Five days ago.
Lenny Alvarez was covered in bandages and scratches, but he spoke clearly as he briefed SWAT on what had happened at the apartment in Little Venice. Kathleen Aurelia, the Chief, and several others listened quietly in Chief Gherrenfur’s office.
“We heard gunshots,” Lenny said. “Roth and I came through the door, and Castilucci already had his gun out. We told him to get down on the floor, and he hit us with a grenade or something. I was lucky; I was able to get behind something. Roth’s more banged up.”
“Who was Castilucci shooting at?” asked Kathleen.
Lenny shrugged. “Black Rose rivals? Five Dragons? A fish out in the canal? Who knows?” He looked around at the other officers’ tight, serious faces. “Does it really matter?”
After a pause, the Chief said, “No, not to us. This is the situation, people: Frank Castilucci is wanted for Assault with a Deadly Weapon against Alvarez and Detective Roth, as well as for questioning in the murder of Detective Aragon.”
“He clearly knows something,” said Lenny. “He could be the murderer of Detective Aragon.”
“That’s a problem for the detective bureau, not us,” said Gherrenfur. “Our problem is that Castilucci is a high-up in the Black Rose, maybe a friend of Orlando Rossi. If someone, anyone, from the Black Rose really is behind the Aragon killing, and Castilucci was willing to kill two officers and risk his own life by using a grenade to do it …”
“We could be looking at open war between us and the Black Rose,” Kathleen said.
Gherrenfur nodded. “And it’s not just cops and mobsters in danger, either. This could easily pull in the Pyrebrands, and then the Unforgiven or Barons or Rooks try to take advantage of things, and then the Five Dragons have to get involved, and the next thing we know, the whole underworld’s on fire. And that means a lot of people, civilians, crooks, and cops alike, getting hurt, maybe killed.”
Lenny began, “We need to get that son of a--”
Gherrenfur cut him off with a growl deep in his throat. “I don’t care if he stuck that grenade down your blazing pants, Alvarez, and insulted your mother besides. We arrest him, period. We’re not heroes, and we’re sure as hell not vigilantes. We don’t make this personal, no matter who got hurt. Are we clear?” He glared around the room with his yellow eyes. Kathleen felt compelled to nod.
“There’s an APB out for him,” the Chief continued, “but this is so serious that we need more boots on the ground. I’m going to rotate all of you I can spare through the district stations to back up the regular uniforms and detectives. If Castilucci’s out there, we’ll find him. I’m passing around your assignments now.”
He handed around a packet of papers. Kathleen saw that she’d been assigned to Highpoint over the next several days. The duty schedule wouldn’t allow much time for rest. Clearly, the whole department took the potential danger seriously. The ghosts of the Dark Age, she thought.
Gherrenfur gave the officers one more serious look. “Dismissed.”
“Lenny, look at yourself.” She looked him up and down for emphasis, letting her gaze linger on his scrapes and bandages. “You were just in a Grenade Melee. You came close to exploding less than twenty-four hours ago.
Lenny looked away, at the floor. “I … it’s just … I know Roth was a jerk. But we can’t let the Black Rose get away with this.”
“You said earlier that Roth will be out of the hospital in a little while. And we’re not fighting the whole Black Rose. Yet,” she added. “Lenny, you’re injured. Go home. Rest. You can join me in Highpoint in a few days, when you’re feeling better.”
The phone on Lenny’s battered desk rang. He hobbled over and snatched it up. “Hey,” he said, sounding surprised but not displeased. “Yeah, it’s me.”
Other officers chattered distractingly in the background. Kathleen waited patiently for Lenny to finish his call and finish talking to her. “No,” he said into the phone. “I’ll be off, recovering for a few days”—he looked significantly at Kathleen—“and then in Highpoint.”
She gave him a skeptical look.
Kathleen nodded and headed across the crowded, noisy room for the door. As she left, she thought she heard Lenny murmur, “I know about and it is this." Kathleen wondered what he meant, if she’d misheard him. "I know it’s serious. But how is—“ He paused. “Ah, I understand.”
She put Lenny out of her mind and hurried out to beat evening traffic across the Hercules Bridge, to reach her first shift on time.
The first few days in Highpoint were uneventful. Then the war started.
Kathleen and a mostly healed Lenny were seated in a small office in the Highpoint district station that had been lent to SWAT. Kathleen had given up trying to pay attention to the novel she’d been desultorily reading. Lenny was much more interesting, in much the same way a bad reality show would’ve been. He was noisily munching his way through a box of lemon Cranky Jacks and reading the previous day’s Titan Chronicle. Its front page headlines read TCPD HUNTS MOBSTER CASTILUCCI and, in a prominent sidebar, SEEN AT CLUB VIRTUE: CELERITY ROMANCING TONGUE LASHER???
“How can you read that schlock, Alvarez?” she asked.
“Hey, where else can I learn that TV experts say Elvis may have actually been a man-suit full of alien space rats?” he said. He popped another Cranky Jack into his mouth.
“No, seriously. I’m curious.” She sighed. “Actually, I guess I’m just bored. Or nervous with waiting for something to happen.”
“You should know better than to say things like that, Aurelia,” Lenny said without looking up from his paper. “It just gives the universe ideas.”
Kathleen laughed. “The universe isn’t as devious as you, Lenny.”
“Fine,” he said evenly. “This time, you can be the one to explode.”
A captain ducked in. “We need you two,” he said.
Lenny smiled crookedly and arched an eyebrow smugly at Kathleen. She stuck out her tongue at him before the captain could notice.
“An office we think might be a front for the Black Rose,” the captain continued. “An informant told one of our detectives that he spotted Castilucci leaving there about a week ago. Castilucci, and Orlando Rossi, too.”
Father Omerta, Kathleen thought.
“There’s more,” the captain went on. “We sent a few officers to investigate with a warrant.”
“Oh, no,” she said.
“There were still Black Rose there,” the captain said. “And now they’re in a pitched battle with our men.”
“I think we’d better suit up, Lenny,” she said.
Less than an hour later, Kathleen, Lenny, and six uniformed TCPD were fanned out, moving from cover to cover inside the Black Rose office. Unfortunately, it had been occupied. Tough-looking men fired at them from doorways and behind tables with Black Rose energy weapons.
Kathleen, clearing a section of the building alone, hurried down a disused hallway. She ducked behind a stack of office chairs to avoid an energy beam. The blast seared the far side of the pile. Some of the boxes burst into flame. She could feel the heat even through several feet of material.
“Aurelia!” Lenny cried as he burst into the hallway from behind. He pointed at the flames with his COP Suit’s arm and sprayed them with a jet of fire-extinguishing foam.
The Black Rose thug who’d been firing at Kathleen coughed as a cloud of foam, steam, and smoke erupted and billowed in his direction. She took advantage of the distraction and knocked him down with a quick blast from her shock rifle.
“Thanks, Lenny,” she said.
“You all right?” he asked. “Sorry it took me so long to get here. It takes forever to put this thing on.” His eyes were wide with concern behind the transparent faceplate of his armor.
She rushed ahead and cuffed the thug with a zip-tie. She’d heard a lot about the Black Rose but never faced them in battle until now. For some reason, she’d expected an old-school capo in a fedora, chomping on a cigar, but this one was just a blocky, cold-eyed kid barely out of his teens dressed in a sharp, casual blazer and slacks. He was already stirring. “You can’t hold me,” he murmured groggily. “One telephone call, and I’ll be back out on the street.”
Kathleen shook her head and ignored him. In her time with SWAT, she’d gotten used to this kind of boasting.
“You can’t beat the Black Rose,” he went on, obviously trying to boost his own confidence. “We owned this city back in the day, and we’ll own it again. We’ll bury you.”
“In words, maybe,” she said, smiling tightly.
“Chatty little guy, aren’t ya?” said Lenny.
The thug frowned petulantly, making him look much younger. “Why’re you picking on me?” the thug asked, sounding like the kid he was. “We know you want Castilucci. I know where you can find him.”
She blinked, astonished.
“Oh, yeah, we read the papers, too. I hear he’s holed up in a Savpoint Inn, like, two miles from here.” The gangster smirked. “I know Orlando Rossi. I know things.”
Kathleen and Lenny exchanged a glance. “We have to check it out,” Lenny said.
Kathleen shook her head. “You’re the firepower for the Highpoint cops. You’re needed here. I’ll check it out.”
“Aurelia, you can’t just—“
“Lenny, we’re in open war with the Black Rose. I’m a combat veteran wearing body armor, and everyone else is busy. I’ve got this. I’m not a SWAT rookie any more. Trust me on this.”
Lenny frowned with concern. Then, slowly, he nodded.
An hour later, Kathleen knocked on the motel room’s door. “Mr. Smith?” she said. When she heard nothing, she nodded to the Savpoint Inn’s manager. With a jerk and some rattling, he unlocked the door, then stepped aside.
“Step away from the door!” cried a deep voice from inside the room.
Castilucci, she thought. He sounded older and more tired than Kathleen had expected. She listened closely and heard the unmistakable sound of the slide of an automatic pistol being rocked back.
She took a deep breath, drew her gun, and kicked the flimsy door open. She stepped into the doorway and squared her shoulders, ready to fire. “Freeze!” she shouted. “TCPD! Francis X. Castilucci, you’re under arrest!”
Castilucci held a pistol steadily on her.
“Drop the gun!” she screamed.
Castilucci didn’t respond except to squint and grit his teeth.
Kathleen prepared to fire.
i]Next time: The TCPD vs. the Underworld![/i]
Story by: Jack 'Olantern' Snyder.
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