At first, Johnny thought he was dreaming someone was knocking on his door. He opened his eyes, though, and the noise continued. The clock on his bedside table read 4:44 am. He'd managed to get to sleep about three and a half hours before after finishing his reports.
As the knocking kept on, Johnny realized whoever was at the door wasn't likely to stop. He sighed and grabbed his jeans from the floor. He'd fallen asleep in his Texas Death Machine T-shirt, which still smelled of gunpowder. As he stumbled to the door, he put his pants on.
"This had better be life or death," he grumbled, looking through the peephole. Alex Kelley was standing on the porch, looking wide awake.
"Riley said keep an eye on him. Not shoot him," Johnny reminded himself under his breath before he opened the door.
"G'morning, Sarge! Glad you're up. Breakfast?"
Johnny wanted to yell at the younger man, to punch him in the face, and above all to go back to sleep. Instead, he just sighed and said "Sure. Let me get my boots."
A few moments later, they were sitting at the counter at Jerry's. It was just a few blocks from Johnny's house, and the owner was an old family friend. Johnny often stopped in for breakfast before work. It was one of the few places in town that ignored the city's "no smoking indoors" law -- Johnny didn't think it had a non-smoking section.
"You're in early this morning, Johnny-boy," Jerry said, a Marlboro Red hanging from the corner of his mouth.
"Yeah. Suppose I am. Usual for me, Jer. Double up on the diesel."
"And you, young man?"
"Eggs, bacon, toast. Diesel?" Alex asked, looking over at Johnny.
"Double-strong coffee," Johnny told him.
"Oh, yeah. That sounds just perfect. That too, sir."
"Sir," Jerry laughed. "Sure thing."
Jerry filled two huge mugs with black coffee. Johnny dumped sugar into his, stirred it, and took a sip while Jerry headed to the kitchen.
"So how'd you know where I live?" Johnny asked.
"Did I fuck up by dropping by?"
"Nah. Just curious. Don't remember mentioning it."
"You were in the phone book. Didn't know you had a son, by the way.
"Huh. You're in the book as John Teal, Sr."
"Jesus. How old is your phone book? John Sr was my dad. Actually, I haven't had a land line in six years, so I've never been in the book."
"Huh. Never checked the date -- it was in the apartment when I moved in. Lucky for me you live in that house, I guess."
"Yeah. Dad left it to me in his will. I grew up in that house after we moved to the city."
"Oh, yeah. That's right. You're from the farm, yeah?"
"Alliance. It's a farm town, but I lived in the city. Dad was mayor until I was four."
"Son of a politician. Wouldn't have guessed."
"Not really a politician. More like an administrator. He was an accountant. Just kinda kept the town from exploding for a few years."
"Then y'all moved to the big city. Or, y'know, what passes for one around here," Alex smirked, sipping his coffee. "Goddamn, that's good."
"So what's up, Alex? Fascinating as small-town Nebraska politics in the early 80s can be, I doubt that's what you came by to talk about."
"You got me there, Sergeant. Truth is, I'm bored as hell. Considering actually working. What's around here for those with our skillset?"
"And by 'our skillset' you mean?"
"Combat training. Tactical skills. You guys have a SWAT team or something?"
"Omaha PD does. I could make some calls, if you want. Talk to some of my people over there."
Johnny resisted the urge to ask about Alex's PTSD diagnosis. He could tell just by looking at the guy that he wasn't up early -- he hadn't slept, possibly in days. And he was jittery before the coffee. That pointed to stimulants, whether legal or quasi-legal. There was no way Alex would pass OPD's rigorous psych eval.
"Appreciate it. I really don't think I could do much else -- I'm not a customer-service kind of guy," Alex winked.
Jerry set their plates on the counter. He refilled their coffee with one hand while lighting a cigarette with the other.
"Guess what I saw on the Internet yesterday," he said.
"What's that, Jer?" Johnny asked, digging up a forkful of eggs.
Jerry reached under the table and pulled out a sheet of printer paper. It was a printout of the Raleigh News-Observer's Web site from a few days back. The headline read "Hero Cop Foils Terrorist Cell."
"Ah. Well, that's minorly embarrassing," Johnny grinned. Alex picked up the page and skimmed through it.
"This is you? In North Carolina?"
"Was on vacation there a few days ago."
"Well, look at that. Sergeant Teal's still takin' down Hajis even when the Army ain't payin'."
Johnny glanced at the article.
"They didn't write that too well. It was a domestic militia group, not terrorists like you're thinking."
"Still, though -- that's the kind of work I could get into. That's what I'm good at. Hunting down and taking out terrorists," Alex said.
"Don't know how much of that kind of work you'll find out this way," Johnny shrugged. "Not exactly a terror-cell haven around here."
"Thought about trying to work with one of the private security companies," Alex said, shrugging. "I know, I know. Contractors kinda suck. We used to give 'em all kinds of shit back in Iraq. But at least they're in the game. You know what I did last night?"
Johnny didn't. Alex told him anyway.
"Argued with a Haji at the liquor store about buying Jack at ten minutes to one. Fascinating, death-defying stuff."
Johnny finished his breakfast and lit a cigarette.
"So what is it you do all day? I couldn't imagine having that kind of downtime."
"Yeah, I'm not great with downtime, either -- as you might have guessed, what with me showing up at your house at five in the morning. I don't know, man," Alex sighed, lighting his own cigarette. "For the first week or so, I was pretty good about looking around for work. That got repetitive quick. Call center, call center, customer service, call center. You have a lot of fucking call centers in this town."
"Lack of a definable accent," Johnny said, nodding. "People from around here sound like they're from nowhere in particular."
"I guess. Lately, it's just been some Modern Warfare and trying to keep myself out of trouble."
"I'll see if OPD has anything," Johnny said. "Until then, just lay low and try to get some sleep, will you? You look like hell, man."
Alex flashed him a weak grin.
"All right, mom. Here's my cell number if you hear anything," he said, grabbing an order pad and pen and scribbling a local number. He handed it to Johnny.
"Will do," Johnny said, folding the paper and putting it in his coat pocket. "I should probably get into the office early. Big case."
"Anything interesting?" Alex asked.
"Frustrating is more like it," Johnny sighed, reaching for his wallet.
"No, it's OK, I got this."
Alex pulled out his wallet. Johnny didn't bother to argue -- he doubted the less-than-$10-check would break Alex's bank.
"Hey, Jer. Mind wrapping me up a diesel to go?" Johnny asked.
"Sure thing, Johnny-boy. What about you, young man?"
"Nah. Past my bedtime."
* * *
He showed up at the office two hours early, but it wasn't as if Johnny didn't have work to do. Rawlins had left reports on his desk. The younger Deputy had spent the day before talking to friends and relatives from the Hassans' address book. There was plenty to read.
Eric came in around 7:00 -- an hour earlier than normal. He set a cup of Starbucks on Johnny's desk.
"Thanks, man. You're in early."
"Got my paperwork from last night to finish up, plus the hack I abandoned to help you out. Think Nathaniel'll yank me from the case today?"
Johnny hadn't thought of that yet, but it was a possibility. With their gang lead all but gone, they'd probably lose their consultant.
"I hope not. I could really use your eyes on this one -- gang connections notwithstanding," Johnny said, sighing.
"Eh, there's hope. Maybe I'll find something in that really old computer we took from the skinheads' little clubhouse," Eric said, shrugging.
"Let's hope. How long do you think it'll take too get into the system?"
"If the encryption on their Web site was any indication of their skills. . . Let's just say I'll probably know everything in the system before you finish that cup of coffee."
"Awesome. Let me know what you find."
Eric vanished into his office, and Johnny went back to reading the reports Rawlins had collected. Everyone seemed to say only good things. By all accounts, the Hassans were good people -- active in the community, volunteered for charity, and gave money to a half-dozen causes. There was plenty of information in the reports, but no answers.
The phone on his desk chirped, and Johnny picked up. It was Nathaniel.
"Johnny. Come into my office, would you?"
He'd been so concentrated on the reports that he hadn't seen Nathaniel come in.
"On my way."
Johnny hung up the phone and walked across the office to Nathaniel's door. He knocked and heard his boss say "Come in."
Nathaniel wasn't alone in the office. Standing next to his desk, dressed in a black suit, was Special Agent Enano.
"Good morning." Enano flashed a wide grin.
"Deputy, I believe you know Agent Enano."
"Yeah, we've met. What brings you to town, sir?"
"White Liberty. They're on my list. I came to interview the Skins you hauled in last night."
"I've gotta stop doing your job for you," Johnny said.
"By all means, keep doing it. Makes my life a whole lot easier."
"I'm going to need you to escort Agent Enano to County. Get him in to see this Stahl you arrested."
"Copy that, boss."
"I'll try not to take up too much of your time, Deputy," Enano said.
All three of them looked at the door as they heard a quick knock.
"Come in," Nathaniel said.
Eric popped his head in the door.
"Hey, boss. Sorry to interrupt. Johnny, Frank just called looking for you. Stahl called him from County this morning, claims he has info. Apparently, he wants to talk to me and you. Enano," Eric nodded.
"Eric," Enano nodded back.
Nathaniel looked at Eric, confused.
"We go back," Eric explained.
"I was just about to escort Agent Enano over to County," Johnny said. "Looks like you're riding along."
"I'll get my coat and meet you two down in the garage. Frank and Ellie will meet us there," Eric said, closing the door as he left.
"You ready to roll, Agent Enano?" Johnny asked.
"Just lead the way, Deputy."
Johnny and Enano headed out of the office to the elevator. While they were waiting for the car, Johnny's BlackBerry went off.
"Excuse me," Johnny said, lifting the phone to his ear. "Teal."
"Hey, Deputy Teal. It's Bill Ewing. I'm over at the City lab, and we've got a bunch of the evidence from the Hassan case processed."
"Hang tight, Bill. We're making a stop over at County for a bit, then the whole team'll be over. Anything good?" Johnny asked.
"Good? Possibly. Interesting? Without a doubt," Ewing told him.
"Outstanding work, Bill. We'll see you in a bit."
Johnny hung up the phone. The elevator arrived a few seconds later, and Johnny and Enano got in.
"Your boss was telling me a bit about your case, Deputy Teal. Sounds like a messy one," Enano said.
"Story of my life," Johnny sighed.