The brakes were brand new, touchier than The Kid anticipated. As he depressed the pedal towards the floor the car lurched to a stop in a series of jolts, a far cry from the smooth deceleration he was expecting. Each time, it jerked his upper body forward a few inches before slamming him back again, a small puff of air releasing through his nostrils, an audible expelling of the emotion balled within.
Under different circumstances his angst would have been aimed at the shoddy handling of the SUV he was now seated in. It was an expensive ride, one far too pricey to be experiencing such shortcomings.
Tonight, whatever mechanical failures there may have been failed to even register with him. It was the first time he had ever been behind the wheel of it, the exorbitant asking price one that he had not had to pay.
Within an hour or two it would be cast away, nothing more than a prop, a tool needed for the completion of his task.
Instead his emotion was a contorted mass of competing feelings, each just as strong as the others, all demanding to be realized and acknowledged. Anger, hatred, vengeance, even a bit of sorrow, all wrapped into a tight package and hermetically sealed in his nether regions, threatening to burst out at any moment, at the very least to consume him from within.
The SUV finally came to a final stop with a mighty squeal of rubber against rubber, the hulking mainframe of the car rocking forward a few inches before settling back onto its chassis. The moment it came to a full rest The Kid jammed the gearshift into park, needing both of his hands free for what lay ahead.
Sweat beaded across his brow as he sat in the driver’s seat, thick sunglasses on despite the late hour. Their purpose was explicitly for this moment, meant to protect his vision as he stared into the rearview mirror, a pair of fluorescent flashers passing from one headlight to the other in the automobile pulled off the road behind him.
In equal three seconds pulses they passed from end to end, making a quick revolution around all four corners of the square lamps before jumping to the opposite side. Above them a pair of silhouettes could be seen seated in the front seat. On the right was a short, squat man, his bulk dominating much of the free space. Beside him sat a man so tall the top of his head was hidden from view, as if jammed into the hood of the car.
The Kid felt his pulse tick upward, staring back at them.
It was the right car. It had to be.
Sliding his right hand over to the passenger seat, The Kid extended his fingers over the gnarled grip of a .9mm Beretta. Keeping his movement hidden from view, he pulled it over onto his lap and passed it into his left hand before reaching across and taking up the second in the matching pair.
Keeping his fingers outside the trigger guards, The Kid squeezed the handles on both tightly, the muzzles for each pointed in opposite directions as they rested across his thighs. Veins stood out on the back of his hands as he looked down at them a long moment, feeling the reassurance of cool resolve flood through him.
It was time.
The second part of his plan was finally here.
A light breeze passed through the interior of the SUV as The Kid sat and waited. He watched as the two men behind him seemed to be in conversation, their heads rotating towards each other and back again behind him. No doubt they were running the plates on his car and making sure there was nothing outstanding for it before approaching, making him wait in a way that only cops could.
It wasn’t like they ever considered that the people they were pulling over had lives they needed to get back to or that their evening wasn’t already ruined enough.
As each moment ticked by The Kid felt his animosity grow, the feeling only serving to reaffirm his very actions.
Outside, an eighteen wheeler sped past, laying on the air horn twice in succession as it went. With the windows rolled down the sound reverberated through the interior of the car, rattling through The Kid’s head, his pulse jumping just slightly.
Fighting the urge to raise his middle finger at the trucker getting a good laugh at his expense, The Kid remained completely stationary, only his eyes moving as he alternated glances between the car in his rearview mirror and the guns on his lap.
A full eight minutes after coming to a stop, he watched as both doors on the car behind him swung wide. A bevy of misshapen shadows were visible as a man climbed from each side of the car, both adjusting their pants, before slamming the doors shut and stepping towards him.
Once more The Kid felt his pulse rise. His breath caught in his throat as he slid his index fingers beneath the trigger guards of their respective guns, counting the seconds in his head as his targets walked closer.
It was time.
Reed Mattox drew the back end of the word out more than a half minute, raising his face towards the ceiling, letting his voice roll from deep in his diaphragm. The only other sound in the aging farmhouse was the commentator of the game prattling on, his voice completely drowned out by Reed’s bellow of excitement.
When at last his lungs could take no more, his body aching for air, he lowered his gaze back to the television, a smile plastered across his features. Onscreen the wide receiver for the Oklahoma Sooners was accepting the congratulations of his teammates, the entire stadium a frenzied sea of crimson.
“Did you see that catch?” Reed exclaimed, on his feet in front of the couch, wringing his hands before him.
On the floor nearby his detective partner Billie, a sixty-five pound solid black Belgian Malinois, looked up at him beneath heavily-lidded eyes, her entire being a visual depiction of how little she cared.
For the first month of the season she had ebbed and flowed with Reed on every trial and tribulation of the Sooners football team, spending three to four hours every Saturday pacing from her bed beneath the kitchen table to the couch by Reed’s side. Now well into October her enthusiasm for the sport had faded, watching Reed with a detachment that seemed to be equal parts amusement and disbelief.
“Bah,” Reed said, waving a hand at her as the screen cut away to a replay, the receiver running a perfect wheel route to gain a few feet of separation. From there it was on the quarterback to lay it into the back corner of the end zone, the receiver snatching it from the air with one hand, his other encased by the defensive back trying to cover him.
Drawing in a full breath of air, Reed raised his face to bellow at the ceiling again when his cell phone erupted on the coffee table in front of him. Stopping his movement cold, he rocked forward at the waist and reached down, snatching up the implement without looking at the screen.
“See, some people appreciate a good play,” Reed said to his partner, the same smile in place as he took up the phone and pressed it to his face. “Did you see that?!”
A long moment of silence met his ear, long enough that the smile fell from Reed’s face as he pulled the phone back and checked the screen. He had expected to hear the voice of his father on the opposite end, sending up a similar yell of adulation, the two performing the same two-part verbal dance they had all but perfected over three-plus decades of watching football.
Instead, the number was from someplace far less enthusiastic.
“Sorry,” Reed said, a flush of heat rising to his cheeks. “Watching the game.”
“Reed?” the familiar voice of Jackie, night dispatch for the 8th Precinct Reed worked out of, asked.
“Yeah,” Reed said, taking up the remote and extending it towards the television, turning off the sound to the game. In the wake of it the house fell quiet, players continuing to move across the screen in muted silence. “What’s shaking, Jackie?”
Another long moment passed before Jackie whispered, “There’s been an accident.”
Still unfazed in his excitement for the game, Reed took up the half-full bottle of Heineken from the table beside him and swigged down a long drink. “I’m not on tonight, Jackie. I think Ike and Bishop are the call crew.”
At that a low sob sounded out over the line, the smile falling completely from Reed’s features. Leaning forward he lowered the bottle back down to the table, Billie sensing the shift in his demeanor, her head rising from the floor as she stared at him.
In the ten months Reed had been with the 8th, they had handled the full gamut of cases. He himself had worked a revenge killer and a truly bizarre case of someone targeting people for organ donation. Some of the other detective teams had covered everything from drug deals to grand theft.
Never once had Jackie batted an eyelash, much less shed a tear.
“What happened?” Reed asked, already feeling his mouth go dry as he waited for a response.
“I...” Jackie started, her breath coming in ragged bursts. She paused a moment, as if contemplating whether or not to continue, before simply saying, “They’re at Mercy West. Both in surgery right now. It’s bad.”
All thoughts of the game fell away. On the opposite end of the room Billie pushed herself to her feet, her eyes a pair of moist discs staring unblinking back at him, waiting for any sign of movement.
“We’re on our way.”
The lights above Mercy West hospital stood out bright against the ambient glow of Columbus as Reed angled his truck into town. Bypassing his police-issue sedan, he sat up high behind the wheel of the aging rig, Billie on the passenger seat beside him. With her bottom resting on the cloth cushion, she braced her front paws against the dash, her tongue wagging out of her mouth as they made their way forward.
It had taken less than ten minutes for Reed to transition once the call had come in. In rapid fashion he had killed the television, swapping out his gym shorts for a pair of jeans and sneaker. The Oklahoma t-shirt he was wearing he left on, pulling on a zip-up hooded sweatshirt before heading out.
His gun and his badge he left behind.
He was not going to work. He was going to show support.
It was true that every precinct had a couple of guys that took it upon themselves to give new hires a rough time. As the longest tenured crew working out of the 8th Pete Iaconelli and Martin Bishop had focused in on Reed with laser-like intensity, keeping him under close scrutiny for three solid months. Not until they had been forced together on his first major case did things begin to thaw, only recently approaching anything resembling working collegiality.
Despite that, Reed held no ill will. This was his second precinct, and after more than a decade in law enforcement he knew how things worked.
Ike and Bishop had given him a hard time to make sure he passed muster, not out of malice. Even if they had, moments like this rose far above any internal pissing matches. Law enforcement was often referred to as a brotherhood, and even though Reed was only child, he liked to imagine the depiction was apt.
They could pick on each other, but damned sure nobody else could.
Pushing the accelerator as hard as he dared, Reed pulled up in front of Mercy West, a gleaming structure of metal and glass in the western suburb of Hilliard. Standing more than a dozen stories tall, it towered over the surrounding neighborhood, parking lots spread wide around it.
Following the signs, Reed went straight for visitor parking and pulled into the first available spot, clipping Billie to her short lead and hopping out alongside her.
Hygienic facility or not, she was an officer and had just as much right as anybody to be present. So certain of that fact was Reed, especially given the events of the night, he almost dared someone to say something as they made their way to the front entrance.
An oversized pair of glass double doors parted for them as they stepped inside, the ambient temperature several degrees warmer than that outside. Despite it being half past eleven on a Saturday night the entire front lobby was already nearly full, an even mix of officers in uniform and others dressed to match his civilian attire. It was clear at a glance who was still on duty and who was off for the evening, everybody besides essential personnel dropping whatever they were doing the moment the call went out.
Reed nodded to a small cluster of officers in street clothes from the 19th Precinct – his old unit – as he passed, wading through the crowd in search of familiar faces. As he did so a handful of folks glanced in his direction, taking in both he and Billie before dismissing them and returning to their conversations.
A subdued vibe hung in the air as they moved forward, born of equal parts concern and anger. The faces of nearly every person wore the obvious internal conflict on their features, people vacillating on the proper response, no doubt asking each other for the slightest bit of information that might make some sense of what had happened.
Knowing that at this point anything he did pick up would be nothing but hearsay, Reed continued pushing forward, finally making his way to the far side of the room. There he found a cluster of men from his new home, all grouped tight, intermittingly tossing furtive looks at the double doors standing closed nearby, a sign for the operating suite hanging over them.
Officer Adam Gilchrist was the first to notice Reed and Billie. He turned to face them full, his thumbs looped into the front pockets of his jeans, a plain grey t-shirt covering his upper body. The last time Reed had seen him was a week before, a group from the precinct going out to celebrate the completion of his first year on the force. Now he seemed a far cry from the joyous young man he had been then, his boyish features pulled tight into a solemn look.
“Detective,” Gilchrist said, extending a hand.
“Officer,” Reed said, returning the shake. Beside them Gilchrist’s partner Derek Green turned, a black man just north of forty with grey starting to show at the temples, and shook Reed’s hand as well.
“How bad?” Reed asked, bypassing any pleasantries beside the handshake.
“Bad,” Gilchrist said.
Greene glanced in his direction, a momentary shadow of disapproval passing over his features at his young partner’s candor, before saying, “They’re both in surgery now. Word is Bishop took a round in the knee. Non life-threatening, but a lot of damage.”
The knot in Reed’s stomach grew a bit larger, pressing against the pizza he’d eaten just a short time before.
The two officers exchanged a quick glance, their faces both managing to grow a bit grimmer at the same time.
“Touch and go,” Greene finally offered, adding no more.
Reed knew better than to press it, now not being the time for open discussion of such matters.
The feeling grew even more pronounced within as Billie settled to a seated position against his leg. Without thinking he lowered his right hand and furrowed the hair between her ears, no sound escaping her as they stood and watched the crowd.
“Any word from Grimes yet?” Reed asked.
“He’s back there now,” Gilchrist said. “The waiting room is pretty tiny, so they’re only letting a couple people go back. Ike’s sister is in there, Bishop’s wife and daughter. Aside from them, it’s just Grimes and Jackie.”
Never before had Reed given much thought to the family situation for either Ike or Bishop, though it made sense. Everything Reed had ever seen of the former, from his manner of speech to choice in clothes, seemed to scream bachelor. His counterpart, different in just about every way, seemed much more the family man sort, in a henpecked sort of way.
“Jackie seemed pretty shook when she called,” Reed said. “You see her?”
Greene nodded once, his gaze moving past Reed, taking in the shifting crowd around them. “She got here about five minutes before you, was a complete wreck. I’m not sure I would have let her go back myself, but she refused to take no for an answer.”
Reed nodded, adding the information to what little he knew. He allowed it to stew for a full two minutes, the human side of him controlling the thought process, thinking first of his fellow officers and their families. From there he shifted to Grimes and Jackie, captain and den mother of the precinct respectively, and what they must be going through in the waiting room.
Finally, once that was completely sorted out, the other half, the undeniable, detective half, of his brain went to work.
So far he had learned that both men had been shot. Bishop’s was non life-threatening, Ike’s much more serious. That ruled out a car accident, a stray bullet, or any of a hundred other smaller things that could have put them in the hospital.
It still did very little to actually tell him what occurred.
With his hands shoved into the pockets of his sweatshirt he leaned forward a few inches, dropping his voice just slightly as he looked at Greene and Gilchrist in turn.
“Okay, what happened?”