"Hey, Eric. Got a minute?" Johnny asked, leaning against the door frame to Eric's office.
"Sure thing, Farm Boy," Eric said. "Close the door behind you."
Johnny did so, then pulled a spare chair from against the wall and sat down.
"Any luck with the Army?"
"Nah. I couldn't even get 'em to admit this guy Riley was even in the Army. His 'net presence is zero, too," Eric said.
"Yeah, Riley. He's what I wanted to talk to you about. I talked to one of the guys who used to be in his unit -- Riley retired from the Army months ago. He lied to me about that, and maybe the stuff about Jason Black, too."
"No, his Intel there was good. I managed to confirm it," Eric said.
"One more thing -- Riley was the guy who put me on Alex Kelley in the first place. Told me he was here, having PTSD issues," Johnny said. "I'm thinking now that he wanted us looking at Alex -- looking the wrong way while he killed the Hassans and the Waziris."
"He played us. He knew you were a cop in this town, one he could push in the direction he wanted," Eric grumbled. "That's why his Intel on Black was good. We check that out, and Riley comes off legit and helpful."
"I think I'm the reason he chose this town," Johnny said. "It's my fault."
"Nah. This is that psycho motherfucker's fault," Eric shook his head. "You take this to Nathaniel yet?"
"Nope. Not yet," Johnny said. "I'd like to be able to give him more than a lame apology."
"I might be able to help you with that one, Farm Boy," Eric said, nodding. He pointed to the table at the far end of his office, which had a duffel bag on it.
"That the bag from the suspect SUV?" Johnny asked.
"Yep. They took the M4s and AKs out of it downstairs, but they left everything else for me to look over," Eric said, opening the bag. He pulled out the GPS unit and turned it on.
"Memory's probably wiped," Johnny guessed.
"Oh, Farm Boy. You hurt my feelings," Eric said.
He connected the GPS to one of the many notebooks in his office and began clicking around with his mouse. A few seconds later, he smiled.
"25th and Z Streets," Eric said. "Thereabouts, anyway. Lotta GPS tags from that neighborhood. Point of origin, most likely."
"I know, I know," Eric cut him off. "I'm an amazing motherfucker."
"I was gonna say 'magnificent bastard,' but whatever," Johnny said.
"Go ahead. Tell Nathaniel that shit," Eric said, grinning.
"Right. One more favor?"
"You got it, Farm Boy. What do you need?"
Johnny reached into his wallet and handed Eric a business card.
"Get in touch with this guy for me. See what he knows about Riley. The National Militia. All of it."
Eric looked at the card and raised an eyebrow.
"This guy? You sure?"
"Yeah. Do that for me?"
"Sure. I've got another source I can check with, too."
"Awesome. Appreciate it," Johnny said, getting up and opening the office door.
"You just might've saved my ass with that GPS intel, pal," Johnny said.
"I know, right? What did you all do before I got here?"
Johnny chuckled and headed for Nathaniel's office. The door was open, and Nathaniel was at his desk. Johnny told him about the GPS tags.
"Right. Good work. Ellie's just finishing with Alex -- his lawyer tracked down security-camera feeds of him drinking at a bar all night. Same night the Hassans were killed. Looks like he's clean, and we're cutting him loose. When she's done, you two go check out the GPS thing. Take an unmarked, recon it, and call back here. I'll be questioning the shooters with Frank."
"We're on it, boss."
* * *
The sun was going down as Johnny pulled the Impala to a stop at 25th and Z Streets. The temperature was below freezing already. Johnny was glad he'd changed out of his bloody uniform into a pair of heavy jeans, a thermal shirt under a T-shirt, and his leather jacket.
"This is it," Ellie said, pointing at an abandoned power substation half a block away. "Has to be."
"Agreed," Johnny said, nodding. "Looks like the lights are out. Could just be heavy blankets over the windows -- I've seen that trick before."
"We'll have to get closer. See if we can spot anyone moving around, in or out," Ellie said.
"If Riley Cohane is running this show, it won't be easy," Johnny said. "You can bet he's got guards, surveillance gear. . . all kinds of shit. I'll have to be careful."
"You mean we'll have to be careful."
"No. I said what I meant. I have experience approaching a strongpointed position, and I know how Riley operates. Back off about a block. I'll jump out and get some eyes on the place. If I'm not back in ten minutes, call in as much backup as you can get," Johnny told her.
"I hate this plan," Ellie sighed. "But you're right, I guess."
She threw the car into reverse and quickly backed up a few hundred feet. Johnny checked the ammo in his Glock, stuck it in his holster, and hopped out of the car. Moving out of the failing light, he crept forward.
A few hundred feet later, Johnny caught his first hint that the building was inhabited -- a quick flash on the roof of the power station. Something had caught the sunset's feeble light -- a pair of binoculars, he thought, or a rifle scope. He crept on, sticking to the shadows.
More movement now -- Johnny saw a black SUV coming down Z Street. As it approached the power station, it flashed its brights twice. The SUV rumbled past him and on down the street.
Mobile patrol, Johnny realized. The headlight flash had been for the guy on the roof. He didn't know what the signal meant, but he knew it was time for he and Ellie to get the fuck out of there and call in the reinforcements.
As soon as the black SUV turned the corner to 25th Street, Johnny scampered back to the Impala as quickly as he could without being seen. He threw open the door and hopped into the vehicle.
"Yeah, it's strongpointed, all right," he told Ellie, closing the door behind him.
"How many?" she asked, starting the car.
"Not sure. Many many, my guess. We need to get a bit away and call in your SWAT team guys. As many regular officers as we can get, too. If what Vassily told us is true, these guys are armed to the teeth," Johnny said.
"Great. Glad they haven't spotted us," Ellie said.
Half a second later, the car jolted and stopped running. A huge hole had appeared in the hood. Johnny knew immediately what had happened -- the sniper on the roof had put a round in their engine block.
"Damn. I think I jinxed us."
Ellie reached for the radio, but Johnny knocked it out of her hand.
"Out of the car, now!" he screamed, pushing her towards the door. As soon as she got a foot on the pavement, Johnny dove out the door behind her, pushing her down a nearby alley.
"Run!" he yelled.
They made it six steps -- Johnny was counting -- before the Impala disintegrated into a fireball behind them. The blast sent them stumbling. Johnny managed to tackle Ellie into a gray, dirty snow drift as the heat and debris covered them like a suffocating, burning blanket.
The heat and noise seemed to last forever, though the logical part of Johnny's brain knew it couldn't have been more than a second or two. Johnny drew in a deep, warm breath and rolled to his left, off of Ellie and into the wet street.
"You OK, Ellie?" he croaked, coughing.
"Yeah," she said. "You?"
Johnny pulled himself to his feet and quickly checked -- he wasn't injured enough that he could tell.
"Fine. Come on -- let's get behind that shed. That sniper's really good."
Ellie nodded, and the two of them crawled behind a nearby garage.
"What the fuck just happened?" Ellie asked as Johnny drew his gun and nodded for her to do the same.
"RPG," he answered. "A block down. I lucked out and saw the guy setting up his shot."
"RPG? This guy knows we're not in Iraq, right?"
"Honestly, I don't think he cares. If Riley's in charge -- and judging from the difficulty of that sniper shot, he is -- it's all war to him."
Johnny grabbed his BlackBerry. The heat from the blast had fried it -- it was useless. He tossed it into the street.
"Charcoal," he said. "Call for backup on yours."
Ellie reached for her phone, but came up empty.
"No go. Must've fallen when we bailed. Got my radio, but it's limited without the car."
"Fuck. We need to find some better cover. That mobile patrol will be by any second now," Johnny said, scanning the street.
"The SUV? The big black one?" Ellie asked, nodding down the opposite end of the alley. The SUV was turning in, its high-beams flicking on.
"Yeah. That's the one," Johnny said.
His thoughts were moving at a supersonic clip. Sniper's covering the street. Mobile's coming the other way. We're pinned down. Unless --
Johnny rammed his entire body, shoulder first, into the back wall of the garage. The cheap wall splintered. He backed up a step -- as the first bullets flew down the alley past them, he jumped into the wall again, this time falling straight through. He landed in a heap on the concrete floor next to a pile of foul-smelling rags. Ellie jumped through and missed landing on him by inches.
"What's that smell?" she said.
"Turpentine and gasoline. I just got us into a flammable shed with RPGs and gunfire all around us."
"Excellent," Ellie said. She helped Johnny up, kicking lightly against a gas can sitting on the floor. They heard liquid slosh around. The two of them shared a look that lasted less than a second, but each saw the idea in the other's eyes.
"Glass bottle," Johnny said. He grabbed one of the rags and the gas can as Ellie picked up two empty Miller Lite bottles. Quickly, Johnny filled them both from the can. They each grabbed a half-full bottle and stuck a rag in the mouth. Johnny dug for his lighter.
"So glad I didn't quit smoking," he said. He lit them both as the SUV stopped just short of the hole he'd made in the garage. They heard the vehicle's doors open.
Ellie threw first. Her makeshift Molotov hit the street just in front of the first man out of the car, exploding and sending flames shooting up the guy's legs. He yelled and fired widely into the pavement -- that's when Johnny leaned far to the left and chucked his bottle sidearm with his left hand. The Molotov flew just as he hoped, spinning end over end sideways and shattering on the hood of the SUV just short of the car's windshield.
Johnny ducked low, weapon up, and dove back through the hole he'd created as Ellie opened fire, killing the shooter she'd set on fire. Johnny landed on his side in the street, pulling the trigger and sending five rounds into the truck's confused driver. The man dropped.
Ellie popped out of the hole after him, her gun up and covering the opposite side of the street. Finding no one, she moved to cover Johnny.
He'd pulled himself into a crouch and leveled his Glock at the burning truck, but there didn't seem to be anyone else for them to shoot. The mobile patrol had apparently only been the driver and the passenger.
"You were saying something about finding cover?" Ellie said. "Yeah," Johnny said, nodding slowly. "Let's go ahead and do that before the flames hit the fuel line."
The two of them pushed past the burning SUV and crept down the alley, doing their best to stay out of the failing evening light.