MCKENZIE BRIDGE — Sunday 23:00
The old man on the bed was aiming as the three agents burst into the room. The first agent smashed through the door and dived to the floor. The second entered erect and started firing. The third, on his first raid, entered the pandemonium with the second agent's tall, bulky frame blocking his view; all he could see was the woman jumping from the chair with her right arm outstretched. The gunfire swallowed her cry of “No!” and he squeezed the trigger twice at a range of six feet. The first agent skidded to a stop on the floor, centered on the man, and fired a single shot.
Four bullets slammed Tom Harris backward against the headboard where he remained sprawled, head thrown backward and turned to the side, mouth open. The two bullets fired at Ellie Harris doubled her over and propelled her back into the chair, which tipped over backward, spilling her body against the wall.
The television provided the only light. Baxter, the first agent to enter, rose from the floor, his weapon aimed. In a direct line between the television and the bed, he slowly stood. His shadow crept over the bed, along the old man's body, up to the face, reaching the victim's mouth at the moment blood welled up from punctured lungs and drooled out the left side. The face showed no other signs of damage; all of the bullets had been body shots. The eyes were open.
“Get the lights, and turn that damn TV off.” Schumaker, the second agent in and the team's leader, gave the order and then spoke into his radio.“It's over, come on in. The bastard tried to fire on us.” He shouted, asserting his authority and compensating for the blaring television.
“We heard. You get him?” crackled the radio.
“Yeah, big time ... the woman, too.”
“Both fired on you?” came back.
“Just get in here.”
Longstreet, the third agent, stood frozen in place, gun still in hand but lowered, the first flush of a sweat showing on his forehead.
Baxter had holstered his weapon, found and flipped the light switch, and crossed to the television. Next he pulled the upset chair aside, knelt and checked the woman's pulse. There was none. She lay on her side, facing the wall. He didn't turn her; from his vantage point on the floor, he had seen where the bullets had hit when they struck her.
Baxter continued to the bed and checked the old man's pulse. Blood from the multiple wounds saturated the old man's pajama tops. The agent looked at the man's face and then down to check his weapon, but the slender, bony fingers held no weapon. There was no pulse.
“Schumaker, we got a problem,” Baxter said. He was second-in-command, a big man and not afraid to speak his mind.
“Yeah, I know, the gal wasn't armed. That's okay, we'll take a little heat for that, but these things happen. Let this be a lesson to you, Longstreet. Make sure your target has a weapon, lest you violate their fucking civil rights and all that crap.”
Longstreet gave no sign of having heard.
“Jesus, Schumaker,” Baxter said, running a hand through his dark hair.
“What? What'd I say?”
“Schumaker, the guy on the bed didn't have a gun either.”
“Bullshit, he tried to fire on us.” The senior agent strode to the bedside and looked down over his expansive stomach. “Shit. A goddamn remote control.” Another fucking foul-up. God, why does this keep happening to me? “Okay, there's gotta be a gun someplace. Find it. Now! Find two!” He reached down, removed the TV controller from the dead man's hand, and placed it on the nightstand. He thought better, picked it up and placed it away from the bed on the television.
Though trembling, Longstreet's small, spare frame remained frozen.
“Don't stand there, get to it, goddammit!” Schumaker shouted. “I'll search here, the two of you split up the rest of the house.”
The bedroom was on the second story. Baxter elected to search the rest of that level. He told Longstreet to take the first floor. When Longstreet didn't respond, Baxter grabbed his thin shoulders, turned him, and shoved.
His stomach knotting and with rising nausea, Longstreet descended the stairs. He had killed a human being—his first—and she was a woman and unarmed. About to vomit, he looked about wildly for a bathroom. There was no time. He ran through the front door and across the porch. The two agents who had covered the outside were ascending the steps with the dog, blocking his way. He veered left, leaned over the porch railing and emptied the contents of his stomach onto the red blossoms of a small rhododendron.
“Jesus, Longstreet, you're upsetting the dog,” said Jameson, the dog handler. They continued into the house, shaking their heads.
Jameson unleashed the dog inside the doorway. They called him Finder, and he knew what they expected of him. He would search until he either found marijuana, cocaine, or heroin or had covered the entire house. Drug dealers had recently raised the bounty on him to $15,000; he had the best nose in the business. Jameson followed him. The other agent, a veteran named Wood, ascended the stairs, knowing where to go from their surveillance.
Outside, a second convulsion emptied the rest of Longstreet's stomach.
“Longstreet's outside puking his guts out.” Wood spoke as he entered the bedroom. Schumaker was going through a chest of drawers. “What are you doing that for? Wait for the dog. He'll find the drugs.”
“I'm not looking for drugs. I'm looking for guns.”
“Guns?” Wood scanned the corpses on the bed and floor. “What for? They're not going to get up,” he said.
“He didn't have one.”
“Didn't have what?”
“A gun, he didn't have a gun, goddammit!”
Wood went to the bed, visually checked the man's body and the bed, and patted down the bed covers. He stooped over the girl and patted down her body, wondering how an old man could attract such a young wife.
“You said he tried to fire on you.”
“He had a TV remote controller in his hand. It looked like a gun.”
“Fuck. What about the woman?”
“Longstreet screwed up. She was waving her arms, shouting. He started firing.”
“Jesus, this'll be the third major fuckup in a year.”
“No, it won't. We find guns, we fire them, and we put them in their hands. Understood? ... now get downstairs and help Longstreet find some guns.”
“Jesus.” Damn it, Schumaker, you're not going to pull me into your mess. You dumb shit. He left the room, and descended the staircase to find Jameson.
Down on his knees on the porch, Longstreet had his head between railing supports. There was nothing left in his stomach, but the dry heaves kept coming.
“The druggies were unarmed.” Wood had found Jameson. The lanky young dog handler was in the kitchen.
“Yeah, the dumb shits blew the guy away with a TV remote control in his hand. The gal didn't have anything.”
“Oh, God. Hey, we were outside, not our problem, right?”
“Yeah, but they're looking for guns now. Schumaker wants to fire'em and put'em in their hands. I don't think we should let him do it. That'll make us accessories.”
“There are guns in the den, in a gun cabinet.”
“Jesus, I hoped they wouldn't find any.”
“There's another problem. I don't think there're any drugs. You know how Finder is. He's relaxed when there's nothing around. If there is something, he's excited way before he actually finds it. He hasn't been upstairs yet, but the way he's acting, I don't think we're going to find anything.”
“Jesus, Schumaker's in trouble. The last two times the agency popped guys without finding anything they at least were armed.”
When they didn't find a weapon on the upper floor, Schumaker began to panic. Wood came back upstairs and added to the team leader's desperation, reminding him that since there had been deaths, they were required to notify local authorities immediately. Schumaker shouted him down, and Wood went back downstairs.
Longstreet started to function again, and quickly found the gun cabinet. The news of the find brought Schumaker downstairs and enabled him to get control of himself. Wood waited for him by the cabinet.
“Look, Schumaker, you can't put a gun in the guy's hand. It's not right and it still leaves the problem of the girl.”
“Wood, you don't give diddly-squat about what's right. All you're thinking about is that you and Jameson were outside and that gets you off the hook. Well, it's my ass on the line, and Baxter's, and Longstreet's, and we're all going to stick together. You understand that?” he said, his voice pitched and tremulous. Sweat stood out on his forehead.
The other agents looked on in silence. Jameson had let the dog go upstairs alone. He knew Finder would bark if he found anything.
“Jameson and I are not going to pay for a mistake you made,” Wood said. “You pushed this from the beginning. You're the one who took that scumbag informer's word. You're the one who said we could go in without verification. You're the one who got Longstreet all charged up with those stories about how good it feels to blow away a big‑time pusher. Put a gun in the dead guy's hand and I'm on the phone to internal affairs.”
The two men were face to face, rigid, veins standing out on their necks. Baxter broke the impasse.
“Ah, Wood, can I speak to you privately?” he said and walked out on the porch.
Wood turned and watched him go, looked back at Schumaker, and then followed Baxter to the porch, leaving Schumaker shaking with rage.
“What do you want to say, Baxter? You're not going to change my mind.”
“It's my ass, too, you know.”
“I know that, but we all have to take our own knocks, and I don't think Jameson and I should pay for what we didn't do.”
“Nobody will find out if we stick together.”
“You don't know that. They're going to look at this real close. Schumaker doesn't know it yet, but there ain't any drugs. Finder isn't reacting at all. There's nothing here. This is going to be the third no‑knock in a year that we shot people and didn't find anything. OPR is going to be on us like flies on shit.”
Baxter was shaken by the reference to the Office of Professional Responsibility, the Agency's internal security division, but the probability of there being no drugs made what he had planned to say even more unavoidable.
“I know about your Channel Islands account, and I know about the hundred thousand you lifted on the Renlek bust. If I go down, you go down.” He said it quietly.
“You son-of-a-bitch!” shouted Wood. He caught himself, realizing the others had heard and lowered his voice. “And I suppose you're lily white?”
“No, Wood, I'm not. But as I said, if I go down, you go down. What'll it be?”
“Your choice. We can't wait.”
Baxter returned to the den without waiting for more. “Wood has no further objections. Jameson, what about you?” he said.
“Hey, that was Wood's idea. I believe in sticking together.” He lied, and everybody knew it, and they knew he was weak; he would go along. “I'll go check on Finder.”
The cabinet was locked, and they couldn't find a key. Schumaker forced the lock with a kitchen knife after unsuccessfully trying to pick it. It contained five weapons: a 20-gauge shotgun, a pellet rifle, a .22 rifle, and two handguns, a World War II vintage Colt .45 and a Ruger .22 automatic. The only ammunition was an unopened box of .22 caliber long rifle shells. The agents had no matching ammunition; they carried 9 mm. or .38 caliber side arms, and their shotguns were 12-gauge.
They argued over which weapon to put in whose hands. The Colt or the shotgun would have been the best weapons had there been ammunition for them, but they wanted to show the suspects had fired on them. There were shells for the Ruger, but would anyone believe using a .22 for defense?
They finally settled on putting the .22 in the old man's hands and the .45 in the girl's. The inference was the man knew there was no ammunition for the .45 and had no choice but to grab the .22. The girl, not knowing the .45 was useless, had grabbed that.
Finder found nothing. He stopped and sat, panting, looking up at Jameson's figure framed in the doorway of a guest bedroom. It was the signal that he was finished. Jameson sagged; was there no way out of this mess? One last try. Maybe he had a little dope for personal use in his bedroom. Maybe it's only half a sixteenth, wrapped in plastic and sealed in an airtight container. You've got to be tired, Finder. Maybe you missed it. It's worth a try. He called Finder to his side, stepped across the hall, and gave the dog the signal to go over the room again.
Finder gave the room a second going-over, his disinterest obvious. He sat again, this time by the bed. Jameson heaved a sigh, not looking forward to telling Schumaker.
“Stay.” He gave the command to the dog to keep him out of the way while delivering the bad news and started downstairs.
Finder lay down. He turned his eyes upward and looked at the motionless arm hung over the side of the bed. He knew it was dead, knew the other creature against the wall was dead, and even the smaller being inside. They were fresh deaths, so fresh he could still sense their spirits. And this old one was special; it had possessed a great kindness, borne of many years of experience. He rose, moved a few inches, and licked the hand. He mourned the death with a whine and lay down underneath the hand. He would stay and protect until the kindness ebbed and left only dead meat. The wait would not be long.
Schumaker was in command again. A solution had been found; disaster would be avoided. The worry of prosecution was dismissed. He had his handkerchief in his hand and the .22 in the handkerchief. He always enjoyed loading a gun. It gave him so much potential.
Jameson entered the den.
“There are no drugs in this house, probably not even on the property. Finder hasn't reacted in the slightest. I doubt there's ever been any drugs here.” He sat down.
Schumaker's confidence disappeared. In a moment's time all his energy left him. He turned, facing outside the ring formed during their discussion, and stared at the floor. There was complete silence.
Finally, Wood spoke. “We can take the house apart. Like we used to, before we had the dog.”
No one responded. If the dog couldn't find it, it wasn't there.
“Another dog, we can try another dog,” from Longstreet.
“Finder is the best there is,” said Jameson.
“The clock is ticking, gentlemen,” Baxter said. “We've got to call the locals. We delay much longer and it's going to be obvious we didn't call when we should've. The stiffs are getting stiff.”
Schumaker turned. “We need to get ahold of some dope.”
Wood exploded. “No, goddamn it, I don't need to get ahold of any dope! Maybe you do, but not me. You, Schumaker, you are going to land us all in prison. Well, fuck you! Fuck all of you. I was outside. I didn't shoot these people, and I sure as hell am not going to lay a plant. Christ, there is a limit to what you can get away with.”
“Go home, Wood.” Baxter spoke again.
“Go home. You were never in the house. You ate something bad and you got sick and Schumaker sent you home while we were still on surveillance. How about it, Schumaker?”
Schumaker turned. “Get out of here; take the car, leave the four‑wheel drive for us.”
Wood turned and walked.
“Wood.” Baxter spoke again. “Remember what I told you.”
Wood kept walking.
“Fellas, I was outside, too.”
“Yeah, Jameson, you were outside. But you're the dog handler, and we couldn't very well have done anything without the dog, right? So like it or not, you're in.” Jameson caved in and Baxter continued. “I know where I can get cocaine. It's in town, but that's no problem. As soon as the locals arrive, we tell them we've got the evidence packaged and split. We pick up the coke on the way to the office. Look, this is a bad situation, but all we have to do to get through it is get our story straight and stick to it. I'll make sure Wood keeps up his end. Schumaker?” It was time for Baxter to give back control.
“Okay, let's do it. Longstreet, call the locals; it'll take'em an hour to get here. Jameson, have the dog check outside. Maybe we'll get lucky. Baxter, you and I'll set up the son-of-a-bitch that caused this.”
Jameson called Finder.
Finder heard the call. He whined, looked at the hand, rose and tested the air. He used senses of which humankind knew nothing. The kindness had left. He padded out of the bedroom.
It was 1:00 a.m. before the first of the local authorities, a sheriff's officer, arrived. He had been patrolling in the populated areas of the county when the call came.
The thirty-five minutes that it took him to reach the isolated home gave Schumaker and Baxter time to prepare the death scene. They put the .45 in the girl's hand, dry-fired it, and laid it beside her. Ammunition for the .22 was put in the nightstand. They loaded the .22 and put it in Tom Harris's dead right hand. Before firing it, Baxter had an idea. He proposed that Schumaker take off his jacket, hold it at arm's length, and let Baxter aim the shot to graze it at a point that would normally be loose and away from the skin when the jacket was on. They could hardly be criticized for returning fire when one suspect already had gotten off a shot that had hit an agent, albeit only his clothing.
Schumaker liked the idea but was not keen on holding the jacket. Finally, Schumaker and Longstreet held the jacket stretched between them at the doorway, each grasping the end of a sleeve. Baxter aimed for a point under the left arm that they had determined was a loose fold when the jacket was worn. He had difficulty aiming the gun with the dead man's hand while avoiding disturbing the blood that had pooled in the bed. They pushed the bed toward the doorway enough to enable Baxter to squeeze behind the headboard. That done, he aimed the dead man's hand and pressed his finger against the trigger. The gun fired.
Baxter dropped the body's hand, grasping the gun, to the bed. He slipped out from behind the bed, and Schumaker and Longstreet pushed it back to the wall. The agents located the embedded bullet in the hallway outside the bedroom's entrance. When they turned the crime scene over to the Sheriff's officer, Schumaker made it known that he thought he had finally bought the farm, showed the officer the holed jacket, and made sure the deputy saw the bullet hole in the hallway.
Schumaker and Baxter composed the report during the trip into town, and all rehearsed the story. At three in the morning, they pulled in to the driveway of a darkened house in the south hills, an expensive section of town. Baxter got out of the car and disappeared around the side of the house. Moments later, a light came on in the second story and then one downstairs.
Five minutes stretched to ten and then fifteen. Finally Baxter reappeared.
“All he has is an eight-ball of cola ...”
Schumaker interrupted. “An eight-ball? Jesus, we've gotta have more than that, nobody's going to believe people would die for three and a half grams.”
“Relax, let me finish. He's been on the phone. Half a kilo will be here in a few minutes.”
“Half a kilo, we should have more. That's not much of a stash,” Schumaker continued.
“Look, goddammit, all he has is what's left of his personal supply, and he's three days away from his next shipment. He's getting the half kilo from another dealer,” said Baxter. “It'll have to do, unless you know somebody who's guaranteed to have more. We can't bust them. We'll have to buy it or steal it, and we'll have to do it quick and quiet. Do you want to take the risk?”
“What about getting some of the stuff that's already been seized?” Longstreet said.
“No way, too many people have already done that. There are too many checks now. It can still be done, but not in the time we have,” said Baxter. “What about it, Schumaker? It's your call.”
Schumaker thought. Only half a kilo, would his superiors accept a bust involving two deaths that netted that little? But the druggies fired on us, that'll justify anything. “Okay, we'll go with what we got. We can say most of the shipment must have been moved out, and all that was left was their local distribution stash.”
“I'm going back inside; we've made this guy real nervous. The mule will phone when he's a block a way. I'll come out and get the stuff at the foot of the driveway. And for God's sake stay in the car; don't get any equipment out. We don't want to know what anybody looks like.” Baxter went inside.
At ten minutes, Baxter walked past the car to the foot of the driveway. A moment later a car rolled up, paused, and then drove on.
Baxter rejoined the others in the vehicle. “One more thing,” said Baxter. “We owe this guy. We replace his half kilo with a full kilo out of the next sizeable bust we make, and the quality has to be good ... and forget the address of this house.”