By the time we hit the rally point, it was pretty obvious that things were threatening to spiral out of control. Gunfire was echoing through the night, more intense than anything we’d unleashed yet, except for maybe the mad minute into Fat Boy’s safe house. Red and blue flashing lights were clearly visible, as were the flames from something having been set on fire not far from them. The local PD was in the middle of one hell of a firefight. Given what I’d seen, I didn’t imagine it was a fight that they were remotely prepared for. Even though it had been a pretty successful night, we were all pretty subdued as we gathered around the vehicles in a field south of town. Granted, some of our silence was simply professional habit; once you’ve spent as long as we have running around hostile environments, outnumbered and generally outgunned, you don’t get loud and chatty very easily. Some of it was because of fatigue. There hadn’t been a lot of sleep since Jim’s death.
Twelve hours later, aching with fatigue and sleep-deprivation, we pulled off and headed to another one of the myriad abandoned houses that we’d picked out as safe houses elsewhere in the city. “Well, that’s interesting,” I said, looking around at the weary, grimy faces gathered in the shadowed living room. At least, I think it was supposed to have been a living room. It was just an empty space covered in dust and debris at that point. We were keeping well back from the broken front windows to avoid being easily spotted from the street. “Nobody saw any police response at all?” I looked at Derek. “I know you were monitoring their comm freqs. Even the IED wasn’t enough to stir ‘em?” He shook his head. “They were aware of it. Several calls came in, from locals and police units. But there was no response from dispatch except to say, ‘Yeah, we know.’” He shrugged. “They knew that the wild goose chases I had them on were probably connected to it, too, judging by a couple of the responses to the bots’ 911 calls. But they still didn’t lift a finger to go into the East Side.” “That is
The sound of pistol shots could only mean that things had just gone very, very bad. Of course, being the East Side, we heard sporadic gunfire all the time. If I had been inclined to wishful thinking, I might have been able to put it down to just another couple of gangbangers removing themselves from the gene pool. But the timing, the direction, and the fact that the explosion we’d been waiting to hear hadn’t gone off yet, disinclined me to such hopes. Bryan was probably dead, and our first diversion was a bust. Strangely enough, I didn’t feel the surge of rage and frustration that I probably should have. I was in the zone, game face on, and I just did what came naturally anymore when things inevitably fell apart. I attacked.
“Damn, these guys ain’t even trying to blend in, are they?” Jack muttered. “No, they aren’t,” I replied from the back of the van, where I was already snapping pictures. We’d done a few recon passes just by driving through the neighborhood, with the passenger looking like he was texting while he took pictures with his phone, but the bigger Nikon provided better quality, and the van meant that we could get better pictures in general. Trying to be discreet with the phone usually meant that the angles were poor. Sitting in the back seat of the panel van, I had a lot more freedom of movement. Right at the moment, my viewfinder was filled with a relatively fit young man with a pencil mustache and immaculately gelled hair, wearing shiny pants, an equally shiny black shirt open nearly to his sternum, and a short, white jacket. A thick gold chain around his neck and mirrored aviator sunglasses completed the image. I couldn’t see from our vantage point, but I was sure there was a pistol in his waistband. The handful of other young men around him weren’t as fancily dressed, though they were still wearing that sort of northern
The wrecked, bullet-riddled cars had been dragged away from the gate by the time we got back. With the uproar in town, the sheriff’s department hadn’t showed up yet, either, though I was sure they were on their way. It was going to take them a while, though. I pulled the truck up in front of the porch and got out. Tom was waiting in the doorway. “Where’s shithead?” I asked. The fury was burning pretty hot by then; I’d been feeding the flames most of the way back from town. It might not have been the healthiest way of coping, but as long as it kept me from breaking down, I was going to stick with it. I had so damned much bottled up grief and fucked-up shit in my head by then that I didn’t dare open that floodgate. That way lay madness and fatal alcohol poisoning.
You know, a normal person, upon stepping out of a grocery store in a small town in Wyoming and seeing a dark red Crown Vic full of four young men, all Hispanic, all exuding the vato belligerence, two with shaved heads and goatees, watching them intently, might or might not immediately identify them as a threat. If they did, in this day and age, they might dismiss their initial concern as prejudice, and nobody wants to be prejudiced. So, they would try to ignore the mean-mugging and go about their business. To all outward appearances, that was what I did. But I am by no means a normal person anymore. Haven’t been for a lot of years. Most “normal” people would probably call me “paranoid” if they could see inside my head. I would probably correct them, pointing out that I am, in fact, “professionally paranoid.” It’s kept me alive in some very, very unpleasant places. I wasn’t looking at them as I walked across the street toward my beat-up old pickup, but was keeping them within my peripheral vision, watching them without focusing on anything in particular. I learned a long time ago that if you keep your eyes
Well, it took a couple weeks longer than I had hoped, but the outline for Lex Talionis, Praetorians Number 5, is done. Finally. This one has been a bear to get started, for a couple of reasons. One, shifting gears from two entirely different genres, in which I was immersed for the entirety of the summer and fall, between the novel that I otherwise can’t talk about yet, and The Canyon of the Lost, has been…difficult. Add in the grim(mer) nature of this final installment in the American Praetorians series, and you start to get the picture. I can say this much: the storm clouds have been gathering for the last three books, and now the thunder’s rumbling and it’s starting to rain. This is going to be a rough ride.