When a call comes in, you don’t have time to think. Any issue can escalate into a life or death situation so you hit the gas and worry about the details later. A two minute delay could be the difference between someone going home to their family or a family picking out coffins. Nobody else is coming to save them.
That used to be the case at least. Lately the world’s changing faster than people can adapt to. The streets are no longer the domain of the police. They’re outranked by a bunch of amateurs enforcing the rules however they see fit from one moment to the next. Chaos masquerading as justice.
A voice comes over their radio. “We have a call about a possible disturbance at Lovely Lovely Flowers over on Cicero. Someone said they heard gunshots inside. Probably nothing, but they have a big warehouse out back and it can’t hurt to make sure. Who has it?”
Martina Alvarez reaches for the radio to accept the call but her partner’s faster. “We’ll take it, we’re only a few minutes away. We’ll let you know if there’s anything going on.”
Turning their sirens on, her partner hits the gas and speeds toward Cicero. It’s a late night at the end of March and there’s black ice on the streets. They have to take things a little slower than they normally would. It’s been a mild winter and there’s no snow left on the ground but it’s still cold enough that both partners are wearing coats. They can still probably arrive within ten minutes.
Brandon Tate runs his hand through his hair. He’s self conscious about his new haircut, especially after Martina’s been making fun of it all night. He’s behind the wheel because the weather reports said it was supposed to rain. So far the reports seem wrong but Martina doesn’t like to wear her glasses on patrol and she’s nearly blind at night when it rains. “Hey Grandma, do you really think they cut this too short? It seems really short to me.”
She sighs, the jokes about his hair were fun for a few hours but she’s tired of them now, especially now that he’s actually starting to worry about it. “It’s fine. I was messing with you. But don’t call me that. I’m not that old. Time to put our game faces on.”
“Would mom be better?”
“No, not really.”
They drive onward, getting close to Cicero. Turning down the street, they find the whole neighborhood nearly abandoned. It’s after nine and as cold as it is, most people are staying inside where it’s warm. Only a few shops down here are still open. The heat inside their patrol car is cranked to high despite their coats. That’s another reason Brandon teases his partner with the nickname Grandma. “At least if you’re going to be a grandma, you could bake me some cookies or something.”
Pulling up to the building, there’s no sign of a commotion. It’s a large brick building with only a small storefront jutting out of the front. Behind it seems to be a massive warehouse. It’s far bigger than you’d expect a small flower shop to need. Before they can get out of the car, a gunshot echoes in the distance. It sounds like it came from inside. The hair stands up on the back of her neck and she exchanges a quick look with Brandon. No more jokes. Tate grabs his hat off the dash and throws it on his head. It’s way too big but hides his hair.
Parking the car and quickly getting out, both partners draw their guns. They close their doors quietly, not wanting to give themselves away. They move with a level of precision and coordination only years of familiarity can provide. Alvarez slips into the lead, easing up to the front door. The first thing she notices is that the hours posted on the door show the place should still be open. Despite this, the open sign is turned off and the door’s locked. A small business closing a little early isn’t that strange but in combination with the reports of shooting it’s worth a closer look. The lights inside are off except for a few small ones pointing at specific plants and through the smudged glass she can only make out a counter and rows of shelving.
About to pound on the front door to see if anyone responds, she pauses as a door inside the shop opens. There’s just enough light to reveal a tall, thin woman with straight black hair coming their way. Seeing the lights from their car, she comes toward the door. Tate raises his gun and points it straight at the woman. “Ma’am, are you armed?”
The woman freezes as she sees the gun pointed her way. Her hands go up high in the air. “No, I’m not armed. Relax officers, I’ll gladly let you in. Is it okay for me to do so?” The pair give the okay and she makes her way to the door. Flipping a light on, she turns a deadbolt and cracks it. She’s careful not to open it all the way though. With more light they can see enough of the woman to believe she’s unarmed. Her hands are empty and there’s no sign of a bulge anywhere on her person.
Pushing past the woman, the pair sweep the room for any signs of danger before lowering their weapons. They don’t holster them. Content that there’s no immediate danger Tate approaches the woman. “Good evening ma’am. I’m Officer Tate and this is Officer Alvarez. Sorry to worry you so late but we got a call about a possible disturbance. Someone reported hearing a gunshot. We heard one ourselves when we were pulling up. Do you know anything about that? Is this your shop?”
Nodding, the woman’s eyes go wide. “Yes, this is my shop. My name’s Carol Grant. I heard the gunshots too. After the first one I shut the lights off and locked up. I don’t know where they came from though. I was in my office getting some paperwork done before getting out of here.”
Standing across the room and leaning against a wall, Martina runs the words through her head and decides she doesn’t trust this woman. She can’t place why. She seems nice enough but something seems off. “I see you’re normally open until nine. Do you normally close this early?”
“It was a long day and we don’t get a lot of last minute traffic. I figured I’d get an early start on my paperwork. The gunshots worried me and I didn’t want someone to see I was open and come in.”
“Awfully big warehouse you have going back there. Do you mind if we take a look? Maybe something happened you didn’t notice.”
Mrs. Grant keeps smiling but Martina thinks she sees it crack, if only for a second. Just long enough for her to be even more confident something’s wrong. “If you’d like to of course but I don’t know that it’s necessary. All that’s going on back there are a few of my employees getting their evening work done. Nothing that should sound like a gunshot.” When it becomes clear the officers are going to investigate the warehouse she stops them for another moment. “Actually, there is one other thing I should tell you. We had a break in tonight. Nothing major, nobody hurt. We captured the thief but he was young and seemed apologetic so we were going to let him go. No real harm done. My men may still be talking to him though.”
The partners exchange a look. Something’s definitely wrong. A break in and she didn’t want to call the police? Why would she want to let someone trying to rob her go? Even if she did, what is there to question them about if they were a kid who wouldn’t be a problem again? None of it adds up. This woman doesn’t have a plan. She’s running along in front of the train and hoping to dance aside at the last moment.
Leading the way to the back, Mrs. Grant opens the door and steps into a much darker room. Martina takes lead position after Mrs. Grant and surveys her new surroundings. The first thing she notices about this room is how large it is and how little light she finds. There’s only a few lights in the entire warehouse, small bulbs attached to long cords descending from the ceiling. They light only a small area around them and she can’t see anyone back here. Tate follows, adjusting his hat as it almost slips from his head. They’re surrounded by large shelving units which seem to be filled with crates of flowers. Labels such as daisy, violet, orchid, are printed in black paint on the wooden boxes. An absurd amount of crates for a shop this size. How many flowers could they possibly sell before these go bad?
One of the only things she can make out in the dim light are a pair of crates sitting broken on the far end of the warehouse. They look like they fell off the shelves and broke on the ground. There’s wood and flowers spread everywhere. Definitely more of a disturbance than their host let on. Blinking repeatedly, hoping her eyes will adjust, her finger twitches on the barrel of her gun, staying ready to raise her weapon and fire at a moment’s notice if things get bad.
Clearly the officers aren’t the only ones confused. Mrs. Grant has a look of genuine surprise on her face. “Men, get up here now. Any sign of our guest?”
Any sign? She thought they were just talking at this point. “I thought you said you’d caught the guy and there weren’t any issues?” Men start emerging from the darkness, five of them in total. Mostly large men showing signs of exertion. They’re all coming from the same direction.
With the tone of someone not used to being challenged, Mrs. Grant says, “That was the situation when I came to greet you Officer Alvarez.” Turning to one of her men, she asks, “What the hell happened?”
None of them make a move to answer. No one wants to be the person to earn their boss’ ire. As they get closer, she can make out that their shirts are dripping with sweat. Their eyes all stay on the floor. One in particular is moving quite strangely and trying to stay behind the others. There’s something very strange about the way he’s moving.
A tall, thin man with a scar below his left ear is practically shoved forward from the group. His left hand grabs at his opposite arm. “He got loose and we started chasing him around. He got away. Not sure if he’s still here in the warehouse somewhere or if he got out.”
Why were they having to chase this guy if they were going to let him go? Martina slowly starts circling the group. Tate notices but she uses her free hand to signal for him to stay put, at least for now. Step by step she can better see the man working to stay in the back. Looking him up and down, she notices what looks like blood leaking out of his grey shoe. There’s a hole going through the top and it’s also stained red. “What the hell happened to your foot? Are you bleeding?”
The man glances at Mrs. Grant and then back to Martina. He won’t meet her gaze and turns his attention briefly to the door as if he’s considering escape. That seems impractical so he says, “Ya, he uh, he stabbed me. He has knives. Dangerous guy. Not sure what he was thinking. Must have been trying to steal some flowers or something. We had him captured and were just about to call the cops when you showed up. Lucky for us I guess.”
Something’s definitely going on here. Mrs. Grant already made it perfectly clear that this guy wasn’t a big deal and they had no intention of getting the cops involved. “You should get that looked at, I’ll call an ambulance.”
He lifts his arms before him, putting his hands out in front. “No need officer, I’m alright. I’ll have one of the boys drive me to the ER after we’re done here but it really isn’t that bad.”
She tries not to let on she’s suspicious. At this point though it’s hard not to bust out laughing. These guys really aren’t good at lying. “Any idea what direction he went in? If he’s still here in the warehouse, I want us to capture him fast before someone else gets hurt. Did he have any weapons other than his knife?”
She directs her questions directly at the injured man. He’s hurt and frazzled and might give her what she needs. Before he can answer though, the tall, thin man steps between them. Tate’s hand goes to his gun, ready for a confrontation but Martina stays calm. Seeing no sudden movement, Tate rests his hand on the grip but doesn’t draw. The tall, thin man says, “He had a bunch of knives actually, and a long stick of some kind. I think he’s long gone though. Pretty sure he snuck out the back door. If you don’t mind, we have a lot of work to do. Why don’t we take our friend to the hospital and you folks can get on your way. We’ll give you a call if we see any sign of him again.”
That’s not going to happen. They need to search this place and figure out what’s going on. Just as she’s about to respond though, a loud squeak echoes through the warehouse. Everyone starts looking around and soon all eyes rest on the source. Someone opened the back door and even at night, the light shining in is bright enough to act as a spotlight. Standing in the doorway’s a man in a green shirt and khaki pants. He looks to be dark skinned but the lighting makes it hard to tell with any degree of certainty. He’s wearing some sort of green mask as well but from this far away that’s the best she can say.
Seeing her best potential witness walk out the door, she turns to Tate. “Come on, we can’t let this guy get away.” They both draw their guns and rush toward the door. That seems to be all the encouragement the man in green needs and he rushes into the night.
By the time they exit the warehouse, the man isn’t in sight. They have to be cautious to avoid an ambush while this guy can focus on running. Every corner’s a new danger. Tate sees him first. At the far end of the alley’s a wire fence and he’s already on top of the thing, about to jump down. He throws his bag down. “Stop, this is the police. Surrender now.” He pays them no mind and leaps over.
Tate rushes toward the fence and steadies himself to fire but Martina stops him. “I’m not climbing a fence. I don’t know that I can climb a fence like this for that matter. Get the car, we know what way he’s going, we’ll cut him off.” Clearly annoyed as the suspect gets away, Tate turns and runs back toward the front of the store.