Cohane said.

As Johnny stood, he noticed Edison was moving. He waved his M4 in the air, and the Humvees rumbled towards him. They stopped inches away. A colonel stepped out of the lead Humvee and shined a flashlight down on them.

"Sergeant Cohane! You all right?"

"Yes, sir, Colonel."

"Your men?"

"All alive, sir. Thanks to Sergeant Teal, here," Cohane said.

The colonel nodded and turned back to the Humvees.

"Load 'em up. We roll in 90 seconds, people."

Soldiers swarmed over Johnny's position, lifting Edison and Holt into a Humvee with a medic.

Johnny and Cohane ended up in the backseat of the same Humvee.

"What's your first name, Sergeant?" Cohane asked.


"Well, you know what, Johnny? You're all right. I owe you one."

"Just doing my job, Sergeant."

"Fuck the ranks. I'm Riley. And I owe you my life. You ever need anything from me, you just ask, dig?"

"Copy that."

The Humvees started back towards FOB Danger. As the vehicle column picked up speed, the wrecked Suburban finally exploded next to the road.

"Oh. There it goes," Cohane laughed.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

L.E.O. -- Chapter Seven

When they got back to the office, Johnny sent Eric to search records on any of their victims, then headed to Nathaniel's office. When he walked in, Nathaniel was on the phone.

"Yes, sir. We'll have a report ready sometime in the next few days. Thank you, sir."

Nathaniel hung up the phone and rolled his eyes.

"Mayor. He's freaking out about the case you're working. He's worried about the press."

"I can imagine. 'Hate Crime in Omaha' wouldn't be a very flattering national headline. Might kill tourism," Johnny said.

"Indeed. So what've you got for me?"

"Not much yet. whoever did this cleaned up after himself. Six shot and not one shell casing."

"Not good. The higher-ups are hoping on a quick, quiet resolution on this one."

"We'll know more once we get the evidence processed, hopefully. Apart from that, we're running history on each of our victims, talking to friends, family. . . should find something there," Johnny said.

"And the other thing? Jason Black?"

Johnny nodded -- he'd almost forgotten with the events of that morning.

"He's a nonissue, boss. At least for the moment. The CIA is tracking him -- they've got eyes on him running mercenary ops in Colombia. He's watchlisted, though. Soon as he pops up on US soil, I'll get a call."

"Do I want to know where you got this information."

"No. No, sir, you do not."

Nathaniel considered for a moment and then slowly nodded.

"All right. He's on the back burner for now. The murders are priority one. I'd like to see your preliminary report on the crime scene before lunch."

"I'm on it, boss."

"Good man. This one stays zipped, Johnny. Until we know what happened, discuss it with no one. Not even here in the office. You, me, Eric, Rawlins. That's as far as it goes for now."

"Copy that."

"Now, get to work. Pull Rawlins off patrol if you need extra legwork, and copy me on any communications with OPD."

Johnny nodded and headed back to his desk. His initial report wasn't tough -- there simply wasn't much information to put in it yet. He was just finishing up when his BlackBerry rang -- Ellie's cell number showed up in the call display.

"Detective Jarvis," Johnny said.

"We're going to be working together, Deputy. Call me Ellie."

"Fair enough. What's up?"

"You get anything in County records?"

"Nope. All of 'em came up clean through our computers."

"Not through ours. Came across an incident report from two years back. Looks like these folks used to live in midtown. One of the male victims -- Adam Hassan -- was listed on a felony assault report in '09."

"That was the younger guy, right? The 24-year-old? He hit someone?"

"That's the guy, and no, someone jumped him."

"That's something."

"Wait. It gets better. Apparently Hassan took the guy down and sat on him until OPD got there. Guy's doing 5 to 10 in State Prison."

"If he's still locked down, he can't be our guy."

"Nope. But his friends might. His name's James Carson. He's a member of White Liberty."

Johnny took a breath and blew it out slowly.

"You up for a field trip?" he asked.

"Just waiting on you to ask," Ellie said.

* * *

"So what do you know about White Liberty?" Ellie asked. She rolled down her window a crack and pulled out a cigarette. "You mind?"

"Knock yourself out."

The two of them were in an unmarked Sheriff's Department Impala, speeding along I-80 towards Lincoln.

"Thanks. Terrible habit, I know. Now, White Liberty?"

"White Supremacist group. Organized, well-funded. Laughable, in my opinion."

"Yeah, ideologists with a shitty ideology. They claim that their 'younger members' -- skinheads -- don't act violently, but that's not true. They're little better than a street gang. We've had a guy from our gang unit working to keep them from spilling into the streets."

"We've had low-level dealings with them -- vandalism, auto theft. Isolated stuff, but we put together a file on them about a year back."

"Yeah, we've got a file on them, too. This guy -- Carson -- not a model citizen. He's 22, but he's been in and out of jail since 17."

"We even have an arrest on file for him -- just a trespass. Did 30 days in County lockup, 'bout three years ago."

Ellie blew out smoke.

"I guess we should decide who does the talking," she said. "I don't know how to say this without sounding like a bitch, but. . ."

"You want me to stand off to the side and look scary."

"Yeah, that makes me sound like a bitch, all right."

Johnny laughed.

"Don't worry about it. Not the first time I've played pit bull in an interview. Been doing it off and on for more than a decade now."

"Oh, come on. You're not that old."

"Been a cop since I was 19."

"That's longer than me. Maybe you should do the talking," Ellie said.

"Nah. Your original plan's better. This guy's gonna play hardass. You get me asking the questions, it's force meets force. He'll shut up. He'll want to prove he's more hardcore than I am. You ask him, he'll try to hit on you in front of me. . . but he might give you something."

"You're pretty smart, Deputy. You know that?"

"That's what my mom always told me," Johnny said, grinning and lighting a cigarette.

"All right. Here we are. You ready to play big and scary?" Ellie asked as Johnny pulled into the Nebraska State Penitentiary parking lot.

"Sure thing. Let's go see what this jackass has to say."

The two of them walked in the Law Enforcement entrance and signed in. After they left their guns with a bored-looking Corrections officer at the front desk, they were led down a hall to a small interview room.

Ellie took a seat at the table, and Johnny leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. Less than a minute later, the door opened. Two burly male Corrections officers led Carson into the room, shackled and leg-cuffed. Johnny was surprised at the sheer size of the man. Carson was well over six and a half feet tall, and his prison uniform bulged with sinew. He'd let his hair grow, but still kept it short.

Johnny flashed on the image of Adam Hassan's body -- the guy had been at least six inches shorter and a hundred pounds lighter than Carson. Hassan must have been one hell of a scrapper to take this big guy down.

"James Carson?" Ellie asked as the big man sat opposite her.

"Yes, ma'am."

"We're here to talk to you about Adam Hassan."

Carson nodded slowly.

"Yes, ma'am. How is he? Haven't seen him lately."

"You saw him after your trial?"

"Yes, ma'am. About a year ago, I wrote him to apologize. He's visited a couple of times since."

Ellie turned around, and Johnny saw (and shared) her confusion.

"So you and Adam Hassan became. . . friendly?"

"Oh, yes, ma'am. Adam's a great guy."

"What's your current association with White Liberty?" Johnny asked, unfolding his arms.

"I, uh, don't associate. Not anymore, that is."

"You'll forgive us if we're skeptical on that count, Mr. Carson. You've been a White Liberty member for some time. Six years, at least."

"Eight. Was running with 'em in high school. That's over now," Carson sighed and ran his hands through his hair. "You have any idea what it's like in here? Not many White Supremacists around. I learned real quick that shit wasn't going to fly here. Not if I wanted to live, anyway."

Johnny looked into Carson's eyes and believed him. There was no telling the shit he'd been through.

"Adam Hassan," Ellie said again. "Do you know anyone who might have something against him?"

"Why? Did something happen to Adam?"

"Afraid so. He's dead."

Carson blinked a couple of times and swallowed hard.

"How?" he finally choked.

"He was murdered. Three days ago. Along with his family, including his neice and nephew. So, I'm going to ask you again -- who would've wanted to hurt him?"

Carson stood up suddenly, pacing as far from his chair as his leg irons would let him, then pacing back.

"Sit down. Now," Johnny said. He didn't say it gently. Carson looked at him for a moment, sizing him up. After a few seconds, he did as he was told.

"Motherfuckers. They'd better pray I don't make it outta here alive," Carson mumbled.

"Who'd better hope that?" Ellie asked.

"White Liberty. It's gotta be them. Those fuckwits blamed Adam for turning me against them. Taking away a 'hero' from their laughable fucking cause."

"You got a name for us?" Johnny asked.

"Stahl. Travis Stahl. Anything the Skins do, he's in charge of it. He runs the gang in Omaha."

"Know where we can find him?"

"My information's years old. They were in a bunch of houses around 60th and Blondo, that neighborhood. Don't know if they're still there."

"All right, Mr. Carson. I think that's all we need from you," Ellie said, rising from her chair.

Johnny gestured to the Corrections officers outside, who came to collect their prisoner. As Carson stood up, he turned to Ellie and Johnny.

"Detective, officer -- sorry, I didn't get your names."

"I'm Jarvis, he's Teal."

"Detective Jarvis. Promise me something, yeah?"

Ellie nodded.

"You find out Stahl had anything to do with Adam and his family. . . you make sure he gets sent in here with me."

* * *

"You got a jacket on this Travis Stahl?" Johnny asked, unlocking the unmarked's doors.

"I'm sure we do. I'll have Frank run him."

"What about your gang unit guy? The one who's in with the Skins?"

"On vacation as of last week. Out of contact until Christmas."

"Any files on where we can find them?"

"Frank can look into it," Ellie said, looking at her watch. "It's almost five. I'm starving. You get out to Lincoln much?"

"Eric lives out this way. I make it down here every couple of weeks."

"Yia Yia's. Ever been?"

"Yeah, once."

"It'll take Frank a little while to run down our info. Wanna grab some pizza while we wait?"

"Hell yeah. I skipped lunch."

"Great. I'm buying."

"No argument here, Detective. You're making the big money," Johnny smirked.

Ellie smiled and opened her phone.

Ellie talked to Frank as Johnny drove. By the time they'd made it downtown and ordered, her phone was ringing.

"Shit," Ellie said. "Jacket on Stahl's years old. And our guy's files are a mess, but he always met with Stahl at a bar in Dundee. We've got nothing on 'em."

Ellie closed her phone and tossed it on the table.

"Now we're gonna have to track 'em down one by one. Could take weeks," she sighed.

"Maybe not," Johnny said, pulling out his BlackBerry. "Let me call my guy."

"Worth a shot, I guess."

Eric answered his cell immediately.

"What's up, Farm Boy?"

"Hey, Eric. Ever hear of White Liberty?"

"Ugh. Hate those fucking guys. Serious anger-control problems. We used to deal guns to their South Florida branch back in Tampa."

"Think you can find out where they hang locally?"

"Probably. White Liberty's pretty tech-forward. They use the Web to coordinate their meetings. Gimme half an hour, yeah?"

"Yeah. Call me when --"

"When I find something. I will. That hot detective sitting across from you?"

"That's affirmative."

"Lucky bastard. I'll call you."

"Thanks, pal.

Johnny hung up and set his BlackBerry on the table.

"Think he can find anything?" Ellie asked, sipping her water.

"If anyone can, it's Eric. He's good."

"I hope so. I wouldn't hate a break in this case."

Johnny's BlackBerry rang seconds later. Eric's cell number was on the display.

"Got 'em," he said when Johnny answered the phone.

"That was fast," Johnny said.

"I know. Their site must've been designed by an idiot. It was easier to hack than Facebook. They're meeting tonight, South O, 10 p.m."

"Good work. Meet us at my house at 8. You're along on the ride."

"Got it, Farm Boy."

Johnny hung up his phone and smiled at Ellie.

"We're in business."

Monday, November 23, 2009

L.E.O. -- Chapter Six

"Oh. Well, this is a fucking mess," Eric commented as the cruiser turned left in to the High Pointe Townhomes complex.

In addition to the Sheriff's Department cruiser and County Crime Scene unit already present, several Omaha Police vehicles had shown up. Deputy Rawlins was standing in front of the door to Unit #36, doing his best to refuse entry to the Omaha Police personnel standing outside. When he saw Johnny and Eric getting out of their cruiser, he waved them over.

"Glad you're here, guys. Looks like we have a problem."

"I'll say," Johnny nodded. "All right, who's in charge of all these OPD guys?"

Rawlins looked around and pointed out a young woman. She was dressed in plainclothes, and had a cell phone pressed to her ear. She was also, Johnny thought, way too pretty to be a cop. When she saw Johnny approaching, the young woman held up one finger, a 'just a second' gesture. Johnny waited for her to finish her call. It only took a few seconds.

"Hi," she said, smiling and pocketing her phone, "Detective Ellie Jarvis, OPD Assault/Homicide division."

"John Teal, County CID," Johnny said, offering his hand. As she shook it, he noticed her hands were quite strong. She smiled at him again.

"Looks like we've got a little jurisdictional mess here, Deputy. My bosses say this is city, yours probably say it's county."

"Damned westward expansion," Johnny grinned. "I assume that was your office on the phone. What's their solution?"

"They don't have one. Not yet, anyway. They're supposed to call me back."

Johnny nodded.

"I should check with my boss, too. Red tape. Don't you love it?"

"Oh, sure. Whole reason I became a cop. Love the endless paperwork," Ellie laughed.

"Uh, guys?" Eric interrupted. "It's both."

Johnny turned around to find that Eric had his netbook set up on the trunk of their cruiser.

"What do you mean, it's both?" Johnny said.

"I mean it's both city and county jurisdiction. City limits end about halfway through this unit's living room. Come take a look."

Johnny and Ellie looked at the netbook's screen -- the County Assessor's Web site was up, and the city limits did, indeed, end in the house.

"Damn. That's just going to make an even bigger mess," Ellie shook her head. "Our bosses'll be fighting over this one for hours."

"Maybe not," Johnny said, looking over at the combined city and county police and forensics people on scene. "Maybe we both take this one."

"Never work. Too many techs in a small space. We'll be stepping on each other's dicks, fucking up evidence left and right," Ellie said.

"How big's your team?" Johnny asked.

"Six. Four techs, two investigators, counting me."

"I've got four techs, plus me and him." Johnny nodded at Eric.

"Yeah, meant to ask -- who the fuck is this guy, anyway? No offense, but you're not a cop or a tech."

"None taken. I'm a consultant."

"Right. OK, Deputy. . . what's your idea?"

"We'll have to get it approved by the bosses first. But your two best techs, my two best techs, me, you, your partner, and my consultant. Joint investigation."

"Gonna be a hard sell."

"Better to try and sell it than stand around here looking at each other while our bosses hash out the rules of their pissing contest."

Ellie nodded slowly, and Johnny thought he saw a quick wink.

"You Sheriffs aren't half as dumb as we were led to believe," she said.

Johnny smirked and dialed the office. He explained the situation -- and his solution -- to Nathaniel.

"My boss'll call your boss. We're go on my end, though."

"Mine too. Easier than I thought convincing him. We can stand around and wait for them to chat, or. . ."

Johnny waved a hand at the doorway to Unit #36, and Rawlins moved aside.

"After you," Johnny said.

"Thanks. Taub, Klein, with me."

Two of the OPD forensics guys walked over to Ellie. As they walked past, she pointed to them in turn.

"Blood guy. Trace evidence."

"Right," Johnny nodded. "Jenkins, grab your camera. Ewing, you're on fingerprints. Let's get moving, folks. Clock's always running."

The complex's management office had unlocked the door for Rawlins, so Ellie opened the door and stepped inside. Johnny and Eric followed. Ellie's partner, a heavyset man in his 40s who hadn't bothered to introduce himself yet, led the combined forensics team in next.

Johnny had been prepared for six bodies, and had even prepared himself for the smell. What he hadn't prepared for hit him hard in the face.

Two of the victims were children.

They were both at the far end of the room, but they were the first bodies Johnny saw. Both children had been shot facing the far wall while they were on their knees. They had fallen forward -- crumbled into a fetal position. Neither of their faces was visible, but from their size, Johnny guessed they were both under ten years old.

Johnny turned to Eric. He was simply shaking his head slowly -- he had nothing to say. Johnny knew the feeling.

"Fan out and get to works, folks," Johnny said.

"Report your findings to Detective Jarvis or me. Let's find out who did this."

The techs busied themselves collecting and photographing. Ellie's partner stood next to Johnny.

"Frank Serrano," he said.

"Hey, Frank. John Teal. He's Eric Drake."

"Gents. What do you think?"

"Well, Eric?" Johnny asked.

"Looks like any number of professional killings I've seen. Two things don't match up, though."

"Oh? And what're those?" Ellie asked.

"One, the kids. Kinda rare to see them around, even in a revenge killing."

Frank nodded.

"He's right on that one. These three, sure," Frank nodded at the three adult males on the floor. "Her, maybe, if she got in the way."

Frank used his pen to point at the dead woman near the kitchen door.

"But the kids? I been doing this for 20 years. Don't see 'em often."

"Just what kind of consultant is he, anyway?" Ellie asked.

"Gangs and Organized crime," Johnny said.

"Fine. What's the other thing?"

"Huh?" Johnny asked.

"You. Tattoo guy. What's the other thing that doesn't match up?" Ellie said, pointing at Eric.

"Right. What do all of the victims have in common?"

The two detectives and Johnny looked around the scene. Johnny came up with the answer first.

"Shit. They're Muslims," Johnny said.


"So it's not a gang thing. It's a hate crime."

"That's my guess," Eric nodded.

"Wait. How did we move off gang-related so quick?" Ellie asked.

"There aren't many Muslim gangs or crime syndicates," Eric said. "They exist, but these folks weren't part of them. Most are Somalian or Albanian. These people aren't," Eric explained.

"Dammit. You're right. This seems like a normal family," Ellie said, looking around the house. There were pictures of the victims on the walls. Vacations, graduations, holidays. . . just as with any other American family.

"Deputy Teal. . . you're going to want to see this."

Taub motioned from the small kitchen, and Johnny walked over to the doorway. Inside, he could see what had caught the tech's attention. He'd have to be blind not to.

On the wall above the dining room table in black spray paint was a large, badly drawn swastika.

"Like I said, hate crime," Eric said, popping up at Johnny's shoulder.

Johnny had an odd feeling in his stomach. Something wasn't right. Of course, there were many things that were wrong about an innocent family gunned down -- but something at the crime scene just didn't fit.

He wasn't sure what it was, but somewhere in his brain, alarm bells were clanging. He shook his head and left the techs to their work.

* * *

They got the official word while the joint forensics team was finishing up -- the joint investigation was a go.

Johnny would be the lead investigator for County, Ellie for the OPD. Evidence would be worked at the city lab with techs from both teams. As the techs loaded up both vans to head to the city lab, Johnny suggested they all grab some coffee and talk through some planning.

"My brother owns a diner about 20 minutes away," Frank said. "You just wanna follow us?"

"Sounds like a plan," Johnny said, nodding.

It took less than 20 minutes (as rush-hour traffic had died off) to reach the Benson neighborhood. Frank parked his unmarked on the street. Johnny found a spot for his cruiser just off Maple, and he and Eric followed Frank and Ellie into Leo's Cafe. Johnny knew the area well. Leo's was just a spit away from Joe's Cafe, Nathaniel's "let's-get-coffee-and-talk-about-work" diner of choice. The place was nearly empty. Two old men sat at the breakfast counter, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. They ignored the cops and Eric as they took a table.

"Your brother owns this place?" Johnny asked as they sat down and turned their coffee cups right-side up.

"Just bought it last year. He retired from the force a couple years back, but got bored hanging around the house. That's him now. How ya doin', Gary?" Frank said.

"No complaints, little brother," Gary responded with a grin. The man was huge -- 275 at least -- and had a gut to rival a pregnant woman's. "Anything besides coffee for you guys?"

"Nope. Just the diesel, and keep it coming," Ellie told him.

"Big case? With the County boys?" Gary nodded at Johnny.

"Yep. Jurisdictional nightmare," Frank said.

"I'll get a spare pot going," Gary said as he filled their cups.

"So, I hate to be the asshole who brings this up," Frank started, dumping sugar into his coffee. "But I gotta float this out there."

Ellie nodded.

"I think I know where you're going, and I was wondering, too. Could there be some kind of terror connection here?"

No one said anything for a moment. Frank and Ellie both seemed to be looking to Eric for an answer.

"Don't look at me," Eric shrugged. "I'm gangs and mafia. Johnny's the one who knows about extremists."

Johnny took a long sip of coffee before answering.

"Gotta say no. I know it's tempting to see a group of middle-eastern people and jump to 'terrorist,' especially the way our media portrays those folks. From my experience -- even in the middle east -- that's not true 99.99 percent of the time. No evidence at the scene to back it up, either."

"So you agree with your guy here? Hate crime?" Ellie asked.

"Sadly, that's a much more reasonable explanation," Johnny sighed.

"You don't sound like you really buy that," Eric said.

"I don't know. It makes sense -- a lot of cowardly, uninformed people in the world. Still, something bothers me about that explanation. Something doesn't fit."

"Besides the general bad taste something like this leaves?" Ellie asked.

"That's part of it, I'm sure. . . but there's something else. Something's wrong with the whole situation."

"Now that you mention it, something struck me odd when I was talking to the neighbors," Ellie said, digging out her notebook. "Here it is. We've got six bodies, right, shot through the head? According to the people I talked to, no one heard any gunshots. Not one."

"OK. I'm not a cop, and I don't know shit about investigations. . . but that even strikes me as weird," Eric said.

Friday, November 20, 2009

So. . . how's by you?

Five chapters in, I thought I'd do a really quick post with some updates. Because that, apparently, is how I've decided to roll.

First, a few notes on the format of the current project. I have to say that I love, love, love writing it from my BlackBerry. Smoke break? Write a couple of updates. Sitting bored on the couch? Write a couple more. With no waiting for the computer to start, no distractions (damn you, Hulu!), I seem to be getting a lot more done without noticing it. Bravo there.

Also, TwitterBerry has been a champ. It's worked beautifully so far, and I think all the times I've had any problems have been Twitter problems, and not related to Orangtame's software in the slightest (I've gone back and checked on the Web, and the one time I was having problems posting updates, Twitter itself was throwing up and dying every few seconds). Oh, and apparently TwitterBerry is now OpenBeak as of this morning. I did the download, and I have to say I like the new GUI (as seen below).

My only complaint is one I can level at myself, really. Writing in the 140-character constraint (for complete sentences) is a little tough, but I can fix it in revisions.

And speaking of revisions, I'm working on those for 47 Echo, the near-future SF distopia novel I did before this one. Stay tuned for updates on how that's going.

Back to work for me. Happy Friday, all, and thanks for reading!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

L.E.O. -- Chapter Five

Johnny had been to the neighborhood before, back in his first year with the Douglas County Sheriff's Department. That time, it had been for a double murder. The neighborhood had struck him as shitty back then; it hadn't improved in the last four years. The address the DMV had on file for Alex Kelley was an apartment on the second floor of an old house that had been split into four units.

Johnny parked his truck across the street and a half-block down and shut off the engine. The lights on the second floor were on. He sipped from his half-empty cup of Starbucks and watched for any signs of motion in King's apartment. Johnny pulled out his BlackBerry. Eric had emailed him the info he'd gotten from the DMV -- the '97 Chevy Tahoe Kelley had registered wasn't parked anywhere along the street. Johnny had looked at the satellite imagery for the area on Google Maps before he'd left home. He knew there was a parking area around back.

When he'd seen Riley's message, he'd been a little surprised Alex had chosen to move to Omaha after his discharge from the Army. Johnny had gotten to know Alex pretty well on his last tour in Iraq, and Alex had never mentioned any friends or family in the area. He'd never even shown a glimmer of recognition when Johnny had mentioned he'd grown up in Nebraska.

Still, he was definitely here now. And he wasn't doing terribly well, according to Riley's message. Alex's separation from the Army hadn't been his idea -- it was the Army's. After several diagnoses of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Alex had been quietly (but honorably) discharged in May -- six months ago.

Johnny couldn't even guess what it was like for the younger man. He'd had his own share of issues coming home, but Alex's had to be worse. Most of the guy's missions were classified and extremely dangerous -- Johnny had heard that Riley's unit took more fire than any other. He couldn't even get his head around the things Alex must have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan -- five tours between the two countries.

Johnny settled back to watch the house for a while before he approached. He cracked the Ram's driver-side window and lit a cigarette. He still wasn't sure how he was going to play it -- Riley had asked him to keep an eye on Alex, make sure he didn't get himself in trouble. Which way to best accomplish that? Stay back and keep eyes on him, or try to re-establish whatever friendship they'd had six years ago?

As it turned out, Johnny didn't have to make that decision. Through a thin haze of nicotine smoke, he saw Alex in the middle of the street. The younger man had a Beretta M9 in one hand, and was stalking directly towards Johnny's truck. He didn't look happy -- not even remotely.

As Alex moved closer to the Ram, Johnny moved towards his door handle. Alex immediately brought up his M9 and aimed at Johnny's head.

"Hands on the dash, now!" Alex screamed. Johnny sighed and did as he was told. Alex crept closer, still killshot-aimed at Johnny's skull.

Alex was fast and light on his feet -- he made it to Johnny's driver-side door in seconds. With the M9 still up, he threw open the door.

"Oh, shit. Sergeant Teal?"

"Deputy Teal now. And I hope you've got a license for that."

"Sorry about that, Sergeant. I wasn't sure --"

"You wanna --?" Johnny asked, nodding at Alex's Beretta.

"Fuck. Sorry," Alex said, lowering the gun and holstering it behind his back.

"That's better. I gotta say, you're a little jumpy, Alex."

"Hey, I know when I'm being surveilled. What are you doing out here, anyway? And how'd you know where to find me?"

"I was going to see if you wanted to catch a beer. And I'm a cop. Tracking you down wasn't hard."

Alex nodded his head slowly.

"Yeah, I could go for a beer. And, y'know, sorry about -- but you see a strange car -- y'know how it is."

"Yeah. Yeah, I kinda do. I'll just pretend you're not walking up to random cars on the street armed, OK?"

"Yeah, OK. So. . . beer?"

* * *

Johnny didn't know the bars in the neighborhood, but Alex certainly did. They ended up at a dive three blocks from his apartment. Johnny wasn't even sure the place had a liquor license -- it looked like someone's garage with a few secondhand tables thrown around. Still, there was a bar, beer, and a cash register, so Alex ordered them a pitcher of Old Style, which came with two mismatched glasses.

Alex, Johnny, and the bartender were the only souls in the place, so they had their pick of tables. Alex chose one near the back of the bar. It was the only seat in the place with a view of the front and back doors, Johnny noticed.

As he poured the beer, Johnny studied Alex. The younger man was dressed in black cargo pants, boots, and a black hooded sweatshirt. He looked like he hadn't shaved in several days. Though he couldn't tell for sure with the bulky black clothing, Johnny could swear he'd lost about 20 pounds since he'd last seen the man. Judging from the dark rings under his eyes, Alex hadn't been sleeping much lately, either.

"So, Staff Sergeant Teal."

"Sergeant Kelley."

"Staff Sergeant too, actually. Got promoted before the Army booted me. So what brings you all the way to my neighborhood?" Kelley asked.

"Why, the atmosphere, of course. And the five-star dining," Johnny smirked. "What do you think, Alex? Found out you were in town. Decided to come see you and shoot the shit, like the old days."

"Old days, hell. I'd fuckin' love it if it was still the old days, Sarge. I'm bored out of my fuckin' mind here," Alex complained, draining his beer in one long gulp.

"We're both outta the Army now, Alex. You can call me Johnny."

"Yeah, suppose I could. Just not used to civilian life yet, I guess."

"You working?"

"Not yet. Looking. On disability at the moment."

Johnny nodded.

"So, I was surprised to find out you were in town. Didn't think you had people here."

"I don't. Don't have people anywhere, really. But the Army said they'd PCS me one last time. Middle of the country was good as anywhere. Least, that's what I thought before it started to get cold."

"Yeah, fair warning -- it isn't even cold yet. It gets much worse."

"Come on, man. . . don't tell me that."

"Look at the bright side -- weather's not always as warm, but at least it's safer than the desert. Well, most of it is. I hate to break it to you, but you didn't end up in the best neighborhood."

"Really? You don't say," Alex grinned. "I thought I'd moved into the ritzy part of town, what with that strip club on the corner and all."

"That's not a strip club. Omaha doesn't allow 'em. It's a go-go bar. Do yourself a favor -- do not go in there. It's horrifying."

"Already noticed that, man. First night here, I saw some of the 'dancers' on their way out for the evening. Not enough liquor in the world to make me go there."

Johnny laughed and took a sip of his Old Style. He would have preferred something less horrible, but he doubted this dive had anything else.

"So what's with the girly sipping, man? I thought you MPs knew how to fucking *drink.*"

"Oh. . . did I just detect a challenge?"

"Damn straight you do. SF versus MP, for the honor of the profession."

"You don't know what you're getting yourself into, kid."

* * *

"Fuck, Johnny. You don't look so good," Eric said as he walked into the office the next morning.

"Went drinking with an Army buddy. A contest may have been involved. Pretty sure I lost," Johnny grumbled.

"You sure don't look like you won. And yet, you're here early. Before the boss, even. That's gotta count for something. Here," Eric said, setting his cup of Starbuck's on Johnny's desk. "It's untouched. Looks like you need it more than I do."

Johnny smiled weakly and took a long drink of the coffee. It did help a little.

"Thanks, pal. We got anything going today?"

"Me, I'm hacking a laptop one of your guys seized on patrol last night. Don't know what you're doing."

"Besides slowly rehydrating? I've got to report my findings on Jason Black to Nathaniel. Then. . ." Johnny trailed off and shrugged.

"Yeah, fair warning -- boss was in a bit of a mood yesterday. OPD snaked a case we'd put in a couple weeks legwork on. Eggshells, man."

"I'll try to keep the bad news to a minimum. Good lookin' out."

"We do what we can. I'm gonna go hide in my office for a while, I think. Shout if you need anything."

"Will do."

Eric grinned and headed for his office. A few seconds after his door closed, the boss walked in.

"Welcome back, Deputy Teal. Good vacation? Aside from getting shot at?" Nathaniel Moore greeted as he walked by Johnny's desk.

"Not bad, sir."

"Ready to get back to work, then?"

"Extremely ready."

"Good. Step into my office, Deputy. Got a job for you."

Johnny followed Nathaniel into the office labeled "Shift Commander -- Criminal Investigations" and closed the door behind him.

"Hangover?" Nathaniel asked.

"Brutal," Johnny answered.

"Sorry to stick you with this one, then. It's messy, but I need you on it."

"I'm good to go, boss."

"Twenty minutes ago, a lady flagged down one of our patrol cruisers by some of those new townhouses way out west. Said she hadn't seen her neighbors in a couple of days and now she was noticing a terrible smell from their unit."

"Damn. How many?"

"Six bodies. Officer on the scene said it looks to him like an execution."

"Mob thing?"

"Could be. Take Eric with you to confirm."

"Copy that. I'll put in a call to forensics and get on the road."

"Call me with whatever you find. Oh, and I got the email you sent. You found info on Jason Black?"

"Plenty, but it'll keep."

"Fill me in when you get back. On your way, Deputy."

"On it, boss."

Johnny made two quick phone calls -- one to dispatch for the address, one to the forensics team -- then headed to Eric's office.

"I know I said shout if you need anything, but come on, man. I haven't even checked my email yet."

"Leave it. We've caught a case. Multiple homicide out west. Boss wants your eyes on it to see if it was an arranged hit or not."

The smile dropped from Eric's face. He nodded and grabbed his coat from the back of his chair, and without a word he and Johnny walked to the elevators that led to the garage.

As soon as Johnny's cruiser cleared the mouth of the garage, he flipped on the vehicle's lights and headed for the crime scene. For a few minutes, neither man said a word. It was Eric who finally broke the silence inside the speeding Crown Victoria Interceptor.

"How many victims?" he asked.

"Six. Deputy on the scene thinks execution-style."

"Do we know which Deputy?"


"Good kid, but he wouldn't know a mob killing if he was the one doing it. He's what, 19?"

"He's 22."

"Shit. I was never that young. What's the initial report? Is it a bad scene?"

"Bodies have probably been there a couple of days. It won't be a good scene."

"Shit. I was really hoping to make it through today with no corpses."

"Weren't we all, pal," Johnny sighed. "Weren't we all."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

L.E.O. -- Chapter Four

Camp Victory North, Iraq, 2003

Johnny, as usual, was beaten to the briefing room only by his commanding officer. Lieutenant Osborne was already leaned back in his folding chair, feet on the table and cup of coffee in hand, when Johnny walked in.

"'Morning, Sergeant," Osborne grinned.

"G'morning, sir. How's the coffee?"

"I wouldn't call it coffee. That'd give it too much credit. Still, it has caffiene in it, so it does the job."

Johnny poured himself a cup and took a sip as the rest of his unit began filing in.

"Gah. That truly is god-awful, sir. Still, like you said," Johnny shrugged, taking another drink and sitting down in an empty folding chair.

A few moments later, the small room was full of US Army Military Police. Osborne finished his coffee and stood at the front of the room.

"Good morning, soldiers," Osborne said.

"Good morning, sir!" a chorus of voices boomed back.

"A couple quick notes before we start. Corporal Reyes and PFC Woods are in medical. Seems they thought it'd be a good idea to say some derrogatory things about the Queen Mother. Wouldn't have been so bad if they weren't hanging with a couple of SAS guys at the time. I'm gonna need two of you to take over at the gate. Anyone wanna voulnteer before I assign someone?" Osborne scanned the room.

Next to Johnny, Corporal Lawson raised his hand. Osborne nodded.

"Lawson. Excellent. Sergeant Teal, why don't you back him up. We need at least one big, scary motherfucker out front, and that's you. No offense, Corporal Lawson, but hit the gym once in a while."

A low rumble of chuckles sounded around the room. Even Lawson laughed.

"Everybody else, same deal as yesterday. Overmeyer, Kendall, you can backfill for Teal and Lawson on patrol. Let's keep hydrated, people. Don't want any more of you ending up in medical. Dismissed."

* * *

Johnny didn't care for gate duty, but he could see Osborne's logic. Lawson was a tall, skinny kid -- not much shock and awe there. If anyone came up to Victory's gate unauthorized, Lawson wouldn't scare them. Johnny, though, already had a track record of freaking out the locals without meaning to -- the time he spent in the gym made him look mean. Some of the guys in his unit jokingly started calling him "Death Machine," a play on "Texas Death Machine," a band on Johnny's iPod. His size and looks came in handy when they were interrogating suspects on patrol, though. Locals usually told him what he wanted to know. They probably thought he'd break them in half if they didn't, especially after another soldier referred to him as "Sergeant Death Machine."

Of course, Johnny wasn't about to start smacking anyone around to get info. . . but if his size intimidated people, he called it a win. Scaring someone was infinitely preferable from having to fire on him.

It was a pretty slow morning out at the gate, which bothered Johnny. He wasn't used to not having much to do -- ever since his unit had marched into Baghdad six months before, they'd been busy every day.

"How you holding up over there, Sergeant?" Lawson asked, grinning and taking a sip of water. The kid wasn't big, but he was from Phoenix. He was used to the weather, which put him one up on Johnny.

"Walkin' on sunshine, kid," Johnny replied, gulping his own water.

"Man, this is just like home. Whaddya think, Sarge? 110? 115?"

"I think it's fucking hot. Beyond the point that numbers can express."

"Gotta say, I don't mind the break. Rattling around in Humvees was giving me a headache."

"I'd rather be out there. This shit's boring."

"I hear Reyes and Woods'll be back on duty tomorrow. They're not real banged up -- think they're just milking it to get a day off."

Johnny made a mental note to slap his two fellow MPs around for sticking him with this shit detail. He yawned and looked into the distance.

About 300 yards away, he saw a single man approaching on foot. The man was dressed in civilian clothes -- jeans, button-up, and boots. He wore a headscarf that obscured every feature of his face but his eyes, which were covered by a pair of wraparound sunglasses.

"Lawson. One o'clock."

"I see him, Sarge. Shout him off?"

"Nah. He's still a ways off yet. Let's just keep eyes on him."

"Roger that."

Lawson nodded, and the two of them watched as the man ambled closer. He didn't seem to be in any particular rush, Johnny noticed. He toggled his radio.

"Front gate. I've got a lone male approaching on foot in Haji gear. Approximately 200 meters off. Advise."

Before a response could come back, Johnny noticed a strap running across the man's chest, and the barrel of a gun poking over his shoulder.

"He's armed!" Johnny shouted, instantly bringing his M4 into a firing position.

Lawson also brought his weapon up quickly.

"Stop moving! Ogaf!" Lawson yelled.

The man slowed a little, but kept coming.

"Shit, Sarge. What do we do? Do we fire?"

"That's a negative, Corporal. Chill out," Johnny said, then yelled at the approaching man, "Thib slaaHak! Weapon on the ground, now!"

The man slowed down further -- he was barely shuffling. He was maybe a hundred yards away, and Johnny could see he was swaying on his feet.

"Stop moving, man! Ogaf!" Lawson yelled again.

The man fell to his knees.

"Now the weapon! Throw it down! Thib slaHaak!"

At Johnny's command, the man reached slowly for the weapon's strap, unbuckling it at his chest. An AK-47 dropped to the sand behind him. "Going in, Corporal. Keep me covered."

"Copy that, Sarge."

Johnny kept his M4 trained on the kneeling man as he ran to him.

"Hands in the air! Irfa eedeyk!" Johnny shouted as he ran. The man raised his hands. Johnny covered the last fifty yards in seconds.

"Face down on the ground!" Johnny yelled.

"You can stop with the shitty Arabic phoenetics. I'm American," the man said weakly.

He fell forward, his face in the sand. Johnny quickly zip-tied the man's hands behind his back and hauled him to his feet.

"Come on."

"'Fraid I'm not gonna make it to the gate without help, Sergeant. And could you take this damn scarf off? Havin' trouble breathing."

Johnny pulled off the man's scarf and sunglasses. He did, indeed, appear American -- black hair and beard, blue eyes, sunburned skin. Johnny started to search him anyway.

"What are you doing, Sergeant? You can see I'm obviously an American," the man complained.

"Three words, sir. John Walker Lindh."

"Oh, come on. I'm not one of them. I'm a Sergeant, First Class, U.S. Army, for shit's sake."

"If that's true, then you know I have to check you for explosive devices. Got any I.D. on you?"

The man scowled and shook his head.

"I was on a covert surveillance. We don't carry I.D. or tags on those."

Johnny toggled his radio.

"He's clean. Come on in."

Lawson led several more soldiers from the gate to Johnny's position. Two soldiers grabbed the man under the arms and carried him off.

"Fucking cops," Johnny heard the man mutter as the soldiers dragged him toward the gate.

"Well. . . that certainly was odd," Lawson said.
"And you were convinced gate duty would be boring," Johnny said, shaking his head.

"Uh, that was you, Sergeant," Lawson told him.

"Don't contradict me. I outrank you."

"That's affirmative, Sergeant."

Johnny chuckled as the two of them walked back to the gate.

* * *

Reyes and Woods were out of medical and back on the gate the next day, and Johnny and Lawson were back on patrol. They spent most of the day kicking down doors in buildings suspected of holding militia weaponry. The haul was decent, but not spectacular. They returned to Victory that night with a small quantity of explosives and about 50 siezed AK-47s.

After debriefing, Johnny headed home. "Home," at least for the moment, was a small room he shared with nine other MPs in what had been an Iraqi government building. He stowed his gear and helmet under his cot and headed for the mess hall -- he wasn't hungry, but he couldn't remember when he'd eaten last. Just the fact that he couldn't remember told Johnny that the heat was fucking with him more than he wanted to admit.

The mess hall was full when he got there, so Johnny took a spot at the back of the line and waited. A few moments later, he heard laughter. It was coming from behind him, and Johnny turned around to see a group of young soldiers trying (and failing) to hold in another laugh.

"Something funny, Specialist?" Johnny asked the soldier in the front of the group. His nametape read "Kelley."

"Oh, no, sir, Sergeant. It's just. . . well, we're all real happy you're out there, protecting us from our own guys."

The soldiers exploded in laughter. Johnny stalked right up to Kelley, standing toe-to-toe with the young man.

"Think you might wanna rephrase that, Specialist."

Kelley just grinned, taking a step back and putting up his hands. Johnny was ready to fight if the young man made a move on him.

"Kelley! Back the fuck off right now, soldier!" someone bellowed, pushing through the line.

Johnny recognized the man he'd arrested at the gate. He was clean-shaven now, and dressed in BDUs. Johnny could see from the man's rank insignia that he was, indeed, a Sergeant First Class. The nametape on his chest read "Cohane."

"Aw, just having a little fun with the Sergeant here, boss," Kelley said, smirking.

"Fun stops right now, Kelley. You address a superior NCO like that again and I will personally beat you stupid, you get me?" Cohane growled.

"You're the boss, boss. No hard feelings, Sergeant." The smirk had yet to drop from Kelley's face.

Cohane pulled Johnny aside.

"Apologies about him. I'd blame it on lack of sleep and too many uppers, but he's like that on a good day anyway."

"No harm done."

"Also, gotta apologize about my attitude yesterday. I was seriously dehydrated and I'd been dodging hostiles on foot for two days. You were just doing your job, and I get that."

"Again, no harm done, Sergeant."

Cohane smiled wide and pounded Johnny on the shoulder.

"Good man. Now, you keep your guys out of my guys' way, and we'll get along just fine. Deal?"

Cohane didn't wait for a response. He simply turned around and melted back into the sea of deset camoflauge. Johnny shook his head.

"Asshole," he mumbled under his breath.

Johnny got his food and found a spot next to his pal Geoff from the motor pool.

"Dude, what are you doing fucking with those guys? Those're Deltas, man."

Johnny shook his head and started shoveling in food.

"They're not Deltas. Special Forces, sure. Not Delta."

"What makes you so sure?"

Johnny tapped the nametape on his chest.

"On the rare occasion they're in uniform, Deltas don't have 'em."

"You sure about that?"

"Pretty sure, yeah."

"Hope so. I'd hate to have Delta Force guys pissed off at me."

Johnny just sighed.

He suddenly felt like he was back in high school, and he'd just pissed off the popular kids.

And his appetite was gone. Again.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

L.E.O. -- Chapter Three

Johnny's flight touched down in Omaha just after noon the next day, after a short layover in Houston. His vacation was over. It hadn't been a terribly restful trip -- gunfights, arrests, conspiracy nuts, and real government cover-ups -- work would be more relaxing.

After he paid the small ransom to liberate his Dodge Ram from long-term airport parking, Johnny drove to his apartment to pick up a gun. He didn't like to think of himself as a gun nut, but he'd gotten so used to carrying one over the last 10 years, he felt odd without one. Once he'd strapped a Glock .23 into the shoulder holster under his leather coat, he felt himself relax just a bit -- now, he could go out.

He wasn't due back at work until tomorrow, but Johnny headed for the office anyway. On the way, he called Eric on his BlackBerry.

"Hey, buddy. Your flight get in all right?" Eric answered without the formality of a "hello."

"Yeah. Layover in Houston, so that sucked. You stand some lunch?"

"Yeah, I could eat. Where do you want me to meet you?"

"I'm inbound for the office now. Ten, fifteen minutes."

"Right on. I'll meet you outside. Be nice to sneak away from the office for an hour or so, anyway."

"Anything big going down?"

"Meh. Bunch of little stuff. I'll fill you in at lunch."

"Any preference on food?"


"Good call. See you in a few."

Johnny hung up the phone and headed downtown, taking the surface streets rather than the Interstate to avoid the midday traffic. Even at noon, the skies were a dead, fishscale gray. Johnny guessed they'd be getting the season's first snow any day now. A quick check of the thermometer on his dashboard told him it was 45 degrees out -- it had been 80 in North Carolina the day before.

When he arrived at the downtown Sheriff's station, Eric was standing at the entrance, his extensive tattoos poking out of his long sleeves.

"Jesus, man, where's your jacket?" Johnny asked as Eric climbed into the Ram's passenger seat.

"At home. Forgot to check the weather. Assumed it'd be warmer than this. Hope springs eternal, I guess."

Johnny pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the restaurant.

"So, I would have asked how your vacation went, but I saw the police reports. You all right?"

"Oh, sure. Not a scratch on me."

"You know what that means, of course," Eric said, grinning. "Means you get to wear the Shit Magnet badge this month. Good thing, too. I was getting tired of wearing it all the time."

"I suppose I was due," Johnny shrugged, parking the Ram on the street outside O'Connor's.

Surprisingly enough, the place wasn't busy yet -- it was usually jumping around noon. Johnny and Eric took a table near the bar.

"You get a chance to look at that Web site I sent you?" Johnny asked, opening his menu.

"Oh, fuck, did I ever. Seriously, Farm Boy. That site is the best display of museum-quality crazy I've seen in years. You know they think the H1N1 vaccine is a mind-control program?"

"That's pretty fucked up."

"Yeah. And don't even get me started with their theories on Chinese genetic experimentation under Utah."

"Did you say 'under?'"

"Oh, sure. The Chinese have a huge base under Provo. Thought everyone knew that," Eric said, rolling his eyes.

"So, yeah, I get it. Site's crazy. What'd you find out about the guy who runs it?"

"Harrison Ford, born under that name. Poor guy. DOB 11/7/91 in San Angelo, Texas, where he still lives."

"Kid's just a puppy."

"Yep. I was almost in high school back then. Got a hit on a juvenile record, but it's sealed, of course. Spent some time institutionalized last year -- doubt it was the first time."


"Little stuff. Trespassing, stalking. Mostly dropped. One disorderly conduct that wasn't. My guess -- he's harmless."

"Pretty much my impression of the kid, too -- a nutbag, but not a dangerous nutbag."

Eric nodded, closing his menu and sipping his water. He looked around for the waiter, caught the young man's attention, and flagged him down. They ordered and went back to their conversation.

"Your Delta Force buddy track anything down on Jason Black?" Eric asked.

"Couple of things. Gotta present 'em to the boss first."

"Understood. Anything you think might help?"

Johnny shrugged.

"One thing I meant to ask you about, now that I think of it. My guy mentioned that Black didn't have a birth certificate. That sounded familiar somehow. Ring any bells with you?"

Eric nodded slowly.

"Yeah, I've seen that before. Russel Brandt didn't have one either. It's a little rare, even in the crime game, but not unheard of. A guy really wants to ghost himself -- I mean, give the cops fucking nothing to work with -- there're ways he can delete himself completely. Finding and destroying his birth records is a part of that. Fingerprint shaving, too, or destroying any record of his prints," Eric said.

"That's where I remembered it from. That guy Brandt. OK, so he ghosted himself. So did you, once."

"Well, not to that level. But yeah."

"So you think Black was into organized crime?"

"Maybe. Or maybe he just took a page from our -- dammit, their playbook," Eric said.

"But could you still track someone like that?"

"Sure. There are ways. First off, he's gotta have at least one clean alias, if not more. Kinda hard to do things like get a driver's license or any sort of property without at least one clean identity. My bet, he's got a few."

"Why? Why have more than one?"

"You might have to burn one. Gotta have backups. Mine was Chilean. Work visa and everything."

"You did tell the Marshals about that, right?"

"'Course I did. Now, if you can get a hold of one of Jason Black's aliases, you're good. Property searches, DMV records. . . probably find out where he buys his groceries."

Johnny didn't tell Eric that he knew where Black was. Riley had found that information for him -- and though he trusted his friend, he couldn't let Eric in on what he knew. Not yet, anyway.

There was another matter he wouldn't have minded Eric's opinion on -- the favor for Riley -- but he'd have to play that close to his chest. In fact, Johnny wasn't planning to talk to anyone about that until he'd done some digging on his own.

"So, what have you been up to?" Johnny asked. The waiter was coming out of the kitchen with their food.

"Uh, cleared the Eastman murder. Vietnamese gang, looks like."


"Nah. Looks street-level. Punk kids, as my granddaddy might've said. Other than that. . . been a little boring, really."

"Just wait for the first snowfall. Criminal Investigations tends to slow down a bit after that -- no one wants to be out in that shit. Not even the disreputables."

"Yeah, about that. What is it with the weather in this place? A hundred plus and humid in the summer. Blizzards and subzero in the winter. I mean, they kinda stuck me here, but you live here by choice. Doesn't speak well of your sanity, man."

"Eh. I'm used to it. Grew up with it. Not much weather-wise that can bother me -- I've seen it all, either here or in the Middle East."

"I need to move to somewhere a bit more temperate, I think. I'm getting to be an old man -- 78 degrees year-round would suit me fine."

"Old, hell. You're what, 35 now? That's not even close to old."

"It's ancient. You're just rationalizing since you just turned 30."

"I take it back. You are old. I'm young and strapping, though. And modest."

"Whatever. So what's on your plate for the rest of today?"

"Gonna run into the office for a bit after this," Johnny said, finishing off his corned beef and gouda sandwich.

"Jesus, Farm Boy. Didn't anyone ever bother to define the word 'vacation' for you? It means you're not at work, and you don't go into work. Simple, really."

"Yeah, I know. But I have to track down a local address on someone."

"They make Google for that."

"Too recent. He just moved here. And he might have a record, so I was going to run wants and warrants, traffic stops, DMV files."

"Give me the name. I'll look him up."

"Nah, you don't have to do that, man."

"Not like I've got much else going today. Happy to do it."

Johnny considered for a moment. He hadn't intended on bringing anyone else in on this -- Riley's favor -- but he trusted Eric. Besides, it was just an address and a name. Eric would probably get a hit instantly from the DMV.

"All right. Name's Alexander Richard Kelley, DOB 10/14/84. Check DMV first."

"You got it."

"Just shoot me an email with the address when you find it."

"Will do. This part of a case?"

"Nah. Personal stuff."

Eric nodded as he keyed the name and date of birth into his BlackBerry. He slid the device into his shirt pocket and finished his drink.

"Gym tonight?" Eric asked.

"Think I'll take your advice and take the night off. Tomorrow, though. Can't have you going soft on me."

"No danger of that. I've been training with Jeffers, that guy from Warrants, while you've been gone. Kid hits like a fucking cement truck."

"Yeah, he used to fight Golden Gloves back in the day. I'm not surprised he beat you," Johnny told him, not bothering to hide his smirk.

"Oh, you misunderstand. He hit me, sure. Couple of times. But he hasn't managed to beat me just yet. I'm fast for an old man, you know."

"You should invite him along tomorrow night. Always can use some new blood -- keeps me from getting predictable."

"I've fought with you. 'Predictable' isn't a word that springs to mind when I think about your style -- 'aggro,' maybe. But not 'predictable' by a long shot."

Their waiter dropped the check off at the table, and Johnny reached for it. Eric's hand shot out, snatching the check from under Johnny.

"Told you I was fast for an old man," Eric said, grinning and reaching for his wallet.

"I can get that, Eric."

"No worries. We'll call it a welcome back lunch. You can get me some other time."

Johnny shrugged. He'd known Eric a little more than a year now. In that time, he'd quickly learned it was pointless to argue with the guy.

Eric had two strategies for avoiding an argument.

The first was simply refusing to engage in any sort of discussion, instead doing whatever it was he wanted to do in the first place. The second was a bit more demoralizing. Eric would argue your point with you, making you ultimately contradict yourself. It was humiliating. But Eric was a smart guy, and when he turned his intellect toward making someone else look stupid, the results were truly astounding.

Unless, of course, you were the guy he made look like an idiot. Then the results were soul-crushing. Hence, Johnny rarely argued with him.

"All right, man. Time to be heading out, I guess. Appreciate you looking up that guy for me."

"Sure thing. Like I said, not much to do. I have to at least look like I'm working -- otherwise, Nathaniel tends to loan me out as tech support for other departments. And that, my friend, is not what you'd call fun. I spent half an hour in Traffic one day looking for a Word doc on some idiot's machine. Guy had been storing all his important docs in the Recycle Bin. I seriously wanted to punch him, but, y'know. He's a cop, and all."

"Yeah, probably best you don't go around punching anyone, much less cops. Come on, I'll give you a lift back to the office," Johnny said.

"That's all right. I'm gonna pop over to that retro place and see if I can find a coat I like. I'll just leg it back from there."

"You sure? It's no problem for me to drop you off."

"No, I'm good. Head on home. Try to get some relaxing done on your vacation. Back to the salt mines tomorrow, after all. I'll text you that address as soon as I have it."

"Right on. See you tomorrow, then."

* * *

Johnny made a quick stop at the Post Office to get his mail from the last week. The place was as he'd left it, but his neighbor had kept an eye on it while Johnny was away. Johnny wasn't worried about break-ins, really. Everyone in the neighborhood knew Johnny was a cop, and that his neighbor Darrell was an ex-cop. It was a quiet little area, anyway. Johnny couldn't remember the last time a house had been robbed here.

Johnny was just about to head over to see Darrell. He had a six-pack of Falstaff beer in one hand (a thank-you for looking after the house) and his BlackBerry in the other. He was at his front door when the BlackBerry chirped -- Eric had found the address.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

L.E.O. -- Chapter Two

"Why would the Federal government bother keeping tabs on me?" Johnny asked. He was pretty sure he knew the answer to that one. He was more interested to know if Enano would tell him the truth.

"Case you had last summer. Russian mafia? Rogue military unit? Any of this ringing a bell?" Enano asked.

"Yeah, not likely to forget. But we cleared that case more than a year ago," Johnny said.

"Well, mostly."

"Yeah. Mostly. Never did track down one of the military guys."

"Ex-military is the official standpoint," Enano said.

"Whatever you say. So you've been keeping track of me because, what? You think that guy will come back on us?"

"That's part of it. My bosses have classified Special Unit Omega as a domestic terror organization, so that's my official interest. Unofficially, though. . ."

Enano pulled the Crown Vic into a parking spot outside the hotel and turned in his seat to face Johnny. His face was bright and animated.

"Do you have any idea how rare it is for local cops to take down a Russian mob cell? It's something that never happens, but you did it."

"Not me, specifically. And we had some outside help."

"Yeah, I'm aware of your consultant. Witness-Security boy. How is he these days?"

"I'm afraid that -- officially -- I have no idea who you're talking about."

"Right, right. Mention my name to him when you get back. We go back a ways."

"Look, Agent. . . I've got to be somewhere in," Johnny checked his watch -- 0430. "An hour and a half. It's a bit of a drive, so. . ."

"I won't keep you. Just wanted to say good work out there -- you probably saved a lot of lives today."

"That's kind of my job," Johnny said, smiling and getting out of the Crown Victoria. Enano waved and drove off into the darkness.

* * *

Johnny would have preferred to crawl into bed and sleep for a few hours, but his unintended visit to the station killed that plan. Instead, he grabbed a quick shower, loaded up on coffee, and hopped into his rented Dodge Charger. The GPS told him to get on Interstate 40.

A little more than an hour later, Johnny pulled up to the Main Gate at Fort Bragg. If Enano was tailing him, Johnny hadn't seen it. Even if he was following, though, the agent would have a hard time getting on the base, his Federal government credentials notwithstanding. Johnny had no problems. He showed his I.D. to the MP at the gate -- once the MP checked his clipboard, he waved Johnny's Charger through.

As Johnny slowly accelerated through the gate onto the base, he glanced at the time on the dashboard clock -- 0550. He'd hate to be late. The guy he was meeting was insane about time, even when it was a social call. Number-obsession, he'd explained to Johnny years back.

Master Sergeant Riley Cohane was waiting outside the mess hall. As Johnny parked his Charger and got out, Cohane looked at his watch.

"You're early," Cohane said, smiling and holding out his hand.

"Only by five minutes," Johnny said, shaking hands with Cohane.

"Six. 'Course, you're always punctual. How've you been, Sergeant?"

"Deputy, now. I've been good, Riley. Kinda surprised to see you stateside."

"Not my choice, brother. Medical had me pulled out of the field," Cohane told him as they walked into the mess hall and got in line.

"Shit. You all right?"

"Yeah, I'm good. Took a couple AK rounds in my legs. Guess that was all the excuse they needed to rotate me out."


"Nah. Friendly. Dumbass contractor couldn't be bothered to check his fire. Docs say I'll be good to go in a month or so."

"So what do they have you doing up here?"

"Running some SF training for the new kids. Low-impact stuff."

Johnny laughed. "Only you would consider Special Forces training low-impact."

"Compared to war, everything's low-impact, brother," Cohane said, grinning.

"You've got a point there. This must seem like a vacation for you. And I'm sorry to have to make you work on vacation, but. . ."

"The list of names you sent. Yeah, I got a chance to look into 'em. Not like I got a whole hell of a lot else to occupy my time, really."

The two carried their breakfast trays to a nearly abandoned table and sat down.

"Information on most of 'em wasn't real hard to find. Can't speak to the truthfulness of what I found, though. In fact, I can pretty much confirm most of it as pure bullshit," Riley told him.

"Even with your clearance level?"

"I found the same info as you probably did. Five of your guys placed in a blown-up Hummer in Iraq. No explanation on their mission, or on what an Air Force medic and a Marine demolitions guy were doing riding with three Army SF guys."

"That's the exact info the Army fed me. Once, of course, those bodies disappeared from our morgue. What did their classified files say?"

"There were no files on 'em above the unclassified level. I checked into every system I know of, and got nothing. Files've been wiped. If they ever existed at all, that is."

"What about the sixth guy? Captain Jason Black?"

"Now, that's an interesting one," Cohane said. He took a long sip of his coffee.

"At the unclassified level, nothing. But somewhere around Top Secret, I managed to find mention of him."

"His Army files are still there?"

"Nope. If we ever had 'em, they're gone, too. But whoever wiped the files missed a reference to him. And I gotta say, it's not what I expected."

"How's that?" Johnny asked, finishing off his eggs and drinking a bit of diesel-grade coffee.

"Mission report from Fallujah, 2007. Jason Black's listed in a Delta's report as an 'unlawful combatant.'

"You mean a mercenary?"

"That's exactly what I mean. Guy may have been military at some point, may not -- but as of 2007, we had him listed as a criminal."

"Anything past that?" Johnny asked, finishing his coffee. It tasted like Army coffee should, not like the fancy stuff he'd had in Cary.

"Nope. Guy's a ghost. Couldn't even find a birth certificate on him, a DOB. . . nothing."

Something triggered in Johnny's brain. The lack of a birth certificate was familiar, though he couldn't remember where he'd heard it. It was a significant fact, he knew. All the other members of Special Unit Omega had only had their military records changed, and even then only towards the end of their lives.

"I appreciate you doing all this digging. Consider us even?" Johnny asked, though he knew what Cohane would say to that. He was correct.

"Brother, we ain't even yet by a long shot. I fractured a couple of rules and gave you no real information. You saved my life. Hell, not just mine. Me and my whole team. I still owe you."

"You don't owe me anything, Riley."

"Beg to differ, brother. Me and a whole pile of dead Hajis beg to differ."

"Conversation for another time. Haven't you got some lowly noncoms to yell at?"

Riley checked his watch.

"Yeah, it's getting to be about that time. You headed back up North soon?"

"Tomorrow morning. 0600 flight."

"Well, it was great seein' you again. We shouldn't let so many years slip by next time, brother. C'mon -- I'll walk you to your vehicle."

Riley and Johnny stood and headed out to the parking lot. Johnny stretched and lit a cigarette -- he realized he'd need some sleep soon. Riley held out his hand, and Johnny shook it. He felt something small and rectangular pressed into his palm. Riley caught his eye.

"You take care of yourself, Sergeant."

As they broke the handshake, Johnny immediately put his closed hand in his jacket pocket.

"You too, Riley."

Riley grinned, saluted, and walked off. Johnny got into his Charger and headed off the base, back for Raleigh. He waited until he was miles away before he checked his pocket to see what Riley had slipped him.

It was a 4GB MicroSD card.

"Riley, Riley, Riley. What are you up to, buddy?" Johnny said aloud, looking at the tiny square of black plastic in his palm.

He had no clue what might be on the card, but he knew the information had to be extremely sensitive. Riley's look had told him as much. Whatever was on the card had to be beyond Top Secret -- Riley had told him things way above his clearance level over breakfast.

There was only one way to find out, and Johnny had a netbook with a card reader back at the hotel. He accelerated onto the Interstate.

Curiosity gnawed at him the entire drive back to his hotel, enough to drive off the desire for sleep. He pulled up at the hotel around 7:30. Most of the evidence of that morning's gunfight was gone, but Johnny could still make out traces of Officer Gable's blood on the pavement.

As Johnny walked through the front door and into the lobby, the desk clerk waved him over. Johnny shrugged and walked up to the desk.

"What's up?" Johnny asked the clerk, a red-haired guy who couldn't have been a day over 22.

"You're Mr. Teal, sir? Is that correct?"

"Yep. That's me."

"Yeah, that's what I thought. Someone was by earlier -- your brother, he said. Wanted a key to your room. Claimed he lost his. I checked, and you were registered alone, so I didn't give him one -- hotel policy. He pitched a fit and stormed off. Just wanted to let you know and apologize if I caused any inconvenience."

"You did the right thing. I'm an only child. Describe the guy."

"About six-one, six-two. Blond hair. Facial piercings, a couple of tattoos."

The description didn't sound at all familiar to Johnny.

"How long ago was this?"

"Not long. Ten, fifteen minutes. He walked out the front door and didn't come back."

"Thanks, Chief."

Johnny made a quick sweep of the parking lot, but found no one but an elderly couple slowly walking out to their Coup de Ville. He went back inside and took the elevator to the third floor. As he rounded a corner, he found someone trying to hack the lock on Room 317. His room.

The guy matched the description from the desk clerk perfectly. He was dressed all in black, and carried a large backpack. Johnny resisted his first impulse -- to shout at the guy, to identify himself as police -- and instead quietly crept up next to the kid.

"Hey. Whatcha doin?" Johnny asked casually.

The kid got up from his crouched position by the door and tried to run, but he didn't get far. Johnny had already grabbed one of the straps on top of his backpack -- when the kid set off, Johnny immediately pulled him back hard. The kid ended up on his back, staring at the hallway ceiling and gasping for breath. Johnny knelt down next to him and smiled wide.

"Don't be so quick to rush off, kid. Now, you can tell me why you impersonated a brother I don't have, or you can tell the local cops. Get me?"

The kid, still trying to find his breath, coughed and nodded quickly.

"Good man. Let's start with your name, shall we?"

"Harrison Ford," the kid wheezed, pulling out his wallet and holding it out as he sat up.

"Your real name, shitbird. Oh, what do you know. That is your real name," Johnny said as he pulled the kid's license out of his wallet.

"I go by Harry," the kid said, finding his voice.

"Yeah, I probably would, too. How about you tell me why you were trying to break into my room? I mean, you are aware I'm a cop, right?"

"Of course I'm aware of that. I know everything about you," Harry said, reaching into his wallet and handing Johnny a business card.

The card had no name -- just a Web site and an email address. Johnny looked up from the card and raised an eyebrow at Harry.

"Is this supposed to mean something to me?"

"That's my Web site. I run it. We've been interested in you for a while," Harry told him.

"Not the first time I've heard that today," Johnny mumbled. "So, you're what? A reporter?"

"I put the truth out for everyone to see."

"Still haven't told me why you were breaking into my room.

"I was looking for anything I could find about this morning's incident. The group you fought with. . . we've been keeping tabs on them for a while."

"You didn't think of, I don't know, asking me directly?"

Harrison looked shocked.

"You'd agree to an interview?"

"I might have, before the break and enter action. Look, kid, I'm dead tired. I don't feel like dealing with the Cary Police again today, so I'll make you a deal. You go away, and I'll forget this ever happened." Johnny held up the business card. "You stay away -- that means you don't follow me around, rifle through my shit -- and I'll hang onto this. I'll consider talking to you if you check out as legit. Deal?"

Harry nodded enthusiastically.

"Good. Now get the fuck out of here."

Harry got to his feet and walked quickly down the hall, tring to appear as if the short, overmuscled Johnny didn't intimidate him. He didn't carry it off to well, though -- as soon as Harry rounded the corner, Johnny heard him break out in a run.

Johnny shook his head.

"Weird little kid," he muttered to himself, sliding his keycard into the door and walked into his hotel room. It was just as he had left it. If Enano or the police had tossed the place, they'd at least had the courtesy to put everything back where they'd found it, which was nice.

Johnny booted up his netbook and connected to the hotel's Wi-Fi. He started up Firefox and typed in the address from Harry's card.

"Oh, that's just lovely," Johnny groaned as the page loaded. "He's a conspiracy nut."

The page made Johnny want to laugh out loud. There were sections for Alien Abduction, The New World Order, Government Conspiracies -- every flavor of paranoia was equally represented. Johnny fired off an email with a link to the site to his pal Eric, asking him to track down whatever he could on Harry Ford. If nothing else, he knew Eric would have a good laugh at the site's expense.

Johnny dug out his MicroSD adapter and loaded Riley's card. As soon as he loaded the card into his netbook, a grainy, low-quality video launched -- Johnny guessed it had come from a cell phone camera. In the video, Riley was sitting in an office chair, dressed in civilian clothes. He spoke quietly, directly into the camera.

"Hey, Sergeant. Apologies for the cloak-and-dagger shit, but if my COs knew I was doing this. . . well, best not to think about that. Two things -- one, I found a lot more on Jason Black than I could tell you. Data's on this card, and you didn't get it from me, clear? Second -- I hate to ask, considering I still owe you, but. . . I need a favor."

L.E.O -- Chapter One

The shotgun slug passed within inches of Johnny Teal's right ear, blasting the side mirror off the police cruiser. As shattered glass rained on his head, Johnny admitted that this wasn't the way he'd seen his vacation going in his mind. The young cop on the ground was still breathing, but it didn't look like he was going to be getting up anytime soon. Blood stained the short stretch of pavement between him and the officer a red so deep it appeared black under the moonlight.

Johnny reached behind his back for his Glock .23, but his hand found nothing in the spot where his holster usually sat. He reached across the twitching body of the young cop and lifted the Sig Sauer .40 out of the kid's hand -- the poor guy hadn't even fired. In one quick, practiced movement, Johnny thumbed off the safety and popped up from behind the cruiser, pulling the trigger as he rose.

His first round went well wide of his target, a huge white guy with a mullet, handlebar mustache, and a nasty-looking 12-gauge pump-action. Before Captain Mullet could fire back, however, Johnny sent a slug though the Neanderthal's left eye and into his brainpan. As the huge redneck crumbled to the pavement, Johnny drew a bead on his second target, a much smaller man in a trucker cap, and fired again.

The hat flew from the redneck's head as Johnny's bullet augered into his upper chest, knocking the hick back against a parked car. Johnny fired twice more, both rounds slamming into the man's chest. The redneck dropped to the ground and stopped moving altogether. As he stood to his full height, Johnny scanned the parking lot, his borrowed gun up and at the ready, his finger hovering over the trigger. He'd only seen two, but that didn't mean there weren't more. His eyes darted across the parking lot, but he saw nothing moving. After a few seconds, he reached down and toggled the radio extender on the fallen cop's shoulder. "Officer down," Johnny yelled.

Before he could give the dispatcher his location, a spray of bullets slammed into the side of the cruiser, forcing him to hit the ground.

"Say again," the radio crackled as Johnny slid out from behind the car, firing in the direction of the latest burst of gunfire. He caught the third gunman in the legs -- the young man screamed and dropped his AK-47 clone, throwing his hands up as he hit the ground.

"Don't shoot! I give up!" the young man yelled, rolling around in pain but still keeping his hands held high in the air.

"How many more are there?" Johnny shouted back, checking the clip in his pistol -- five rounds left.

"No more! Just us three!"

Keeping his weapon in front of him, Johnny reached down and grabbed the cuffs from the officer's belt. He checked the cop's pulse -- weak. Still, better than no pulse at all.

"Hands behind your head! Move and I promise you it'll be the last thing you do!" Johnny yelled.

He rose from behind the cruiser and saw that the man he'd kneecapped was wisely following his instructions. Slowly, Johnny crept towards the sprawled-out thug, still ready to throw his last five bullets at anyone he caught making a move.

"My knees --" the prone man groaned. "You blew off my knees."

"Yeah, yeah. Stop bitching. You were aiming for a lot more than my legs."

After quickly cuffing the man's hands behind his back, Johnny made his way back to the injured officer. He heard sirens not far away.

"Doubt you can hear me, kid, but hold on. Your pals are on the way," Johnny whispered to the cop.

The sirens were much closer now. Johnny popped the clip out of his gun, ejected the last round, and set the whole mess on the pavement as he sat down to wait for the police.

* * *

As soon as he tasted the coffee they brought him, Johnny decided there was no way he could take the Cary, NC Police seriously. Police-station coffee was supposed to be bitter, overbrewed, full of grounds -- in a word, horrible. Like Army coffee. The inky liquid in the Styrofoam cup a young officer had delivered to Interview Room 3 tasted like a fresh-made $5 Starbucks Grande.

Also, they hadn't kept him waiting long. Three shootings and an officer down, and this department seemed to have all the time in the world. Johnny was alone, uncuffed, in the Interview Room for less than five minutes before a friendly female Lieutenant came to see him.

"I trust I didn't keep you waiting too long, Deputy Teal," she said, flashing him a smile. Her namebadge read "Hansen." Johnny smiled back.

"Nah. Only been here a few minutes. How's the kid? He gonna pull through?"

"Officer Gable is going to recover, thanks. Look, Deputy--"

"Call me Johnny."

"All right, then. Johnny. You can call me Kate. Look, Johnny. . . I need you to tell me just what happened tonight."

Johnny nodded and took a sip of his coffee. Damn, that's good stuff. Wonder where they get it? he thought. He cleared his throat.

"Think I could get a cigarette?"

"There's no smoking in here."

"Isn't this North Carolina? Where the cigarettes come from?"

"We like to think we're more than that," Hansen said, frowning.

"Right. Of course. Um, back to your original question --"

"Yes. Last we heard from Officer Gable, he was heading to the Holiday Inn Express on Dillard Drive because someone reported a suspicious vehicle."

"That was me. I saw a Taurus in the parking lot there -- rear suspension was riding pretty low."

"And you think that meant something?"

"Yeah, as a matter of fact. I'm 95 percent sure it was a car bomb."

"And what made you think that, Deputy Teal?"

Johnny couldn't help but notice Hansen had gone back to calling him "Deputy." She'd been suspicious of him since he was brought in, he knew. She just wasn't bothering to hide it anymore.

"I've seen more than a few car bombs in my time. I know what to look for," Johnny said.

"And how would you know that?" Hansen asked.

"Let me answer your question with a question," Johnny said, finishing off his coffee. "How long are you gonna ask me shit when you already know the answers?

"Excuse me?"

Hansen looked genuinely surprised.

"Come on, Kate. Any half-competent cop would have pulled my police and Army records the second she got a positive I.D. Am I right?"

Hansen nodded. Her friendly smile was long gone. Johnny continued on.

"So you already know -- Tikrit, 2005."

Hansen nodded again.

"Look, I'm happy to tell you what I know. Just don't treat me like some dumbass homeboy you picked up for shoplifting, all right?"

"Fair enough."

"Thank you. Like I said, I suspected the Taurus was riding heavy, so I called you guys. Gable was there in five minutes. I met him outside the hotel and told him my suspicions -- he started a visual examination of the vehicle."

"This was about what time?"

"Approximately 0230. Not two minutes later, your three suspects came running out of the hotel, all of them carrying weapons. Big ones."

"Did they say anything?"

"Nope. Just came at us. Gable identified himself as police and drew his weapon, but he didn't get a round off."

Hansen jotted a few quick notes as Johnny spoke.

"Two of them immediately opened fire. Gable took a shotgun blast to the chest. I grabbed him, pulled him behind the cruiser. Then I commandeered his weapon and returned fire."

"Did you identify yourself?"

"Didn't see much point to it. I'm a little out of my jurisdiction anyway."

"If you realized that, then why did you shoot back?"

"It was either that or let them come finish off your officer and ventilate my skull. Wasn't thinking of the ensuing paperwork at the time."

"Of which there'll be plenty, I can assure you. Go on."

"I neutralized the first two suspects and attempted to call for backup. That's when suspect number three decided to unload his AK at the car. I took out his legs -- he surrendered pretty quick after that."

Hansen looked up from her notes.


"That's when your people showed up. I identified myself as an officer and surrendered to them."

"Anything else?"

"Nah, that about covers it. Your people confirmed my I.D., I drank some of your coffee. Then you came in that door."

"Right, then."

Hansen closed her notebook and stood, heading for the door.

"I'm going to ask that you hang out here for a bit. There are a few points in your story I'd like to check out."

"Yeah, I kinda saw that one coming. Something I'd like to check out, too. If you don't mind, that is."

"Go ahead."

"What'd you find in the Taurus?"

Hansen shot him an angry look. Johnny suppressed a smile. Her expression answered his question well enough, but he still smirked when she told him.

"A couple more guns. Militia literature. About five hundred pounds of heavy explosives."

Without another word or even a glance in his direction, Hansen stalked out of the room.

Johnny knew they'd probably keep him on ice for a few hours, at least. He'd saved their officer, but he'd also put them in a rough position. The paperwork alone on a visiting cop fatally shooting two suspects and wounding another was going to be a nightmare for this department.

Considering the paperwork, Johnny found himself wondering about several basic but important questions Hansen hadn't asked him. What was he doing in North Carolina, several states away from his own jurisdiction? Why was he up at 2 a.m.? Had he been drinking? These were all questions Johnny would have asked a suspect in a fatal shooting, law enforcement officer or not. Why hadn't Hansen?

Boredom set in fast as Johnny sat alone in the Interview Room. They'd taken his BlackBerry when they'd arrested him -- no Internet or email. Nothing to keep his brain occupied -- he couldn't even send a smart-assed "sitting in a police interrogation room" message to Twitter.

Having his BlackBerry would have let him contact his buddy Eric back home and have him monitor Cary PD's informational requests. He knew Eric would still be awake, and though he didn't have access to the Cary department's computers, Johnny knew Eric could hack them. He wouldn't have minded knowing just what information these cops were trying to dig up.

* * *

Johnny wasn't detained for even an hour. About 45 minutes after Hansen left -- just as his boredom was reaching critical mass -- an Asian man in a nice suit walked in the door.

"Deputy Teal? I'm Special Agent Enano, FBI domestic terrorism task force. Sorry to keep you waiting so long -- you're free to go," he said.

"Thanks. Called in the big guns, did they?" Johnny asked, standing from his chair and stretching.

"Kind of in our wheelhouse. Plus, it's been a while since this department's had to deal with any fatal shootings. We're always happy to help out," Enano said, grinning.

"Yeah, kinda got the impression they weren't too sure on how to handle this one."

"Second-lowest crime rate in the country. Not a bad thing."

"You need anything else from me?"

"Not unless you've got something you didn't tell the Lieutenant," Enano said.

"Nope. Told her anything relevant."

"Much appreciated. Can I give you a ride to your hotel?"

Johnny knew what Enano really meant. Years in law enforcement had taught him that offering a ride meant Enano wanted to keep an eye on him. Still, it beat walking.


After Johnny collected his effects from the desk sergeant, Enano led him to an unmarked gray Crown Victoria with government plates. t was a standard-issue FBI fleet vehicle, but Johnny noticed it wasn't Enano's usual ride. A commercial GPS unit hung from the windshield. Enano also adjusted his seat and the mirrors before he entered the hotel into the GPS.

"Not from around here?" Johnny asked.

"No, sir. Just flew in from Tampa. Got in less than half an hour ago."

"A lot of trouble to go to for a few rednecks with a bomb."

"Would be a lot of trouble if I was here just for them. Truth be told, I wouldn't have dragged my ass out here if your name hadn't flagged."

"My name?"

"Indeed, sir. We've been watching you for more than a year now," Enano told him, smiling as he started the car.