Monday, September 14, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 168 - Rafe McGregor

TWO - RAFE MCGREGOR

Originally appeared at the now-defunct Hardluck Stories in the beginning of 2007

Constable Ludlow watched his new partner return to the cruiser. She was kinda easy on the eye, if you didn’t mind the nose and the severe haircut. Not that it mattered. She was tall and strong, and she carried herself well in the body armour. That mattered. She still looked like a nineteen year old girl. That mattered, too. At nineteen and nine months, she was probably the youngest officer out on patrol in the whole damn Regiment. Some civilians wouldn’t respond well to that. She climbed back in the cruiser, removed her cap, and buckled her seatbelt.

“Ready?” Ludlow asked. She nodded. “Good. Book us back from our Ten-Sixty-Two, and get the map out.”

Ashley Brown keyed the mainset radio mike and informed Dispatch that Eight-Bravo-Twelve – Battlefords Rural Detachment car twelve – was now back from their meal break. Ludlow pulled out into the traffic, and headed north. Ashley removed the road atlas from the storage compartment in the passenger door. Ludlow had told her that the cruiser was their office. Everything in it had a place where it belonged, so you knew where it was if you needed it in a hurry. She started flicking through the pages to find their current location.

“We’re taking a drive out to Delmas. I want ya to follow the route out to the highway on the map, and make sure ya know where we’re at. OK?”

“Yes, OK.”

“Your work on the radio is good, but you’re gonna keep at it. It’s your baby now and I won’t be touching it unless you’re out the car. By the time we’ve finished your mentorship, you’re gonna be an A-number-one crew. What did I tell ya about crewing yesterday?”

“A good crew does everything but drive,” Ashley replied. She liked it when he said ‘we’. It made her feel less like a schoolkid and more like a law enforcement officer.

“Yup. And, as you saw when we responded to that Ten-Eighteen, it ain’t as easy as it looks. We’re moving fast and you gotta listen to the radio, talk on the radio, operate the siren, and sometimes give directions. Also, you gotta keep your eyes open. It can get hectic. I’m so used to driving now that it don’t get in the way of my observation. That’ll come with time. But it’s not just these,” he pointed to his eyes, “it’s your ears and your nose ya gotta use as well.”

Ashley had already noticed that Ludlow rarely looked at her when he spoke. He was continually scanning the vehicles and pedestrians they passed. She turned back to the map. She knew which on-ramp Ludlow would use, but hadn’t worked out which route he was taking.

“That brings me to our patrolling. Ya see lotsa cops driving with their windows up. You’ll see I only do it when it’s raining or snowing. Why do ya think?”

Ashley pondered for a few seconds, then answered, “Because you can’t hear anything if the window’s up?”

“Yup. Can’t smell nothing neither, and your peripheral vision ain’t as good. Peripheral vision is important. There’s another reason, too. Less likely to happen, but real important if it does. Any ideas?”

Ashley shook her head. “No.”

“If the cruiser takes a hit with a rifle, the bullet’ll go through the thin metal of the door like it ain’t even there. Put a piece of glass in the middle, and you got a good chance it’ll either deflect elsewhere, or slow down so’s it don’t do much damage by the time it gets to us.”

Ashley found it hard to believe, but she had no reason to doubt Tom, and she didn’t see him as the type to joke about important stuff like that. Either way, she hoped she never had to find out.

“You found us yet?” he asked.

“Yes. Next left and we merge onto the highway – I think.” She waited nervously for his reply.

“Yup. How ya carrying?”

“One-up, hammer down, safety off. Just like you told me.”

“Good. Never mind the Depot nonsense. Your piece must always be ready to fire. If ya don’t want an accidental discharge...” He paused for her to finish. “Don’t pull the trigger.” Ashley knew she had that one right.

“Yup. I taught ya another thing about firearms yesterday, when someone’s aiming one at ya. Ya remember that as well?”

“Yes. Always make yourself as small a target as possible. That means keeping low, standing side-on, or getting into the blind spot on a vehicle stop. Target displacement.”

“Yup. Good, good. Ya can add the four reasons to keep your window down to yesterday’s lesson, and I figure that’s enough for now. Let’s get the rest of day two out the way first. We got our nights tomorrow. We’ll probably get some time to work through things in the early hours. Keep us awake if it’s quiet.”

Ludlow indicated and eased the Crown onto Highway 16. “While we’re cruising, I want you to get used to looking at the cars with your eyes and listening to the radio with your ears. When ya get good at it, ya won’t miss the APBs anymore, like ya just did.”

“Sorry – what – ”

“Never mind. Don’t apologise and don’t be shy. Get onto Dispatch and ask them to repeat. Just make sure ya write it down, otherwise you’ll forget.”

Ashley did as she was told and repeated the details to Ludlow: “Blue Honda Accord, registration Bravo-Foxtrot-Kilo-One-Nine-Five; two white male suspects wanted for a robbery at ISM Canada in Regina an hour and a half ago; walked in with an assault rifle and a shopping trolley, stole CD-roms and hard drives; last seen heading in the direction of Highway 11; Ten-Thirty-Six, Ten-Sixty. Also a white pickup truck – registration unknown – seen in the vicinity, two white male occupants behaving suspiciously.”

“Ya remember those codes?”

“Yes, ‘armed suspects’ and ‘use extreme caution’.”

“Yup. Good. That took a while to get to us, and it’s miles away, so it musta been something big. Why would ya rob a computer company at gunpoint?”

Ashley wasn’t sure if Ludlow was testing her again, or just asking a question. “Everyone worries about hackers breaking into online programs, but all the information in those programs has to be stored somewhere on hard copy. If you know where they’re stored, you don’t need to be able to hack, you can just walk in and pick them up.” Ludlow glanced at her. “What?” she asked.

“I like that. What have ya just told me?”

“I, I’m not –”

“You’ve just told me there’s an inside man – or woman. You’re thinking like a cop. Good, good. Remember something else I said yesterday: don’t be afraid to speak up if ya see something that ain’t right. See, hear, or smell. I’m in charge, but you’re a constable just the same as me and I ain’t so good I can see everything. If ya find us something, we’ll follow it up. If ya don’t, it’ll be part of your learning curve. But don’t be shy.”

Ashley smiled. “I won’t.” She liked Tom. He was a short, bulky man with a shaved head and a bushy moustache. He reminded her of her dad. He was also a cop and –

“Did ya say a blue Accord?” Ludlow interrupted her thoughts.

“I…er – yes.”

Ludlow indicated and overtook the car in front. “Two cars up ahead. Looked like two occupants, and the plate started with bravo. Let’s take a look.”

Ashley felt a rush of excitement, like she had yesterday when Tom told her to put the blue lights and siren on. “Bravo-Foxtrot-Kilo-One-Nine-Five.” She looked at Ludlow: he was focused on the Accord up ahead. It was moving fast, but they were gaining.

“No need to rush,” Ludlow said. “We’ll reel them in slow. What can ya see?”

“Er...bravo, foxtrot, kilo, one, nine – it’s them! It’s the car from Regina! I –”

“Take it easy. I’m gonna hang back until you’ve let Dispatch know where we are, and if we got any back-up. Go on, nice and slow. We got all the time in the world.”

Ashley could feel her heart beating faster as it pumped more blood out to her muscles, lungs, and brain. She fought to keep calm as she relayed the message. The reply was Ten-Twelve, one: standby, one minute.

Ludlow saw Ashley’s right hand move towards her holster. “If ya feel more comfortable with your piece out, now’s as good a time as any. Just keep it pointed at the floor, and keep your finger off the trigger.” She did. “It don’t sound like we got anyone nearby. If that’s the case, we’re gonna have to pull him. There’s two of them and two of us, so we’ll be OK. Ya know what to do?”

“Yes.”

“Eight-Bravo-Twelve, Four-One-Six.”

Ashley responded: “Go!”

“That’s a negative. Ten-Twenty-Six, twenty mikes.”

“Tell them we’ll take it,” said Ludlow.

“Ten-Four, Four-One-Six. We are going to Ten-Eleven, over.”

“Received. Code Five. Repeat: Code Five.”

“Ten-Four, Four-One-Six.” Code Five: stop at gunpoint. Ashley noticed that Ludlow had eased his own Smith & Wesson from his holster, and tucked it under his right thigh.

“When I tell ya, hit the lights and give them a quick burst with the wail so they know we’re here. Remember, we’re on the highway and it’s noisy. When we stop, I’ll use the PA to give the commands. But, as soon as we stop, I want ya out and covering the passenger side. You’ll have space, so use that blind spot. Don’t shoot unless ya see a firearm, but if ya see a firearm, don’t hesitate. Whatever happens, make sure ya shout me. OK?”

Ashley’s heart was pounding like a hammer and she was sweating despite the open window. Her mouth was dry. She tasted her lunch starting to come up, and swallowed hard. “Yes, Tom, I’m OK.”

“Then cock your piece, and let’s pull them.” Ludlow moved up behind the Accord. Ashley flicked the siren switch on and then off. The Accord slowed, indicated right, and moved over into the rescue lane. “Tell Dispatch where we’ve stopped,” Ludlow told her. For the first time since he’d seen the car, he felt a bead of sweat on his forehead. Something was wrong. Ashley finished her transmission. The Accord came to a halt. Ludlow braked, and stopped fifteen yards behind it.

He whipped up the handbrake. “Now!”

Ludlow gripped his nine-millimetre with his right hand as he opened the door with his left. He grabbed the PA mike as he slid from the car, crouching behind the door for cover. Ashley was nowhere to be seen. She’d moved fast. Good. “Stay where ya are, do not move unless instructed,” he said over the PA. “Both of ya put your hands up on the dash, where I can see ’em. Passenger, keep your hands where they are. Driver, switch off the engine.”

Ludlow looked over the front sight of his pistol. He saw the car shudder once, and then go still. “Now, very slowly, put the keys on the roof. Bring both palms up so I can see ’em. Open your door from the outside.”

The driver complied – exactly. Something was wrong.

Ashley was kneeling half a dozen yards from the cruiser, with the passenger’s head in her pistol sights. He’d placed his hands on the dashboard as instructed, but otherwise he was motionless. Her heart was still thumping, but she was back in control. Her hands were dead steady. And Tom was right: when she’d told the passenger he was covered, she knew he couldn’t see her. She was low in his blind spot. She’d done exactly as she’d been told and the Code Five was going exactly as planned. She used her peripheral vision to scan the driver and the back of the car. No movement there either.

“Put your palms on your head and stand up slowly.” Ludlow dropped the mike and aimed his pistol with both hands. The driver complied again. He was tall and skinny with a scruffy goatee, wore jeans and a baggy shirt. Ludlow shouted to make himself heard above the traffic. “Walk to the rear of the car. Turn around and place your palms flat on the trunk.” Ludlow knew these were the perps. No doubt. So why the hell were they coming so quietly? He stood, kept his pistol on the suspect, and moved around the door.

Ashley kept her sights trained on the passenger. She saw the driver get out and walk to the back of the car. He put his hands flat on the trunk. It would be her turn to give the commands shortly. Just like at the Academy. She knew what she was doing and she was confident now. Ludlow moved into her peripheral vision, covering the driver. She heard a car door open. She had not seen a car door open.

Adrenaline flooded her veins. Time slowed. Should she shout Tom? No, not yet. She wasn’t sure yet. Ashley’s vision was narrowing, but she managed to keep her suspect in sight as she turned her head to the left. A white pickup had stopped behind the cruiser. Two men were debussing. Detectives? Too scruffy. Plainclothes? Maybe –

The driver of the pickup raised a rifle.

“Tom!” Ashley spun on her knee, bringing the pistol around and squeezing the trigger.

Ludlow turned to Ashley – caught sight of the pickup – saw the Accord driver dive to the ground. He was in-between two perps. He knew he wasn’t quick enough to survive this. He fired twice at the suspect in front, gritting his teeth against the bullet he knew was coming from behind.

Ashley was deafened as three handguns went off simultaneously.

She fired again, then a third and fourth shot. The rifleman bellowed, staggered back, and collapsed next to the truck. She saw Ludlow go down to her right, and the pickup passenger turn his gun on her. She heard another door open behind her. She knew it was the passenger from the Accord.

Time seemed to stop.

Ashley sat back on her rump and fired at the pickup passenger. She heard a gunshot behind her, twisted, and rolled onto her stomach. She looked up at the barrel of a pistol sticking out from the Accord. She fired three rounds at the body behind it. Then she flipped over onto her back and aimed at the pickup. Again. No one was there.

Ashley tilted her head to look at the Accord. No one there, either. She clenched her stomach muscles and sat up. Both men from the pickup were down. Both men from the Accord were down. So was Ludlow. She ran to him.

He was on his back, bleeding badly. “Leave me. Get the perps’ weapons clear!”

Ashley moved to the closest suspect, and pulled his pistol from his belt. As she moved to the next, she keyed her handset mike. “Four-One-Six, Eight-Bravo-Twelve. Officer down, officer down!”

BIO: Rafe McGregor has one novel and a few short stories in his publishing credits. He writes hardboiled and historical mysteries. He runs a blog on crime and horror fiction called Crime Stories & Weird Tales.

2 comments:

Al Tucher said...

Tight, tense and real.

Paul Brazill said...

Oh, I did like that. Took the egde off my hangover, so it did.