Sunday, February 28, 2010

Looking Forward

I'm considering what I want to do next with Tweet_Book -- I know that I'm going to do something (probably starting around April 1), but I'm not entirely sure what yet.

Some ideas:

  • A short story collection in the world of 47 Echo (possibly written with a few guest authors)
  • Another novel, this one having nothing to do with anything I've done on Tweet_Book before (to be honest, I think I'm going to be working on this one anyway, regardless of if I post it to Twitter or not)
  • A first-person story (in-character), without much regard to length (as in, it may not be a novel so much as a story)
  • A film script, posted to Twitter line by line
  • Who knows? Could be something else entirely.

So, what do y'all think? Feel free to shoot me an email, @ reply, or comment with your thoughts. Now, back to work for me.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

This is the end. . .

. . . of this book, anyway. Looking back, I'm kind of surprised with myself. In the past year (to the day, actually -- I started the first novel a year ago today), I've written three full-length novels. On fucking Twitter.

I was shooting for 50,000 words for each novel -- the first came out at 59,000. The second came out around 72,000, and this one (though I haven't checked for sure) is around 56,000. That's 187,000 words, all told, in less than a year (I took some time off between the books). I'm pretty happy with that (and they've all gotten a bit longer in editing).

Some thoughts on this last one -- doing it all on a BlackBerry (Curve 8330 from Sprint, for the curious) was kind of rough. I lost a couple of nights here and there to service outages, which I wasn't happy about. Also, doing it in the format I did (with complete sentences in each tweet) was kind of limiting and frustrating. Of all of the novels, this one's going to change the most in editing. Still, I wrote an entire novel, beginning to end, on a fucking BlackBerry. How many people can say that?

What does the future hold? Well, first off, the Twitter Novel Project isn't done. Hell, it's just had its first birthday! Can't quit now! But I am planning to take about a month off before I put up any new stories, and I'm not sure what form those will take yet. What new challenges should I tackle? Suggestions welcome, of course.

Well, that's me signing off for the moment. Thanks so much to all of you who have been such a huge help throughout this and the other books, and to all of you out there who have read, commented, and made others aware of this project. I'm not bullshitting when I say I couldn't have done it without you.

L.E.O. -- Chapter Twenty-Eight

Riley managed to get off one shot, which slapped into Black's Kevlar. A half-second later, Black put two bullets in Riley's arm. Riley's pistol clattered to the pavement, and the men from the chopper were all over him, moving like a wave of black fatigues and guns.

One man bandaged Riley's arm while another bound his hands behind him. Another tied his feet, and a fourth threw a black hood over his head. Without a word, the four men picked Riley up and hustled him into the Blackhawk.

Jason Black walked casually over to the dead BMW. He stuck his head into the open driver's door and grinned at Johnny.

"Deputy Teal. Don't think we've met. Jason Black," he said, waving. "We'll have you out of there in a second."

Johnny's door flew open, and someone cut his flex-cuffs. Johnny shook out his arms and got up. As he stepped out of the car, he realized that it was Alex Kelley who had cut him loose.


"Hey, Sarge. Good to see you alive."

"You too, man. Ellie?"

"She's fine, bro. Seemed worried about you when she realized you were missing. You should call her, man."

Jason, still hanging out in the driver's side of the car, found the trunk release and tripped it. The trunk popped open, and Eric fell out.

"Hey, Eric. You all right, man?" Jason asked.

"Yeah, I'm -- Jesus Christ, Jase, what the fuck did you do to my car?" Eric yelled. He stood staring at the smoking holes in his BMW's hood.

"Yeah, sorry about that. Blame Cohane. He didn't want to stop," Black said.

"Oh, I am so gonna cold-cock that motherfucker," Eric growled. "Where is he?"

"Sorry, Eric. We've got him secured on the helo already."

"I kinda promised him," Johnny told Black.

"Ah, what the hell. Staff Sergeant, wanna escort him to the prisoner?" Black said, grinning.

Alex nodded, and he and Eric headed for the Blackhawk.

"So, how long has Alex been with Omega?" Johnny asked.

"Few months now. We recruited him as soon as the Army booted him. Couldn't let all that Special Ops experience go to waste," Black said.

"And Eric?"

"He's not Omega, but not for my lack of effort. Tried to recruit him last year, but he wouldn't go for it. Still, I gave him a cell number. You know, in case he ever needed to get in contact."

They heard Eric punch Riley, and heard Riley smack against the chopper's hull.

"Wow. Dude was pretty pissed," Jason said. A few seconds later, Eric walked back to the BMW, shrugging into his leather jacket and smiling. He tossed Johnny his badge.

"Here you go, Farm Boy."


"OK, gents, we're gonna get moving," Jason Black told them.

"You know all this is going to have to go in my report," Johnny said.

"Put whatever you want in there, Johnny. Your boss will get a call. In an hour, most likely. This whole thing'll be sealed under the National Security Act, just like last time. DoD's never gonna let this out. They'll never admit one of their best assets went rogue and started killing innocent Muslim Americans," Black said, shrugging.

"Dammit. That's not right, Jase," Eric said.

"Right, wrong. . . not my call. We all get our orders from someone."

Black waved at them and winked. As the Blackhawk's rotors spun up, he hopped into the chopper and slammed the door behind him. The Blackhawk was gone ten seconds later.

"Hey. . . what about us?" Eric said.

"Looks like we're walking, pal," Johnny sighed.

"All right. Let me get some stuff from the car."

Eric grabbed a laptop bag from the trunk and slung it over his shoulder. He and Johnny then pushed the BMW to the side of the road.

"We're really out in the middle of nowhere, aren't we?" Eric said, locking the car.

"Gas station's only a couple of miles back. I just wish it was a little warmer out. Hey, Eric? How'd you manage to get in touch with Jason Black? And why didn't you tell me about him?"

"Yeah, Witness Protection boy admits to being in contact with the subject of an active investigation. That'd go over real well for me. It was one conversation over a year ago. I was never gonna use the number he gave me. Which is what I ended up doing, of course," Eric said. "After the grenade knocked you out, I pulled you from under the door to evac you -- you didn't look good. I got you to my car pretty quick. Last thing I heard was the SWAT truck rolling up, then I woke up in the trunk. Riley'd taken my coat, wallet, and phone. Or so he thought."

Eric reached into his jacket and pulled out his BlackBerry, then reached into the hip pocket of his cargos and pulled out another phone.

"You have two phones?" Johnny asked.

"Yep. BlackBerry's issued by work. I never cancelled my private line."

"Well, fuck's sake, man. Call someone to come pick us up," Johnny said.

"Love to. Unfortunately, Riley busted the BlackBerry, probably so it wouldn't be traced. Battery on this one's dead -- had to stay on the line with Jason so he could locate us."

"Damn. Wait a second. Your laptop."


"Whatever. Is that the one you were using in the power station?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"Were you recording the camera feed?"

"Uh, yeah. Stopped when I closed up to carry you out, but I got a good chunk of footage."

"That business card I gave you earlier. Still got it?"

"Harry Ford? The conspiracy nut? Yeah," Eric said. His eyes went wide. "Wait. You're not gonna --"

"Story's gotta get out there. With the footage, the military won't be able to deny it."

"A rebellious streak? From you, Farm Boy?" Eric said, laughing. "I'm impressed."

Johnny smiled and pounded Eric on the back.

"Come on, bro. Let's get going -- we've got a long walk ahead of us."


L.E.O. -- Chapter Twenty-Seven

Johnny opened his eyes thinking only a few seconds had passed. As his vision refocused, he realized he'd been out quite a while.

First, he was no longer in the power station on 25th and Z. He was sitting down and moving -- passenger seat of a Humvee, he thought.

As his thoughts cleared slightly, he realized he wasn't in a Humvee. Humvees didn't have leather seats, like the one he was seated in. Why'd I think Humvee? he wondered.

"Oh, good. You're awake," a voice came from next to him. "Was a little worried you weren't gonna."

Johnny knew he recognized the voice, but his brain was moving slowly still. He also noticed at that moment that his hands were bound. He felt plastic zip-ties around his wrists, which were twisted not-uncomfortably behind his seat.

Johnny willed his head to turn left. After what seemed like a long time, he finally shifted his gaze over to the driver's seat. Riley was driving the car. It was dark out now.

"How's your head, Staff Sergeant?" Riley asked.

"Hurts," Johnny mumbled.

I'll bet. Steel door smacked into it when the grenade went. Knocked you right fuckin' out, but that door probably saved you from getting blown up."

Johnny forced his head to move around some more. As he looked around the car, it hit him -- they were in Eric's BMW.

"Where are my guys?" Johnny coughed. His brain was starting to clear.

"By now?" Riley asked, checking his watch. "A nice, cozy little shelf in the county morgue, I suppose. Well, except tattoo-boy, that is. He's taking a nap in the trunk. Like the coat?"

Riley held up one of his arms -- he was wearing Eric's leather motorcycle jacket.

"Motherfucker," Johnny spat, swinging for Riley's skull on reflex, forgetting his arms were bound behind him. He simply jerked in his seat. Riley laughed softly.

"Come on, now, Sergeant. No hitting the driver. That's a pretty basic rule," Riley said.

"Where are we, Riley? What's the plan?" Johnny grumbled, shaking the last of the cobwebs from his brain.

"We're in the great expanse of Western Nebraska, man. As for the plan. . . well, that's the reason you're still alive and not resting in a cheap black bag back in Omaha."

"Aw. How sweet."

"Yeah, I know. I'm a big ol' softie. Woulda liked to have brought Alex along, too, but let's face it -- brother was unstable. Psycho."

"Right. Because what you're doing is so sane," Johnny shot back.

"Oh, yeah? What'm I doing, Staff Sergeant? I'm dying to know. What is it you think I've been up to?"

"Well, let's start with the hate crimes -- the indiscriminate and unprovoked murder of Muslims."

"Come on, Sergeant. Don't play naïve. You know I don't do anything unprovoked. Or indiscriminate, for that matter," Riley told him. "And what's with all the big words? Back in Iraq, you said three words per tour."

"We're not in Iraq now. You're aware of that, right?"

"Yes, Deputy. I'm aware of that. This is still America -- for the moment, anyway."

The two men were silent for a long moment.

"I'm having a smoke. You want one?" Riley said, pulling a pack of Marlboro Lights off the dashboard.

"I'll take one. Undo my cuffs."

"Yeah, I'll get right on that," Riley said, smirking and lighting his cigarette. "Look, Johnny. You must be seeing the disturbing trends."

"Such as, before you went over to Iraq, how many Muslims did you see in an average day here at home? None, that's how fuckin' many. Now they're everywhere. Even here, in the fucking Heartland of America. What do you think that means?"

"Not a damn thing," Johnny said.

"Really? 'Cause you've seen what happens when these fuckin' Hajis gather in large numbers, Sergeant. Good men get killed. Brothers."

"No, I've seen what happens when insurgents gather in large numbers. Ain't about being Muslim, Riley. It's about extremism," Johnny said.

"Bullshit. Bull-fucking-shit, Johnny. These motherfucking Hajis want to take over. To institute their law, their customs. You know them. Covert or we'll fucking chop your head off and send it to momma."

"Hey, Riley? The guys we were fighting in Iraq -- where were they from?"

"All over, man. Iraq, Syria, Chechnya, places in Europe."

"And that doesn't tell you something?"

"Fuck yes, it tells me something. Tells me these fuckers are worming their way into every damned part of the world, man. That's why it's up to us -- patriots -- to stop em."

"No, Riley. It tells me that, to get the numbers we were seeing in Iraq, they're having to reach out to everywhere. To all the cells. The little pockets of extremism that don't represent even a tenth of a percent of the world's Muslims," Johnny said, shaking his head.

"Just wait until we get to Denver, man. You'll see. My Intel shows a major cell brewing there. When you see what's really going on. . ."

"Then, what?"

"Then you'll join us."

"That's what you want? Me to work with you?"

Johnny tried hard not to laugh.

"You. The guy in the trunk, too. I saw that shit he pulled with my cameras and comms. We need a guy like that."

"Because the guys you've got --"

"Yeah, yeah," Riley cut in. "The National Militia guys aren't the brightest, but their hearts are in the right place. They're patriots."

"They're fucking retarded," Johnny said. "Riley, you got a gun? With you, I mean?"

"Yeah. I lifted the one tattoo-boy had on him."

"Good. Use it. Shoot me in the head and dump the body, because it'll be safer for you in the long run," Johnny growled. "Do it. Now."

"Oh, for fuck's sake, stop being a drama queen," Riley groaned. "Civilian life's made you soft and whiny, Sergeant."

"Uncuff me. We'll see how soft I am," Johnny growled.

"Man, you're a hell of a buzz kill tonight. Am I gonna have to knock you out again?" Riley said.

Johnny said nothing -- just stared at the road in front of them. Riley checked the gas gauge and sighed.

"Your buddy forgot to fill up. You gonna behave yourself when I pull over for gas?" he said.

"Only as much as you'd expect," Johnny told him.

Riley smirked.

"Good enough. You're not going anywhere, anyway."

Riley pulled a wallet from his jacket -- Johnny recognized it as his -- and opened it.

"Well, shit. You don't have much cash on you," Riley complained.

"You're welcome to use my credit card," Johnny said, smiling.

"Yeah. That's what I'm gonna do," Riley laughed. "Use your credit card on 80 west of Lincoln. No one would be able to track that at all."

Riley tossed Johnny's wallet into the back seat and pulled another out of the jacket -- Eric's, Johnny guessed.

"Whoa! Jackpot! See, tattoo boy knows how to roll," Riley said, pulling a stack of bills from Eric's wallet. "You guys are paying this dude too much, man."

Riley folded the bills and stuck them in the hip pocket of his black BDU pants.

"Well, good thing you're not dressed suspiciously."

"What? You dudes in the Midwest don't wear Kevlar vests to go to the store?" Riley said, grinning. "No worries, man. I'm a cop, y'know."

Riley held up Johnny's badge with one hand, then hung it around his neck. He glanced in the rearview mirror.

"Damn, Johnny," he said. "I make a good-looking cop. Bet you get all the chicks with this thing, don't you?"

Riley piloted the BMW off of I-80 at the next exit. Johnny noticed that they were near Ogallala -- almost out of Nebraska. They must have been driving for quite some time.

"Here we go. Can I get you anything from inside? You want some gum?" Riley teased.

"Just shut up and fuel the damn car," Johnny said, sighing.

"Man, you're pissy. You'll cheer up when we get to Denver -- when you see what I got running. Trust me, Sarge -- it's right up your alley."

Riley stopped the car next to a pump and got out of the car. The gas station was totally deserted except for the clerk behind the desk. Johnny knew yelling wouldn't do him any good -- even if the clerk inside could hear him, he knew Riley would just feed him a convincing lie. He'd just say that Johnny was an unruly prisoner he was transporting, and the clerk would believe him -- the badge didn't invite questions.

Instead, as Riley walked into the gas station, Johnny spoke in a normal voice.

"Eric? You awake back there, buddy?"

"Yeah, boss. Did I hear that correctly? Did that motherfucker just jack my cash?" Eric's muffled voice came from the trunk.

"That he did," Johnny said. "Asshole. Hey, Johnny, I know you can't hit a prisoner, but when we get out of this, can I get a free punch to his head?"

"Sure, buddy. If we get out of this."

"Oh, no worries there, buddy. Help's on the way, trust me. I --"

"Quiet!" Johnny hissed, cutting him off. Riley was coming out of the gas station with two cans of Rockstar in his hands. He set them on the BMW's roof, then started fueling the car. A moment later, he closed the gas cap, grabbed the cans from the roof, and got back in the car.

"Here," he said, reaching into his jacket. He pulled out a bottle of Ibuprofen and shook two pills into his hand. "For your head. Gotta hurt like a motherfucker."

Johnny nodded. He opened his mouth, and Riley popped the Ibuprofen in. He cracked open one of the Rockstars and held it to Johnny's lips.

"Go ahead. Stimulants'll help move the painkillers along. Not too much, though. I'm not stopping to let you go to the bathroom."

Johnny took a sip. The stuff was sweet -- almost too sweet -- but it was cold, and it helped his head a little. Riley let him take a few more sips.

"OK. That's enough. This shit'll go right through you."

Riley set the Rockstar in the cup holder, then opened and sipped from his own.

"Look, Johnny. I don't want to fight with you. I want you to join me. You know what I'm gonna have to do if you don't, though, right?"

Johnny nodded.

"Good. Just want to be clear there. Let that sit for a while while we ride, OK? Do that for me before you decide, yeah?"

Again, Johnny nodded.

"Good man."

Riley fired up the BMW and pulled out of the gas station and back onto the abandoned Interstate. They cruised along in silence at 65 miles an hour for a couple of minutes. Riley lit a cigarette, then reached down and turned on the radio. The volume was up pretty loud, and "Chemical Warfare" by the Dead Kennedys blared through the cabin for a second. Riley turned it down.

"Tattoo boy has good taste in music," Riley said.

Johnny felt bad for Eric, who had probably been deafened by the speakers in the trunk. "Hey, what was that band you used to listen to back in the Suck?" Riley asked.

"Texas Death Machine," Johnny answered.

"Yeah, them. They were pretty fuckin' loud. Good, though. Oh, hey -- just got that."

"Got what?"

"Sergeant Death Machine. That's where it came from."

"That's part of it," Johnny said. "Oh, hey. Watch the helicopter, there."

"What the fuck!?" Riley yelled, slamming on the BMW's brakes. The expensive sedan skidded to a stop a few feet short of the MH-60 Blackhawk that had seemingly dropped out of nowhere.

"Yeah. That one."

Johnny couldn't help laughing as Riley quickly threw the BMW into reverse. The Blackhawk set down on the road, and men jumped out.

One of them raised an M4 and put several rounds into the BMW's hood. The car sputtered and died. Johnny saw the man's face behind the rifle. He recongized him immediately, though he'd never met the man -- it was Jason Black.

"Looks like you're fucked, Riley," Johnny said.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

L.E.O. -- Chapter Twenty-Six

"Someone has to have heard our car go up, or the gunfire," Ellie whispered as the two of them slunk down the dark alley.

"Maybe," Johnny grunted, crouching next to the hulk of a long-abandned shipping trailer. "We have to assume no one called it in, though. Have to assume we're on our own until we miss checking in with the office."

Ellie checked her watch.

"That's more than 50 minutes."

"Guess that's what we get for getting shot up so quick," Johnny whispered, grinning. "But wait -- it gets so much worse."

"How so?"

"Riley knows were here, and that we've made his location. That mean he's gonna split his forces between two tasks," Johnny told her. "One, killing us, and two, packing up and getting the fuck out of here."

"So even if we do manage to survive until backup, he's gone."

"Yep. And when he's gone, he's gone. He can ghost himself like you wouldn't believe. That's if we go with his plan," Johnny said.

Realization dawned over Ellie's face, and she smiled.

"You mean if we run and try to avoid his guys," she said. "Which we fuckin' won't."

"I knew I liked you for a reason, Detective," Johnny grinned, checking the ammo in his Glock. "Here's how we go -- rules of the desert. Guy points a weapon at you, you kill him. We pick up their guns and keep going until we break through or they kill us. You good with that?"

Ellie didn't hesitate in the slightest -- she just slammed a fresh clip into her weapon and smiled.

"Fuckin' A right," she said.

Johnny had expected at least a tiny pause before her answer, as she took few seconds to consider the consequences, but there wasn't one. Ellie had answered instantly and without fear. Johnny's admiration for her, already high, multiplied tenfold in that moment.

"Right, then. Whichever way we go in will have guards on it, and we're closest to the back gate, so. . ."

Johnny trailed off, heading for the gate. His finger rested lightly on the Glock's split trigger as he scanned the loading dock for guards.

They saw him before he saw them. Gunfire erupted around Johnny and Ellie, and they dropped on the concrete and returned fire.

It was still too dark to see the guards. Johnny could see the muzzle flashes from their rifles, however, which sounded like AK-47s. He aimed just above one of the flashes and fired. The flashes stopped abruptly from that position, but there were still three more. Ellie managed to take out two, but one was on the move. He was running into the building, firing wildly behind him as he ran. Johnny and Ellie emptied their clips at his receding muzzle flashes. The gunfire stopped soon after, but Johnny didn't know if they'd hit the guy or he'd simply run inside the building.

"Let's go," he said. He ejected the empty clip from his weapon and jammed in a new one, bringing the Glock up in front of him as he crept toward the building. He heard Ellie right behind him. They made it to a rusting forklift fifty feet from the loading dock and ducked down behind it for a second.

"That's, what, five down? Can't be too many more than that," Ellie said.

"Eric says there are a lot of these National Militia fucks. I think we should give up keeping count and just keep shooting until no one's shooting at us," Johnny said.

"You would say that, though. You're losing," Ellie said, smirking.


"I've shot three. You've shot two. I'm one up on you."

Johnny chuckled softly.

"It's not like this is a competition, Ellie," he told her, smiling.

"Well, not a close one, anyway," she said, smiling back.

He was just about to open his mouth to say something -- something witty and charming, he hoped -- when bullets started flying around them. Johnny popped up from behind the forklift and started firing.

The gunshots were coming from the open dock, and there were a lot of them. Johnny guessed that the guy who'd run inside had come back with as many friends as he could round up. He heard a mix of M4s and AK-47s.

"Reloading!" he yelled, then dropped behind the forklift. Ellie popped up and started firing. Johnny slammed his last clip into the Glock.

"Out!" Ellie yelled a second later, dropping down next to him. Johnny stood and opened fire again, trying to pick his targets carefully. Still, it only took him ten seconds to burn through the last of his ammo. He crouched behind the forklift, which still rocked with gunfire.

"Well, this sucks," Ellie sighed, holding up her empty Sig Sauer. "What's the plan now, Deputy?"

"They'll be coming close soon. Only shot's to try and take one of their weapons before they kill us," Johnny said, shrugging. He pulled a knife from his boot.

"Nice. You always carry that?"

"Never know when you'll need a knife," Johnny said. The gunfire slowed, and they heard voices from the dock.

"Hold up! I'm gonna go check it out," a voice yelled. It wasn't Riley's. Johnny flipped the knife around in his hand, ready to throw it.

He listened intently, trying to hear the approaching footsteps. His concentration shattered thanks to gunfire directly in front of him.

"Fuck!" Ellie yelled, flattening herself to the pavement, trying to make herself as small a target as possible. Johnny did the same.

It took him a moment to realize the bullets weren't landing anywhere close to him or Ellie, and that the men behind them were screaming.

Seconds later, a man in body armor and night-vision goggles walked up to them.

"Hey, Sarge. Looked like you needed a hand," Alex said. He had an AR-15 in one hand, and three handguns in his belt. He handed Johnny and Ellie a gun.

"Alex? What the fuck are you doing here?"

"Apparently, Sarge, I'm saving your ass," Alex said, smirking.

"How'd you know where we were?" Ellie asked, checking her new weapon. "I got released about the same time y'all left. You," he said, nodding at Ellie," talk kinda loud. Made a quick stop at my place for gear. Followed the Sarge's trail from the burning car."

"You can't be here. You're not a cop -- you could face charges," Ellie told him.

"No. We need all the help we can get. Alex, I'm deputizing you as of, say, 90 seconds ago," Johnny said.

"You can do that?" Alex said.

"I think I remember seeing something about that in the employee handbook," Johnny grumbled. "Now, got any more of those NVGs?"

"Nope. But they're wearin' 'em," Alex said, jerking his head at the loading dock.

"Right. We'll grab those and their M4s," Johnny said.

"Go ahead. I'll cover you," Alex said, leveling his AR-15 at the loading dock and crouching as Johnny got up from behind the forklift.

"I thought we confiscated all of your weapons," Johnny heard Ellie say as he walked up the ramp to the dock, his gun ready.

"Yes, ma'am. The ones I let you find, anyway. One thing Haji taught me is that stashing guns in caches is really efficient."

There were six corpses. None of them were wearing body armor, but three of them had night-vision optics -- Russian Kalinka D-203s. Vassily had supplied them well. Johnny grabbed two pair of the NVGs and two M4s. One of the bodies had a utility vest loaded with M4 and AK-47 magazines, so Johnny took it. He carried everything back to the forklift, where he set it all on the ground.

"Let's load up. You ever used an M4, Ellie?" Johnny said.

Ellie shook her head.

"I've trained with M16s, though."

"Same thing, just more reliable. Alex, you're on point."

"Copy that. What's the ROE here, Sergeant?"

"Weapon equals hostile," Johnny answered.

"I like that. I like that very much," Alex grinned.

"All right. Let's move. Wish we had time to call for backup," Ellie sighed.

"I woulda, but y'all confiscated my phone," Alex said.

Johnny slipped on his borrowed Russian NVGs just in time to see Alex head into the loading bay doors. Johnny waved Ellie through next. He brought up the rear, and the three of them crept silently into the building.

"Four o'clock," Alex said quietly. He fired four rounds. Johnny heard a body fall from a height and hit the floor hard.

"Hostile down," Alex whispered. "We're looking for Riley, am I right?"

"Roger that," Johnny whispered, scanning the large, open dock for enemies.

"I was him, I'd be top center of the building. Roof, maybe. Make us run the fuckin' gauntlet to get to him," Alex said.

"Agreed. If he hasn't hightailed it already," Johnny said.

"Nah. He hasn't. Not unless he can start his trucks without the ignition systems," a fourth voice whispered from behind Johnny.

Johnny spun around fast. Even with the green tint and blurry optics of his NVGs, he recognized his buddy Eric, who was smiling.

"Eric? How the fuck --"

"Easy. Followed your guy Alex from the office," Eric said. "You've got incoming up on your right, there."

Johnny whirled and fired his weapon. He saw a shooter raise his AK-47, then drop as the bullets hit him.

"These night-vision goggles are pretty fucking bad-ass," Eric said.

"Eric, get out of here and call in backup," Ellie hissed, creeping forward and scanning the dock with her M4.

"Already did that. In a couple minutes, this place'll be crawling with uniforms and SWAT," Eric said, strolling casually along behind the group. "On the door. Two guys, coming hard."

"On 'em," Alex said, firing his AR-15. Johnny watched as two men burst through the door at the end of the dock. They had barely made it a step into the room before Alex's bullets dropped them.

"Eric, how are you seeing these guys?" Ellie asked.

"I'm observant. Oh, and I hacked into their camera and comm systems. I've got eyes all over the building, and most of these guys are tagged. Technology is fun, isn't it?" Eric grinned, holding up a small netbook.

"OK. You're with us until backup gets here, then," Johnny said. He reached into his belt and pulled out the 9mm Ruger Alex had given him. "Here. I won't tell anyone if you won't."

Eric took the gun. Johnny noticed that Eric was wearing latex gloves.

"No fingerprints and no GSR," Eric explained. "In case anyone decides to test me."

"Fair enough. Which way do we go?"

"Hallway's clear now," Eric said, checking his screen. "I count 12, 13 more guys. Looks like we go up."

"You see Riley on that?" Johnny asked.

"Yeah. He's up on the roof with four other guys. They're packing up. Rest are on the second floor. Wait, scratch that. They're on the move -- coming down stairs on either side of that hallway."

"Alex?" Johnny said.

"On it, Sarge." Johnny and Alex hustled to the door as one, going through at the same time and setting up with their weapons pointed in opposite directions. Johnny was aiming for the door at the west end of the hall -- Alex at the east. As soon as he saw movement, Johnny opened fire with his M4. He shot the first man out in the head, dropping him. The second man tripped over the first and went sprawling. Johnny shot the last two.

"Clear!" Alex yelled.

The second man -- the one Johnny hadn't shot -- pulled himself out from under the bodies of his comrades. Johnny held his breath and aimed, putting one bullet in the man's braincase -- but not before the man rolled something down the hall at him.

Johnny barely had time to yell "Grenade!" before the thing exploded, turning his vision red, then black.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

L.E.O. -- Chapter Twenty-Five

"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."

"Eric --"

"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."

Johnny nodded.

"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.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

L.E.O. -- Chapter Twenty-Four

Omaha, Nebraska, 2008

"So what'd you do to get called into the Principal's Office?" Deputy Sparks asked, a wide grin on his face.

"Not sure," Johnny answered, twirling a pen between his fingers. "You?"

"Citizen complaint, probably. Department's cracking down. They just keep making it harder and harder to do our jobs, you know?"

Johnny nodded and put his pen back in his pocket.

"Agreed, man. You stop a gangbanger from caving your skull in, and you're violating his civil rights," he said, sighing.

"Can't even tase 'em anymore. You hear about that drug dealer up in Chicago who sued for getting tased?" Sparks asked.

Johnny shook his head.

"He fucking won. City had to pay him a quarter mil."

"That's tragic, man. And I'm sure he used that to weasel out of his charges, didn't he?" Johnny said.

"Oh, of course. Nothing the officers found was admissible -- you know, 'cause they used 'excessive force,'" Sparks said with a groan.

"Deputy Jonathan Teal," an aide called, popping his head into the waiting area. "You're up, homeboy."

"Nice talking," Sparks said.

"You, too, man. Take it easy," Johnny said, shaking Sparks' hand as he stood. He followed the aide into the large, wood-paneled office. He'd been working for the Department for two years, but this was the first time he'd been summoned to meet with the actual Sheriff.

The office was smaller than he expected -- maybe eight feet square, with room enough for a large desk and a few chairs, but not much else. One of the chairs was occupied by a powerfully built Deputy in his 40s -- the other was empty. The Sheriff, of course, sat at his desk. He looked up from the file on his desk as Johnny walked in, then back down, flipping through a few pages.

It was quiet for a long moment. Johnny stood with his feet a shoulder-length apart, hands behind his back, and waited.

"Deputy Teal," Sheriff Johanssen finally said. "Thank you for appearing on time. This here is Senior Deputy Nathaniel Moore -- he heads up the day shift over at Criminal Investigations. You two met?"

"No, sir. Good to meet you, sir," Johnny said, offering his hand. Nathaniel shook it -- his grip was strong, but measured.

"Deputy Moore's the reason you're here, Deputy Teal. Understand we've had some civilian complaint problems, haven't we?" Johanssen said.

"A few, sir," Johnny answered.

"More'n a few, Deputy. Seven in two years -- that's one shy of the record. One suspension, too."

"The complaint was withdrawn, sir. The suspension lifted," Johnny said.

"Yeah, I see that here in your file, Deputy," Johanssen said. "Something tells me the less I ask about how the citizen got convinced to drop his complaint, the happier I'll be."

Johnny said nothing. He'd actually been expecting this situation for some time now -- the conversation with the big boss leading to "we're going to let you go." What he couldn't figure out was why there was a guy from Criminal Investigations in the room. Were they planning to charge him and fire him?

"You know, Deputy, I was a cop for 15 years before the good people of this County elected me to serve as Sheriff," Johanssen told him. "Y'know how many times in 15 years I fired my weapon, line of?"

Johnny didn't guess.

"Once. You've been with the Department two years. Wanna guess how many times you've fired your weapon?"

Johnny knew the answer, but again said nothing. Johanssen held up a stack of papers. It wasn't a thin stack.

"Official incident reports. One of these gets filed every time an officer discharges a weapon in the line of duty. Every one of these -- there're 42 of 'em, by the way -- has your name on it. That's more than any other Deputy on the force. So what is it?"

"Sir?" Johnny asked.

"You shoot first and ask questions later, or is it that trouble just seems to find you, Deputy?" Moore said. It was the first time he'd spoken since Johnny entered the room. Johnny had been ready to say something sarcastic, but he stopped himself. Nathaniel's voice made him think better if it -- quiet, but firm, with a definite note of "don't fuck with me, I'm in charge" in it.

"I do not fire unless I'm fired upon, or have solid reason to believe I'm about to be fired upon, sir," Johnny said instead.

"I see that. But you're not in Iraq anymore, Deputy. We don't want this kinda behavior to become associated with the Department, do we?" Johanssen said.

And here comes the firing part, Johnny thought.

"Normally, our next step here would be a disciplinary hearing," Johanssen told him. "One that'd almost certainly lead to termination. Normally."

Johnny studied the Sheriff's face -- he looked like he was about to grin.

"Deputy Moore, though, seems convinced he can find some use for you. I do have to admit, your clearance rates and arrests are stellar. They're the only reason I was even willing to hear him out when he asked that you be transferred over to him in Criminal Investigations."

Johnny tried not to let his surprise show on his face. He was sure he was walking into this meeting to be yelled at and eventually fired. Now it seemed like he was being -- transferred? To a better job?

"You're transferring me to Criminal Investigations, sir?" Johnny asked. It sounded even less likely when he said it out loud.

"Transferring and promoting you," Johanssen sighed. "I owed Deputy Moore a favor. He seems to think installing you as his right hand will rehabilitate you -- make you a worthwhile member of the department. I'm skeptical. But fuck it," Johanssen said, rising from his chair and sticking out his hand. "It gets you out of my hair. Congratulations, Deputy Teal."

* * *

"Shift starts at eight on Monday. I'd appreciate it if you're in the office a few minutes early," Nathaniel told Johnny.

"Copy that, sir."

The two of them were walking down the hall away from Johanssen's office, headed for the elevator.

"Uniform most days. We work Monday through Saturday, mostly 10-hour days, though there's flexibility built in there by necessity. Clear, Deputy?"

"Clear, sir."

"Good. It's Friday now, so you've got the weekend. Enjoy it -- it'll be your last for a while."

"Understood, sir. A question?"

The elevator arrived, and Nathaniel smirked as the doors opened.

"Let me guess. Why you?"

"That's what I was going to ask, sir."

"Well, it wasn't because you scored high on the entry exam. You haven't even taken it yet," Nathaniel said. "Your record is what drew me. The bosses don't want to admit it, but it's getting brutal out there. I need someone who can react -- and react instantly. That's you."

"Surely you have other guys --" Johnny started. Nathaniel cut him off with a shake of his head.

"I haven't had this unit long -- a month. Sure you heard about the two deputies that got their patrol units all shot up out north."

Johnny nodded.

"That was on my watch. One deputy took two to the chest -- the other, one to the leg. Neither fired his weapon. By the time backup showed up, suspects were gone."

"They froze?"

"They didn't know how to react. They were locals -- raised to believe that this city's still as safe as it was in 1959. It's not. It's changing."

"Understood and agreed, sir."

"You've been in combat. You react quickly and with force," Nathaniel said. "Bosses don't want this image out there, but the scum-fucks that want to shoot at us need to know they're gonna face some shit if they do."

Johnny had to actively force down a smile. He decided instantly that he liked his new boss.

"Now, you've been a cop for a while now."

"Eight years, sir. Almost nine," Johnny confirmed.

"So you have judgment. I want you to use it. Let me be clear about this, Deputy. I am not giving you license to go weapons-hot at the slightest provocation -- that would be irresponsible," Nathaniel said, grinning widely. The doors opened, revealing the Criminal Investigations office.

"Roger that, sir."

"What I do want is for you to continue as you have. As the big man said, your arrests and clearance stats are outstanding -- best in the department. Even the bosses can't ignore those numbers. You bring those stats into my office, keep the energy level ramped up and the criminals running scared, and we'll get along just fine."

"Yes, sir. Think we will, sir," Johnny said, still forcing down a smile.

"That's your desk over there, Deputy," Nathaniel said, pointing.

* * *

Omaha, Nebraska, 2010

"That the report on this morning's. . . incident?" Nathaniel asked as Johnny set the file folder down.

"What we know of it, yes, sir," Johnny said. "Plus a report from OPD -- they found a charred body at the Stockyards a couple hours ago. With all the shit that went down with us last night, they wanna put that one on us, too."

"Any ID on the body?"

"None yet," Johnny said. "We've got a request out on DNA, but I think we just have to live with a John Doe on our board 'til we hear something back."

"How's Eric?" "Stable. He looks like shit, but he's ready to jump out on the Russians whenever you are. Sent a car to pick him up at the hospital."

Nathaniel nodded and checked his watch.

"Shit. Only 8:30. This day's gonna require a lot of coffee. Buy you a cup?" Nathaniel asked.

"Don't have to ask me twice," Johnny said, grinning and following Nathaniel out of the office to the small coffee area near Johnny's desk.

"You get any sleep?" Nathaniel asked, pouring steaming coffee into a Burke High School mug that was sitting next to the coffeemaker.

"Nah. Tried to catch a nap, but I'm too keyed up. You?"

"Fifteen minutes on the couch. Keyed up, same as you, I guess," Nathaniel said. "Listen, Johnny -- I want to talk to you about something, and it's gonna start off sounding bad, but stay with me, OK?"

"Roger that."

"OK. When I pulled you outta Patrol two years ago, my expectations were pretty damn low. I honestly didn't think you'd make it another year. Not as a cop in this department, anyway."

Johnny felt his teeth clench involuntarily -- this did, indeed, sound bad.

"Copy that, sir."

"I know you think I was entrusting you with more responsibility when I put you on babysitting duty for Eric. That wasn't entirely true. I put you on him because you're a scary-looking motherfucker -- I wanted him to get the message that he wasn't gonna get away with anything. I was also getting heat from upstairs to get you off the street -- Eric gave you something to do."

Sounds very bad, Johnny thought. Like, firing bad.

"But you've really shown me something lately, Deputy. This thing -- the Russians, the ex-military guys, all that. You've shown me that they were dead wrong about you upstairs. I was wrong about you. You're about the best damned lawman I've come across. The other shit -- the disciplinary stuff, the dead-end errands -- were because I didn't trust you enough. I see that now," Nathaniel said. "I see that we weren't challenging you enough. That ends right now. You've turned out to be a hell of an investigator, Deputy Teal."

Johnny swallowed hard -- he felt emotion rising in his throat. Pride? Relief? Fuck that, he thought, pushing it down.

"You know Hansen?"

"Night-shift commander. Yes, sir."

"He's retiring, end of next year. I'm recommending you to take over for him."

"Thank you, sir." "Don't know if it'll fly upstairs -- we know your fan club doesn't have many members up there. But I promise you, Johnny," Nathaniel smiled. "I'm going to scream to high heaven until they see you as I do -- as a natural, 100% law enforcement officer."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

L.E.O. -- Chapter Twenty-Three

The Omaha Police bomb squad was every bit as good as Ellie had promised -- within an hour, they'd found ten homemade bombs. That accounted for every one marked on the blueprint, but they stayed behind to do another sweep of the mosque after disarming the devices.

"Set to go off at 12:45," Vince had told Johnny, showing him the strongbox full of disarmed explosives.

"I've seen bombs like those. Quite a few of them, actually," Johnny said.

"Then you must've spent some time in Iraq. These are near-textbook IEDs," Vince replied.

Johnny and his team left the bomb squad to their sweep. Will stayed to watch their backs and wait for the Department's other SWAT truck. As Johnny piloted his Ram towards I-480 -- which was looking a bit better now that the plows had taken a pass at it -- his BlackBerry rang.

"Hey, pal. It's Eric. I've got you on speaker -- Enano and Nathaniel are in the office with me," Eric said as soon as Johnny picked up.

"Hang on -- I'm with the rest of the team. I'll put you on speaker so everyone's in the loop," Johnny said, switching on the Bluetooth. A half-second later, Eric's voice poured out of the Bluetooth speaker on Johnny's dash.

"Hey, everyone. Fun morning so far, I hear."

"Yeah, fun's not what I'd call it," Frank said, grinning.

"Glad you're all still with us. We've got a bunch of info to throw at you, here. Hope you're in comfortable chairs," Eric told them. "I'll let Nathaniel start, since he signs my paychecks, and all."

"Deputy. Detectives. I'll get right to it. Your guy Alex Kelley -- either he doesn't know anything, or he's a better actor than Kevin Spacey in that one movie."

"The Usual Suspects," Rawlins muttered.

"Yes, Deputy Rawlins. I do know the name of the film," Nathaniel said.

"Sorry, boss."

"So your read is he's not our guy?" Johnny asked.

"That, or he's a criminal genius. I'm thinking it's the former," Nathaniel said.

"I agree with your boss. He seemed genuinely baffled, but he wasn't playing stupid," Enano said. "He didn't know details of the murders. He had no clue how the arm got into his fridge. He's innocent, or he's really fucking good."

"Where is he now?" Ellie asked.

"Holding. Talking to his lawyer. He'll be here when you get back -- we've got the physical evidence to charge him if we need to," Nathaniel said.

"Did the lab guys match the bullets from either scene with the HK-117 we took from his place?" Ellie asked.

"Not yet," Nathaniel answered. "No prints on that weapon, by the way, and he says it's not his. He admits the other ones you found, though."

"Interesting," Johnny said.

"Yeah, one more thing -- Taub, your forensics guy? He tells me there's a window in Alex's kitchen with a broken lock," Eric told them.

"Thanks, Eric. Now, what about these National Militia guys?" Johnny asked.

"I'll take that one," Enano said. "I've been tracking them. Up until very recently, they've been localized to the Southeast -- North Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas. Now we have 'em here, obviously."

"What's their deal?" Frank asked.

"Not far off from most of the White Power groups. 'America for Americans,' that kind of crap. Had they not managed to blow up a small Cuban Heritage center in Miami last year, they wouldn't even be on our radar. Small-time rednecks. Or so we thought, anyway."

"What changed?" Ellie asked.

"About three months ago, they started getting organized. Getting smarter. Bungling, dim-witted half-plans suddenly turned into genuine threats. Still, whenever we caught any of them, they turned out to be --"

"Idiots?" Johnny broke in.

"That's as good a way to put it as any. The guys we snagged weren't capable of planning the ops we were seeing. A car bombing in Tampa. A weapons robbery at a National Guard base in Raleigh. And now, we think, your murders here," Enano told them.

"They got themselves a leader," Johnny said.

"That's what we think," Enano replied. "Your guy Alex Kelley was looking good for the job. Ex-Special-Forces, a grudge against the government. . . but I'm not so sure now. Too many inconsistencies."

"Don't count him out just yet. Alex is a lot smarter than he lets on -- he'd have been dead a long time ago if he wasn't," Johnny said.

"Your shooters are coming in now. What's your ETA at the station?" Nathaniel asked.

"Five, ten minutes," Johnny said.

"I want you to question Kelley when you get in. You know him -- you might pick up on something we didn't," Nathaniel said.

"Copy that, boss. We'll see you in a few minutes," Johnny said. He hit the "End" key on the BlackBerry.

"Kelley's not our guy," Ellie piped up from the passenger seat.

"I don't know," Johnny said. "Siddiq positively ID'd him."

"That's just it -- I don't think he did," Ellie said, digging the picture from her jacket. She held it up. "He said the guy on your right was the one who came into the mosque this week. Alex Kelley is on your left in this picture."

"Shit. She's right, Johnny. We were so sure Kelley was the guy that we didn't even look twice," Frank said. "Who's the other guy in the picture? The guy on your right?"

Johnny didn't have to look at the picture to answer that question -- the image was still burned into his brain. In his mind, he could see the picture as clearly as on the day it'd been taken, when Edison has turned the digital camera's screen to him.

"His name's Riley Cohane," Johnny said. "Alex's unit commander in Iraq. And there's no way it could be him. I just saw him last week." "Where? Here in town?" Ellie asked.

"No. Fort Bragg, North Carolina. That's where he's stationed. Riley's still active-duty," Johnny said. "The Imam must have been mistaken -- said right when he meant left, said your right when he meant the right. Riley's not a possibility. Trust me on that one," Johnny said.

They arrived at the downtown Sheriff's station minutes later, and Johnny led everyone to his desk. Nathaniel, Enano, and Eric were already there, waiting.

"Your nose all right, Deputy?" Nathaniel asked.

"It's fine," Johnny said. "Did our shooters from the mosque show up yet?"

"Yeah. I was just about to start questioning them," Nathaniel said.

"Let's not just yet. I have an idea. You have them down in Holding?"

"Holding Cell 3."

"And Alex Kelley?"

"Holding Cell 1. What's your angle, Johnny?"

"Put the shooters into 1 with Alex. If he's their boss, we'll know it," Johnny said.

"Not if Kelley's as good an actor as they say. He'll just ignore 'em," Frank said.

"I agree. Alex would be smart enough to act like he didn't know those guys," Johnny said, nodding.

"But those shooters barely have the brains to feed themselves," Ellie grinned.

"Exactly. We put them together, see what happens. We watch the whole thing on the camera feed from up here."

Nathaniel smiled and picked up the phone. Eric grinned.

"I told 'em, pal. Told 'em you were smarter than you looked," Eric said.

"Marcus. This is Moore. I want the suspects from 3 moved into 1," Nathaniel said. "No, the guy in 1 stays there. Yep."

Nathaniel hung up the phone and walked over to the TV on the wall. He turned it on with the remote. The image of Alex Kelley, sitting alone in his cell, flickered onto the 26" LCD.

"He give you anything in the interview?" Johnny asked.

"Not really. And we ran down all the guns in his place -- except for the HK-117, they're all legal and registered," Nathaniel told him.

On the screen, the door to Alex's cell opened, and the three shooters were escorted in. Alex glanced at them as they came into the cell. The shooters looked briefly at him before they went to the cell's opposite corner and sat down.

"Doesn't look too friendly," Eric said.

They watched the video feed for the next ten minutes, but neither Alex or the shooters showed any sign of recognition or familiarity.

"Kinda looks like they just want to ignore each other," Ellie said.

"Agreed. I don't think Alex is our man, after all," Johnny sighed.

"You think now it might be the other guy?" Frank asked.

"Wait. What 'other guy?'" Nathaniel said, frowning.

"Something the Imam said. Ellie, you have that picture?" Johnny asked. Ellie pulled the picture from her jacket and put it on Johnny's desk. Nathaniel picked it up.

"Ellie showed this photo to the Imam at the temple. He made a positive ID from it -- the man who we believe set the bombs," Johnny said. "At the time, we thought he meant Alex."

"But unless he ID'd you," Eric said, "He must've meant this other guy, the one on your right."

"One problem there," Johnny said, sighing. "It's simply not possible. I just saw him last week -- the day after the Hassan murders."

"According to time of death from the medical examiner, you were in North Carolina the day after the murders," Nathaniel said.

"Exactly. So was Riley. We had breakfast together at Fort Bragg."

"The Imam must have been mistaken. Or we lead him unintentionally," Frank said.

"It's possible," Enano piped up.

"What? How do you think it's possible that Riley was in two places at once?" Johnny asked him, frowning.

"But he didn't have to be in two places at once." Enano grinned. "He just had to be here that night, back at Bragg the next morning."

"Or he could have had someone else -- one of his lackeys -- carry out the Hassan killings," Eric said. "Granted, they're not too bright. But any damned fool can pull a trigger. He gets 'em the gun, the silencer, and bam. Six bodies."

"I really doubt it, folks," Johnny said. "Riley's not the type. And before Bragg, he was in Afghanistan. There's no way he had the time or a reason to plan something like this."

"Still, we'd better look into it," Nathaniel said, holding up a hand to cut off Johnny before he could protest. "I know, Deputy. I know. If nothing else, we can rule him out as a suspect. Meanwhile, we should cut figure out what we're going to do with Mr. Kelley downstairs." "I'd like a chance to interview him, sir," Ellie said.

"It's a good idea. She's kind of a natural, boss," Johnny said.

"Good. Eric?"

"Flights in and out of Eppley, pester the TSA for surveillance videos, get blocked by the Army on Cohane's file. I'm on it, Nathaniel."

"I'm going to take this picture, if you don't mind," Enano said. "Check with our good friend Vassily, see if he recognizes any faces. That just leaves the three shooters, though I doubt you'll get too much out of them."

"You and me, Detective. Up for it?" Nathaniel said.

"After you," Frank nodded.

"Eric -- I'll talk to some people at Bragg. I might have better luck with them," Johnny said.

"Yeah. Probably will. You know how to talk all military, Farm Boy," Eric grinned.

"All right, people. We've got leads to run down. Let's move." At Nathaniel's command, they all went their separate ways.

* * *

"Edison residence," the voice on the other end of the line said. It sounded to Johnny like a young child.

"Hi. Is your dad around?" he asked.

"Yup. Daddy! Phone's for you!" the kid screamed.

"Ow," Johnny muttered, pulling the receiver away from his ear. A few seconds later, he heard an older (and thankfully quieter) voice.

"This is Mark Edison."

"SFC Edison! How've you been, brother? John Teal."

"Well, holy shit. How the hell are you, Staff Sergeant?"

"I've been good, brother. Real good. You?"

"Can't complain. Civilian work, but it pays."

"Good to hear, man. Hey, I need a favor. I mean, I'd love to catch up and all, but I'm kind of on the clock here."

"Sure thing, Sergeant. What can I do for you?" Edison said.

"I'm trying to track down Master Sergeant Cohane. Heard from him lately?"

"Hmm. Last time I saw Riley. . . had to be about six months ago. At his retirement party."

Johnny felt his stomach hit the floor.

"Say again?" he said after a moment's silence.

"I know, right? I never thought the old bastard would retire, either. Not with a war still on, anyway."

"Nothing since then?"

"Nope. 'Fraid not."

"Thanks, Edison. Hey, shoot me an email sometime. We'll catch up."

"You know it, Sergeant."

Johnny hung up the phone and swallowed hard. Riley had lied about still being in the Army -- in fact, he'd gone to lengths to appear as if he was still on active duty.

Fuck. What else is he up to? Johnny thought. He didn't know, but he knew someone who might.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

L.E.O. -- Chapter Twenty-Two

The snow almost made Johnny's job too easy.

Once the first smoke grenade popped, he broke from the pack at the SWAT truck. It didn't take long to find the SUV the shooters had come from -- it was the only car not covered in snow. Footprints led away from the SUV. Johnny followed the tracks easily -- the shooters hadn't even tried to cover them. The footprints led up a small hill to the tree line.

He caught sight of the shooters just as his friends below started chucking bullets up the hill. Three muzzle flashes lit up in response.

The three shooters had set up in a row behind the trees. They were all crouched next to each other -- Not very tactical, Johnny thought. All their fire seemed to be concentrated on the SWAT truck -- they must not have seen him coming.

Johnny crept up close to the shooters. He pulled a taser from his belt with each hand as he moved, silently creeping to within five feet of the shooter on the end of the line. The three men were dressed in commercial insulated jumpsuits and ski masks, he noticed as he took aim at the second and third shooters.

He waited for the shooter nearest him to run out of ammo -- when he did and moved to reload, Johnny fired both tasers at the same time.

The electrified barbs hit their marks, catching the second shooter in the neck and the third in the chest. Both men twitched and went down. The first shooter, still reloading his weapon, turned to find Johnny's boot headed for his face.

He brought his rifle up just in time. Johnny's boot missed the shooter's head but slammed into the AK-47, knocking the weapon up and away. The shooter was on his feet instantly.

Johnny grabbed another taser from his belt, but the shooter was fast -- he tackled Johnny before he could fire, knocking both men down. The snow cushioned his fall, but Johnny was on his back with the shooter on top of him. The shooter pulled out a huge, wicked hunting knife.

Johnny rolled to the side as the knife came down, simultaneously bringing his knee up into the shooter's groin as hard as he could. The knife stabbed into the shoulder of his leather jacket, missing skin by millimeters as the shooter howled and rolled off to the side.

Johnny pounced on the downed man, planting his left hand on the shooter's chest and driving his right fist hard into the man's jawbone. He felt the bone crunch under his fist, and the shooter's eyes closed.

Johnny rolled off the unconscious man, sitting down in the snow. He felt blood dribbling down his face, and ran his hand under his nose. His fingers came away red-- the shooter had smacked him in the face. Johnny hadn't even noticed. He guessed it'd happened when he'd been tackled.

Johnny wiped his hand on his pants and grabbed his radio.

"Rawlins, you hear me?" he said, pulling the knife out of his coat with his left hand.

"This is Rawlins. I copy, boss."

"Great. Get up here with some cuffs before these guys wake up, yeah?"

"This is Ellie," Ellie's voice crackled over the radio. "You OK, Johnny?"

"Never better," Johnny radioed back, wiping more blood from his nose. He felt along the bridge with his fingers -- definitely broken. It wasn't the first time he'd busted his nose, so he wasn't worried. One of his buddies in Iraq, a medic, had told him once how to fix it.

As he heard the other cops making their way to him, he grabbed a pen from his shirt pocket. He pushed the pen into his left nostril. He pushed hard to the right, setting his nose with a muffled "crunch" just as Ellie made it to him.

"Broken nose?" she asked, frowning.

"It's taken care of," Johnny assured her, slowly getting to his feet. "Wanna help me wrap these guys up?"

Ellie pulled out her cuffs. She quickly handcuffed the shooter nearest Johnny, and Johnny moved to cuff one of the tased suspects. Frank arrived and cuffed the other.

"Hey, Johnny, look at this," Frank called. Johnny walked over to the older detective, who nodded at his shooter's exposed wrist.

Just under the metal of the cuffs, Johnny could see a tattoo. He moved the cuffs aside and rolled up the suspect's heavy sleeve.

"Hmm. That's. . . interesting," Johnny mumbled.

The tattoo showed a bald eagle's profile over a backdrop of an upside-down American flag.

"This one's got the same ink," Ellie said, holding up her suspect's limp right arm. Johnny checked -- same tattoo on the third shooter.

"Could be a gang thing, but I don't recognize the design," Frank said.

Johny pulled out his BlackBerry and started the camera application. He snapped a few pictures of the tattoos, then emailed them to Eric. As soon as the emails were away, he dialed Eric's office number.

"Hey," Eric answered. "Your email is coming through now."

"Great. You recognize the design at all?" Johnny asked.

"You sound funny. Everything all right out there?"

"Busted nose. I'll live."

"To answer your question, I know the design. It's still up on my screen."

"Of course it is. I just sent it to you," Johnny said.

"No, I mean, it's still up on my screen from earlier this morning," Eric said. "From the research you had me doing. That's the symbol of The National Militia."

"Is it, now? Good work, Eric. Is Enano there?"

"Yeah. He's watching Nathaniel interrogate your guy Alex Kelley."

"Pick his brain, see if he knows what these National Militia guys are up to."

"Will do. You have someone set your nose already?"

"Did it myself."

"That's pretty hard-core, man. All right, then," Eric said. "I'll convo with Agent Enano and see what I can find out. I'll call you as soon as I have something."

"Appreciate it, Eric," Johnny said.

"You Midwesterners. You guys pay me, Johnny. You don't have to thank me for doing my job," Eric laughed.

Johnny chuckled and hung up.

"The National Militia? What the fuck are they doing shooting at my SWAT team?" Ellie asked.

"No clue. I've got Eric looking into it. Rawlins, call a wagon for these guys, will you?" Johnny said as they dragged the three unconscious shooters down to the street.

"On it. I'll keep an eye on 'em until it gets here," Rawlins said, propping his suspect against the damaged SWAT truck.

"I'll keep you company. My ride's busted up, anyway," Will said, smirking and slinging his Remington over his shoulder.

Frank led the bomb squad into the mosque. The four-man team looked a little shaken up, but uninjured. Johnny and Ellie followed them into the building, where the Imam was waiting.

"Are you all right, officers?" Siddiq asked. His voice was filled with concern.

"We're fine, sir," Johnny told him.

"No, you're not. That's a broken nose if I've ever seen one," Siddiq said, shaking his head.

"It's fine, sir. I've already set it," Johnny told him.

"I'll go get you some ice, Deputy. Then I'll finish showing your men around."

Frank had already shown the bomb squad into the office. One of the men was examining the panel -- Johnny walked up and leaned against the office's door frame.

"Definitely tampered with, guys. I can see very recent tool marks on the wall, and this thermostat's a dummy," the bomb tech said.

"Guy was all over the place, apparently. The Imam will show you where in a moment," Johnny said.

"I understand y'all found a blueprint at the suspect's house," the tech said.

"Yeah, it's what led us here in the first place," Frank said.

"Mind if we take a look?" the tech said.

Frank reached into his jacket. He pulled out the blueprint, which was now in a clear plastic evidence bag. The tech looked it over briefly, then handed it to another tech. The second tech looked it over, then whistled slowly.

"Yep. That looks bad," the second tech said, nodding at the blueprint.

"Bad? As opposed to a good bomb?" Ellie asked.

"What he means is, this plan's set for minimum explosion, but maximum structural collapse. Several small charges on structural points," the first tech explained. "Whoever set this up wanted to hurt people, not destroy the building. Your guy wants people crushed to death, trapped in rubble -- not blown up. He wants people to die suffering."

Johnny held back a shudder. He knew Alex was dealing with some rage issues, but he couldn't imagine the young man having this much hate for anyone. This was vicious.

Siddiq returned with a plastic bag full of ice, which Johnny placed on the bridge of his smashed nose.

"Good morning, sir. I'm Vince. My guys here are Tony, Aaron, and Ryan," the lead tech said, holding out his hand. Siddiq shook it.

"Gentlemen," Siddiq greeted evenly.

"Sorry to interrupt your day, sir, but we need you to show us exactly where this guy who came to work on the heat went while he was here. Anything you can remember about him -- his equipment, tools -- would be helpful," Vince said.

"Of course. This way," Siddiq replied. The bomb squad filed out, leaving Johnny, Ellie, and Frank alone in the office.

"So. . . I guess we're essentially dead weight, now. Anyone want to go search the suspect vehicle?" Frank asked.

"Probably should," Johny nodded, digging in his pocket for some latex gloves. He found a pair -- his last -- and snapped them on.

"You two have fun. I'm going to stay inside where it's nice and warm," Ellie smirked.

Johnny followed Frank outside, where Will and Rawlins were standing over the now-conscious prisoners. Their masks had been removed. Johnny noticed that all three men were white and in their 20s. Something about them -- mullets, bad mustaches -- screamed " trailer trash."

"Hey, man. Think I could maybe get a cigarette?" one of them drawled as Johnny walked past.

"No," Johnny said without slowing down.

"Sumbitch. Glad I broke your goddamn nose," the redneck muttered.

Johnny let the comment go and followed Frank to the black SUV.

It wasn't the black Ford Edge Johnny was expecting, he saw as he got close -- it was a Nissan Murano.

"Nice truck," Frank commented.

"Yeah, it is," Johnny agreed. "Frank, did those guys stike you as a little --"

"Inbred? Hickish?" Frank said.

"In a nutshell, yeah."

"I'm wondering the same thing. How do semi-retarded fuckups like that get military-grade weapons and model-year vehicles?" Frank said. Johnny shrugged and tried the driver-side door handle. It was unlocked.

The big truck was almost showroom-new, and very clean inside. The only evidence it had ever been occupied was a duffel bag on the back seat and a half-empty soft pack of Newports on the dashboard.

"Prison smokes," Frank commented with a grin. "I'll take the trunk if you wanna check out the bag."

Johnny nodded and opened the duffel. "Prison smokes," Frank commented with a grin. "I'll take the trunk if you wanna check out the bag."

Johnny nodded and opened the duffel. Johnny guessed a search of the suspects wouldn't turn up any identification, either.

"Trunk's clean," Frank reported. "Freakishly so. Just the spare tire, still has the instruction sheet attached. Truck has plates, but I'm willing to bet they come up fake when we run 'em."

"No bet here," Johnny said, shaking his head. "They must have been waiting for the mosque to go up -- make sure it goes as planned."

"Then they saw the SWAT van pull up, figured we made 'em, so they freaked out and started throwing bullets at us," Frank said, nodding.

"I found a couple of flip cams in their stuff," Johnny said, nodding at the duffel. "Which means they were going to record the carnage."

"Sick fucks. But that means they had to take the cameras somewhere. Which means --"

"Which means there's probably more of them," Johnny said.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

L.E.O. -- Chapter Twenty-One

"Four Echo Seven Seven, requesting backup and bomb disposal at 2253 West 107th Avenue," Frank said into Johnny's radio.

"Copy, Four Echo Seven Seven," the OPD dispatcher's voice crackled over the radio. Johnny switched the frequency back to the Sherrif's band. He'd already been on the phone to Nathaniel, and had asked his boss to question Alex Kelley as soon as possible. His lawyer had yet to show.

"How much longer until we get there?" Ellie asked from the back seat.

"Normally? Ten minutes," Johnny said. "In this shit? No clue."

Johnny waved his hand at the windshield, indicating the howling wind and blowing snow outside. Their visibility was down to fifty feet. Johnny carefully piloted them around a Lexus sedan that had slammed into a lightpole just in front of them. He handed the radio to Rawlins. "Call it in, Deputy. Get some units and medical out here," he said.

Rawlins took the radio and reported the accident to the station.

"They're on their way," Rawlins said.

"Fuck. I thought we were only supposed to get a couple of inches," Ellie spat, scowling.

"Maybe we'll luck out and they'll have closed down the mosque due to the weather," Frank said.

"I don't think so," Johnny told him. "I've seen devout Muslims brave firefights to get to prayer. Their faith isn't a casual thing. The mosque's definitely open for business." "Yeah, let's just hope it's standing when we get there," Ellie mumbled as Johnny swerved around a Chevy S-10 spinning its tires in the snow.

The drive should have taken twenty minutes, tops -- it took forty. As Johnny predicted, the lights were on and the doors were open.

"Anyone see the bomb squad van?" Ellie asked as Johnny parked the truck.

Johnny looked around, but saw nothing but snow.

"Not yet. Frank, you mind getting on the radio and getting an ETA?" he asked. "The three of us will head in, try to explain the situation.

"Yeah. I'll join you when I find out where they are," Frank said, nodding. Johnny zipped up his coat and opened the door. The cold air blasted him. He felt like it had simultaneously turned his skin to ice and sucked all the oxygen out of his lungs -- the wind was just intense, cutting. He gave himself a second to adjust, then walked with Ellie and Rawlins to the front door of the Midwest Center for Islam. They went inside.

It was almost as hot inside the mosque as it was cold outside. The three cops looked around and spotted one young man sweeping the floor. Johnny waved him over, and the young man came running.

"John Teal, Douglas County Sheriff's Department," he said, showing his badge. "Detective Jarvis, Deputy Rawlins. We need to speak to the Imam, immediately."

The young man nodded and ran off.

"Imam?" Ellie said.

"He's the man in charge," Johnny told her. That answer seemed enough for Ellie -- she nodded and didn't ask anything more as they waited. Frank came into the mosque a few minutes later, shaking snow off the shoulders of his black overcoat.

"Bomb squad van got in a head-on. Some guy in an S-10 jumped the median on 72nd and smacked right into 'em," he reported.

"Fuck. Is everyone OK?" Ellie asked, frowning.

"Yeah, no injuries. But the engine's totally destroyed," Frank said. "Dispatch sent out the SWAT truck to pick 'em up and bring 'em in. They've linked up on 72nd and are loading the bomb squad's gear now."

"ETA?" Johnny asked.

"Not long, man. SWAT's got a mean vehicle. Snow's not gonna slow it down any," Frank said. "Anything short of a head-on collision with a train won't even slow it down. Ten minutes."

"Good enough," Johnny said, nodding as the man returned with his Imam.

"Officers? How can I help?" the Imam asked, looking them over.

Johnny bowed his head slightly as he answered.

"Imam. Sorry to bother you while you're preparing for prayer, sir," he said.

"It's all right. And please, call me Siddiq."

"Siddiq, then. We have reason to believe someone may have planted explosives in the mosque."

Johnny kept his voice as quiet and calm as possible so as not to alarm Siddiq, but the tall, thin, dark Imam showed no signs of surprise. He simply nodded slowly and looked around.

"And you are with the explosives ordinance division?" he asked.

"No, sir," Johnny said. "We're an investigative unit, but the bomb squad is on the way."


"Has anyone you don't know been here in the last week? Maybe a service tech, someone new on the cleaning crew?" Ellie asked.

"We had a problem with the heat on Tuesday," Siddiq told her. "A young man came by to fix it. He was here for a couple of hours."

"Did you have eyes on him while he was working?" Frank asked.

"Not really. We mostly left him to his work."

"Can you describe him to us?" Johnny asked.

"Indeed. Younger man. Dark hair, dark eyes. Bit of a beard. Perhaps five eight, five nine?"

Ellie held up a picture. Johnny recognized it as the one from Iraq she'd found at Alex's.

Siddiq took the picture from her and studied it for a moment. His eyes flicked up at Johnny, then back down to the picture.

"Yes. That could definitely be him on your left, Officer," Siddiq finally said, handing the picture back to Ellie. Johnny nodded, swallowing hard. That wasn't the answer he'd wanted to hear.

"Can you show us where this man was working, sir?" Frank asked.

"Of course. Follow me." They followed Siddiq to the back of the mosque, through a nondescript door and into what looked like a small office.

"He started in here. He worked on that panel for a few minutes, then moved on to several other places."

"Rawlins, go with the Imam, will you?" Johnny said. "Mark off any location this guy visited. Siddiq, if you wouldn't mind?"

"Of course. This way, officer. Or is it Deputy?" Siddiq asked.

"Either is fine, sir," Rawlins said as he followed Siddiq out of the office.

"Right," Frank said after they left. "First trouble spot. Should we see what's behind the panel?"

"I wouldn't," Ellie said, shaking her head.

Frank looked at Johnny.

"You were in the Army. They had to teach you something about bombs, right?" he asked.

"Indeed they did," Johnny said.

"Great. What'd they teach you?"

"First step, identify the bomb's probable location. We've done that," Johnny said. "Second step, call EOD. Third step, wait for EOD."

Ellie chuckled, and Frank looked a little disappointed.

"I know, Frank. You're a man of action. You want to do something," Johnny said. "I get that -- I respect the hell out of it. But I've been blown up before. Not an experience I want to go through again, really. Trust me. It's no fun."

"I get you," Frank said, nodding slowly. "I just hate waiting around, you know?"

"You and me both, pal," Johnny said. "But let's leave this to the professionals. Let the bomb squad guys earn their paychecks."

As if on cue, Frank's radio crackled to life. "Four Echo Seven Seven, this is SWAT-1. Got your ears on, Uncle Frank?" the voice poured from the radio on Frank's belt.

"I read you. They got you driving the school bus these days, Will?" Frank radioed back.

"His nephew. Sniper on SWAT," Ellie explained, her voice low.

"Heard the bomb squad boys needed a lift. I wasn't doing much, so I figured I'd go pick 'em up," Will replied. "We're rolling up in two. You already square us with the locals?"

"That's affirmative," Frank said. "Come on in, Will."

He put the radio back on his belt.

"Gary's boy," Frank explained. "Good kid. Hell of a sniper, too. Ex-Marine."

"Oh. A fucking jarhead?" Johnny groaned playfully.

"Yeah, yeah. I hear him bitch about you grunts all the time too," Frank shot back.

The two men shared a laugh. Ellie just shook her head.

"I just don't get military humor," she sighed.

Frank's radio crackled to life again.

"This is SWAT-1!" Will's voice blasted. "We're half a block to the East of your position, taking heavy fire!"

Johnny could faintly hear it outside -- automatic weapons fire. And not a small amount of it.

"Hang tight, Will! We're coming to you!" Frank radioed.

Johnny already had his Glock in his hand.

"Let's move!" Ellie yelled, leading the way out of the office.

Johnny grabbed his radio.


"Heard it, boss. On the way. Coming out the side door," Rawlins radioed back.

Johnny, Frank, and Ellie cleared the front doors and spotted the SWAT truck instantly. It was just at the end of the street, and both tires on the driver's side had been shredded. Bullets pinged loudly off its metal skin.

"How much armor does that thing have?" Johnny asked as Rawlins joined them.

"Plenty," Frank said. "It can take a hell of a pounding."

"Even against armor-piercing rounds?" Johnny asked.

"That, I'm not sure about. Can you see where they're firing from?" Frank asked.

"West side of the street. Elevated position. We should be able to get close if we stay behind those parked cars," Johnny said, pointing.

"Right. I'm on point," Frank told him, setting off before anyone had a chance to argue.

Johnny shrugged and followed the older man. Ellie went next, and Rawlins brought up the rear. Bullets slammed into the cars as they crawled behind them to the truck -- they'd been seen.

Rounds were still slamming into the SWAT vehicle, as well. Multiple shooters, Johnny thought. Outstanding.

The truck was close now. Frank made it there first, and swung open the passenger door. Inside was a kid a few years younger than Johnny, thin and blonde-haired.

"Hey, Uncle Frank," the kid smirked, casually loading rounds into a Remington 700. "Nice to see you."

"You OK, Will?" Frank asked.

"Walkin' on sunshine, Uncle Frank," Will laughed. "Though I bet this is scaring the shit out of the crew in the back."

"Hey, Devil Dog. You get eyes on any of the shooters yet?" Johnny asked.

"At least three, sir. They got out of a black SUV and ran up the hill, there. Firing from behind the trees," Will told him.

"Good eye. Got a couple extra tasers in that truck?" Johnny said.

"About fifteen."

"Good. Give me three of them."

The young SWAT sniper looked confused, but he dug out three tasers anyway and handed them ovet to Johnny. Handing his Glock to Ellie, Johnny tucked the three extra tasers into his belt.

"What are you up to, boss?" Rawlins asked, frowning.

The volume of fire slamming into the SWAT truck dropped off for a moment -- Johnny guessed the shooters were reloading.

"I have a plan. I'll need you guys to make a lot of noise," Johnny told them. "Tear gas and smoke grenades if you've got 'em first. Then open fire at them. Throw as many bullets in their direction as you can, but shoot above and below."

Johnny took both of his spare clips from his belt. He handed them to Ellie.

"Due respect, sir, but I can take them out," Will said.

Johnny shook his head.

"We can't question corpses. I'm going to get in and see if I can take them out."

"That's suicidal, boss," Rawlins said.

"You're absolutely right," Johnny said. "Which is why they're never going to see it coming."