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