Johnny dropped Ellie at the Northwest Station about 6:30 and gave her his home address. She and Frank would be there by eight. He'd spoken to Nathaniel on the drive back from Lincoln -- they were working on a warrant, but the plan was to locate and question Stahl.
Eric's black BMW 5-series was already in Johnny's driveway when Johnny pulled up in his Ram at 7:30. Eric was next door on Darrell's porch. Darrell had a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, and was in the middle of a story when Johnny walked up.
"Hey, Chief. Afraid I'm gonna have to steal my guy from you. Work to do, and all," Johnny said.
"No problem. I'll finish this later, young man. Y'all need any help?" Darrell said before taking a long swig of his beer.
"Nah, I think we got it handled, Chief," Johnny said, smiling. He waved to his neighbor, and he and Eric headed into the house.
"Thanks for the rescue, Farm Boy. That guy sure can talk, can't he?"
"Yeah, old Darrell has plenty of war stories. And he has no problem telling them to anyone, anytime."
"He also thinks my name is Steve. I have no idea why," Eric laughed, shrugging out of his leather motorcycle jacket and opening his backpack. He pulled out his netbook.
"Living room," Johnny said, and Eric nodded. He quickly hooked the netbook to the 37-inch LCD TV in Johnny's living room, then brought up a map.
"So who's coming to the party?" Eric asked as he started a pot of coffee in Johnny's kitchen.
"You, me, Frank, and Ellie. You're making the initial contact, being gang-guy and all."
"No problem. Skinheads love me for some reason -- probably all the ink. And yes, that does disturb the hell out of me."
"I can imagine. Now, we don't have a search warrant for the address yet, so be cool. We just want to find Stahl and talk to him."
"Sure thing. According to the info on the Web, they're having some kind of rally tonight. If Stahl's their main guy, he'll most likely be there."
"These White Liberty guys -- they short fuses?"
"The Skins usually are. We'll want to make it very clear we're there to talk, because those boys love guns. They think it's a raid, and 50/50 they'll go buck wild."
"Beautiful. I'm gonna suggest Kevlar just in case. You bring yours?"
"Yeah, it's in the car. Hope it's not necessary, though."
Johnny saw headlights in his driveway outside -- Frank and Ellie had arrived in their unmarked Crown Victoria.
"Welcome, guys. Come in. Grab a coffee if you want," Johnny told them.
"Hey, Johnny. Nice place you have here. Good neighborhood," Frank said, smiling.
"Thanks. Lived here forever."
Frank nodded and poured cups of coffee for himself and Ellie.
"All right. Should we get down to it?" Eric asked.
At a nod from Johnny, Eric brought the satellite image of the target neighborhood up on the screen.
"This is where we're headed. It's just off 13th and Vinton -- White Liberty rents some space here for the skinheads to use for rallies, concerts, that kind of crap. According to their Web site, they're holding a rally tonight."
"What kind of rally?" Frank asked.
"Your standard White Power crap. You know, 'them immigrants is stealing our jobs' stuff," Eric answered.
"Now, warrants haven't come through yet, and I don't expect them. All we have is the word of a convicted felon that our guy might have disliked one of the victims. So we're just going to approach him. See if he'll talk to us willingly. Eric will make the initial contact."
"Why him?" Ellie said. "He's not a law enforcement officer."
"That's true. But he's our gang consultant, and he has experience with this group," Johnny said. "He knows how they operate, how they think. Besides, they see any of the three of us walking up, they'll smell cop. Eric, at least, won't spook them before we have a chance to talk."
"I suppose that makes sense," Ellie nodded. "Will you be armed?"
"Nope. I'm not a guy you want messing around with firearms."
"We'll be monitoring Eric on audio and keeping an eye on him from your unmarked. If things get hairy, we'll roll up in force and assist."
"All right. Once Eric makes contact, what then?" Frank asked.
"If Stahl agrees to talk to us, we'll take him to the 13th Street station. I've spoken to the shift commander there -- he's got an interview room for us. We'll ask him some questions and, ideally, get a confession."
"And if Stahl doesn't feel chatty?" Frank said.
"Then we gather information. See if anyone in his crew will talk to us," Ellie said.
"Exactly," Johnny said. "We try to shore up our admittedly thin lead. Now, be advised that we're not dealing with idealists here. These are street soldiers, and we can assume there will be plenty of weapons present. Kevlar's the order of the day, folks."
"We're both set on that score. Eric?"
"Yeah, got mine in the car."
"Good. I'm going to change into civvies, and we can roll out. We'll take two cars -- Eric's vehicle and your unmarked, if that works for you guys."
Ellie and Frank both nodded in agreement.
"We get there early enough, we can reconnoiter the area. Maybe catch our guy on his way in," Ellie said.
"My thought, too," Johnny said.
He excused himself from the living room and headed to his bedroom to change. He'd learned a thing or two from Eric about dressing down. Gone were the days when he'd wear khakis and a polo on a covert op -- now it was jeans, a Texas Death Machine shirt, and a leather jacket. He reached under the bed for his black Army-issue boots and put them on. Finally, he tucked two extra clips for his weapon into his jacket. He walked back out into the living room -- Eric was strapping on his Kevlar over a T-shirt, which he covered with a short-sleeved button-up.
"You're gonna get cold out there," Ellie said, shaking her head.
"Gotta let 'em see the ink. It screams 'not a cop,'" Eric answered. "Besides, it's above freezing, right?"
"Nope," Johnny laughed.
"Well, shit. Once they've seen my arms, I guess I'll put my jacket on."
"You got your wire on?"
"It's on the vest."
Johnny quickly checked his radio -- he could hear just fine through Eric's transmitter.
"All right, kids. Let's roll. Eric, you get into trouble --"
"I know, I know. Ivy Mike."
Johnny nodded -- that was the correct code. Eric poured the rest of the coffee into his travel mug and headed out to his car.
* * *
"You know, I grew up not far from here."
Frank, sitting in the backseat of the unmarked, had taken off his tie and was spinning a cigarette between his fingers.
"You can smoke. I don't mind -- I'm a smoker," Johnny told him.[P]"Nah. Quit a while back. Just like to hold 'em still," Frank smiled.
"You know the area. You wanna do the first on-foot? Since, y'know, this is your old hood and all," Ellie grinned.
"Sure. Don't much like the back seat anyway. Back in a few," Frank said, opening the rear passenger door and stepping onto the sidewalk.
"How's your guy?" Ellie asked as Frank left.
Johnny switched the car radio over to Eric's frequency. Loud punk music poured from the speaker -- Dead Kennedys, Johnny guessed.
"I'd guess he's a bit bored," Johnny sighed, switching the radio back to the dispatch frequency.
"Yeah, well, tell him to stay sharp. Skins could start showing up any minute."
"He knows. Despite how he might look -- and act -- Eric's actually very good at what he does."
"And what is that, exactly? I ran him through local, state, and Federal, and got nothing older than last August. No aliases, either. It's like he didn't exist 16 months ago."
"He didn't. He's in the Federal Witness Security program. I can't tell you much more than that."
"That makes sense," Ellie said, nodding.
"So if you ran Eric, smart money says you ran me."
"I did. As I'm sure you did with me."
"Actually, no. Haven't had time yet. Find out anything interesting?"
"Well, you at least existed before August, so that's a plus."
Ellie cracked the window and lit a cigarette.
"I also thought about calling your boss and having you pulled from the case," she said.
"Yeah? Why's that?"
"I'm a bit embarrassed to admit I thought it, but I saw your two tours in Iraq. I know some Iraq war veterans --"
"You thought I might have a conflict investigating the murder of a Muslim family."
"Like I said, embarrassing that my mind went there."
"It makes sense, I guess," Johnny shrugged.
Frank popped into the backseat of the car, saving them from an awkward silence.
"Just saw a carload of Skins headed down this way. Party's starting -- tell your boy to get ready."
Johnny texted Eric: "It's on."
* * *
Half an hour later, there were more than 20 skinheads collected in front of the target building, talking and smoking cigarettes. Johnny and his team had observed at least 15 more entering the building. Johnny checked his watch -- 9:30. There had been no sign of Stahl.
"Going in now. Gonna talk to the guys outside, wait out there for Stahl to show up," Eric's voice crackled over the unmarked's radio.
As the three cops watched, Eric walked up to a cluster of five or six rather large Skins. He was carrying his jacket, so his tattoos showed.
"Hey, guys. Big meeting tonight?" they heard Eric say.
"Fuck off, guy. Nothing you want to be a part of here," a deep voice growled.
"Oh, I don't know about that. I think I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be," Eric said. His voice was calm, cheerful. He looked relaxed.
One of the Skins -- half a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier than Eric -- got right up in his face. Eric's body language didn't change. Over the unmarked's speaker, an ungodly loud roar filled the cabin. Johnny reached over and turned the radio down until the yelling stopped.
"Jesus. What the fuck was that?" Ellie said.
"Eric told me they do that. Testing his nerves. If he flinched, they would've killed him."
Eric hadn't flinched -- he still looked calm. Bored, even. The huge skinhead pounded him on the shoulder and laughed.
"You're all right. How'd you find out about the meeting?"
"Guy named Ordway. Was in County with him for a couple days."
The big Skin nodded.
"Good man, Andy Ordway."
"Larry Ordway," Eric said.
"Right. Caught that one, so good for you."
"Crap, they're paranoid," Frank said.
"Which could mean they have reason to be. The Hassan family, maybe," Ellie said.
"So, Larry told me to ask for a dude named Stahl. He here?" Eric asked. He shrugged into his leather motorcycle coat.
"He's already inside. I'll introduce you," the big guy said. He led Eric into the building, and loud, shitty hate-rock washed over the unmarked's cabin. Ellie reached out to turn the volume down.
"I know the music sucks, but we need to be able to hear Eric if he hits trouble," Johnny told her.
"I can't hear anything over this shit," Frank said.
"My guess is that if he has to call us in, he'll make it loud."
The three sat without speaking -- the music made it tough to converse.
"Well, drum part's not horrible, anyway," Frank said after a few minutes, pulling a cigarette from his jacket and spinning it around.
"I'm not sure those are drums," Johnny said, turning up the volume on the dashboard radio. He heard three loud booms, and the music stopped.
"--ike! Ivy Motherfucking Mike!" Eric's voice blared over the speaker. He didn't sound calm now.
"Shit! Roll up!" Johnny yelled.
Ellie hit the sirens and floored the accelerator.