Thursday, June 28, 2012

Selling Handcuffs, An Angel Day Novel. Chapter Three The Secret Police Stat

This is the third chapter, after the Background/SetUp chapter, which is Chapter Two: The Bat Cave. If you haven't read that one yet, I'll leave it up a little while longer. 

If you haven't read Chapter One, an Ice Monster! scene, you can click here to read it now. It'll be posted for one more week, but then it will go away. 

As always, these blog posts are rough drafts. I appreciate your comments a lot but, just so you know, this is pretty much how the novel comes out of my head, although I do clean up the commas. This prose will go through another very rigorous draft plus polishing before it sees the light of day. 

The first 25% of your novel or story should set up your main character and show them as they are, with all their flaws and all their virtues. It should show the relationships that they have in place and introduce many of the major characters.

This chapter includes the start of the Big Plotline that will stretch over several of the novels in this series, as well as the start of this novel's Plotline. So far, this is a routine call-out for Angel, but that will change in the next couple of chapters. I'll probably have to shorten this chapter, mainly by line-edits, to get to the meat sooner.

Also, Angel convinces Tony of a lot of stuff during their conversation. I think she'll probably have to do more badly in this scene, because she still relies on violence to solve her problems. She's too logical and negotiates too much, now. She should do this badly, perhaps even make the situation worse, and she should consider all the violent ways that she could solve this problem, none of which will work, of course. This will probably be a major change in the second draft.

I will probably need to add some more characters to Bravo Team, the Phoenix PD's sniper team, and Alpha Team, the Phoenix PD's assault team, but I don't want to overwhelm the reader with 30 minor characters right at the beginning, either. A tip to other authors: when you're writing a book with a high body count, start with a lot of characters so you still have some left after the bloodbath. 

If you sign up for email updates (over there on the right side bar), you'll get an update when I post Chapter Four: Blood on the Sand.

The next morning, Angel was tidying up her paperwork in the Bat Cave even though theoretically she was not supposed to be in the office because she was on leave after the shooting but sometimes, the paperwork just needed to be done.

She was glad that she had come in. Every member of the SAU, all of her sniper team and Mace’s much larger entry and assault team, had rotated through her cubicle and solemnly asked Angel if she was all right after the trauma of a shooting, assured her of their support in any upcoming grand jury hearings or civil court cases, and then grinned and congratulated her. Everyone had wanted that guy down on the ground.

Jack Jordan, a ruddy redhead with an uncommon resemblance to a good-natured red angus bull, complained, “You took my shot. I had him in my sights. You would think that you would at least share a sync’d shot.”

“Sorry about that, Jack. The suspect was firing on the police vehicles, so I took the shot.”

Jack nodded. “It was a nice shot, but you owe me beer for leaving me out of it.”

“Deal,” Angel said. She liked watching sports with Jack. “After work? The Que?”

“Deal,” Jack said. Having assured himself a pint, he trotted back to his desk to finish up his own paperwork.

Angel felt like herself again, the avenging Angel of Death, not a painted-up, well-behaved heifer ready to be auctioned off to a pharmacist. She felt good enough to kill something.

Kurt Blaze of Alpha Team was the next guy up. He grinned, and his even, white teeth were a shining crescent in his golden skin. His hair was two shades lighter gold than his skin. Even his eyes were hazel. He nearly sparkled, if you like that sort of thing.

Angel knew that Kurt was single, and he knew she was single, and they had been doing this slow dance around each other for a year now. Kurt kept running through girlfriends, like he always needed to have a woman on the line. Angel didn’t poach, so unless he was thoroughly unattached, she wasn’t going to suggest they have a drink.

Angel sighed. She had more drinks with Jack, who was married, than with Kurt, who was not.
That was just wrong.

Kurt said, “Nice shot.”

“Thanks, Kurt. How are you?” Angel leaned back in her chair.

“Fine. Fine.” He rested his arm on the cubicle back and looked out into the office, over the walls. “I should take you out for a drink, for saving Alpha Team the trouble of going into that stash house.”

“Should you?” Angel smiled, trying to be welcoming but not stupidly enthusiastic.

She was back to feeling like a heifer for sale again. Damn.

“Yeah,” Kurt said, as if this were a stroke of genius instead of their most common conversation.

Oh, the machinations that are seduction.

She wanted to ask about Kurt’s relationship status, but for once, she let it go. It was just a drink, and they hadn’t even decided when to go.

About ten o’clock, over her team’s chatter and the clanks of weapons being cleaned, she barely heard Tony’s voice calling from the doorway.

Tony yelled, “Angel! Cuz! You in there?”

Mace had warned her yesterday that Tony was looking to talk to her, and Tony had texted her twice, trying to schedule a meeting though their phone apps. “Yep! You finally here?”

“Had to do the due diligence,” Tony said. His voice was closer. “Walk and talk?”

“Sure.” She slid her tablet in a desk drawer. Tony was hyper as well as being an extrovert. He would have made a terrible sniper, though he was a tolerably good shot. They had learned how to shoot together, first from Angel’s dad, then by figuring it out and hunting.

Angel and Tony walked into the hallway and talked over the heads of the other police officers. For a few weeks, the two cousins had been nicknamed Gigantodum and Gigantodee because Angel was six feet tall in socks, and Tony was three inches taller. German and Comanche stock made for black-haired, black-eyed, very tall cousins. Those Giganto- nicknames had faded after Angel’s moniker “Angel of Death” had followed her from the FBI, and Tony was always the Chief.

Angel started, “You were down at the scene for a while yesterday.”

“Press,” Tony said. “I had to corral the press while the technicians did their jobs.”

“Ah, the fourth estate.”

“The whole thing was played out live on Channel 17. No seven second delay, so they broadcast that bastard’s head exploding.”

Angel did not like her job to be shown on television. It glorified violence, which she swore made her job more frequent. She said, “That is unfortunate.”

“Quite. Come on in, Cuz.” Tony opened the door to his office.

His desk was neat, but not obsessively so. His matte black nameplate read only, Anthony Indio. He didn’t flaunt his title.

The pictures above his desk showed Tony shaking hands with most of Arizona’s ranking politicians and a few national-level ones from the last decade. In the early ones, Tony was dressed in a patrol uniform. For the recent ones, Tony wore nice, middle-of-the-road suits. He didn’t dress in cheap suits from cheap department stores, but he didn’t go nuts and buy tailored, designer threads, either. He had a family to support. Tony called the collection of photos his “Impress-the-Press” wall.
Angel had plenty of photos of herself in such compromising handshake positions with politicians, including with two Presidents and lots of Senators taken after particularly important or secret ops with the FBI, but she didn’t display them. She didn’t have to impress the press, yet another benefit of working for a living. Tony had asked her for her pictures for the press room, but she’d declined. The SWAT combat uniform hid her face, and she liked her face hidden.

Tony shut his office door and sat in one of the two comfortable chairs in front of his desk. He tossed the morning newspaper on his desk. “You made the front page.”

Angel looked quickly at the paper because she didn’t want her own face all over the newspaper, but it was just a grainy telephoto picture of the suspect with a pink dandelion puff of blood and brain where his head should have been. It was gruesome, even so grayed out from the long distance. She felt squeamish for a second, but the suspect had really tried to kill that poor woman hostage.

The headline read: Hostage Standoff Ends with Dead Suspect.

She scanned the first paragraph, but it only identified “a police sniper” had shot the suspect, and her name wasn’t in there.

Could have been worse, Angel surmised.

Of course, the grand jury would be convened soon. That could always leak her name.

“Afterward,” Tony said, “that reporter from Channel 17 was all over me, hopped up over the ‘increasing militarization of the police.’ He says that he has written a book, The Secret Police State,—don’t you love that God damn title—and has a New York publisher and all that crap. We’re going to have a goat rope around here when it comes out next fall. He was taking pictures of the personnel carriers and Mason’s assault team. He got that still picture of that bastard’s head exploding when you hit him. Lovely spray. Looked like CGI. He said he can use it for the book’s publicity. Great shot, by the way, Cuz.”

“Thanks, Cuz.” Angel took the compliment but was under no illusions about the greatness of the shot. It had been an ordinary shot. She was glad that the round had hit so neatly and not exited and thus had not hit anyone else, but it wasn’t from a particularly long distance, or in a high wind, or anything extraordinary.

“Oh, yeah, I forgot.” Tony looked solemn. “Are you all right after such a traumatic event?”

“Yes, Tony.” She smiled at him.

“The department stands behind you, and there are department and union resources at your disposal should you need any kind of emotional support. Did I say all this yesterday?”

“No, we didn’t have time to talk yesterday.”

“Oh, okay. We have this speech so often. Where was I? Oh, yeah. And you are now on paid administrative leave with full benefits until the grand jury hearing, but you are requested to assist in the reenactment for the internal affairs investigation.”

Angel’s rotating hand gesture was dismissive and suggested that Tony could wrap up his canned speech because they both knew it all.

“Yeah, okay,” Tony said. “but seriously, nice shot.”

“Yeah, thanks.” She had talked about that shot more than enough, and it was time to move on to other topics. “So this guy’s book is a problem.”

“Yeah. He says that we’re using military equipment, vehicles, and tactics, that sort of thing. Of course we are. Because they work. This is between you and me, right, Cuz?” Tony asked.

Tony had called her “Cuz” at least five times in the last few minutes. Anytime Tony reinforced their familial relationship that much, something was up. Their family was an alliance between the pioneer ranchers and the native Apaches, and they had deep and wide roots in Arizona, especially Southern Arizona, near the border with Mexico. Those roots spouted up saplings on both sides of the law, too. There was a brittle photograph of one of their Great Aunts, as a child, sitting on Poncho Villa’s lap, presumably during his retirement from being a revolutionary but before his reentry into Mexican politics that got him assassinated. Border politics are brutal.

Angel sat in the other chair. “Sure, Cuz,” she said.

“This book is going to be a problem. That’s why I was so late. I’ve been sitting in my car in a parking garage with the air conditioning running. I called Bill Hunt,” the Mayor of Phoenix and another family friend, “and told him about the book. He called around. He said that there’s a lot of push behind it. Presidents blurbing it. Big media push. It’s going to be all over the news channels. It’s going to launch a grenade into Border politics. Bill said to start preparing now.”

“So we should hide the grenade launchers?” Angel joked.

Tony’s grimace was distressed. “Angel, Cuz, I’m serious. When that book comes out, this department needs to look like a prim and pristine model of community policing, because that book’s portrayal of ADPS and city police departments is going to make that Sheriff of ours look like a poster boy for moderation. Arizona is going to become an abbreviation for racism.”

“But we’re not profiling or doing anything racist, right?” Angel felt that she needed to confirm that point, and that saddened her.

“That guy you killed yesterday was Chicano.”

“I didn’t go looking for someone to shoot,” Angel said. “That guy taped a shotgun to a woman’s neck and was counting down. There were fifty-eight people in the stash house, mostly women and kids. The toilets had overflowed days ago. The bastard had turned off the air conditioning. It was a hundred and thirty degrees in there. No water, no food. I’m surprised they weren’t dead. They would have been, soon. The kids would have died first.”

Tony pursed his lips, as he always did just before he phrased something delicately. “There are people who will say that you wouldn’t have shot him if he were white.”

Evidently, that was the most delicate way to phrase that nasty thought.

Angel leaned forward. “Shall we suggest that I wouldn’t have fired if I were white, Tony?”

Tony appraised her coolly. “No. We shouldn’t talk about that at all.”

Their mutual great-grandfather had ridden with Geronimo when the Chiricahua Apache were still the last free Indians in America and then had slipped away when Geronimo surrendered. When they were children, their grandfather had taught them both to cut sign, to bowhunt, and to break the neck of what they shot. The Apache scouts were the best in their time, and those traditions lived in their family. The inside joke in their extended family was that they were all still uncivilized savages, and that this was a point of pride.

There was a small undercurrent in all their jokes that the family should be quiet about all that, because there was a time when the only good Indian was a dead Indian, and that time was not all that long ago.

Angel smiled at her cousin. Tony was more sensitive about that than she was. Everyone thought she was bloodthirsty, anyway. She could tease Tony all day if she wanted, but he wasn’t in the mood and, really, neither was she.

Tony added, “And we don’t want you talking to the press.”

Angel agreed, “Oh, hell, no.”

“And we should mention to the other officers that they are not to talk to the media, and they should not use your name, and they certainly should never use than damned nickname of yours.”

The Angel of Death nickname bothered her sometimes, even though it might have been responsible for her quick promotion at the FBI. That nickname had sprung up during her very first field office assignment, years before she had been accepted on the HRT.

Her nickname horrified Tony. If it ever got out, the press would run with it. Jesus, what a gotcha that would be. Angel did not want Tony’s job, where his colleagues’ nicknames could cause huge problems that could, theoretically, get him fired.

“I’ll talk to my team and ask Mace to pass the word,” Angel reassured him. “They’re professionals. They wouldn’t slip like that.”

Tony finger-combed his hair back even though it was less than an inch long on top and shaved above his ears and high on his neck. That gesture was left over from when they were kids, when Tony hated haircuts. He had wanted to look like an Apache.

Angel smiled. As a child, her hair had always been cropped as short as her mother would let her cut it. Her hair was longer now than back then. It was sad to think that Ma would probably be pleased.
Tony said, “The official policy from now on is that no one talks to the press except our media liaisons officer. We cannot have any bad press from now until this asinine book comes out.”

“Right. That’s what we do now, Tony. We’ll refer them to the media liaisons more forcefully, if necessary.”

“No, not forcefully. Kindly, and negotiatingly, and community-ish. We have got to put some lipstick on this,” and he pursed his lips, probably considering the unfortunate word that he had been about to say and how it offensive it was to police officers.

Angel waited, letting him sweat it out. She would give him two seconds and, if he couldn’t figure out a way around it, change the subject.

Of course, if he said it, she would tease the hell out of him.

Tony finally finished, “ . . . department.”

Okay, so he wasn’t completely brain dead from the stress of this upcoming book. Angel tried joking with him again. “You aren’t asking me to wear make-up, are you? Because I did that last night, and oh, Cuz, that was an unmitigated disaster. Seriously, lipstick brings out the worst in me.”

Tony ignored her joke again. “When this book hits, it’s going to be sheer hell, Angel. That guy is going to crucify us. They’re going to call us Nazis and scream about state-sponsored murder, unless we have a rebuttal in place. We need to look as prim as librarians, so we can say that this book is a smear campaign for personal gain.”

Angel wanted to tell Tony that he had a big problem on his hands and that’s why the city paid him the big bucks, but the grim clench of his jaw meant that more joking would be unkind just then. “But it’s not that bad,” Angel said. “I mean, policing here is rougher than Back East, because the criminals are rougher. Back East criminals don’t carry machine guns. Out here, the drug gangs really do have automatic weapons, not to mention that they really have grenade launchers.” The week before, a Border Patrol officer had found a cache of military weapons above one of the trails that he policed. The officer had been shaken, realizing that if the weapons’ owner had been in the cave, he might have been killed that day.

Tony shook his head. “I’d love to just stick you up on the podium to explain those cultural differences to the press, but they won’t buy it. This book is going to be bad. The newspapers and television channels will pick up the meme and run with it. Oh, God, the national networks are going to do their usual highbrow, holier-than-thou crap. I’m expecting a call from Linda Castro,” the governor. He winced.

Angel wanted to lighten his mood. His slumping shoulders looked despondent. “We could just shoot the guy. I could do it from a mile away. They’d never figure out it was me.”

Tony snorted, finally getting the joke. “Yeah, that would make the situation go away, wouldn’t it?” He waggled his thick eyebrows at her. At least he had calmed down enough to joke a little. He sighed, and the sad weight came back to his shoulders. “No. We need to reorganize the department.”

“Like, promotions for some of my guys?” That would be great. The flat structure of the police department meant that leadership openings were few and far between. They and she got frustrated with their lack of professional opportunities.

“No,” Tony said. “Like we need to reorganize the SAU.”

“When you say ‘reorganize’. . . .” Angel didn’t like the sound of that. One of her cousins worked in the pharmaceutical industry, where “reorganize” was a euphemism for “fire entire departments with no warning.”

Tony said, “I mean we can’t have a SWAT team that nukes people from orbit. It looks bad, really bad, from the outside.”

“Well, it was a decent shot, but it wasn’t a nuke from orbit. It was only two hundred yards. Did you just say that you don’t want snipers on the SAU?”

“We need to reorganize the SAU to reduce its profile.”

Angel had moved back to Arizona when Tony had begged her to lead their sniper team, which had been a haphazard group of second-string plinkers. It had taken her a year to bring their skills up to snuff. Last weekend, she had had them out in the blazing-hot desert with paintball guns, working on stalking in desert-brush ghillie suits. A Gila monster had tried to nest in Jack Jordan’s cloak of tumbleweed branches, nature’s highest compliment. “Breaking up my team is your most asinine idea yet, Tony.”

They were cousins. They could talk that way. She spoke more roughly with her three brothers.

“If we break them up and reassign them so that they aren’t full-time snipers, we could camouflage them so that the press won’t be able to find them.”

Angel’s dismay was turning to anger. “If they aren’t full-time snipers, they won’t be snipers at all. Their skills are perishable. We train every day.”

Tony spread his hands helplessly. “It looks bad that we have a full-time sniper division to kill citizens with long-range shots.”

“You have an assault team that fast-lines from a black helicopter, blows open doors, and kills suspects at much shorter distances,” Angel pointed out. 

Tony nodded. “We need to break them up, too.”

“You want to break up the assault team? Mace’s assault team?” Angel could not believe that he was even thinking about it.

Tony shook his head. “We’re not firing anybody, at least, I hope not. We’re just hiding our people so that when the reporters come and want to see the SAU, we can show them our warm, fuzzy negotiators and kick their snooping asses out of here.”

The Phoenix PD’s negotiators were ineffective and untrained, as far an Angel was concerned. The FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group had good negotiators, even great negotiators, after the brutal lessons that had been learned at the Ruby Ridge and Waco sieges. The Phoenix negotiators would be laughed out of CIRG. They were all wannabe profilers trying to be car salesmen.

“What would you have done today, when that bastard was going to kill that woman?”

Tony stared down, at his desk, avoiding her eyes. “Let the negotiators do their jobs.”

“He would have killed her if I hadn’t put him down. His next shot would have been at her and blown her in half. Then he would have shot at the officers until they finally killed him. You would have had more civilian casualties, more officer casualties, and the suspect would still be dead.” Angel had done the right thing. She was sure of it.

“But that would have been his decision. If your bullet had hit anyone else, we would have been liable. If he would have twitched when you hit him and blown her head off or shot one of those witnesses in the house, we would have been liable. As it is, when the news networks do their turnaround piece in a couple days, we’re going to look like the Stazi and the SS and the KGB, all rolled into one militarized police force. We need to reorganize the whole SAU, or else the politicians will take us over and fire everyone.”

“They can’t fire everyone. You can’t have a city the size of Phoenix without a police force.”

“They can fire everyone at the top, then work their way down, replacing everyone.”

Angel could not believe that Tony would hamstring the department in the name of political expediency. “You will lose your best people, Cuz. The only reason that I came home was to lead your sniper team, because you’re family. I had my pick of jobs across the country. New York was peeing their pants, trying to get the girl sniper.”

“If you would have gone to New York, you would have never fired your gun again.”

She ignored him. It was just arguing, not a point of debate. “Mason will leave, too. He won’t sit at a desk. Every assault team in the country wants the ex-Delta Force guys. He could make ten times as much money as a private contractor. You will eviscerate your department if you break up SAU.”

Tony’s grimace was desperate. “But they’ll go of their own free will, when they have jobs waiting for them, rather than be summarily fired for political reasons.”

Angel wanted to throttle him. She had saved Tony’s life a dozen times when they were kids, pulling him out of a creek after he had knocked himself out, catching his belt before he went over a cliff, not running him over when he was laying in the middle of the road in the dark. She had saved his life, so surely it was within her right to kill him now.

Damn, but he was frustrating sometimes.

Tony wiped his hands on his pants legs, a gesture that Angel knew from her FBI days meant that he was trying to soothe himself.

She calmed down. Tony was as upset as she was.

Angel asked, “Has this been decided for sure?”

Tony shook his head. “No. It hasn’t been decided. We’re looking at our options. This is just our first, knee-jerk, panicky reaction. I’m looking for your support, Cuz.”

She could turn him. When she was a field agent in the FBI, they used to turn suspects into sources all the time. It was considered the best outcome of an interrogation.

She said gently, “Tony, Cuz, you won’t have my support if you break up the SAU. I will leave, and I’ll take the best guys from my team with me. Mace will do the same.” Next, she gave him more negative motivation. “Phoenix PD will be a shell without us. The human traffickers and drug smugglers will run circles around you guys. The whole Valley will look like the Alhambra district,” the blighted, gang-controlled area where police only went with backup and, preferably, air support.
Then, she asked him to turn. “You can’t want to break us up.”

“Of course not,” Tony said. He ran his hand through his black hair again.

Ah, there he stated his desire to turn. Angel smiled. Time for more juice.

She said, “And if we don’t have a dedicated unit that can respond to violent crimes, then you’re really going to get sued.”

“That’s true, too,” Tony said.

Now, she needed to establish that they were on the same team so they could move forward toward a cooperative goal. “So Phoenix needs the SAU. Our real goal is to defuse the effects of the book.”

“Right.” Tony wiped his hands on his pants again.

“So let’s figure out a better solution,” Angel said. “Something that won’t cripple the department, too. The good thing is, if that book scheduled to come out next fall, they’ve probably already finalized the manuscript. The presses are printing it. He can’t change anything, now.” She stood and leaned on Tony’s desk, making herself a co-conspirator. “We can change what people see.”

“Yeah,” Tony said. His black eyes widened with relief for the first time that morning.

“So we’re on the same proverbial page. We’ll figure out what’s in that book and what we can do to countersnipe it before it even hits the bookstores. That bastard will never know what hit him.”

“Yeah,” Tony said with growing conviction.

“I’ll bet the publication date is already up on the online bookstores. We can launch a counteroffensive a month before it comes out and make it look a day late and a dollar short. Remember when that guy had a book coming out about Barack Obama’s birth certificate, and Obama released his long-form birth certificate the very day before the book hit the bookstores? Utterly destroyed it. We can do that.”

“Yeah,” Tony said with a little bit of his usual predatory glee. “Fuck him back.”

“Abso-fucking-lutely. We have to attack not just his book, but his strategy.” That was from one of Mace’s Sun Tzu quotes. Mace would be surprised that she had listened to his quotes. “And we have a couple months to plan how to do it.”

“Okay,” Tony said. “We can do this. We will do this. Starting now.”

“Now? We need to plan this first.” Angel thought it was too soon, that they needed to have an assault plan in place before they started attacking the book willy-nilly. Another of Mace’s Sun Tzu quotes came to her mind, so she said, “‘Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.’”

“Yes, but we can improvise while we’re fighting. Like you said, we have months to get it right.”

“Tony, let’s plan this first. How about a beer after work to hash this out?”

“After work today is going to be a problem.”

“Oh? Kid stuff?” Tony had three kids.

“No, Cuz,” Tony said, and his grin turned sheepish. “Since you’re officially on mandatory administrative paid leave, Cuz, I should tell you to go home and take Kary for a walk, but I got word on the way here that there’s a situation developing down near Sierra Vista. Cuz, I can’t order you to go, and even asking you to go after an officer-involved shooting is stupid, but this situation looks bad. We’re going to need the sniper team at least for recon, if not for your actual job title. Cuz, I’m asking you this unofficially as your cousin, not as the Chief. Could you—and you should say no if you are the least bit uncomfortable or need some time after that maniac yesterday,—could you go down there, Cuz?”

Wow. Again the many iterations of Cuz. This must be big.

Excitement stirred in Angel at the prospect of staring down her scope at a criminal who desperately deserved to be put down, again, and so soon. The reptile in her brain coiled a little, like a rattlesnake when it hears a mouse rustling the brush. “Cuz, I feel fine. Yesterday was an unambiguous shot. I’m fine to go back to work.”

“Okay, then. It’ll be an hour or so before the call comes.”

“Do you know anything about the situation?” Angel was antsy, wanting to know what she was walking into, or crawling into. Yes, probably crawling.

“Something to do with weapons and shots fired at an officer. I don’t have any details, just heard the rumors. But while you’re down there, keep that book in mind. Everything that breaks bad from now on will be held up as confirmation of The Secret Police State.” Tony’s mouth worked like he tasted something nasty. “A negotiated end to this would be best. Everyone walking out of there, glad-handing for the camera, would be fantastic. Blood on the sand is not an option, if I’m going to save the SAU.”

“Right,” Angel said, wanting to leave so she could clean her gun.

“You’re my rep down there. I need you to control the situation. Think PR.”

“Right.” In her impatience to go, Angel half-turned toward the door.

Tony saw her fidgeting and sighed. “Fine. Go home and pack a bag. I-as-the-Chief am ordering you back on duty.”

“How long will we be down there?” she asked.

Tony rolled his eyes. “You know how these Border things are. Could be an hour. Could be a month. Pack for the duration.”

“Right.” She would have to leave her dog with her neighbor. “By the way,” she started.

“Yeah?” Tony was already deep into his cell phone, rearranging things.

“You haven’t heard from Wyatt lately, have you?”

Tony shrugged. “No. We don’t keep in touch much. You have maybe an hour before the call comes. Get your bag packed.”

After leaving Tony’s office, Angel stopped at the Bat Cave and grabbed her official tablet. The guys who were already in there popped up and peered over the blue cubicle dividers as she trotted through. Their round heads atop the blue half-walls looked like pumpkins set up on a ridge for plinking practice.

She hollered, “What have I told you guys about sticking your heads up and countersniping? Seriously, look around barriers, not over them. Get packed. There’s a call-out coming.”

She texted all her team on her way out of the office that they should pack their sniper bags and some clothes, that work was coming their way.

Work. Angel loved her work.


Angel had her bag packed and was settling Kary at her neighbor’s house, handing over extra dog food and vitamins, when she got the text message from the dispatch at the Phoenix PD: WORK. Sky Harbor Airport.

So they were flying down there. Must be a quite a situation. All her weapons, from her boot pistol to her six-foot-long fifty-caliber sniper rifle, were secured in her fast-break bag in the Bat Cave and would meet her at the airport.

Angel said, “Thanks for taking him, Lynda. I’ll pay you when I get back.”

“Oh, don’t you worry about it.” Lynda was a mousy, freckly, young, young mom, about twenty-two with two kids already and another one on the way, and she also babysat other toddlers. She smiled at Kary, who panted happily at her. “He herds the babies around, and they ride on him, and he just takes it. I found Justin chewing on his ear the other day, because Justin is teething, and Kary just licked little Justin’s face. He’s just the best dog. He herds them out of the kitchen when I cook lunch. And it’s great to have him around at night when Benji is working late. I don’t mind at all. And don’t you dare pay me.” She patted Kary’s head, and Kary leaned on her, but he still stared forlornly at Angel.

She was going to miss her dog, Angel realized. When she had been deployed for weeks or months at a time with the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, she had not had a pet, not even fish. She just locked up her apartment and left it all until she got back.

Now, Kary had had such a rough time, and he was just getting over his PTSD. She worried about how her absence for a week or more might affect him. When he had crawled in bed with her that first night after the bombing, still shaking, she hadn’t had the heart to make him lay on the floor, and then the second night was the same, and the third night, and now she was used to Kary sleeping with his head on the other pillow.

Angel liked Kary’s warm fur and his happy eyes and his excitement at seeing her when she got home. She didn’t want to leave him, but she didn’t want to subject him to a plane ride and a hotel room, and she certainly couldn’t drag him along on the hunt with her.

She bent down and ruffled his ears. When he leaned on her, she hugged him. He wasn’t trembling. He seemed fine. “I’ll see you soon, Karyoke,” Angel said. “Thanks again, Lynda. I’ll call to check on him.”

Angel went back to her own house to pack a few things from her locked bedroom.

Four gun safes lined the walls, each screwed into the house’s studs and anchored into the cement foundation. They looked like bank vaults from an Old West movie: painted with black lacquer and gold filigree, silver five-pronged ship’s wheel handles, and heavy enough to withstand dynamite. If the house blew up, those gun safes might get singed but wouldn’t move. She didn’t bother to put bars on the windows or reinforce the bedroom door. If someone wanted in, they could hack through the drywall in a few minutes, but those safes would withstand just about anything.

She spun the wheel on one, and the bolts retracted from the safe’s frame with a solid thunk. When she opened the safe’s door, it was six inches thick.

You never knew what exotic equipment you might need on a Border siege that might last for a month, so she packed several light, matte black items in a plain black duffel bag.


Angel had listened to news radio in the car on her way to the airport, but she didn’t hear anything suspicious. The media must not have figured out that something was going down, yet.

On the hot tarmac, other SWAT-type units from other jurisdictions were milling around, each mostly keeping to themselves. Angel was used to the man’s world of police work and had few female colleagues, but she noticed that she was the only female person mobilizing, like when she had been on the FBI’s HRT. She wasn’t upset about it, but being the only woman on the job still made her uncomfortably conspicuous. She preferred blending in.

Jack Jordan met her near the plane, pulling a wheelie-bag. He stood next to her and squinted up because his red-haired head only came up to her shoulder. He looked stocky, but he was actually muscle-bound. Since Angel had taken over the sniper team and insisted on peak physical fitness for her team, on company time if necessary, Jack had lost thirty pounds, and his body fat had gone from thirty percent to ten percent. He had stopped needing blood pressure and cholesterol medication. He practically strutted, he was so proud of himself. He did look like a little Red Angus bull, all muscle meat and coppery hide.

Angel was proud of him, too. He had been the sniper team’s weakest sniper and laziest ass, and now he was her second. She respected hard work.

Hot wind whirled around them. Jack’s freckled face already looked a little sunburned. Maybe Angel should pack in sunscreen, more for her team than herself.

“Damn,” Jack said. “Looks like we’re going to war with Mexico out here.” His expansive gesture took in the busy teams and their many, many weapons staged and ready to load: boxy gun cases, pointy gun bags, and storage bins filled with flashbang stun grenades, explosive strips to blow open doors, anti-riot stingball grenades, tear gas canisters, and boxes and boxes of heavy ammunition.
Angel asked, “Have you seen Mace?”

“Yeah. He’s loading our equipment.”

Jack pointed, and Angel saw Mace in his black fatigues, standing at the cargo door of the airplane with a clipboard, checking identification numbers on bins and checking them off on his chart.

Good. Mace had things under control. She would go help him in a minute.

“Who’s here?” Angel asked Jack.

Angel could barely hear him over the plane warming up and the shouting of teams to each other. “Arizona Department of Public Safety is over there,” Jack pointed. “Mesa SWAT is over there.”

“Oh, God,” Angel said, remembering the uproar a few years earlier. “Tell me they didn’t bring the monkey.”

Jack rolled his eyes with contempt for the monkey. “I didn’t see the SWAT monkey, but it might be in a cage. So I guess it’s no-go for that beer you owe me tonight, huh?”

“As soon as we get a break, we can go for a beer,” Angel said. “There are only two things to do in Southern Arizona: go to church or have a drink. There are tons of bars.”

“Oh.” Jack brightened up. “Okay. So at least there’s beer down there.”

“One of my cousins owns a Mexican restaurant that’s stocked with amazing beers.”

“Is this the cousin who owns the coffee shop?”

“No,” she said. “Different cousin.”
“I’m afraid to ask how many cousins you have,” Jack said.

“There are a lot of us cousins. I’m related to half of Southern Arizona. Seventy-three boys and three girls, in my generation, and that’s just first and second cousins.”

Jack laughed. “Only three girls? How did that happen?”

It was an odd ratio. “Must have been the copper in the water.”

“Any chance one of your cousins is involved in this little problem?”

Ah, Jesus. Angel hadn’t really thought about that. It was damn possible. “Uh, no. Probably not. Who’s flying us down?”

“Air National Guard.” Jack gestured to a large cargo plane on the runway. The plane was turned so Angel could only see its tail, so she couldn’t see insignia.

Great. Jumpseats. And noise. A helluva lot of jet engine noise. Angel didn’t mind the noise much, but she had hoped for a commercial plane so that they could be briefed on the way down, but it would be a short flight, anyway. “Wonder if Rick is going to fly us down.”

“Who’s Rick?” Jack asked.

“He’s in the Air National Guard and, uh, well, he’s my cousin.”

Jack laughed at her again.

It was pretty funny. She laughed, too.

Rick was indeed the pilot who flew them down to Libby Army Airfield, where they had trucks waiting to drive them to a briefing room within the sprawling Fort Huachuca.

The briefing room was too small for all seventy men plus Angel of the assorted teams, and the air conditioning blew frosty cross-currents between the overheated men. Angel, as a primary sniper and team leader, sat at a long table and pulled out her notebook and pen. Jack and other men did the same. The men who didn’t get a seat leaned on walls. A few sat on the floor.

Most of the men were uncommonly fit, rugged-jawed, and wore black fatigues with SWAT, SAU, or some other acronym that meant they met violence with superior firepower.

Two men dressed in wrinkled suits sat against the back wall. Angel supposed that these were the negotiators. Two negotiators. Only two. That was insane. There should be almost as many people on the negotiating team as on the assault and sniping teams. She didn’t recognize them, either. They were chubby and rumpled, certainly not one of the sharp men from the FBI’s CIRG negotiation teams.

The FBI’s negotiators had the patience and mind tricks to convince desperate people that the thing they wanted most in the world was to get out of the hole they were in. Angel didn’t understand how they did it, and she didn’t really want to know how. She believed that the world was a better place if some evil people weren’t in it.

Angel had a bad feeling that this was amateur hour, again.

At the front of the room, the Cochise County Sheriff, David Hardigger, was late middle-aged and, despite his white cowboy hat, he had sun-carved lines worthy of seven decades of hard living. He limped to the podium but did not wince.

Evidently, Sheriff Hardigger did not like the podium’s placement in the center of the media screen, so he picked up the solid wood box, which was doubtlessly stacked inside with electronic equipment, with the tips of his fingers and carried it to the corner of the room. Though Sheriff Hardigger was gimpy and fifty-something though his face appeared seventy, he was lean and whipcord strong.

He saw Angel sitting in the front row, smiled, and nodded at her.

It was sweet of him to recognize her after all these years. She smiled and nodded back.

Jack whispered, “Another cousin?”

“No,” Angel said. Generational lines in her family were blurry, but David was more of an uncle. His four sons were her cousins, probably third cousins. Three were in the military, all officers who had seen combat. The youngest was still in college.

“This will be a short briefing,” Sheriff Hardigger announced without a microphone, and the clamoring male voices settled down. “It will be short because we don’t know much. Lights down, please?” The room lights dimmed. “Last night about ten o’clock, one of my deputies attempted to pull over a blue pick-up truck with a covered bed and no license plates. This is pretty common down here: no plates or wrong plates. The drug smugglers pull tricks like that all the time.

He clicked something on the podium, and a still shot from a police car’s dashboard camera showed the back of a blue pick-up truck illuminated in the police cruiser’s headlights.

“However, the suspect’s vehicle made a run for it, and a high-speed chase ensued. The suspect’s vehicle went off-road and crashed close to the road in a ditch. The suspect ran for it on foot, and the deputy was not able to pursue due to darkness and lack of physical fitness.”

This last bit, he said with a bit of distaste. Angel bet that Sheriff Hardigger could have run down the suspect if he would had been there, despite his limp.

“When the deputy examined the abandoned truck,” Sheriff Hardigger continued, “he expected to find drugs. Instead, he found military-grade weapons, including but not limited to grenades and automatic rifles. A full list will be furnished to you when you leave.”

The men in the small room whispered to each other about the weapons. Jack glanced at Angel, concerned. Angel nodded. If they had military-grade weapons, they might have sniper rifles, too. Their sniper team would have to be careful about counter-sniping.

“The truck was registered to a Donald James Corbett. The address was in Elgin.”

Not one of Angel’s cousins. The name wasn’t even familiar, and she had few people over in Elgin.
Angel nearly sighed with relief, which was interesting because she hadn’t realized that she was holding her breath as her Uncle David led up to the vehicle’s registration. Family matters would complicate this mess that she was supposed to untangle without bullets.

Sheriff Hardigger said, “The address in Elgin was either out-of-date or fraudulent. Inspection of records indicated that no Donald James Corbett lived there, although that was also the address on his driver’s license. This residence was a dead end.

“At first light,” the Sheriff continued, “we tracked the suspect to a small compound in Santa Cruz County, southeast of Elgin.”

An aerial picture of a house, perhaps a satellite photo from the internet, appeared on the screen.
“There is one domicile, one story, of approximately four thousand square feet, in a clearing. Airborne surveillance shows several kitchen fan vents on one end of the house, suggesting that the house may be used as a methamphetamine lab. The surrounding area is high desert, much like the basins of the Coronado Forest area.”

Angel had grown up hiking the Coronado National Forest, from high desert to the “sky islands,” mountain ranges that zoomed vertically out of the desert and culminated in year-round, alpine snow. One time, she and her cousins took a fantastic hike, and in a single day the temperature had ranged over a hundred Fahrenheit degrees, from scalding desert heat to snowball fights. They had packed their canteens with snow for the return trip through the cacti.

The basins, however, were scrub brush and rattlesnake lands. Angel and her team would need sunscreen after all, and probably snakebite kits. And tweezers.

“When two deputies and I approached in uniform and on horseback because there are no proper improved roads into the compound, we were fired upon by automatic weapons fire. We retreated. My horse was killed, those bastards. Pardon me, those suspected bastards. I took one to the thigh,” murmuring filled the room that the Sheriff was working after being shot a few hours ago. Hardigger waved his rough hand to quiet the men, “but he just winged me, thank you for your concern. Giant Mark was a fine animal, and he will be missed.”

Sheriff Hardigger paused and cleared his throat.

He said, “No contact has been established with the compound. No telephone lines lead in, but cell phone reception is possible. Negotiations have not yet been initiated. There is a chance that anyone and everyone in house bugged out after the shooting, so there is no confirmation either way that the structure is currently occupied, but several vehicles are parked outside the house.

“We have warrants for anyone in the compound on weapons charges, as there is ample evidence,” he grimaced and pointed to his own wounded leg, “that automatic weapons are present. We also have an arrest warrant for Donald James Corbett for felonious flight and on weapons charges. More warrants are pending.

“Fire conditions are high today, so no smoking outside of a vehicle or building, and no campfires. Vehicles must remain on developed roads. Nothing with an engine goes off the asphalt. Sorry, friends, it’s going to be a hike.

“If the team leaders would remain behind, the rest of you can dismiss to the chow hall. You’ll want a good, hot meal before all this starts.”

Chairs squealed on the floor as the rush for the chow hall began. Most of them had not eaten since breakfast, and it was four o’clock.

Jack said, “Good God damn!” He pushed his chair back from the table. “I did not want to get into a firefight today.”

Angel had almost enjoyed the truck ride onto the army fort, looking at the high desert: the green-skinned and spiky palo verde trees, the missile-shaped saguaros, and the furry jumping cholla cacti. She hadn’t thought that she would have to crawl through it. They were going to need Teflon skin or else they were going to come back full of cactus needles.

“Jack,” Angel said, “I’d appreciate it if you could round up the rest of the snipers and start planning. We may be infiltrating in the dark. Make sure the NVGs and the night vision optics are charged up, and we have extra batteries. You know, all that stuff.” The upgraded night vision goggles were brand new and everyone’s favorite new toy. Some of the NVGs might have wandered off and had their batteries drained.

While Jack rounded up the rest of the team for a conference, Angel stayed for the brain storming and planning with the team leaders. Mostly, the team leaders divided up shifts, which Angel thought was amusing because once she and her snipers had crawled over a mountain and infiltrated to sniping position, it was probably just easier to stay put than to try to exfiltrate every damn day.

However, showers would nice, too. You had to have some relief on long sieges and, Angel realized, Sheriff Hardigger and the other law enforcement were divvying up the shifts as if this was going to be a long siege.

Snipers would be sent in primarily to do surveillance and gather intelligence. At least four sniper teams would always be on the house, around the clock, watching.

Mace was tasked to head the assault team. His team would get the intelligence that the snipers radioed back. They would prepare a mock compound and practice their assault.

Angel had joined the FBI years after the long siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, when the Hostage Rescue Team had stared through sniper rifles at the fortified building for fifty days before it went up in flames. She had met some of the men who were there, and they were still haunted by it years later.

She pulled out her cell phone and dialed Tony’s cell phone. “Cuz,” she said. “You’ve got to get out here. This is going to blow up.”

“I can’t, Cuz,” he said. He sounded distracted. “It’s teams only, to support Sheriff Hardigger. There’s no way they want an extra Chief running around there. That’s why I need you to control it.”

“There are two negotiators here, two, and they’re not even in contact. This is going to turn bad, fast.”
“I can offer to loan our negotiators to David.”

Fat lot of good that would do. The Phoenix PD’s negotiators were amateurs, and Tony knew how she felt about them. “You should tell Uncle David about that book.”

“It’s under the radar right now, and the book is mostly about us anyway. If this does break bad, get anybody from Phoenix out of it.”

Reducing the damage to the Phoenix Police Department by heaping it on the other departments seemed unethical to Angel, but she didn’t have time to argue with Tony about that. “Okay, Cuz. I’ll try.” She hung up.

Angel needed to make sure this siege ended peaceably, calmly, and with no blood on the Arizona sand.


Thanks for reading! I really appreciate you reading the rough draft of my new novel Selling Handcuffs. Feel free to leave comments or connect with me on Twitter, where I tweet as @TKKenyon. You can twitter-follow me by clicking on the twitter-birdie in the right-hand column. 

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TK Kenyon 

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