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By Joe McKinney
Kensington Publishing Corp.Copyright © 2006 Joe McKinney
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThere's an empty parking lot near the corner of Seafarer and Rood where I used to go to fight with my wife. Most district cops have some hidden little spot where they go to escape all the crap that comes with working patrol, and that parking lot was mine. From there I was pretty much invisible and I could still make almost any call in my district in less than five minutes.
My wife, April, and I were going at it at least once a week back then. When she'd call with that pissed-off tone in her voice that said I was in for a long one, I'd head straight for Seafarer and Rood. There, I'd pull under the canopy of an enormous oak tree near the back of the lot, and hunker down for an earful of whatever I'd done wrong. I used to watch the curves of its trunk and branches while she yelled at me, and even now, when she grows impatient with some little thing I've done, and the old familiar tone creeps back into her voice, I think of the dry, dusty smell of oak.
Six months before that, she'd given birth to a beautiful baby boy, our first. We named him Andrew James Hudson, after his grandfather. That little guy changed my world. After he was born, I'd tell anybody who'd listen that being his daddy was what I was put on this Earth to do.
Before Andrew, I worked the dogwatch shift, eleven atnight till seven in the morning. That was back when April and I were first starting out. It wasn't the best for getting time together, because we only had a few hours during the evening to spend with each other. But I got an extra $300 a month for working at night, and that part was good.
Then, when April got pregnant, we started trying to plan the way things would work, and arguments kept flaring up.
One day she had a long phone conversation with her sister, who had two kids already, and that night she told me, "I'm gonna need you here with me at night. The baby's gonna be waking up every few hours to feed, and I can't do that alone."
So I asked some of the guys at work what I could do and found out I qualified for a hardship transfer. That's how I ended up on the second shift, 3 to 11 pm with Wednesdays and Thursdays off. April wasn't happy about me working on the west side, because it was a rough part of town, but when you put in for a hardship transfer, you have to take what they give you.
And hardships are only good for six months. After that, they move you back to wherever they need you, which is almost always on dogwatch.
On this particular evening, we were fighting about me going back to nights when Chris Tompkins pulled up next to me. He rolled down the window of his patrol car, and I gestured to him that I'd be a minute. I kept on listening. April was doing all the talking.
"Eddie, just tell them you need to stay on second shift," she said. "Why can't you just tell them that?"
"It doesn't work that-"
"What do they think? Now that the baby's born you can just go back to working nights? I need you home now more than ever."
"I know, sweetie."
"The whole reason you got the transfer is so we can take care of Andrew together."
"I'm sure you're not the only one with a baby at home. Just go in there and tell them you need more time."
"But, sweetie, it doesn't work that-"
When she started up again, she was so loud I had to pull the phone away from my ear. I looked at Chris and rolled my eyes.
He smiled uncomfortably and gestured, Do you want me to go? He was cool that way, a good guy with a wife of his own. I hardly ever saw him outside of work, but if someone had asked I would have told them he was good people.
I shook my head, still listening for April to take a break.
Chris leaned back and turned up the volume on his car's stereo. He was listening to a news station, and I heard the newscaster say something about the flooding down in Houston. Then I heard something about volunteers from the Red Cross being attacked and beaten by the flood victims they were trying to save.
I didn't really catch it, because April was still going strong. Something about how I had had plenty of time to talk to them about staying on second shift, and the fact that I hadn't yet made her wonder if I really cared about how hard this was on her, staying at home with Andrew all the time.
I put my hand over the phone and said, "What in the hell are you listening to?"
April barked at me.
"Not you, sweetie," I said. "The guy next to me is listening to something on the news."
Chris turned it down.
"Thanks," I said. To April I said, "Go ahead, sweetie." Just as she started up again, the dispatcher interrupted her. "52-70."
Chris sat up, waiting for me to respond. 52-70 was my call sign. Chris was 52-80.
When I didn't answer, the dispatcher called again. "52-70, Officer Hudson."
I said to April, "They're calling me. Hold on a second." April was still talking when I found the mike and said, "Go ahead, 52-70."
"52-70, take 52-80 with you. Make 318 Chatterton, 3-1-8 Chatterton, for seven to ten males fighting. Complainant says they look intoxicated."
Chris dropped his car into gear and waited for me to do the same.
I waved my hand at him and said, "Hold on." To the dispatcher I said, "52-70, ten-four. I've got 52-80 with me."
Chris still had his car in gear. He was looking at me with a mixture of impatience and uncertainty.
"Hang on," I told him.
To April I said, "Sweetie, they gave me a call. I've got to go."
"You weren't even listening to me, were you? When are you going to talk to them about staying on second shift?"
"Your transfer expires next month."
"Come on, hon, I've gotta go."
"Fine." But her tone said it wasn't fine. It was very much not fine, and I was going to hear about it later.
I put the phone down on the passenger seat, leaned back, and covered my face in my hands. She wore me out and I had to take a second to regroup before I left for my call. All I needed was to take that frustration with me and then have it erupt during an argument with some drunken asshole. Officers go to Internal Affairs for stupid mistakes like that.
"You okay?" Chris said, but I knew he meant it was time for us to get moving. "You're too eager," I told him. "Let them fight it out. By the time we get there, they'll be too tired to fight us."
The newscaster on Chris's car stereo was talking about rioting again. I only half listened to it, though. Like most people, I'd grown numb to the terrible destruction that had been all over the news for the last month.
The city of Houston, not 250 miles to the southeast of us, had been hit with five major hurricanes in the span of four weeks, leaving most of the city wasted beneath flood water and debris. Every morning, after I crawled out of bed and turned on the morning news, there were more images of mud-colored water two- and three-stories deep, moving sluggishly through the streets of Houston, the roofs of houses and buildings looking like rafts floating in sun-dappled, oil-stained sludge, and of course there always seemed to be blackened and swollen corpses drifting through the wreckage.
The news had taken a lot of heat for showing all the dead bodies. They claimed they were trying to be discreet about it, but there always seemed to be corpses just the same.
Some of the guys from our police association had gone down to Houston to help out, and they all said that it was the worst thing they'd ever seen. Sanitation was nonexistent, and the whole place smelled like death. Something like two million people had been forced to evacuate, and most of them had come to San Antonio. All five of our military bases and every out-of-business shopping center, had been turned into temporary shelters of some kind, and yet they kept coming. I heard on the news that FEMA was flying as many as ten commercial airliners a day into Kelly Air Force Base, and every single plane was packed with evacuees.
Supposedly, there were still at least a million people to evacuate from the areas south of Houston, and conditions for those left behind were nightmarish. Listening to Chris's stereo, I figured they were talking about food riots or something, because there had already been plenty of those.
"Can you believe this?" he asked me, wrinkling his nose in disgust at whatever he was listening to now. "I haven't really been listening," I said. April's voice was still ringing in my ears.
"It sounds like Houston's gone nuts," he said. "They're saying the survivors are attacking the boat crews that are going in to help them. This guy is even saying people are eating people down there."
"Great," I said. "And those are the same lovely people that FEMA's gonna fly in to our shelters. Can't wait for that."
"This guy's saying the riots and everything have been going on since last night. They've only just got word of it from people that were evacuated this morn-"
"52-70." The dispatcher calling me again.
"Crap." I keyed up the mike. "Go ahead, 52-70."
"52-70, second call. I'm getting it as burglars-inaction now. You and 52-80 getting close?"
"Ten-four, ma'am," I lied. "Still on the way."
"Ten-four, 52-70. Make it Code Two."
"Ten-four." To Chris I said, "Now we go."
"Roger that. I'll follow you."
Code Two means lights, but no siren. We're allowed to go ten miles an hour over the speed limit, but we can't blow stop signs or red lights. That's reserved for Code Three.
Of course, nobody ever does Code Two. It's either get there when you get there or go balls to the wall. There's no in between. I hit my lights and Chris and I tore out of the parking lot, leaving long, looping skid marks behind us. We headed south on Seafarer, down to Plath Street, and made a left. From Plath we turned into the Geneva Summits subdivision, went down four blocks, and turned left onto Chatterton.
Chatterton goes up a gradual rise to the left, and then breaks right suddenly and goes downhill all the way to the end where it dead-ends into the back of the Arbor Town Elementary School. That curve can come up on you quick, and if you take it too fast you can end up in somebody's front yard.
I came off the gas as I got to the curve and turned on the car's alley lights.
As we pulled up to the three-hundred block, everything seemed normal. There was a small group of people off to the left who didn't seem too concerned about a pair of police cars lit up like Christmas racing down their street, but otherwise the street seemed quiet.
I took a quick count of four men and two women, and turned my attention back to the houses on the right.
Most of the houses in Geneva Summits are small, two- and three-bedroom one-stories with brick fronts and old, weather-beaten wood siding on the sides and backs of the houses. It was one of the bright spots in my district, with regular folks who had regular jobs. No dope houses. No meth labs. No hookers. Just regular, decent people who did pretty well compared to the rest of the west side. They didn't call the police much.
It was already getting dark and most of the houses had their lights on, their owners settling down to dinner and the TV.
But farther down, as we got closer to the call, the street seemed different. Something was just a little off, but I noticed it just the same.
I pulled my car up to the curb three houses down from the call in front of a red-brick one-story with long, knee-high hedges running down both sides of the walk.
"52-70," I said to the dispatcher. "Myself and 52-80 are ten-six at the location." "Ten-four," she answered back. "All officers hold the air until I hear back from 52-70 and 52-80."
I got my radio and my flashlight and Chris and I started toward the house, working our way quickly through the cover of the trees.
We didn't see anybody at first. I could hear dogs barking not far away, but nothing else.
Still, it felt wrong somehow.
Then I saw her. She stumbled out from around the corner of the house and headed toward the street in an aimless, confused sort of way. She was a short, plump, dark-haired Hispanic woman in her mid- to late-twenties, wearing a light blue T-shirt and black pants that were a little too tight for a woman with her kind of figure.
The way she moved, I thought for sure she was drunk.
She didn't seem to notice us.
Chris and I stayed back for a moment, watching her and the house at the same time.
The woman moved closer to the street, and in the soft buttery light of the street lamps it looked like she had spilled something on her shirt. It was wet, with dark splotches on her shoulders and sleeves and a massive tear down her left side.
And then, from the same corner of the house where the woman had come from, more people appeared. They all moved with the same stop and start lurching motion that made me think of the drunks that sleep under the rail bridge behind the homeless shelter downtown. They all had that same kind of career-drunk haze about them.
Chris and I turned our flashlights and guns on them at the same time. The beams from our flashlights raked across their faces and I counted six people.
Chris shouted, "Stop! Police!"
They didn't respond-at first. Then they staggered in our direction.
"Stop! Let me see your hands!"
I keyed my radio. "52-70, we have six at gunpoint!"
"Ten-four," the dispatcher said, her voice glassy smooth and calm. "52-60, 52-62, 52-72, start that way. Make it Code Three."
I heard the melodic cling clang cling clang of my radio's emergency tone going off and after that I stopped listening to it. All of my attention was focused on the problem in front of us.
The street lamps threw an uneven light across the yards, creating deep pockets of shadows between the trees. As the group of drunks moved toward us, I kept losing them in the shadows, and it wasn't until they were up close that I really got a good look at them.
Chris and I both backed away, guns and flashlights at the ready. I caught sight of a man as he moved across my beam, and in the split second I had the light on him I could tell his face was all cut up. His cheeks had the swollen, lumpy look of someone who has just lost a fight, and there was a gory mixture of fresh and dry blood on the side of his neck. His eyes were clouded over with a milky white film, like a dead man's.
He moved more quickly than the others, but still with that clumsy, falling gait of someone who seemed to have forgotten how to walk. He didn't register the gun pointed at his face, and he didn't blink or look away or avert his eyes, even though I had my flashlight shining right in his face.
It looked like he didn't even see it.
"Get down on the ground!" I yelled at him, keeping the beam on his face. "Do it now!"
If he heard me at all, he gave no sign of it. I was yelling at a blank slate.
"Spray!" I yelled over my shoulder. That was for Chris's benefit. When the pepper spray gets in the air, you can go down coughing even if you don't get hit by it directly.
I holstered my Glock and came up with my canister of pepper spray.
"Get down on the ground!"
When he kept coming, I squeezed my finger over the trigger and waited for him to get in range. Pepper spray works best inside of three or four yards.
As he got closer he raised his hands to grab me. I pointed the canister at his face and pulled the trigger, giving him a tight, one-second burst and then backing away, just like in training.
Pepper spray takes a split second to do its damage. When people get hit with it, they usually stop, not hurt, but stunned, for just a moment, and then fall to the ground screaming, clawing at their eyes, and yelling like mad because that stuff fucking burns.
But the guy I sprayed didn't even skip a beat. He kept coming, and for a second I wondered if I missed or if he blocked the spray with his hands somehow. I let him get close again and then pumped another short one-second burst at his face.
I got it in his eyes. I was sure I got him in the eyes. But nothing happened. He didn't even blink. He opened his mouth and the skin around his neck tightened, but no sound came out.
There's enough spray in one canister for six one-second bursts. When I hit him with it again, I got in close and emptied the rest of the pepper spray right into his face.
I threw the empty canister to the side as I stepped back and stared at the man in amazement. I was riding a wave of adrenaline, and I had to force myself not to charge him and take him down with my bare hands. The air was thick with spray and I didn't want to get incapacitated by it.
Excerpted from Dead City by Joe McKinney Copyright © 2006 by Joe McKinney. Excerpted by permission.
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