The Law Vol. 1 Serve or Protect Part 4

As they enter the headquarters of Chicago’s 4th police precinct, Martina Alvarez can feel her partner’s nervous energy. He’s got his hands on his sides and he’s awkwardly rubbing them up and down his hips. “Calm down Tate, it’s fine.”

He glares at her. “It doesn’t feel fine grandma. Going over the captain’s head is a really bad idea. Do you think your dad will even do it?”

She’s not sure if she’s being honest with herself but Martina tries to seem confident. She raises her eyebrows and shrugs. “Probably. We’ll find out.” That’s the most confidence she can manage for her father.

Eyes turn their way as they walk through the room. People here know who Martina is. She’s not above going to her father when needed, something which has rubbed every captain she’s had the wrong way. This is Tate’s first time being dragged along so he stays close, unfamiliar with the way around.

“You know, I’ve been wondering, if you’re grandma, does that make him great grandpa?”

As angry as she is, that puts a smile on her face. “If you want to still be on the force I definitely wouldn’t call him that. Then again, if you want to throw your career away, I can think of less entertaining ways.”

Her father’s secretary’s an older woman named Ida who has been with him for years. He hired her because she doesn’t mind working the same crazy hours he does. He rarely works less than fourteen hours a day and he wants her there the entire time. She’s currently asleep at her desk but she’s there.

A small bell sits on her desk and Martina rings it. Ida pops up and her hair slides slightly to the side. She fixes it without a word and looks at the woman standing before her. “Long time Officer Alvarez. You here to see Captain Alvarez?”

“That’s the plan Ida. He busy tonight?”

She rolls her still half closed eyes. “He’s always busy. He’ll fit you in though. Let me tell him you’re here.” Pressing a button on her phone, crackling comes over an intercom. “Captain, Martina and her partner are out here. Want me to send them in?”

The static filled response confirms they can enter and Ida waves toward the closed door. By the time Martina turns the doorknob she’s already got her head back on the desk.

Entering with confidence, Martina plops into a nice leather chair. Tate enters behind her, staying in the back of the room and keeping quiet. He closes the door without making a sound.

Captain Alvarez doesn’t look up from his paperwork as they enter. He’s a small man with white hair and a pair of thick glasses. His hat’s still on but he does have the top button of his shirt undone. “What do you want Martina? You know I don’t have a lot of time.”

Reaching under her coat, she pulls out her phone to start bringing the pictures she came here to show him up. “I have an interesting case for you. Thought you might want to take a look.”

“Which means your captain doesn’t want to take a look. Is this the flower shop?”

She frowns, any hope that she could be the first to reveal this gone. “You saw the memo.”

“I actually read my mail.” Looking up for the first time since they entered, he glances at Tate. “Sit down Grandon, you’re making me nervous.”

Tate rushes to a chair, not even bothering to correct his name. Martina shakes her head. Now she has to defend him. “Grandon hasn’t been my partner in years dad. He moved out of the city. This is Brandon Tate. We’ve been partners for over two years. You’ve met.”

Tate sits next to Martina, hitting the leather without a sound. “That’s okay Captain Tate, we’ve only met a few times. You can call me whatever.”

He doesn’t bother to respond to this. Looking back at his paperwork, Captain Alvarez starts to tap his fingers on his desk. “What do you have? I assume it’s something if you’re here.”

Martina slides her phone open and passes it across his desk. He starts scrolling through the pictures. “Did you take these? If so you didn’t need anyone’s permission to move against them.”

“No, a vigilante did. He forwarded them to me though and they line up with what I saw in that warehouse. They’re running major drug traffic through there. Tons of boxes just like the ones in the pictures. I guarantee you they’re cleaning that place out right this minute though. I don’t have time to gather more evidence. I need a warrant but Captain Bryant won’t authorize it.”

Her dad shoves the phone back without looking up. “Can you blame the man? You’re asking him to directly disobey the superintendent. That’s good evidence but it’s not enough.”

“Even with our testimony?”

“Is the vigilante willing to testify if needed?”

Pursing her lips, Martina frowns and shakes her head. “You sound just like him.”

“Your captain’s a good man. I don’t like it and I’d go to a judge if it weren’t for that memo but it’s not the right move here.”

Getting to her feet, Martina leans across his desk and gets right in her father’s face. “You’re supposed to be better than that old man.”

He stands up and puffs his chest out. “Get out of my face. You don’t succeed in this city if you make dumb enemies. If you had more I’d stick my neck out but not here. Not when you’re going against your captain. You realize you’re asking to get transferred again, right? You going to move Zoe’s school again too when you have to work across town?”

Standing up, Martina steps back and crosses her arms. Her voice lowers until it’s barely a whisper. “Leave her out of this.”

“Don’t put me in a position where I have to bring her into it.” He grabs another file off his desk and goes back to reading but doesn’t sit back down.

Tate’s looking back and forth between them like he wants to get between them. He stops himself, knowing any action against Martina will lose her respect and any action against her father will likely ruin his career.

With a shake of her head and a slam of her hands on the desk Martina grabs her phone and storms out of the office.

She doesn’t stop until she reaches the parking lot. Tate follows a few steps behind her. He finds her in the passenger seat of their car. “Still not willing to drive huh?”

“I told you, the weather said it’s supposed to rain.” She never looks up.

Sliding behind the driver’s seat Tate says, “That’s fine, our shift’s almost over anyway. Let’s get back to the precinct and then go get a drink. My treat.”

The offer’s tempting but she shakes her head. “Thanks but no. I need to get home to Zoe. Another time.”

Part 3

Part 5

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The Law Vol. 1 Serve or Protect Part 3

The partners drive most of the way back to the station without a word but as they near the station, Tate looks over at Martina. “What the hell are we going to tell the captain? We can’t exactly tell him we let the kid go.”

“We’ll position it differently, that we worked with him. That’s what they want with the vigilantes anyway. Not that hard. I’m getting really tired of all these new rules. They need to let us do our job.”

Making their way inside, the precinct’s a mad house tonight. At least it’s warm. Slipping out of their jackets, the partners start making their way through the crowd. They pass all manner of people here looking for help. Making their way to the captain’s office they hear story after story about vigilantes, and not the good they’re doing.

The captain’s secretary’s slumped at her desk looking exhausted this time of night. Tate leans over the desk and flashes his best smile. “Good evening Rosa my love. How are you doing tonight? Is that a new haircut? It looks great.”

Rosa’s in her mid 40s and has been the captain’s secretary for nearly a decade. Nobody gets in to see him without going through her. She can be nice if you’re on her good side but not everyone is. Tate’s flirtation is obvious and she knows he’s messing with her but she still enjoys it. Plus, she actually does have a new haircut and he’s the first person to notice tonight. “You’re sweet Brandon. Go take a seat somewhere. I’ll let you know when I can get you in. It won’t be long.”

Flopping his way into a seat, Tate grabs a magazine. Alvarez chooses to stand, taking the moment to check her phone. She stares at him with a look of sadness. “I’m so glad you don’t pull that shit with me.”

“Well I would, but the one time I tried you punched me so hard I almost passed out. Besides, who flirts with their grandma?”

Alvarez punches him hard in the shoulder in response. “For someone who doesn’t want to get punched, you say a lot of things that get you punched.”

“I’m funny that way.” He rubs his shoulder. Martina can throw a punch.

Leaning against the wall, Alvarez closes her eyes and tries to rest her mind. There’s too much going on around her though. Off in the distance she hears one of their officers say, “Look, we’ve been over this every time you’ve come in. We don’t have any control over them. They’re authorized to do whatever they feel is necessary. If you like we can arrange a sit down so you can talk this out. We’ve told you this every time you’ve come in here. The options haven’t changed and they’re not going to.”

A man with a bit of an accent stomps his feet, throwing his hands in the air. “Why would we want to sit down with these monsters? He asked me to put my mouth on his gun. Does that sound like a reasonable man? Does that sound like someone who we’re going to talk it out with and then go out for coffee? You’re job is to protect people isn’t it?”

“You’re preaching to the choir man. The vigilantes can do what they want though. We don’t control them. I know it sucks and believe me, I wish we had more options. That’s the best we can do at the moment.”

“This is ridiculous. Come on Assa, let’s get out of here.” Alvarez opens her eyes just in time to see the couple storm out. The man looks around her age and the woman with him looks a few years younger, though from this angle her head scarf blocks how much she can see of the woman.

After a few more minutes of hearing people scream at their officers Rosa waives them over. The captain sits behind his desk looking exhausted. His tie’s off and his hat’s hanging half off his desk. It’s going on eleven and he was supposed to be out of here an hour ago. From the stack of paperwork piled on his desk, it doesn’t look like his day’s close to over. “Alvarez, Tate, hope you’re having a good night. How’s your dad doing Alvarez?”

“I think he’s doing fine captain, but I’m probably not the best person to ask. Haven’t talked to him for a few weeks. You know how many hours he puts in, hard to find time. Anyway, I don’t want to take up too much of your time but we need a warrant fast tracked if we can. Place called Lovely Lovely Flowers we were sent tonight on a call. There were reports of a shooting. When we showed up they claimed there had been a break in but the guy had gotten away. I checked with my sources though and found evidence they’re being used as a front to move drugs. Take a look at these.”

She slides her phone across his desk so he can see the pictures the vigilante sent her. He scrolls through them. “These aren’t bad, but they’re not enough for a warrant without someone willing to speak to them. You know how easy it is to fake pictures nowadays. Someone could easily have put those logos on.”

“Captain, I saw the boxes when we were in there. These are legit, I’d bet anything on it. The longer we wait, the more time they have to scrub the place. We need to get in there now.”

“Why didn’t you investigate them further when you were there?”

She sighs, wishing she had a better answer to that. “We chased after the supposed robber. He wasn’t a robber though, he was a vigilante and he’s our source.”

His eyes perk up but he’s still fighting to suppress a yawn. “Is he willing to testify about these? Did you bring him in?”

“No.”

“Didn’t think so. We need more than just some pictures. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to a judge with this. It won’t get through. Especially not after I got a memo tonight that we’re to leave that place alone.”

Blinking a few times in disbelief, Alvarez is about to speak up but her partner beats her to it. “Wait, captain, are you saying someone’s specifically asking us to leave this random flower shop alone? Isn’t that weird?”

“Of course it is Tate, but apparently the owner is old friends with the superintendent and she felt bothered by you two showing up. Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble or anything. Without stronger evidence though, we’re going to be running into a buzz saw on this one. I need you to let this go.”

Snatching her phone off the captain’s desk, Alvarez storms out of his office. Tate’s a little behind her but eventually follows. “Where are you going grandma?”

“To talk to someone who actually wants to enforce the law and not just follow orders. You coming?”

Part 2

Part 4

Time Marches On… and Brings Us the Future

I hope everyone here is continuing to enjoy Vigilantes Make Us Safe. Our readership has exploded in recent weeks thanks to being listed on Web Fiction Guide and Top Web Fiction. I’m very grateful for this and for all of our new readers. You’re here at an interesting time though as many of our original stories are currently on hiatus. You can certainly use this time to catch up on their first volumes though as next month we’ll start releasing their second volumes.

I have a few updates to provide. You may have noticed that Dynamo’s first volume ended last week. I hope you enjoyed how we ended it. Some things were solved while things were admittedly left a bit open. Volume 2 will pick up not long after this when it returns on February 14th. My Valentine’s Day gift to you.

As one series ends two new ones begin. The Law began on the 20th and we’ve got two parts up now. Those who have read the first volume of Rebel Rebel will remember Martina Alvarez, the star of our new series. She’s the second character to spin out of one series and take on a life of their own. I’m enjoying the opportunity to write a second series in Chicago where I call home.

Red Line started just a few days earlier on November 18th. This is the longest series I’ve released yet releasing in 40 parts. Unlike most of the others I’ve released though it is not an ongoing series. This is a limited series with an end planned from day one. It starts 20 years ago in 1998 and is very much rooted in a specific time and place entering the early Aughts. This period had a strong effect on my life and I wrote this in part to express some things about that period and what it’s done to the world. While this won’t be continuing to a second volume, the characters and situations here will matter a great deal to our ongoing story moving forward so I highly recommend you read it. It will set up our first big crossover set for late next year.

We’re only about three and a half weeks from the return of Serenity which I’m excited about. What comes next for Jia was set up at the end of volume one but we’ll dive in head first. Hitbox will also be back at the very end of next month.

Finally I have an update on something I’ve mentioned here in the past. Physical editions of our stories. I had hoped to have finished preparations for them in time to get them out before the holidays but the last month has proved busy both with the increased traffic here and with my participation in National Novel Writing Month where I wrote a fantasy novel unrelated to our ongoing universe. I’ll share more details of that if the time comes but because of this physical copies won’t be ready in time. We certainly haven’t given up on releasing them though and I hope to have them ready by February, aka tax season. I’ll share more details when available.

The Law Vol. 1 Serve or Protect Part 2

Reaching their car, Tate heads to the passenger seat but Martina takes the lead, pointing at the other side of the vehicle. “No way, you’re driving. Let’s go.”

Without time to argue, Tate does as he’s told but not without a groan. “It’s not even raining grandma, you’re perfectly capable of driving.”

“It’s not raining yet. If it starts we’ll lose him if I’m behind the wheel.”

They tear off toward the next street over, looking for any sign of their suspect. He shouldn’t be hard to spot in a bright green shirt and pale white pants. There’s plenty of street lights around but even in the dark those pants would stand out. “Why do you always get to decide who’s driving grandma? When do I get to make the call.”

“When you’re the senior officer. Good luck with that. There!” She points as they pass the next street over. A flash of green ducks off the street.

Tate’s head whips to her side of the road, his eyes wide. “I didn’t see anything. Are you sure?”

“I’m sure, he took off into another alley.” Tate starts to turn down the street. “Wait, don’t. He was heading for the next street. Keep going.”

Without hesitation he roars toward the next street. The sirens are blaring and the few cars on the road get out of their way. Turning hard at the corner, their suspect is right in the middle of the road, highlighted by their headlights. He doesn’t stop. Running hard, he makes his way to yet another alley and darts into it. Not ready to let him escape, Martina says, “Get me close. I’ll do the rest.”

Flying toward the alley, Tate stomps hard on the break. They skid as they slow down but before the car is even fully stopped Martina throws her door open and leaps out. Slamming her door behind her, she rushes into the alley. “Freeze. Don’t make me shoot you.”

He’s already flying around the next corner onto another street. Tate won’t be able to get the car turned around fast enough. There’s twenty places he could lose them between here and there. Not ready to let him get away, she goes after him on foot.

On the next street Alvarez is gaining on her prey. He’s quick but she’s quicker. He’s moving toward another alleyway and she wants to reach him before he can find a way off the street. Too many variables at that point. Turning the corner, she raises her gun. The man in green’s standing there staring at a three story tall brick wall before him. He took a wrong turn and now he has nowhere to go. He slowly turns around and finds a gun staring him in the face.

She inches a few steps closer, cutting the distance between them in half. Sweat’s pouring off her forehead. This is the closest she’s been to any of these costumed types. “You made a big mistake, you should have just surrendered. Put your hands up, you’re under arrest.”

His hands fly into the air. There doesn’t seem to be any fight left in him. Her gun stays up as she inches closer but she leaves the safety on. With her free hand she grabs her radio and says into it, “I’m down the second alley, back the way we came. Get down here and give me some backup.”

It doesn’t take long before a police car comes rushing to block the alley’s exit. Leaving his lights on, Tate jumps out and rushes to back up his partner. His gun’s drawn in one hand while his other hand holds his hat on. Alvarez gives him a hand gesture that she uses whenever she wants him to take it easy. He doesn’t lower his weapon but he also doesn’t remove his safety. Maybe more importantly, he keeps his mouth shut.

With backup ready Alvarez closes the rest of the gap between herself and her target. “I want to know where all of your weapons are. Nothing funny or I’ll shoot. I see the holster on your back, is that for a gun or weapon?”

“Just a staff.” He’s trying to speak in a deep tone of voice, but she can tell it’s a put on. She’s dealt with enough teenagers trying to seem tough. He’s nineteen at the absolute oldest. His nerves are evident. He’s practically shaking.

With her free hand, she slips his holster over his head and tosses it to the side. “I see a lot of knives on you. I know you stabbed a guy with one. How many do you still have?”

It takes him a long time to answer. “There’s thirteen more. The one I used on that guy I didn’t get a chance to recover. I can guide you through finding all of them.”

“Impressive stack.” Who carries over a dozen knives into a fight? From this close she can tell they’re throwing knives but he certainly didn’t throw the one he used earlier unless he somehow threw it straight down. One by one she pulls them from the man’s outfit. There are mini holsters for them built into his suit, all the way from his chest down to his shins.

With his weapons disposed of she can really get a look at him for the first time. She’s surprised by what she finds. He looks so young, matching the voice. He’s fairly tall but lanky. There’s not much muscle on any part of him. Can he even be eighteen? Pulling his mask from his face doesn’t change her opinion. He’s got thick black hair on top of his head but his attempt at growing facial hair is best described as a work in progress. It’s thin and patchy, like he’s not shaving in an attempt to grow it in. It looks sloppy. “Jesus, you’re just a kid, aren’t you? What the hell is a kid doing robbing a freaking flower shop?”

The kid shifts uncomfortably but keeps his hands up. “I wasn’t robbing it. That’s just what they told you to get you out of there and after me. You walked right into their safe house and didn’t even know it.”

Tate’s starting to get annoyed by the answers he’s getting. He adjusts his grip on his weapon. “Sure thing kid. How do you know it’s a safe house?”

“Because I was there investigating. I’m a vigilante and I have evidence on my phone that proves it. Take a look if you want.”

Alvarez and Tate exchange a sudden look. They’re supposed to stay clear of the vigilantes as much as possible. They’re allowed to do whatever they want and the cops can’t do anything to stop them. It’s enough to make her ill. The next thing you know, they won’t need cops anymore. Something seems wrong with the kid’s statement. “If you’re a vigilante, why the hell did you run back there? Vigilantes are able to do pretty much whatever they want. You could have just stepped out of the shadows.”

His shoulders slump. “I’m not registered. I failed my test and was trying to do this anyway. I know I’d have to take the test again if caught, and I wasn’t sure what would happen since I can’t take the test again yet. Besides, you’ve seen the news. No offense, sure you’re great, but I don’t have a ton of trust for the cops.”

Martina breathes a sigh of relief hearing he’s not registered. That gives her a little more leeway. He’s right about one thing. Something in that warehouse didn’t add up. Mrs. Grant seemed off from the moment they arrived. “What did you see in there? Place seemed off to us too. Show us this evidence and maybe we don’t make your life too difficult.”

His hand starts to go to his pocket but the kid freezes. His arm shoots straight back up. “Is it okay if I pull my phone out? You aren’t going to start firing the second my hand comes down?”

“You’re good kid. Just move slowly as you get it.”

He resumes his hunt for his phone and soon he’s pulling it out of a pocket in his shirt. He starts scrolling through the device. “How do I show these to you? Pretty sure you don’t want to come stand next to me.”

“Just hand me the phone.” Martina holds her hand out expectantly. She’s starting to get annoyed now. This is taking too long and if she’s not careful, Tate’s going to lose it. She moves to holster her gun and walks towards him.

Her putting her gun away makes Tate hold his tighter. “Alvarez, you sure you want to do that?”

“It’s fine Brandon, we already took all his weapons. If the kid wanted to fight he’d be doing so. If you want to keep your gun on him, that’s fine. I don’t think you need to though.”

She grabs the phone from his hand to see the picture. On the screen is the inside of a wooden box. It’s at least similar to what they saw back in the warehouse. You can’t make much out in this one though and all she can see inside are flowers. Those won’t get a warrant.

“Scroll right to see more. I took a bunch. They clearly show the logos from their boxes, the flowers inside, and the drugs hiding underneath them. I made sure to get a good amount of proof.”

The rest of the pictures tell a story. Each one’s better than the last. They show the boxes, the flowers, bags of what appear to be drugs hidden under the flowers. They even show the Lovely Lovely Flowers logo written on the boxes in that same black paint she remembers. She turns to her partner. “He’s actually got a lot of good pictures here. I think he’s telling the truth.” She looks back at the kid. “Do you think you can forward these to me? They’re good evidence. I’m going back to that warehouse once we’re done here and searching those crates. Good chance they already took care of the evidence in case we come back but I need to be sure. I also need probable cause if the owner throws a fit about us searching her place.”

She holds the phone out for the kid to take back. He snatches it away and stuffs it into his pocket. “What about me now? What are you going to do?”

“That’s a tough one kid. The evidence is good. I believe you were there trying to investigate what they’re doing. How did you know to look into them though?”

The story he spins is hard to believe but it’s also hard to believe a kid his age would make it up. He talks about overhearing some guys he knows discussing it and following them to an abandoned warehouse. While there he oversaw a lot of drugs being transported. He confronted the guys to get more details. That led him to look into the flower shop. She knows a lot of bad stuff happens in the warehouse district so that part makes sense.

“That still doesn’t explain why you stabbed that guy in the foot. You’re running around with knives kid. Someone’s going to get really hurt. Why shouldn’t I take you in?”

He throws his head back with a groan. “They’re not to hurt people unless they have to be. I use them to pin people’s clothes, to scare them. I use my staff if I can but I didn’t have much choice here. They said they were going to kill me and I was way outnumbered. The only reason they didn’t shoot me is that you guys showed up and they knew a gunshot would get your attention. They had me surrounded though. I didn’t see another way out.”

Turning her back on him, she walks over to Tate. He still doesn’t look convinced. “What are we going to do with the kid partner?”

“Why don’t we just take him in? Let the detectives decide if he’s dangerous or should be charged with anything.”

“Because if we turn him in we create an enemy out here. If we let him go, we potentially create an ally. Someone who will come to us if he has good information. That’s worth a lot more than a collar.”

“That assumes you trust him.”

“You don’t?”

He fidgets. His hat looks uncomfortable. She’s really going to have to convince him that haircut’s fine. “I’m not sure honestly. He says a lot that makes sense but it feels like he’s not telling us everything.”

Glancing at her email, she’s glad to see the evidence came through. It’s not enough on it’s own but it’ll be enough to get any warrants she might need. “Are you okay with letting him go? This really helps, I think he’s earned it.”

Finally he holsters his weapon. “I’ll follow your lead grandma. I’m on board if you need me to be.”

Heading back for their prey, Alvarez tries to put on her best tough cop face. “Kid, you seem to be telling the truth and I have the pictures so I can search them. I’m going to let you go, but only under two conditions. The first is that you need to take the vigilante test again as soon as possible. I want you registered. Do you understand?”

For the first time since he was cornered in this alley, the kid seems to have some hope. He starts to smile before thinking better of it. “I can do that.”

“Good. The second is that going forward, you trust me. For that matter, you trust all of us out here. No more running from the police. I don’t like this vigilante thing but if it’s going to work, we need to be on the same side. Can you do that?”

His answer is less immediate this time. He seems to be starting to sweat despite the cold. “Ya, I think so. I have another problem though even if you let me go. She knows who I am. She recognized me in there. I’m afraid she’ll come after my family.”

She puts a hand on his shoulder, hoping to set him at ease. He’s clearly worried and she doesn’t have an easy answer to this problem. “Not much I can do about that. If you want to testify against her, I can get your family some protection but that assumes I find enough in that warehouse to arrest her. I can’t promise that right now. I actually don’t even know who you are. Care to tell me?”

“Not if I don’t have to.”

“Ya, that’s kind of what I figured. That’s okay I guess. I won’t make you tell. I have your email though and if I get enough evidence I’ll let you know. Just watch your back, you seem like a smart kid. You’ll probably be fine. You have my email if you see anything weird. She probably won’t come after you. It’ll look too suspicious. Is there anyone you can trust to contact me if something were to happen to you?”

He puts his hand on his head while he thinks about this one. “I have a friend who I can give your information to.”

“Do it. If you can, get ahold of the flower woman and let her know you did it. That’s your insurance policy. Tell her you’ve told a few people so she doesn’t try going after them too. Just keep your head down.”

With a thank you, the kid starts getting ready to book it out of the alley. Alvarez puts a hand up to stop him. “Hey, you can’t just leave your weapons here. I’m guessing you’re going to need them and besides, I don’t want some random person walking by to find a bunch of throwing knives.”

With an apology, the kid starts working to shove his many knives back into their slots. Watching him do so makes her cringe. His fingers practically dance between the handles. He thrusts them into their slots hard and fast. What if he’s even slightly off? He’ll end up skewering himself. His last step is to slide his satchel back over his shoulder. Once he’s done, he’s gone without another word.

Tate starts shaking his head once they’re alone. “I didn’t agree with that partner, just for the record. Vigilantes are dangerous. We have a chance to get one off the streets, we should do it.”

“Unless you have an idea to change the laws, that seems like a waste of time. Two more will just replace them. You know how many people want in on this thing?”

They get back in their car. Brandon looks at her with expectation, clearly hoping she’ll drive for a bit. Instead she makes her way to the passenger’s seat without a word. The drive back to the flower shop doesn’t take long. When they go to enter the warehouse door though, they find it’s sealed. The front is the same and pounding on either door does nothing. They’ve either cleared out or they’re pretending to have done so.

Kicking the door hard, Brandon puts his hands on his hips and starts pacing. “We should never have left this place. Or you should have gone after him and I should have stayed here.”

She doesn’t necessarily disagree but calming her partner’s more important than being right. “We got enough evidence to dig into this. We don’t need to get them tonight. We just need time. Well, that and a subpoena. Come on, we’ll head back to the station. Maybe we can get this pushed through quickly and still make it in there tonight.”

Part 1

Part 3

Red Line: The Future Part 2

When the Chance sisters’ father comes home that night he finds his wife bawling on the couch as her two daughters try to console her. The look he directs at his daughters is icy, his eyes narrow and his eyebrows rise. “What did you do to upset your mother?”

Melissa smiles and tries to look confident. “We went and signed up for the military dad. Mom doesn’t like it.”

Tara cringes, expecting an explosion. Their dad grins instead. “Wait, you’re telling me my daughters have decided to serve their country?” Both girls give slight nods. He runs over to his wife. “What are you crying about? This is a cause for celebration. Our daughters are going to be heroes.”

Their mom looks up, her eyes wide. “How can you be excited at a time like this? Our girls are going to end up dead.”

“Oh please, we haven’t had a shooting war in almost ten years. They’ll get good training and be safe.” He lowers his voice. “Not to mention we’re going to have two less mouths to feed around here and two more rooms available. I know you’ve been wanting a knitting room.”

He tried to be quiet but Melissa picked up every word. She cringes. Their dad’s never been that interested in his kids but using their being gone as his attempt to cheer their mom up is bad even for him. “Mom, I promise we’ll do what we can to stay safe. This is a good job and a chance to do something with our lives. Don’t you want that? We might even be picked for a special project.”

Their dad shoots up and walks over to his youngest daughter. “What sort of project?”

“They didn’t give us a lot of details but there’s some special project they want us for. Maybe. We’ll get a call if we’re picked. It seemed like a big deal.”

Glancing down at himself, their dad looks surprised. “This calls for a celebration. Let me get out of these overalls and into a decent pair of jeans. We’re going out to celebrate. Somewhere decent. You can even get a steak if you want.”

As he rushes upstairs Tara rolls her eyes. He’s seemingly forgotten all about his wife who’s still bawling away. She walks upstairs grudgingly. It could be worse. Tonight she’s definitely having steak.

Part 1

Part 3

Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 13

Walking back to the storage facility, DeMarcus pulls the phone out and calls Grady back. “You get the explosives yet?”

“Not yet, but I’m close. The last of the attackers should be neutralized at this point. I found the executive staff. A few of them were killed but there’s three that were still alive including the president. They’re locked down safe.”

“Not bad Dodson, guess you were right to go down there. If they’re all safe though why don’t you lock yourself down and wait for us.”

“Well, the guys messed my wrist up and I’m bleeding pretty bad from my head. I’m okay for now but I don’t really want to suffer through this for another six hours or however long it takes you to get in here.”

“Fair enough. Look, the explosives are apparently in a plastic case in the back right corner of the warehouse. They’re marked highly flammable. Do not run with them, do not jostle them. They could go up very easily. Get them and then get to the vice president’s office. We’ll walk you through wiring it when you’re in place.”

Following every direction Grady gives him to find the case, DeMarcus almost laughs when he reaches the right aisle. There’s the woman who he sent away earlier, with her face on the ground and her hands on the back of her head. When she hears him coming she starts to move. “I’m not here for you, stay where you are.”

Pulling the case off the shelf almost causes it to crash to the floor. He feels panic rising in him but manages to hang on and steady it. This thing’s heavy and usually he’d use both arms to carry it but with his left wrist broken that’s not an option. Lugging it out of the storage area he checks on the other two men and finds them still where he left them.

Soon he’s outside the vice president’s office. “Now what Grady?”

The man hands the phone off to Jerry who instructs him on how to open the case and wire the explosives. Four wires have to be run between several components and they need to be perfect or he’s going to blow up like a pinata. Several times Jerry has to adjust his directions to compensate for DeMarcus’ wrist but finally the bomb’s built and in place. All that remains is to insert the final wire and then haul ass around the nearest corner before it blows up. “You’ll have maybe ten seconds, so you need to move once it’s in.”

“You realize I’m going to be on the ground to insert the wire, then have to get up with one good arm and make it at least ten feet, right?”

There’s a long silence. “Ten feet would be awfully close. Don’t slip getting up.”

He breathes in and out a few times. His nerves are shot. After everything he’s gone through here he’s not ready to die. “Calm down.” It only takes a moment and suddenly he feels calm, in complete control. His mind clears and he knows he has this. A part of him knows how weird it should be that he can calm himself down with a few words but right now he’s grateful for it.

Connecting the last wire, he uses his good arm to push himself to his feet. As soon as he’s standing he takes off sprinting. Reaching the corner, he dives to the right so he lands on his right side and doesn’t hit his injured wrist. Once he’s on the ground he puts his good hand to his ear and shoves his other ear into his shoulder.

He feels it before he hears it. Heat rushes by him and is immediately followed by wood and debris. Even with his ears covered he fears they might burst. The noise hurts almost as much as his wrist. It only lasts a moment but the entire building feels like it’s being shaken from its foundation and his ears are still ringing. When he gets to his feet he finds a layer of dust covers everything including his clothes. He brushes them off and puts the phone back to his ear. “You still there Jerry?”

“Good to hear your voice DeMarcus. A little warning might have been nice though. Even over the phone that was loud as hell.”

“Sorry about that. I’m heading in though. Text me the log in information for this computer. I’ll take it from there. I’ll see you soon.”

He hangs up, knowing he needs to focus. The hard part’s over but he’s still got to get into this computer and undo the lock down. He hopes the controls let him choose what to open as well. Some of the men he left alive are locked in and he doesn’t want to let them out.

Stepping over the remains of the door, DeMarcus is thrilled to find the inside of the vice president’s office isn’t badly damaged. The computer terminal seems intact. He moves toward the desk but before he can get around it he hears a click behind him. “Open your mouth and I fill you full of bullets. Reach for a weapon and I do the same. You’re lucky I haven’t already done it but I need you. Turn around, but do it slowly.”

Part 12

Part 14

The Law Vol. 1 Serve or Protect Part 1

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.

Part 2

Red Line: The Future Part 1

Life’s full of choices. Every day we make decisions which could change the course of our lives. From the moment we wake up we choose whether to get out of bed, whether to eat breakfast, what we want for breakfast, if we want to go to our jobs. We even make a choice to come home when our job grants us a temporary reprieve. Those choices combine into millions of possible endings.

For Melissa Chance though there hasn’t been much in the way of choice for a long time. She wakes up every day whether she likes it or not. Someone makes sure of it. She takes her pills whether she likes it or not. They’re too important to allow any other choice. The only real choice left is whether to live or die and even that isn’t really up to her. If she chose to die it’s unlikely her captors would allow it. She’d give almost anything to make a choice that genuinely matters. She’s only in here because she chose to be.

 


 

The year was 1998 and Melissa and her older sister Tara had just graduated high school. Technically Tara graduated a year earlier but she failed out of college in near record time. Her parents gave her disapproving looks when she arrived back in Many, Louisiana but she insisted college just wasn’t for her. Their parents always wanted their daughters to get a good education but after Tara’s issues Melissa had no interest in pursuing further education.

Raised in a small town, there weren’t a lot of paths out and from a young age both girls knew they needed to get out. They both wanted more from life than their corner of the world could provide. With college out that left only one choice that made sense to them. They decided to enlist in the military. With no sort of major military action in years, they saw it as a great way to get started in life, save some money and figure out the next steps.

On the day they walk into the recruiter’s office the lone soldier with a square jaw and buzzed head takes a long time to notice them. When he does he stares at them with stars in his eyes. “Good afternoon ladies, welcome to our office. How can the United States armed forces help you beautiful creatures today? Did you stumble in the wrong door? I’ll be glad to help with directions.”

Tara gives him a look that could turn a man to stone. From a young age she was the most intimidating person in any room. She doesn’t have a lot of friends outside of her sister and the biggest reason is how hard it is to approach her and break through her icy exterior. She clenches her fists a few times, her palms turning white.“We’re here to register for the United States Army. Where do we sign up?”

Things somehow get worse from there. After the man decides this must be a joke, the girls spend twenty minutes convincing him to register them instead of hit on them. He eventually runs out of excuses and passes them each a packet full of paperwork. He also seems to give up on getting the date he feels entitled to. As they fill out their paperwork he pulls out an extra packet and glances at the girls. “Just out of curiosity, how much do you really want to serve your country?”

Tara’s eyes rest on him and start to narrow. “We’re here aren’t we?”

Glancing down and then turning around he shrugs. “Ya, I suppose so. How would you ladies be interested in a special branch of the service? I’ve got a special project I’m supposed to find ladies to recruit for but we don’t get a lot of women registering out here. You don’t have to do anything special today. Just fill out an extra form and someone will be in touch.”

The sisters look at each other and Tara raises an eyebrow. What have they got to lose? Melissa offers a smile which seems to relax the soldier. “Sure, we can give it a try. Have them give us a call.” After turning down his phone number one last time, they manage to escape.

Part 2

Toxic Vol. 1 Susceptible States Part 12

The person holding a gun to DeMarcus’ back could open fire but so far they hasn’t. They must want something. Keeping himself under control DeMarcus knows if he’s going to get out of this he needs to find out if he’s right about what that chemical did to him. Ever since he got sealed in a lab with a massive dose of a new mood controlling drug everyone seems to do exactly what he says. Weird stuff that he can’t think of another explanation for. Jerry said it was possible he was made a conduit for the chemicals.

“Don’t shoot. Can you take the gun off my back?”

They don’t shoot, but the gun doesn’t go anywhere. “You’re not in control of this situation. Keep your hand away from your gun.”

DeMarcus doesn’t know why but he’s surprised to hear a woman’s voice. She speaks with confidence. Something didn’t work but he tries again. “Take the gun off of my back.”

This time she complies. He’s terrified but also excited. Turning, he finds a pretty blonde who can’t be older than twenty five. Her hair’s done up and she has pink nails that match a pair of pink combat boots she’s wearing.

The woman looks confused and starts to open her mouth. Before she can speak he says, “Don’t say anything.” Her mouth hangs open and after a moment she closes it. Now she really looks confused. Her hand shakes and she keeps pointing her gun at him. She still doesn’t fire. “Why don’t you give me the gun?” She makes no move to do so. He decides to rephrase. “Give me the gun.” Now she holds the gun out and offers it to him.

He’s starting to get the hang of this. They don’t do things he asks. Only things he tells them to do. “Walk to the far end of this warehouse, lay on your face, put your hands behind your head and stay there with your mouth shut until someone comes and get you.” Her eyes go wide and she looks angry but she does as she’s told.

Turning back down the aisle, DeMarcus sees the situation hasn’t gotten better. The accountant’s been forced to his knees and is openly weeping. His tie’s been removed and is tied around his eyes. The lawyer and Mr. Sarraf can’t look. The bull of a man is standing over him with his gun pointed and a grin spread across his face. “I’m giving you a last chance. Where are the chemicals I need? Tell me or you’re dead.”

Between sobs the man manages to say, “Do you really think I’d die to protect this place if I knew? I just do the books. It doesn’t matter anyway. Even if I knew, you’d still kill me.”

The big man’s jaw drops. “No, I actually won’t. You don’t have to believe me but I’m a man of my word. I don’t have time to check every box in this place before the cops get in here. I might luck into the stuff I need but there’s a good chance all of this was for nothing if you don’t help. I need you. I’ll reward your help if you help me.” He takes a moment to turn to Mr. Sarraf. “For the record though, no, I don’t think you have a clue where the stuff is. I think the big guy here does though. I’m hoping he’ll feel bad enough watching you all die that he tells me. I might be wrong though. Maybe he doesn’t know. Or maybe he’s just that cold.”

Knowing he can’t wait anymore, DeMarcus steps into the aisle. Both guns immediately swing toward him. “Drop your guns.” Both men’s eyes go wide as they release their weapons and they fall to the floor. They lean down to grab them. “Don’t pick them back up. Leave your guns where you dropped them. Stay where you are.” They do so, though both stand back up and look at each other with fear in their eyes.

Mr. Sarraf comes running his way with tears streaming down his face. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier to see anyone DeMarcus.” He wraps him in a giant hug.

The accountant’s jerking his head back and forth. “What the hell’s going on?” DeMarcus walks up to him and pulls the tie from around his eyes. Looking up, he sees who came to help and seems speechless. He puts his hands over his mouth and falls backward.

The two attackers look back and forth at each other. The big one has a sneer on his face. “Who the hell do you think you are?”

“Nobody you need to know. What are you doing here? What’s this about?” The two men look at each other for a moment but neither says a word. “We’re going to play it that way?” He looks straight at the bald man. “Tell me, what’s your plan?”

“Not that complex. We broke in hoping to steal a bunch of chemicals. A lot of the ones upstairs and some we were told would be in storage. Got most of what we need ready to go upstairs but these idiots weren’t any help finding what we needed down here.” Once he finishes the man’s eyes go wide and he throws his hands over his mouth.

Turning to Mr. Sarraf, DeMarcus gets a strange look on his face. “Did you really not know where this stuff was?”

The older man looks ill. “Not most of it. I might have led them to a few pieces if I really wanted to but they’d have likely killed us anyway when they realized I couldn’t lead them to the rest. Besides, you know the stuff we keep here is too dangerous to let them have.”

DeMarcus’ head slams forward into a metal bar. The world spins around him and he can’t clear his head. A fist punches him in the face. He raises his arms to try and block the next punch but it’s even harder and it feels like his left wrist shatters. He falls to his knees where he’s kicked in the gut. All the air’s forced from his lungs. He tries to tell the man to stop but he can’t manage a word. Everything spins as the lawyer screams. She tries to run and the accountant’s right behind her. Mr. Sarraf after a long look at DeMarcus follows.

The big guy jumps onto his chest and punches him again and again. “What the hell did you do to me? Why can’t I pick up my gun? If you don’t say something soon I’m going to bust your head open.”

Blows keep raining down so there’s no chance for DeMarcus to answer. He starts to feel light headed and fights to stay awake. The man relents for just a moment. “Tell me what I want to know.”

“Stop.”

That’s all it takes. The man freezes. His eyes go wide and he seems to realize something’s wrong. There’s a slight twitch in his arm as if he’s still trying to punch but his body won’t allow it. They stay like this for over a minute. DeMarcus doesn’t have the strength to get out from under the man and he’s got no interest in moving. Finally DeMarcus catches his breath. “Get off of me.” The giant man complies but when he’s on his feet he tries to get away. “Stay put.” The man stops walking away.

With his right arm DeMarcus wipes his head. When he pulls his hand back he finds it smeared with blood. Looking at his left wrist, it’s limp and he can’t move it. Anger rises in him. He almost messed this up. He has no idea where the last three survivors and the other attacker went. He needs to find them. He turns to the big guy. He wants to do sadistic things to the man, or even better make the man do sadistic things to himself. Now isn’t the time though. “Follow me. Don’t do anything to hurt me or anyone else.”

They take off down the aisles, searching for any sign of people. He finds the remaining three near the entrance to the storage area. The attacker’s chasing after them but without his gun he’s not that dangerous. It looks like someone got ahold of the lawyer’s red hair because it’s been pulled from the ponytail she had it in.

DeMarcus runs right at the attacker and tackles him to the ground. His wrist hits wrong and he lets out a scream. The man skids away. DeMarcus scrambles up first and looks right at the attacker. “Stay down.” The man looks at him but doesn’t do anything else. He looks over at the lawyer and Mr. Sarraf. “You two alright?” They each give a weak nod.

His attention returns to the attackers. “Tell me who you are.” They both start to speak at once. “Stop. Point at whichever one of you is in charge.” They both point at the larger man. DeMarcus turns to the smaller one. “Sit facing a wall. Don’t move, don’t speak.” He then turns to the larger man. “What’s your name?” It takes him a moment to realize why it isn’t working. “Tell me your name.”

“My name’s Rupert Corey, but everyone calls me Big Man.”

“Okay Big Man. Answer my questions from here on in. How were you planning to get out of here?”

“There’s a way to override the lockdown in some of the offices, for the real big shots. I just figured I’d force that idiot over there to let me out.” He points at Mr. Sarraf as he says it.

DeMarcus closes his eyes and curses under his breath. That was a better plan than he had and it won’t work. “Why are you doing this?”

“Because with what we get here we can start the process of taking back America. I’m also getting paid a lot of money. That doesn’t hurt.”

Realizing he doesn’t have any other questions DeMarcus decides to have a little fun with the man for all he’s done. “Bang your head against that metal shelving behind you until you pass out.”

Watching Big Man bang his head against the shelving repeatedly is cathartic. He looks at the lawyer, the accountant and Mr. Sarraf to see if any of them has a problem with it. The lawyer’s eyes are wide with excitement. The accountant looks a little queasy but doesn’t say anything. Mr. Sarraf doesn’t have much of a look on his face at all. Blood’s pouring out of the man’s head by the time he hits the ground and stays there.

Getting back to business, DeMarcus goes up to Mr. Sarraf. “Time to go. I have a question though. Do you happen to have keys for any of the offices except your own?”

“No, why?”

Looking down at his feet DeMarcus swears under his breath. “I may have locked a group of them down in your office. So if you were counting on using that to get out of here, we’re going to need a new plan.” Mr. Sarraf’s face droops. “Don’t worry, I have another idea. First, we need to get the three of you to safety.”

Taking the lead, DeMarcus exits the storage area, moving toward the offices. As they walk he informs them of Grady’s plan to blow open the vice president’s office. Mr. Sarraf doesn’t like it. “I know the explosives he’s speaking of, they’re very unstable. One wrong move and you’re dead. We’ve taken care of all of them. Why don’t you just lock down with us in one of these offices until help comes?”

He points at his left wrist. “Mainly because this hurts like hell and it could be hours. I also have a girl upstairs in one of the labs locked up with one of these maniacs. I can’t leave her longer than I have to.”

They nervously look at each other before the accountant stops for a moment. “Not that I don’t appreciate your help, but why are all these guys listening to you?”

“We can worry about that later Jack.” Mr. Sarraf looks nervous. DeMarcus wonders if he’s already figured it out.

“I don’t mind answering Mr. Sarraf. I got locked in one of the labs with a bunch of chemicals meant to alter moods. Now I seem to be able to alter moods or make people do what I want. Kind of weird.”

The accountant’s eyes go wide. “So wait, if you tell us to do something we’ll have to do it?”

Shrugging, DeMarcus doesn’t stop. “Seems like it. I haven’t gotten to test it out in that much detail so I don’t know how it works but it seems like people do anything I tell them to.” He raises his left eyebrow. “I guess I could test it out on you if you like.”

“I’m good.”

Reaching the offices, he picks one that has three chairs and a desk and leads them inside. Mr. Sarraf doesn’t like it. “Why don’t I come with you and try to help with the explosives? With your wrist it’s going to be very difficult to manage.”

“Appreciate the offer but my job is to keep you all safe. I’ll be able to focus better if I know you’re all locked in here.” He considers telling them to stay put so there’s no issue but he decides against it. They’re not fighting him, there’s no reason to force it.

Steel shutters close between them and once again he’s alone.

Part 11

Part 13

Dynamo Vol. 1 Greater Heights Part 24

Everything feels wrong. Kalenia Wallace can’t believe she shot an unarmed woman who had surrendered. She had to do it though, didn’t she? She couldn’t make a deal with a woman like Lily. How could she ever trust her? She couldn’t let her keep pumping drugs onto the street, even if they weren’t the streets here in town. She threatened to burn her life to the ground. To have her family hurt or even killed. It was self defense. The VMUS Act gives her the power to protect the public and stopping someone from murdering everyone she loves has to qualify. It doesn’t feel that way though. It feels wrong.

Wiping the blood that splattered on her face away, she knows she needs to get out. She’s still shaking but she can’t stay here any longer. There’s still people who might need help in the warehouse and she needs to call for help. At first she planned to stick around to help the police but she doesn’t want credit for this. Instead she can drive until she’s clear of the building and then call it in. They’ll probably match the bullets here to the ones from the warehouse but she doesn’t have to make it easy on them.

Tearing herself from the sight of Lily slumped dead on the floor, Kalenia heads back down the hallway. Finding her way to the stairs she heads up until she’s back in the employee only area of the casino. There’s no sign of anybody around. It’s getting late and the casino’s likely to be nearly empty at this point. She tries to remember the path she took through these halls to get here but nothing’s clear.

Winding through hallway after hallway, it isn’t long before she’s completely lost. Several times she opens a door expecting to see the kitchen or something near it which would tell her she’s nearing a way out. Instead she finds herself staring into an office or a conference room. The kitchen’s one of the only locations that stood out on her way in. She sniffs the air once to try and search for any sign of food but the only smell in her nostrils is the metallic scent of blood. She won’t make the mistake of focusing on it again.

After more than ten minutes of trying to find her way out she starts to worry. She’s covered in blood and even this late the casino’s still open. Eventually she’s going to stumble upon somebody and when she does they’re going to be very surprised. She pulls her trench coat tighter. At least all of her clothes are black which hides how much blood she’s covered in.

Opening another door, Kalenia’s shocked to find herself staring onto the casino floor. She snuck into the employee area through a back door and if she’s right about where she is, then the back entrances are a long way off. She’s had no luck finding her way to them through the back hallways and she needs to escape. Looking out, she only sees a couple gamblers left and the type of gambler to still be playing slots after midnight on a weeknight isn’t likely to pay much attention to her.

Without knowing how long it will take to find her way out the back, Kalenia decides to chance sneaking past the gamblers. Seeing a bathroom ahead of her to the right she sees an opportunity to clean herself up to the point where she won’t look like she stepped out of a horror movie. Darting to the bathroom, she doesn’t think anyone noticed her. She breathes a sigh of relief when there’s nobody else in the bathroom.

There’s no lock on the door so she can’t keep others from making their way in but it’s late and she doesn’t need long. The sink runs red with blood as she works to scrub as much as she can off of her body. She focuses on her hands, her hair and her face. She wipes the most obvious parts off her coat but there’s too much to get it clean. She just has to hope it’s good enough to get her out of here without drawing attention.

The lack of paper towels is an issue. She would have known this place was evil just from checking the bathroom and finding nothing but hand dryers. Without other options, she rushes into a stall and pulls a roll of toilet paper loose. She starts wiping herself down the best she can. The red toilet paper piles up in the next sink over as she goes through it. She uses two rolls before she looks close to presentable. At a glance someone might not realize she just shot a person at close range. Anybody who takes a close look at her isn’t going to be fooled.

Flushing the toilet paper takes three tries and after each one she fears the toilet will clog but she’s finally able to get rid of it. Making her way out of the bathroom, Kalenia starts walking towards the entrance of the casino. Her coat’s pulled tight and as she walks past a few gamblers nobody seems to pay attention to her. She considers taking her mask off to seem less conspicuous but for now she keeps it on. She can’t risk being recognized, especially now.

Rounding the corner by the casino’s buffet, the front doors come into focus. She passes a couple of men coming out of the restaurant which closed a half hour ago, making sure to keep her eyes on the ground to try and stay inconspicuous. They don’t take any notice of her. A few seconds after she passes them one of the men lets out a scream. Turning around, she sees James stumbling after her with a gun pointed her way. He starts firing.

The two men try to get out of the way but one of them’s hit by a bullet and goes flying to the ground. The other ducks behind a corner only a few feet away. He’s crying and reaching for his friend who took the bullet in the gut. The injured man tries to crawl to his friend but he’s clearly in enormous pain. He lets out a loud moan.

Kalenia tries to throw herself behind a corner but she doesn’t make it. A bullet goes right through her stomach. She screams and drops her gun which goes skidding across the floor. The pain’s overwhelming. She presses one hand to the wound, trying to slow the bleeding. Blood’s still flowing out fast. With her other hand she reaches for her second gun but it’s inside the coat and she can’t get at it. James is getting closer.

When he’s about to fire again two security guards round the corner. They both reach for tasers and aim them forward. A woman and a man, they’re both young and the wide eyed look on their faces shows their terror. They do their job though and fire. They miss but James turns and runs back the way he came. He’s slow but the male guard chasing him doesn’t have much enthusiasm and quickly loses him.

The female guard rushes between Kalenia and the other man who was shot. “It’s going to be okay. Just hang on.” She grabs for her radio. “I need someone to call an ambulance now. There’s two people down. A guy shot them.”

She holds Kalenia’s hand as the man who was shot’s friend stays with him. The other guard comes back after a minute. “I lost him, went into the employee area and I wasn’t chasing him through those halls. Did you recognize that guy? He’s been around here a lot.”

Shooting her partner a look that could kill, the woman shakes her head. The pain’s enormous but Kalenia knows she has to keep her eyes open and try to stay awake. She tries to focus on breathing. She keeps thinking about her boyfriend Marco. After only a couple of minutes she can hear sirens in the background.

A crowd has gathered by the time the paramedics rush inside. The first paramedics move toward her but Kalenia waves them toward the injured man. “Help him. They were after me, he just got caught in the crossfire. Help him first.”

They do as they’re told but another paramedic crew is right behind and this time Kalenia doesn’t refuse their help. She tries to look brave but can’t avoid a cry as she’s lifted off the ground onto a gurney. She thanks the security guard who stayed with her as she’s wheeled out of the casino. The woman tries to smile but she can only manage with her lips. Her eyes tell another story.

The paramedics work to get her hooked to blood and to take her vitals. One of them squeezes her hand. “Don’t worry, we’re gonna make sure you’re alright. I know you’re scared but we’ve got you. We’ll be to the hospital soon.”

Kalenia’s starting to fade at this point. She’s fighting with everything she has to stay awake but the battle seems to be going south. She can feel that she’s lost a lot of blood. and everything’s spinning. Her hands and arms are drenched in blood. Nobody asks about the blood all over her clothes from before. They must assume it’s all from the gunshot.

By the time they’re speeding down the highway toward the nearest hospital, Kalenia starts to feel numb. “Something’s wrong.” Even saying so is a struggle.

Grabbing her hand, the paramedic in the back of the ambulance with her tries to look confident. “Don’t worry, that’s just from the medicine we gave you. You’re going to be alright. The doctors will get you right into surgery as soon as we get to the hospital. Is there anything I can do for you? Anyone you want me to call?”

She points to her coat wadded up on the floor. “My left inside pocket, in the coat.”

The paramedic reaches inside and pulls her cell phone out. “How do I unlock this?”

Her hand goes out. “Hand me the phone.”

He hesitates, seeing the blood coating her hands. “Why don’t you just give me your password and I’ll get in for you.”

More words. Every one a struggle but she has to explain. “I can’t. That’d be a big problem with my job. I can do it.” He hands her the phone and she tries to punch her pin in. She fails the first time but on a second attempt she manages to enter it correctly. She opens her contacts and pulls Marco’s name up. “Please take his number down so I can lock my phone. That’s my boyfriend. I need you to call him and tell him to meet me at the hospital. Don’t let them tell him everything, I’ll handle that. Just tell him I’m hurt and he needs to get there.”

Nodding, the paramedic jots the number down on a pad of paper he produces from somewhere and Kalenia closes her phone. She can’t focus at this point and drops the device. It bounces off the floor just as they go flying around a corner. Gravity takes over and the phone goes flying across the back of the ambulance. The paramedic tries to recover it before it breaks something and finally manages to get ahold of it. As he shoves it back into her coat, Kalenia can see the screen cracked.

They start to slow down and she hopes desperately that means they’re almost to the hospital. She can’t feel anything in her stomach anymore. She really hopes that’s from the medicine they’ve given her but she has a bad feeling it’s not. She can hear the driver up front shouting into a radio. “We’re coming in fast, I need a crash cart there right away. She’s bleeding bad.”

Abruptly the ambulance comes to a stop and she can hear the driver jumping out. The doors are thrown open and the lights from the hospital loading bay shine in. They’re blinding. She knows it’s silly but everything seems white for a minute and she has a terrible thought that she shouldn’t go into the light. She pushes it aside.

A few people climb into the ambulance and quickly pull her out. As she’s lowered to the ground, a kind looking dark skinned female doctor comes up to her and smiles. “I’m Dr. Batra. Don’t worry, we’re going to take great care of you. I’ll be with you the whole way and I’m going to make sure you’re alright.”

Part 23