By: Cin and Heidi
Disclaimers: See main page.
sunday morning, before 0700
Vin watched the horrifying scene unfold below him sitting on the roof of the insurance building looking over the parapet. He didn't have much choice in the matter. Roland knocked on the Texan's guest room door in McBride's residence at five that morning. Tanner wasn't sleeping, and hadn't slept most of the night worrying over this assignment. There was little time to think about anything after being summoned by Roland. Compared to the party and feast last night, McBride offered little in the way of hospitality this morning. Instead they left quickly, the Irishman insisting on taking Vin's Mustang and driving it himself, giving Vin little opportunity to protest or make any attempt to warn anyone, which was probably the plan. Roland followed in one of McBride's sedans with one of his other henchmen.
Tanner recognized the building when they pulled into the parking lot, but could not think of anyone working there this organization would consider a target. He wasn't all that surprised when McBride produced a key to the building, figuring the man was involved in several business ventures throughout the city, legitimate or otherwise. When the elevator opened on the roof of the building, the dread Tanner felt since learning of their test for him returned full force. The tall building overlooked one of the busiest thoroughfares in the growing town. He knew now his target quite possibly would be an unsuspecting traveler on that road. It made him wonder if the Task Force was wrong all along, and there was no specific target in mind, and this was just a show of force for the organization to put fear into the citizens and the newly formed police force.
Vin thought he understood what he was going up against when he started this undercover assignment, but quickly found nothing was what he prepared for, either physically or mentally. He knew going in the investigation wasn't going to be easy. However, he found himself not only trying to ferret out the bad guys, but dodging the dirty cops and politicians who were suppose to be the good guys on his team. Like Neal Haskill. The man might be the head of the Narcotic Task Force, but Vin knew the man was dirty. There were too many things that went wrong throughout, and it wasn't from Vin's lack of trying or skill. After his meeting with Haskill, he was now sure the man was behind the miscommunications in several blown busts and raids. It made Vin even more fearful and sure that none of the information passed on to Haskill the other day reached the people it needed to reach. The man had already done enough damage, as ultimately it left them further away from whoever was behind the crime wave, than when they started.
"A bit of an overkill, but it got the job done," McBride sat beside Tanner, field glasses trained on the grisly accident scene below.
Vin scowled at the man's unholy grin. "Whatcha mean?"
"Ol' Hank was only supposed to jackknife so he could cause a traffic jam, get you some targets. Too bad people don't pay attention out there."
Vin's stomach soured as he heard the dark haired man chuckle in glee. They had watched the rig pull out onto Fern, seeing the station wagon approach with no time to stop before crashing into and under the loaded tanker. His horror for this job grew as he realized these people had caused this accident intentionally, and he wondered how people could be so cold and calloused about the blessings of human life. He shuddered to think what would have happened had that tanker ruptured.
McBride put the glasses down and reached for the rifle beside him. "Will you look at that?" Keeping the rifle in his lap, McBride inclined his head toward the scene. "Tall, dark, and thinks he's handsome's checking on Queen Caswell. Heard they were together once."
Vin shrugged, keeping half an eye on McBride's hands and the rifle. So far, no movements toward loading. The bullets were within easy reach on the ground, and he saw they were the rubber ones. Now it was so critical to keep his focus, because this was the more important moment – seeing the rubber bullet loaded. He would have preferred to load it himself, but McBride obviously wasn't going to let him.
Roland spoke, "I heard they were friends with benefits now."
"She gets around," McBride said. "Him, her protector, Travis, Larabee, the cop called Preacher, and the strange rumor of our sharpshooter here. That true, Taylor? Was she any good?"
Of all the things that could be discussed during the prelude to a shooting, Nina's sexual partners were not what Vin expected. Nor did he expect to hear a list of men, most of whom he knew were blatant lies, but the mention of the unnamed protector bothered him. As for himself, he never had, but remembered he hinted to Bellows that he did. So he played it off. "Ain't tellin', but she's got a cute tattoo." Vin looked McBride in the eyes to give credence to the lie, and a split second later realized he'd been baited. And fell for it, like a damn rookie.
McBride chambered the round
while he held Vin's gaze. "Make sure you miss the
Queen, Taylor, or her protector's going to kill
you slowly." Finishing his task, McBride wiped it
down with a rag and handed it over to the
sharpshooter. "Time for you to show us what the
Army taught you. This is bringing out the big
guns . . .you know what to do." The grin was evil
as the man handed the instrument of death over.
"Who's the target?" Vin asked, trying to draw the moment out.
"Larabee should make an appearance. I believe you are familiar with Travis's hot shot sergeant?"
Vin nodded slowly, clutching the rifle tightly and feeling his stomach churn violently. This was the scenario he dreaded hearing.
"If he don't show?"
"Anyone will do, except her," McBride stated.
"Why not her?" His fingers slid down the rifle, preparing to open it and check the round himself.
"You wouldn't be checking my work, would you?" McBride asked, his voice low and threatening.
"Army habit. Check, check, and recheck." Vin went to examine the rifle.
McBride put a hand over his.
"No need." He squeezed Vin's fingers hard.
"Sounds like you are not too keen on this test,
"Never said I was," Vin sneered back. "Rubber bullet, right?" He yanked his hand and the rifle free.
"Like we told you, Taylor, a rubber bullet." McBride reached down onto the ground beside him and held one of the projectiles up, a bullet of the type they were discussing. "Just like those fancy teams use in the big cities. Enough to stop the person and get their attention without killing them."
Vin glanced from the bullets in McBride's hand up to the man's smug expression. A cold chill ran down his spine. "Didn't sign on ta kill a cop. Just makin' sure ya ain't changin' the plans on me."
"You don't trust me?"
McBride laughed. "I should be offended."
"I'm offended ya can't trust me ta load a rifle."
"Touche, my boy. We're at a stalemate, then, because I won't allow you to check the ammo. If we hope to continue in business together, we must begin to trust. You have to trust me to look out for you. Check the rifle, make the shot, and we're done. Specifically, you check that rifle, and you're done, out of the organization. Take the shot and prove you're loyal without checking. I give you my word that I loaded it with a rubber bullet."
Vin held McBride’s gaze, temping his anger. He knew ‘out of the organization’ meant he would be a fly speck on the pavement below if he didn’t follow through with this. "I still don't trust ya." The thought of ending if he didn't shoot weighed heavily on him, and the part of him obsessed with finishing this organization for good protested, drowning out rational thought.
"Then go on faith, or whatever will make you shoot. Quit stalling, Taylor, or I'll make the shot myself. And I'll reload it with a real bullet first."
Faced with that option, and
no real alternatives, Vin hefted the rifle to his
shoulder. He felt a part of his life returning he
wished dead and buried - that of a sniper in the
Army Rangers. That time of his life held no
joy. Not only was he separated from the surrogate
family he had come to love, his only job was to
shoot and/or kill on command, and he had become
very proficient at it. The killing was something
he was hoping to get away from; it was a dumb move
trying the Army for that. Another time that was
a blight in his life he did not want to dwell on,
but here he was ordered to shoot on command once
again, and not for any patriotic duty. No - today
it was to send a message, a warning, and prove his
loyalty to this organization.
While he sighted down the scope, he was at least assured this was only a test. The ammo he had been shown would do no harm as long as he hit an area protected by the Kevlar bulletproof vest his friends wore, and he hit his targets accurately.
If he took the shot, and the bullet was real, he could pick where to hit and do the least amount of damage. If McBride shot, Vin knew the Irishman would target the head. A bad situation got worse.
Tanner watched the scene
unfolding down the street from their location.
They vaguely knew something like this was coming
but he'd had no chance to warn them about the
when. God, he hoped they'd forgive him for this.
This what? This stupid game to prove his loyalty
to his boss by 'shooting' a police officer that
was creating problems for the group.
"Okay, Taylor, take your shot, quit wasting time." McBride growled at the hesitant shooter.
"Just waiting for the right target."
"He's there," McBride growled, watching the scene through his binoculars. "And Roland's ready behind you." Turning back to Vin, he cocked his head behind them. Roland was standing behind the pair at the parapet, his stance relaxed, but Vin lowered the rifle briefly, noticing the automatic with the silencer clutched in Roland's right hand by his side.
"Insurance, Taylor," McBride laughed. "In case you're not up to performing your duty, or your loyalties really lie elsewhere, you die. Rest assured, you take the shot or Roland takes you out. Regardless, the message will be delivered, because we'll kill you and make it look like you murdered a cop and then committed suicide. Now, the question is, do you want to live to see it?"
Roland's gun raised and pointed it at the Texan's head. Tanner glanced down at the rifle, wishing again he'd paid more attention when McBride loaded it. He had a bad feeling about this, worse than before. He hesitated a moment, thinking of his chances should he turn the weapon at one of his two companions.
"Take the shot, Taylor!"
Vin sighed, knowing he had no choice but to go through with the test. Whatever the outcome, he was the best chance his friends had of surviving this. He brought the rifle up to his shoulder and aimed at the confusing scene below. The scope brought his friends into closer focus. While it wasn't fine enough to see their individual faces or expressions, he knew his friends well enough to read their body language, and it wasn't good. He watched the muted argument between Chris and Nina, and Buck stepping between them. Whatever the argument, it was forgotten as he saw them turn back to their job. When they split, he saw his opportunity. He would aim a little high to be safe. Lining up the sight, he could feel McBride's impatient glare beside him. Focusing on Chris, he prepared to fire. Taking a deep breath, he drew on all his training to forget the personal involvement and concentrate on the task as if it was just another job. That was damn hard; he was too emotionally invested in this one. Right when he pulled the trigger, he saw a flash of uniform slam into his friend, barely registering the recoil of the rifle butt into his shoulder. Two figures fell toward the pavement. Vin noticed the body on top do an unnatural jerk, and knew the projectile found a target. After the bodies struck the blacktop, hard, he could tell they were not moving. It took half a second for him to realize a rubber bullet wouldn't cause that reaction, nor would the kick of rifle felt as great. Vin's face paled. Aw, hell!
He felt McBride jubilantly patting his back in celebration.
"Congratulations, Taylor. That ought to cement your spot, hell man; you might even count two for one. Why don't you go for broke and throw a round into the tanker, too?"
The sharpshooter was stunned at the man's laughing statement, and realizing he was now sure the rifle held live ammo. "Ya crazy? That'd take out a whole city block!"
McBride laughed harder. "So?"
Standing, holding the rifle loosely, Vin was still trying to assimilate what happened. This still felt all wrong, and worse after the shoot. McBride lifted the rifle out of his hand, still chuckling in glee. It was then that Vin noticed McBride was handling it still with the rag, not his bare hand. He watched him slide it into its case. It dawned on him then that McBride went through the act of wiping the rifle down before it was handed to him. The weapon now only carried his prints on it. This was not good.
"What the hell did you do?" Vin growled at the smug man before him. "What about your word?"
The Irishman chuckled, "I didn't do anything, Keith, my boy, but you . . .damn, you just made one hell of a shot and killed a cop. Maybe two." The man's maniacal laughter grew as he glanced back down at the hectic scene. "Yes sir, one hell of a shot. Wanted the Sarge, but if you got the Queen, so much the better, ain't my fault, but St"
The tirade was cut short as Tanner grabbed the man
by his shirt and jerked him toward him, growling
into his face. "You set me up! You lied to me!"
Roland stepped forward to pull Tanner back, but a wave from the Irishman stopped him. The dark haired man glared at the younger man and sneered. "It was no set up. You agreed to do a job."
"A warning, not ta kill a fucking cop! I'm not takin' a fall like that."
The sneer grew evil. "So I switched bullets on you. And I never said my word was good." He glared at the young man before him like he would strike him, and then held the rifle case up. "I own you now, boy. Cross me, and the cops will know who took out one or two of their sacred brotherhood. You'll be a wanted man, Taylor. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide...Cop Killer. Of course if you hit her, it won’t be the cops you have to worry about. I don’t know if I can protect you there, but I can try."
Vin's face drained of all color and a sick feeling permanently resided in the pit of his stomach. He threw the man back away from him, not wanting to feel his slimy touch. He glanced back to the scene, seeing the ambulance crew gathered around the still figures on the ground. Sirens filled the silence.
"You do good work. I'm sure you'll be a valuable asset to our team."
"This wasn't in the plans. I'm not a killer," he mumbled. Vin felt disconnected from his surroundings, his emotions overwhelming his mind, shutting it down, his body going numb. He started to hyperventilate.
"That's not what your record shows. Anyway, life's a bitch, ain't it, Taylor? Come on, let's get out of here."
McBride pulled the still stunned shooter off the roof and down to his car. Pulling out Vin's keys, he carefully and calmly drove the two of them away from scene as newly arriving police cars drove pell-mell into the area. Instead of following this time, Roland and the henchman took a different route.
Vin sat silently in the passenger seat, his mind and body numb, his breaths coming in heaving gasps. The scene kept playing over and over again before his eyes. Now, he realized the blur of a uniform he saw as he pulled the trigger was Nina jumping in front of Chris. He kept seeing her body jerk as the bullet made impact. He'd killed one of his friends. And Chris . . .there had been no movement from him either. This was just a fubared mess, and he'd been blindsided. He'd been so sick and disgusted with all the delays and screw-ups in this case, so he'd done his best to speed up the timetable. But this...this he didn't see coming. Refused to believe it might. Couldn't believe he'd blown the single most important moments of the entire assignment. He let a lot of people down, and possibly killed two of his best friends. One of the two was a reason he was in this mess to begin with, to protect her.
Pulling up at the seedy apartment complex Vin called home while he was undercover, McBride stopped the car and turned off the engine. He turned to Tanner, handing him his keys. "Don't blow your good work now, Taylor, because we'll still be watching you. Remember, mess with me, and I'll knock you down. For good."
McBride picked up the gun case, out of the backseat of the convertible, and waved it toward Vin for emphasis. "I'll be in touch, boy, so make sure you're available. Oh, and here's a souvenir." The Irishman tossed an object toward Vin, who absently caught it as it flew at him, but didn't bother to notice what he clutched in the palm of his hand. McBride's laughter mocked him as the man walked over to his own car, just when Roland pulled up to meet him. With a final wave, they drove off.
Finally, Vin slowly climbed out of his car, taking note of the dark sedan parked across the street, with the familiar beefy faces of McBride's lackeys in the seats. They were going to make sure he behaved. It didn't matter as he blindly stuffed the object McBride threw at him into his pocket and walked to his rat hole. He'd just shot one or both of his friends. Nothing mattered anymore; he was the person he never wanted to be. He entered the small hovel and aimed toward the booze. Maybe it would stop his hands from shaking, or make his vision less hazy, or his breathing better.
Two beers from the small
fridge later and still all he saw was them. From
their first meetings until today when he shot
them. Aw, hell. They did not deserve this.
Silently, the tears came streaming down his face
while he opened the whiskey bottle for a couple
swigs before shoving it away. His mind was stuck
in a feedback loop; all he saw was the blur
jumping on top of Chris and taking the shot meant
for his friend. Playing the scene over and over
he was afraid of what might have happened. If
Nina had not jumped, Chris might have gotten a
shoulder wound, but she took it near center mass.
Oh, Lord, he hoped that vest did its job and
What about Chris? He hadn't moved at all. The one person he connected with, bonded, meshed with, and he went down in that single instant, too. Vin thought of all the good times, even the wrestling match just the other day. Was it the other day? It felt like a lifetime ago. Someone else's lifetime ago. So much happiness, so much life, and he could be responsible for taking them all out. Poof. One shot, and he'd destroyed his soul, along with two undeserving ones.
But how did she know? What tipped her off? Could Nina know it was him? She had to; only a few people knew how well he could shoot, and she knew about the test. Oh God, help me, he silently prayed. The realization that she might know it was him nearly undid him. He rocked back and forth on the bed, his arms wrapped around his knees, his knees bent close to his body, and cried. What in the hell was he going to do? He could not live with this. Oh sweet Jesus, he could not live with this. His eyes fell on the drawer holding his gun. It would be so easy. No! His mind rebelled. No coward's way out.
Maybe the television could distract him. He flipped it on and found the noon news. Noon? Hell. He lost half the day like this. Shock. That's what it was. Shock. Like he was coming out of a fog, and his mind finally allowed his emotions to catch up. The top story was the shooting and he turned the volume up.
"Our top story today is the shooting of a Four Corners Police Officer. Corporal Nina Caswell, a founding member of the force, was shot early this morning on Fern Highway." A file picture of Nina appeared behind the anchor. "Our sources say while investigating a fatal accident, Corporal Caswell," a clip of her giving a portable Breathalyzer test at a field sobriety checkpoint appeared, "might have seen a shooter taking aim at Sergeant Chris Larabee. In a remarkable act of bravery, Corporal Caswell tackled the Sergeant out of harm's way, but was wounded by the bullet allegedly aimed at him. Sergeant Larabee sustained serious injures and is being treated at Four Corners Hospital. Corporal Caswell was flown to Four Corners Hospital, and there is no information on her condition at this time. No suspects have been arrested in this incident. The Police Department asks if you have any information to please call them immediately at the number on the bottom of the screen. We're switching live to Randy Cook. Randy?"
"Thanks, Julie. I'm with Paul Heritage, who witnessed the incident. Can you tell us what happened, Mr. Heritage?"
"I was eating breakfast when I heard this horrible crash and I got my camera out and started filming. The po-lice showed up and started moving people back. That woman cop and the real tall, lanky one started working the accident when the Sergeant came up. They argued for a minute then went back to work. All of a sudden, her head popped up like a hound dog on the scent and the next thing I know she's flying through the air tackling him like a pro player. Good tackle. They didn't get up, and that tall one started yelling for the ambulance."
"Did you see anyone?"
"Hell, no. No idea where that shot come from. I hope whoever did it pays for it; that lady cop's real nice to everyone."
"You know her?"
"Sho-oot! Who don't know Cracker?"
"Yeah, Corporal Caswell. It's her street name - Cracker."
Vin angrily turned the screen off and started
pacing. Hell, hell, hell. No report...that meant
she was still alive, but in bad shape, and the
hospital was waiting for the notification or
arrival of the next of kin. The only one worse
was extremely critical condition, but Vin figured
that Nina's closest relative was Uncle Pete, and
it would take time for him to get here from Las
Vegas, and more time before the press was given
anything to report.
What the hell happened? Wasn't she wearing a vest? She always wore a vest. In training she preached at him constantly about wearing his vest at all times. What about Chris?
He reached into his pocket for his keys as he headed for the door. Instead of his keys, he pulled out the object that McBride had tossed at him before. He paled, his legs giving out, and he fell back heavily to the couch. The bile rose from his stomach as the full realization of what happened hit him like a hard punch to the stomach. He crawled to the bathroom and threw up until all that remained was dry heaves. He wished he could get rid of the pain as easily.
"Oh God! That fuckin' bastard!" Shakily, he stood, rinsed his mouth out, not even feeling the thin thing in his hand until it got in the way.
Vin clutched the object in his fist and wished he had McBride before him at this very minute. He would tear the son of bitch from limb to limb. He held the damning piece of metal up and swallowed hard. He recognized the ammunition for what it was . . . a cop killer. Armor piercing bullet, designed to negate most Kevlar vests wore by the police. He knew what the Irishman was telling him with this piece of evidence. The scene rolled before his eyes again and he realized just exactly what he had done . . .what McBride did.
Son of a bitch.
Where the hell did his brain go? He knew better than this. He was supposed to be prepared, been ready to avoid this...this mess. He should have checked the rifle and taken his chances. But his ambition to shut this down got in the way, overriding his good sense. What kind of person was he? Had he crossed too far into darkness in the name of good?
"Stupid, stupid, stupid," Vin paced around his apartment running a nervous hand through his hair.
His life hadn't been much before. He'd been lucky when he came to Four Corners, made some friends, gained some hope. Hope and family went into to this investigation trying to preserve some of that. He'd made some promises to help make some things right, not to mention he was hoping to protect his family and maybe gain them some retribution. The bottom line was he wanted to help make sure he and this town had a future. Now he failed . . . horribly.
What in the hell was he going to do?
Those dreaded words started the chain reaction, and that reaction resembled organized chaos.
"Send the ambulance crew over here. Have a head injury, unconscious male, unknown injury to female." Buck issued orders and gave information into his radio without really thinking, too much in shock to do anything else. Training overruled emotion, letting him do what needed to be done.
Wilmington knelt down close to check their breathing. He could not tell about Larabee's, but Nina’s sounded funny, almost as if she was wheezing. He was also confused about why she decided she had to take out Chris in a flying tackle, but knew with certainty she had to have a reason, and it wasn't an emotional one. He frowned when he heard her breathing turned more labored, more strained, and less healthy. The infamous death rattle came to mind and he willed it not to happen to her.
Buck carefully began an examination for the cause of the problem. His concern deepened when he noticed the growing amount of blood around the two that did not appear to come from Chris’s head wound, along with Nina's shattered lapel mike, aligned with Chris's neck, shoulder, and upper chest.
His hands worked over the back of her dark shirt and found a hole on the right side. His finger probed it and the female back he knew so well arched slightly. He knew what the hole was, and his body recoiled in shock. "No!" His horrified gaze swept the area as he reached for his lapel mike.
Training took over again. "11-02, all units, officers down, shooter in the area of Fern Highway and Elm. All oncoming units respond for perimeter and use extreme caution."
Josiah, watching from his traffic post, stiffened immediately, crouched, and pulled his handgun. His eyes scanned rooftops, all while moving from his exposed position to a safer one. JD ducked behind the door of Buck's patrol car and searched the surrounding area, his gun out and shaking slightly in his hand.
"FC’s direct, officers down, Fern Highway and Elm. Shooter reported in the area. All oncoming units respond, Code White for 11-02." Casey's voice sounded the request for additional units without a waver or quaver in her voice.
Sunday Morning, before 0700
Sergeant Raphael Cordova de Martinez started his morning like any other. Mornings were one of his strong suits, and he preferred them. Today, he planned to attack the stack of backlogged reports the manpower shortage created and get rid of them. It was a good feeling for once, because he actually had a full complement of officers coming on, and it was on a Sunday morning. Perhaps this Sunday morning he could actually spend some time in his office to clear out some of the reports. He would be glad to just have a little time instead of juggling all he needed to do as well as spending most of his time in the car helping to cover their shift. He went to Mitchell's, grabbing his morning coffee, anticipating a good shift and a better cup of java. The first sip always tasted best, and he savored it. The second barely reached his mouth when his radio blared, and any thoughts of an easy day were shattered.
No one in uniform ever wanted to hear those words, and Raphael was no exception. He heard the strong emotion in Buck's voice as he broke into a run for his patrol car. The coffee cup landed in the trashcan outside the shop, launched without thought and even less consideration because it would be in the way. Nothing was more important than reaching his amigos.
His radio sounded again. "FC’s direct, officers down, Fern Highway and Elm. Shooter reported in the area. All oncoming units respond, Code White for 11-02."
Fern and Elm? It could not be more public than that. He switched to the alternate channel, informed Communications he was responding code, and promptly peeled in that direction at a high rate. His lights and sirens flashed and howled, the few cars on the road moved out of the way, and his video recorder captured the drive. Needing information, one hand returned the radio to the proper channel.
"11-02, all units. No suspects, no additional shots."
"FC's direct, no suspects, no additional shots."
"K9-16's on location, Fern and Elm."
"K9-16's at Fern and Elm, 10-4," Casey repeated.
"11-04's at Fern and Spruce," Nathan announced.
"10-4, 11-04, at Fern and Spruce."
"11-02 to the next unit in, we need a landing zone for the Medivac Lifeflight helicopter. They want it at the Depot's parking lot."
"13-05's got the LZ." Rafe's voice announced his response. "Mark me on location."
Good, Raphael thought. Rafe can handle the LZ. Where was Larabee? He hadn't heard him, and Larabee would be in charge of the scene. He hadn't gone responding. Neither had Josiah or Nina, which was unusual. His stomach knotted, and dread filled him. Officers down…plural…more than one.
"13-05 has the landing zone, Depot parking lot," Casey announced.
"11-02 to 13-05, 11-07's coming to help." Buck told Rafe he was sending JD to the landing zone.
"11-04, 11-02. I'm getting the last three rigs moved now," Nathan said. "Traffic pattern will be clear for emergency vehicles."
"10-4," Buck answered.
"13-01, FC," Raphael said.
"Mark me Incident Commander on location."
"10-4. FC, all units, 13-01's Incident Commander."
Raphael took charge of the scene, giving it a 'neutral' commander because the officers involved belonged to Squad One, and clearly designating to everyone responding who was in charge right now. As he surveyed the area, he observed the perimeter was as tight as it could be, and saw only a few cars leaving, already outside of the perimeter itself. One caught his attention, and he absently made a mental note of it.
There was Josiah working a traffic post, and his face was grim. He was alive, and so was Buck's rookie, so that meant only one conclusion. He hurried over to Buck, standing beside the tanker, staring down at the emergency medical crews as they worked on the fallen officers. His eyes followed down, and he winced.
The ambulance personnel worked feverishly on the still body of Nina Caswell. Her uniform shirt was open, the vest stripped off in the front, and the white t-shirt she wore beneath the vest was cut to give them access for the various monitors. Red blood ran into her hair and down onto her throat. Her eyes were closed, and a mask with an ambu bag covered her face, providing oxygen. The heart monitor was the only thing that showed she still lived.
"Dulce." The cry broke from his lips without him realizing it, and he felt Buck squeezing his arm hard in support and sympathy. One section of his mind recognized Buck wasn't letting him closer, because he wanted to kneel down beside the pair, probably what Buck wanted to do himself.
He ripped his gaze away, to the second crew stabilizing Chris Larabee, a halo of crimson surrounding his head on the pavement. His shirt was ripped open as well, and his face, arms, and shoulder were covered in blood. The nature of his injuries was not evident to the two officers watching the emergency crew fit a cervical collar around the unconscious sergeant’s neck.
"Madre de Dios." So much blood, he thought. So still…so unlike either of them.
"No shit," Buck mumbled.
And here he was, just as still as they, doing nothing but gawking. His hand reached up to his lapel mike. "13-01 to all units, sweep the crowds for witnesses, and stop all vehicles leaving the area." Belatedly, he gave the order that should have been done to begin with, but he wasn't thinking straight, and Raphael couldn't expect the others to be either. This was the first Officer shooting in the short history of the FCPD, and no matter how hard anyone trained, the emotional factor would wipe out some, if not all, of the conditioning for an event like this.
Various units acknowledged him.
"Advise the shift commander to call out all additional personnel he can, and we'll need the entire CID section."
"He's direct, and Chief Travis responding."
"10-4." He turned to Buck. What he saw shocked him to the core. There was so much raw pain and agony in the face. The dark, blue eyes were so haunted. It seemed Buck had aged. The lines on his face etched deep by worry. It appeared it was an effort just for him to stand upright.
Softly, Buck said, "She was shot saving his life. Dove on top, took the worst herself. Damn fool thing to do, but so like her. Taking the hits for others. Damn it!"
Raphael gentled his voice. "Amigo, what direction?"
Buck ripped his eyes away. "I don't know."
Raphael hardened his tone and delivery, using more a superior officer command tone versus that of a friend. They had a shooter to catch. "What direction, Corporal?"
Buck took a deep breath, and then moved, stopping a few feet in front of where his friends fell. "They were here." He turned around and stared at the injured pair.
Raphael asked a question of the ambulance crew working on Nina. "Did the bullet go straight through?"
"No exit. Head wound came from impact, and the lapel mike shattered in their faces. Down angle."
The sergeant nodded, and then jogged to his car for a camera. He snapped a few pictures of the injured pair's positions, and then took some of the surrounding area.
"Stupid! I'm so stupid!" Buck yelled. He grabbed his mike. "11-02, all units. Those who can check surrounding rooftops of buildings over four stories."
"Why four stories?" Raphael asked.
"Because they had to get over the tanker. That massive sumbitch blocked the views of everything. Gotta stop being a dumbass. Shots didn't come from my side, didn't see a shooter, and if it's on a down angle, it came from above his. The coward's way."
"Then you're not stupid," the sergeant replied.
"He's ready to go. Who gets the guns and badges?" One of the EMT's stood, holding out Larabee's first in his blood-covered gloved hands.
Buck shook his head 'no' and waved his hands, a horrified expression on his face.
"Me." Raphael accepted Larabee's, and then Caswell's lighter belt. After locking them in his trunk, he bagged her radio, and the remains of the lapel mike. The vests came next, along with the uniform shirts for evidence. Raphael looked up from this grisly task to see Buck blanching and swaying on his feet. It was then he realized he was bagging Nina's bloody uniform shirt. "Buck?"
It was at that point that Raphael knew Buck wasn't going to make it any farther on scene, and would not be any good to anyone. He had to leave, and being at the hospital would be better than standing around here. "Go with Chris to the hospital."
"I can't leave."
"I don't have anyone to drive you, and your car's now part of the crime scene. Go."
Buck shook his head. "I want to, he's my best friend, but I can't leave her alone. I love her. She can't die." Wilmington's eyes filled with tears, and his voice broke.
Raphael understood. "I'll stay with Dulce, Buck. I'll keep the watch. Chris needs you too, and we both know they won't let you in the helicopter."
Wilmington closed his eyes. "Take care of her."
Raphael clasped his shoulder. "You know I will."
Buck left with the ambulance taking Chris, leaving Raphael to accompany Nina to the landing site.
One of the crew stopped him before they loaded. "Forgot to give you this." She handed him a small box with a wire. "Sorry."
"It's okay. Take care of her." Raphael waved them off, and the helicopter lifted off for the hospital.
The item in his hand gave him pause. It was the microphone for Nina's car camera. He returned to the accident scene. Walking back to the site of the shooting, he studied the position of her car, and knew then the tape needed impounding.
Rafe Mosely, back from the landing zone, came over to him. "It's been narrowed down to the insurance building or the doctor's office. No shell casings, but they're the only two buildings where the shooter would have been high enough, and the angles are right."
"Bueno. It's a start."
"Lt. Como's on scene, and he's helping CID with the witnesses. They've finished with Squad One already – took their statements first. Said to keep you in charge of the scene."
"How's the lieutenant doing?"
"Between him and our Lt. Balsen, everyone's either here, almost here, or on the road. They're already making arrangements to bring out the other midnight shift tonight to cover Squad One. Chief Travis doesn't want them working, given the circumstances…” Rafe’s voice dropped off as he glanced down at the bloody evidence marking the pavement.
"Do we have enough personnel on scene now to relieve Squad One to go the hospital?"
"Good. Let me talk to them first."
"Sanchez and Dunne saw it happen, sir. Jackson and Standish arrived later."
"Anything I can do let me know. We're gonna catch the bastard who hurt them."
The conviction in the younger man's tone didn't surprise Raphael; he wanted the bastard himself, and would do everything in his power to bring him down. No one shot a cop and walked away. Given the friendships between everyone, and the fact Nina mentored Rafe, along with his own personal history with both Chris and Nina, it was going to be a long, hard week. Finally, he realized Rafe was waiting to be answered, and released to do his duty. "That we will." He watched Rafe jog back to his post. Raphael made his way to Josiah's side. "Padre."
"It's a dark day," Josiah replied.
The pain was there in the body, easily read by someone who knew the soulful man street-named Preacher. It was in the voice, the posture, the face…everywhere. And probably would be for a few days…if not longer. Depending on what happened. Again, Raphael shook off his thoughts and said, "Agreed. Grab the rookie and go to the hospital."
"Can't move my car."
"Take mine. Now go." Raphael handed him the keys. "They'll need your prayers."
"Know enough of them." Josiah swallowed hard. "Gracias, Raphael."
"JD!" Josiah bellowed, bringing the rookie over.
"How are you, pup?" Raphael asked, deliberately keeping his voice calm and non-threatening. Since he knew most of the persons of rank that worked the Academy as Drill Instructors were no-nonsense and strict on protocol, he tried for a softer approach.
JD straightened in the presence of a different sergeant. "Shaken, sir, but able to continue working."
"The resiliency of youth," Josiah commented.
The honesty surprised him, but the offer to continue working did not. There was no point in him staying here, because he was a witness and could not work the investigation at all. No matter how much it would be a beneficial – if not difficult – experience, Raphael could not allow the rookie to stay. "Go with Officer Sanchez to the hospital."
"Your squad needs to be together, pup. I think you've seen enough mayhem for one day. Unless you prefer to go home?" He gave the last option because the violence that simmered beneath the surface of their jobs was in full bloom and reveling in the chaos created. It was hard enough when the victims were strangers; seeing them wearing the same uniform and down tore at the heart and soul of the badge.
"No, sir. I do not want to go home. I'll stay with my squad."
"Come on, son." An understanding look passed between Josiah and Raphael, and the older man led JD to Raphael's car.
The dayshift sergeant found the next member near the perimeter. "Nathan."
"What a mess." Nathan shook his head. "Pointless."
"How are you?" Nathan was suffering too, at least Raphael could see it, and it probably hurt the paramedic to not be on scene when it happened, unable to help his fellow officers. Raphael made a mental note to check on him later, make sure he wasn't carrying undeserved guilt.
"Not good myself, and not doing much good."
The sergeant knew it was time for Nathan to leave the scene. Admitting he wasn't holding it together was not a good sign. This from a man who not only chose to work in the stressful job of law enforcement, but as a medic took on even more stress. He was dealing with both sides, those that committed the violent crimes and worse, the victims of those violent crimes. Sometimes dealing with putting bodies back together seemed harder to deal with. Nathan always appeared to be so calm and collected, except now when his perceived sense of inadequacy shimmered on the surface as anger, and that bothered Martinez. "Go to the emergency room."
"Can't do any good there either, except wait."
"You can be there for the others;” Raphael reached and placed a comforting hand on the tall man’s shoulder. He gave a gentle squeeze and captured the man’s eyes, “And they can be there for you." He saw the understanding register in Nathan’s eyes, realizing he was being given something useful to do, as well as being made aware of his own vulnerability. Hopefully it would be enough to maybe get his mental balance back
Nathan exhaled. "Sorry. I'm still a little shocky."
"Do you need someone to drive you?"
"No. Just – Nina was pretty upset today, and Chris was worried because no one's seen Vin or his car. Every call's been bad. A worse ending on an already nasty day."
"We'll find Vin. I can assure you of that." Raphael did not mention he thought he saw Vin's Mustang leaving the area immediately after the shooting, but wasn't completely sure because of the confusion. Now, he wanted to kick himself for not paying closer attention, and not giving the stop all vehicles order sooner.
"He’s not going to take this well." Nathan sighed. "What he has with Chris is so rare, and good for the both of them. Don't need to mention the relationship with Nina. This will tear him up."
"Hopefully we won’t compromise him, or he won't expose himself.”
"Yeah." Nathan agreed. “He was thinking he might be close to finishing it. This will bring him out and he won't care about his cover.”
Raphael nodded thoughtfully. “Go on, get out of here."
You're welcome. Let me know."
He watched Nathan leave, received more updates, decidedly not liking the way things were going. Nathan reminded him of the precarious situation one of their officer’s was in. If Vin blew his cover, it would compromise all the months of suffering everyone had gone through and kill any future attempt at infiltrating this group. They were that good at covering their tracks. Finding out they had a cop in their midst would not only shut things down, probably moving their operations also, but it could be hazardous for Tanner as well. The young undercover detective had not been with them long, but he knew Larabee had become good friends with the young man. Tanner might risk his life if he heard what happen today. Raphael frowned at his thoughts and reflected back on his arrival to the scene and the vehicle he thought he saw. Not liking his thoughts, he looked for Standish and found him, walking over to the canine handler. "Senor."
"How are you?"
That single word,
along with the haunted expression on Standish's
face, worried him. He'd watch Ezra defend Chris
viciously against any comment whispered within his
hearing, but Larabee probably wasn't even aware of
the loyalty this usually private man gave. Not
counting the whispers Raphael recently heard about
Ezra's friendship with Nina. Personal
relationships were not encouraged, and sometimes
policies made them forbidden, but human nature was
not that easy to control. Travis didn't have too
many rules about couples dating in the PD, yet
emotions still ran high. He had already seen what
this was doing to Wilmington, who shared a past
with the female officer and possibly still did.
He would hate to see Standish suffering because of
his feelings, and have to fight Wilmington and his
feelings too. That wasn't counting his
involvement with said female officer when he first
started. "Take Ace home and get to the hospital."
"We're not needed for crowd control?"
Not if I can help it, Raphael thought. Aloud, he said, "No."
"Then we'll be on the way." Ezra, thankful for the reprieve, moved off, leading Ace.
He watched Standish load Ace in the truck, halfway wishing he could go to the hospital himself. But his work was here, and since the Shift One Commander left him in charge, this scene was his responsibility. Taking a deep breath, he braced himself to return to the site where the officers were downed.
"Hell of a mess."
"Si, Chief." Raphael turned around to face Chief Travis, not having heard him come up behind him.
"They tell you how bad?"
"They looked bad.
No exit wound on Dul. . ., uh, N. . Caswell."
Raphael nearly flushed. He could tell his own
frustration with the situation by being less than
professional and almost using Nina's nickname in
front of their boss.
Travis waved that away. "Call her what you want, Raphael. I heard what happened. What's your take?"
"Single shot. Either they hit their target, or only planning on the one, cut their losses when she jumped in the middle of things, and then the alert was sounded. I feel we're still sitting ducks."
"Be prepared. The press has arrived like a swarm of insects." He knew, because he already had dealt with setting up a media spot and making sure the crime scene was secured from the vultures. Several officers were separating the witnesses from the passersby, and getting the witnesses out of the media attention. It wouldn't do for someone to announce who the officers were before the next of kin could be notified. That made him think of Lt. Como, and checking to see if he already took care of that detail.
"The PIO's here. She can handle it for now. I'll give a statement later today. Still no suspects?"
"Then we'll have to find evidence, and do it the hard way. And be diligent wherever we go."
"Meaning you should leave," Raphael suggested. A trace of steel was in his tone.
"It's my people."
"And the shooter may be watching for you to come and expose yourself, just like you are now." Raphael dragged his Chief to the man's vehicle, pushing him behind the bulletproof glass. "Go."
Travis sighed. "I'll be at the hospital."
"We'll reach you if we need you."
Travis nodded, heading back to his car.
Raphael snagged Lt. Como, and had the Shift Commander unlock the tape from Nina's car camera. The Shift Commander already made sure Nina's next of kin was notified, along with pulling Chris's record and finding out who he wanted to know about his line-of-duty injury. The tape went into a plastic bag, along with a verbal promise to view it with the detectives later that day. He then went back to work.
Chief Travis dialed his cellular phone before moving his car. It bothered him, knowing that this was only the beginning, and hopefully not the end for two of his officers. He didn't want to think about the shooter right now.
"They made their move." He pulled out of the scene, driving for the hospital.
"Already? Anyone hurt?"
"Two of my officers. I’m on my way to the hospital now to find out how bad.”
"Larabee and Caswell."
"Caswell? I thought the standing order was hands off."
"She took the bullet for Larabee."
"This will flush him out.”
“Well it’s a hell of a way for us to find out if he's come back or not, but he'll definitely make himself known if she's hurt." Travis agreed.
"He'll be pissed, and maybe get more irrational. Take more chances."
"God help us all," Travis replied.
"What about Tanner? He involved?"
"I don't know."
"You want me to come down?"
"Not yet. I need more information."
"I'm sorry, Orin."
"So am I."
"I hope they make it."
"Keep me informed."
"You can count on it."