Monday, July 28, 2008

Chapter Two

Author's Note: It has been a crazy month! Many things conspired for this chapter not to be launched, but it is finally here! It took three drafts, the loss of a third of it, and a complete rewrite resulting in another draft and it is finally here! I hope it doesn't disappoint. Also, loyal fans, expect Chapter Three much sooner!

There is no better drug than survival. You literally feel alive. Colors become vibrant. They look alive and crisp. Food has never tasted so delicious. Sex becomes an act of defiance against death. Living through stressful situations can make a person extremely lascivious. In other words, after beating god at his own game, all you want is to screw like a springtime jackrabbit.
I hate bringing innocents into a mess like this, and both Maxine and Officer Dalton are innocent. It took both of them a while to calm down after what they had been through. Maxine was using my shower and Dalton sat on my couch, wondering about what he had just been through. He had that 1000 yard stare. I am sure he was thinking about his family, and how he could have very easily never seen them again, that is, if he had any family.
I would rather see him like this, for now. Earlier, angry and confused about what was happening, he took a swing at me.
“You damn Feds!” he shouted in my face. “You can’t go around playing games with people’s lives. You think you are so high and mighty.”
Maxine even got in on the fun. She accused me of putting her life in danger. She said she wished she had never met me. She called me a liar, began to cry, and sunk into my shoulder. She was right. I put my arm around her and we both collapsed on the floor. She had cried uncontrollably and I just stared at the dead man on the floor, thinking of how easily that body could have been me or Maxine. All that ran through my mind was the question “Why?”
After all of that crying, I really wanted to pounce on Maxine and show her how great survival can feel when you propagate the species. Thinking better of it, I didn’t interrupt her shower. I sat on my couch next to Officer Dalton.
Dalton had called his chief and made his “Invisible Sword” report. The Chief obviously was not too happy about being left in the dark about the cause of the biggest shootout his little town had seen. But like all Police Chiefs, they are not only cops, they are politicians too. The news of a Homeland Security Director visiting his town was enough to get him off of our back.
I lit up a cigarette and offered one to Dalton. His hands were shaking.
“I don’t smoke,” he stated. “Those things are bad for you.”
“So are bullets.”
“Good point. But I am still not taking one.”
“Suit yourself, do you have any family? You know, like a wife or kids?”
“I have a wife.”
“You should go to her. Tell her that you are okay but you are going on a trip. Tell her it’s an emergency, work related. Tell her that you will be gone for a couple weeks, but afterwards you will have a whole year off, together. Then pack some clothes. I’ll call you when we should meet.”
“Okay, but why me? I didn’t want to get involved in this.”
“Neither did I.”
“I am afraid I don’t understand. Still, the question is why me?”
“I didn’t exactly volunteer for this operation myself. That ambush this morning was meant for me. I would like to think I saved your life. But when you wanted to take me in it was either you become involved, or I shoot you; and I am not partial to killing cops. Plus, I think Director Markos wants to give me a babysitter.”
“So what is all this about anyway?”
“Which part?”
“Why were people trying to kill you this morning?’
“I wish I knew. But it has something to do with the Vicenziee Brothers.”
“That is so weird; the paper this morning said one of them had been killed.”
“Yeah, and I think that is how they got my name, from the dead one.”
“Why would someone need to get your name from the Vicenziees?”
“It’s complicated.”
“So you know the Vicenziees?”
“Sort of.”
“Do you have any ideas about who did it?”
“No, but I wanted to get a second look at those bodies at the morgue.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“What can you do? I never have a problem getting in the morgue. You just have to pay admission.”
Giving a knowing smile Dalton replied “a consultant to the investigation doesn’t have to pay admission.” He made the quote sign with his fingers as he said admission.
“Great, here, take this.” I handed Dalton a cell phone. “It’s clean, there is one number in it, mine. I will call you later tonight to rendezvous. Maybe we can have something to tell Director Markos when she shows up.”
“Before I go, I have one more question. What is with the window treatments?” He asked referring to my armored windows.
“It keeps the birds out.”
He laughed uncomfortably. Obviously my sense of humor was catching on to him. Dalton walked out the door and I watched him drive away. I pulled out my laptop and followed him home via the GPS signal in the phone and some really handy government software. I liked Dalton, but I wasn’t so quick to trust people.
Maxi walked out of the shower. She had her soggy long red hair wrapped up in a towel and she was wearing my terrycloth bathrobe that was twice her size. She looked great. She always looked great. She sat down on the couch with me and took a cigarette out of my pack on the table.
“So, you’re like a spy or something.” She accused me.
“Yeah, it’s something like that.” I didn’t want to lie to her, but the truth is uglier and stranger than fiction. She would have a real hard time swallowing it. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t work for the government in any capacity.
“Well, you’re either one or you are not.”
“The Department of Homeland Security is not like the old CIA. They don’t play spy games anymore.”
“So what do you do?”
“Same thing the department does. I infiltrate.” I crept slowly across the couch towards Maxi. “I get in places.” I continued. My face was now only inches from hers. I looked deep into her green Irish eyes. The scent of soap from her recent shower bubbled up to my nose. “I take care of things.” I said, placing my hand on her leg. Maxi closed her eyes and let out sigh. I embraced her and we kissed, her hands pawing at my chest. My heart sped up and my head became dizzy. She pulled her head back eyes narrowed and looked me in the eyes.
“I love you, Mitchell Morris. Do you know that?” She whispered.
“Yes, I know.” I whispered back.
“Is that even your real name?”
“Maybe, just kiss me.”

Upon discovering the bullet shaped hole in the radiator of my car, I called Dalton to come and pick me up. He seemed more than glad to. I could hear his wife yelling in the background. She seemed like she was not happy about his new assignment. I had a feeling she wouldn’t mind when it was all over and he spent all his time with her.
Officially, Dalton was still an Antioch Police Officer. Unofficially, he was the newest recruit in the “War on Terror.” Naturally, he had a lot of questions. I told him to wait and we can play show and tell later.
First we took Maxi home to her duplex, a cute little home on Lake Antioch. Then we drove the cruiser over the Wisconsin border to a little farmhouse. It was a short trip, about ten minutes. Back when I had money, I paid the farmer to let me store one of those large shipping containers in an unused barn. Dalton was still full of questions.
“So, why are we here?” pushed Dalton as we walked to the barn.
“We need supplies.”
“What kind?”
“Ones that go boom.” I quipped.
Night was just approaching. We walked into the old barn. It was near ready to collapse which is why the farmer had stopped using it for anything. Ancient animal manure was caked on the concrete floor creating a carpet of dried fecal matter, old straw bedding, and new grass. Grass had begun to grow in the sun exposed areas of the manure floor.
We approached my container. I unlocked the two locks on the swinging doors with a key and a combination, another symptom of my paranoia. I took a fishhook off of a screw to prevent a shotgun from blowing my head off. I threw open the doors and took a flashlight off of the door and handed one to Dalton. He stood back and watched in awe.
“I gather were going to have to stay away from Antioch for a while. We need to gather some supplies and get out of Dodge, okay?”
“Okay,” Dalton responded distractedly as he looked at the contents of the cube. I noticed this and thought I might as well give him the guided tour.
“This is sort of like my base of operations, or more like a supply dump. I have everything here we should need, including an emergency supply of cash, here.” I handed him an envelope containing one thousand dollars in small bills.
“Holy shit!” exclaimed Dalton.
“Use it for emergencies. Not for fun. We don’t want to leave an electronic trail of transactions, so we need to use cash.”
I grabbed a few of my ready to go kits. I set some clothes, food, water, guns, ammo, computer and surveillance equipment next to the cruiser and took some keys off of a peg in the cube.
“What’s with the shotgun?” pointed Dalton. The shotgun was hanging over the door.
“That’s my security system.”
“Oh, okay. Umm, is this everything we need then? Here, let me load it in the car.”
“No, that’s fine. I have my own ride.” I teased, dangling the keys. “Leave the car here no one will mess with it.” I didn’t wait for a response. I walked out of and around the barn. Hidden in about a year’s worth of overgrowth was my old Buick. She had started to rust. I prayed that it would start. I had taken good care of it, even while in storage. I would drop by every now and then just to run the car for a while.
I sat down in the car. The faux leather smelled of summer sun, dust, age, and neglect. Heat permeated off of the dashboard. I turned the key and prayed. The beast started right up. I pulled the car around, picked up Dalton and my stuff and we took off down the road heading southeast.
“So what is with all the stuff? I mean it’s a fuckin’ arsenal in there. Are you planning a revolution or something?”
“And if I was?” I joked.
“Have you ever been a Boy Scout? The motto is, be prepared.”
“What the hell were you preparing for?”
“Oh,” Dalton paused. “Well, what are we doing then? Who is the enemy?”
“The enemy is the same as they say on TV: terrorists, gangs, drugs, and violence. It is all linked. Don’t forget that. Now to answer your question about what we are doing. We are going to investigate what is going on, meet with Director Marcos tomorrow, brief her on what we find, and solve the problem.”
“Okay, but what about all of the guns? Are we going to really need all of that firepower?”
“That’s how we solve the problem.”
“This shit is way over my head. I haven’t been trained for stuff like this. What the hell am I supposed to do? I’m not an agent like you.”
I stopped the car, pulled over, and looked Dalton right in the face. Calmly I said, “Let me get something straight here. I didn’t volunteer for this and I am not an agent. I am an informant. My cooperation guarantees my freedom and immunity. I have certain valuable skills that Homeland Security likes to utilize from time to time. I take care of problems for the Vicenziees. I take their money. Then I inform on the Vicenziees for the DHS. Then, when the government needs my services, they get it at a cut rate because they can hold that immunity over my head.”
“Holy shit, I didn’t realize.”
“This is the new age of National Defense. The threat is unconventional, and so is the response.”
“I guess, so you get a long with cops then?”
“Not really.”
“Have you ever, you know… shot a cop?”
“Never, well, maybe if he was crooked. The way I see it is that the underworld is always going to be killing each other and it is a lucrative business. If I off one gangster punk that tried to screw the Vicenziees, that is one less punk you cops have to deal with. I don’t do the good guys. They don’t deserve it. Why do you think I helped you today? That firefight would have been the perfect distraction for me to get out of there.” I hoped that would end the argument. It turns out I was wrong.
“So what do the Vicenziees have to do with that shooting this morning?”

Morgues really are not that creepy to me. Here, at the Lake County morgue, all I see is empty shells left behind. Like when a clam dies and his shell ends up on the beach for years. The life is gone but something physical still remains. Dead bodies don’t scare me. Dalton on the other hand, he looked terrified. Dalton is beginning to show his usefulness, though. I was going to bribe the pathologist’s assistant to let us in, but Dalton just showed his badge and he just signed us in on the visitors’ clipboard. Apparently I am a “consultant.” He acted nonchalant about it, like he had been here a million times before. But I could tell he hadn’t.
“Are you all right?” I asked Dalton.
“Umm, yeah, I’ll be fine.” He said while swallowing his bile.
“Okay, come over here and tell me what you see.”
“It’s a black male, approximately twenty five years of age.”
“Do you see anything else?”
“Yeah, I guess. Half of his head is missing and he reeks.”
“Well, yeah, they smell a lot better when they are embalmed, cleaned up, and dressed nice.” I could see that Dalton was about ready to throw up. The child in me wanted to push him over the edge, but there was work to be done.
“Just breathe trough your mouth buddy. You will loose your bowels when you die too. Let’s see what we have here.” I opened the zipper on the second attacker’s body bag. Dalton was now becoming physically ill. He couldn’t even look at the body. “Okay, why don’t you go check out the personal effects? I will only be a few minutes.
“Good idea.” He immediately left the room.
I began to examine the body. This black male nearly had the build of a basketball player. He had the height right, but he was significantly lacking muscle mass. He had several needle sticks in his arms. This was most likely from heroine use, which would explain the loss of muscle mass. The man had several tattoos, but one was of particular interest. The tattoo was of a Star of David with GD1 tattooed inside. I understood it was a gang tattoo. I needed to know which gang. I took a picture of the tattoo with my digital camera and closed the bag. I checked the other body, the one from the roof, and he too had an identical tattoo. I told the pathologist’s assistant that I was done and met Dalton in the lobby.
“Have you ever seen a gang symbol like this?” I asked Dalton, showing him the digital picture.
“Yeah, that is the Gangster Disciples, from Chicago. The number one is used in place of the letter A, meaning assassin.”
“The Gangster Disciples have assassins?”
“Sort of, they are more like their version of special ops. They usually do drive bys and back alley beatings. This really came off of our guy?”
“Yeah, they both had the same tattoo.”
“This really isn’t their standard M.O. It’s too well planned.”
“You are telling me. After all of my precautions these gang bangers found me.”
“They’re after you.”
“Well, that is obvious now.”
“What did you do?”
“To them, I did nothing.”
“Maybe you did something to an allied gang, perhaps?”
“Perhaps,” I conceded. I had never done anything against the Gangster Disciples, but maybe I wasn’t aware.
“What bothers me is that the attack was too well planned. There is someone behind this, a professional.”
“It’s possible, the Gangster Disciples are in business with some pretty nasty people.”
I had an epiphany. “Folks, Gangster Disciples are Folks.”
“What are you talking about?”
“There is a divide among gangs across the upper Midwest. You are either Folks or People. It’s like a higher gang affiliation. In L.A. you have the Crips and Bloods. The Gangster Disciples are Folks. I just need to know what Folks I have pissed off.”
“Oh, I remember hearing about this. The six pointed star means Folks and the five means People.”
“Right, now we are ready to talk to Mr. Vicenzie.”
“But, I thought he was dead?”
“His brother is dead. They only killed the one.”
“I thought they killed him and his whole family.”
“No, they killed just the one brothers’ whole family.”
“Okay, so do you think he is the next target?”
“I am pretty sure that I am still the target. But they might try to use Gordon Vicenzie to get at me.”
“If we don’t contain this, it will only get worse.”
“What do you mean?” I inquired.
“Think about it, the old mobs versus the new gangs. Things could get very messy.” I was beginning to feel like I was hearing Nostradamus making prophecy.

With twelve hours remaining until Director Markos shows up, we arrived in the vicinity of Gordon Vicenzie’s Lake Michigan home in Lake Bluff near midnight. We drove through the neighborhood looking for anything suspicious. Nothing seemed out of place in the picturesque neighborhood. The home of the surviving Vicenzie brother seemed the epitome of the American Dream. Professionally landscaped flower gardens line brick paved driveways and a cool breeze from Lake Michigan cut through the July heat.
This home has a view that must be worth millions. The Victorian era mansion home looks east across the aptly named Sunrise Park which borders Lake Michigan. This must truly be a place to see a magnificent sunrise.
Finding nothing out of the ordinary in the neighborhood, Dalton and I parked about a block away. I made sure Dalton left his badge behind but took his gun with. We approached the back door via the neighbor’s yard. There were no lights on. They were probably sleeping at this time of the night. The strange thing is, you would expect a couple of goons playing cards and guarding the place.
I approached the door and rang the bell. I waited a little bit and rang again. No sound escaped from inside. The lights didn’t turn on either. Frustrated and worried, I rang obsessively like a kid with a burning bag of feces.
“You know how to clear a house, right?” I asked Dalton.
“Yeah,” he replied knowingly. He withdrew a flashlight from his pocket and the handgun from his shoulder. I followed suit.
We put our backs to the wall. I looked Dalton in the eyes and he gave a nod. I checked the doorknob.
“Unlocked,” I whispered. Dalton nodded.
Slowly I opened the door, feeling for resistance. I had the door open barely a crack. I inserted my hand into the crack and felt for wires or shotguns attached to wires waiting to blow my head off when I open the door. Lucky for me, there wasn’t one. I opened the door. It screamed with the need for oil. Squeaky hinges are worse than alarms. It is too bad I told Mr. Vicenzie that. Unluckily for me, he had heeded my advice.
I stepped inside and shuffled to the left, gun and flashlight pointed ahead. Dalton followed suit. In complete silence we swept the dining room and kitchen area, flashlights blipping, seeking to silhouette an enemy before he can shoot us.
Immediately I noticed that the house looked looted. It looked like somebody was looking for something. Not only were they looking for something, but they took the valuables too. One was a crime of intent. The other was a crime of opportunity. This situation was becoming stranger with every revelation.
Suddenly from the front door area there was a loud creaking. Either someone was coming in or going out. Dalton and I bolted for the front porch.
Foolishly Dalton yelled “Stop, police!” The police training must be hard to kick, but I would have to kick him for it later.
“Get on the ground!” I yelled, playing along. We rushed to the front porch area. Whoever it was, they were walking in, heard us, then turned and tried to run. Dalton and I were too quick, young, and powerful for the intruder. We tackled the surprisingly obese intruder quickly and I slipped plastic ties over his hands before he could reach for a gun.
“Fuck you, you bastards!” Yelled the plump prisoner. I immediately recognized the voice. It was Gordon Vicenzie.

© Copyright 2008 nerdychaz (UN: nerdychaz at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mitch, Chapter One

The problem with this business is advertising. You cannot just call up your local paper and say “Yes Ma’am, I would like the ad to read: ‘Man with gun, will travel, 541-209-3423’ Oh, can I have that in bold, too?” Frankly, I have a feeling that conversation would not go quite so well, neither would the one with the local police.

Some say that a good street reputation is the key to success in this business. However, that would mean you also have a good reputation with members of law enforcement. A reputation like that is just not good for business either.

No, what you need is connections. You need to be known by a few high ups who preferably work for the same organization. Having one organization as a client is a way to ensure your survival. Otherwise, one client could ask you to take out another client. What do you do then? Do you piss off one client by not taking a job? Or, do you piss off the other client by taking out one of their men? You just don’t do it. Multiple clients can be problematic.

There are problems with having one client. First, they can dictate the payment. You have to assert yourself at first, demand more money, or they won’t respect you. Second, you can become associated with the organization. When others see you as a member of the organization, you become a target, you become a corpse. Third, clients die. That’s it, job’s over, no more money. And fourth, clients can become peaceful. If you take care of all of the client’s enemies, business is good, but you are no longer needed.

For a time, I thought I had problem number four: peace. Everyday I would check my voicemail for a coded message implying a capital opportunity. Instead I heard the same message. “You have no new messages. To change your voicemail options, press one. To review your account information press two. Para espanol, apretar cinco. To hear…” This became really annoying along with watching my bank balances dwindle.

Now, as usual for this time in the morning, I checked my voicemail. I remember thinking that if I heard the same disappointing message; I would run the phone over a couple dozen times and then use it for target practice. I put the phone up to my ear. “You have one new message.” But, instead of the promise of a job, what I heard was a promise of death. My skin got cold, my mouth dry and sour, and it felt like I was looking down a paper tube. Panic had struck.

“Have you read the paper?” The mechanically altered voice asked. “The News Sun, front page reads: Gunman Sought in Family Massacre – Sherriff Denies Families’ Mob Connection. They are dead and so are you, Mr. Morris.” The message ended and a new mechanical voice began “To delete this message press seven. To replay the message press eight.”

I regained control of my emotions. I took two deep breaths, just like my therapist told me to do. God, it kills me a little bit inside every time that woman is right. My vision returned to normal and my head stopped spinning. I know exactly what to do. I had prepared for this in the past. I just need to get out now, and then I can ask questions later. What matters at this moment is survival.

First thing first, I took the cell phone apart and removed the SIM card and stuck it in my wallet. This card stores all of the contacts and information on a cell phone as well giving the phone its phone number. You never know when you need to call in a favor or two, especially in a situation like this one. Then, I did just what I had wanted to do all along. I smashed the cell phone into tiny little bits with the heel of my shoe.

The level of threat was high here. Whoever had left that message had likely taken out one of the leaders of the Vicenzie Brothers’ gang, my proprietors. The Vicenzie Brothers were in no way a hard target. They are a low level gang related to the Italian Mafia. Their influence ran sporadically across Lake County, Illinois. I did jobs for them and they paid decently. I never had a problem with them. But, I guess it would be a bad idea to bounce a check with me. I couldn’t help but smile with that thought, better than a certified check. To the point, what made this guy or gal a threat is that he killed them to get to me. From whichever Vicenzie brother was killed this person had extracted vital information about me, specifically. He had extracted my name and phone number from a Vicenzie and then killed him. Only they knew this information. But that was all I would give the Vicenzies.

They could still find me, if they had triangulated my position from the cell phone towers. The phone number goes back to Burns, Oregon. So, that will be a dead end for them. Like I said, I had made plans in advance.

I had built this apartment like a fortress, just like a high level drug dealer would, but with more precision and finesse. You wouldn’t even know if I didn’t tell you. Behind each piece of drywall, under the floor boards, and attached to the ceiling lies two inches of armor steel and each window has a sliding armor plate hidden behind a bookcase or other piece of furniture. These precautions will only buy me a little time. I guess watching shows like the A-Team and MacGyver as a kid did me some good, or made me incredibly paranoid. I would have to talk to my therapist about that.

Just as I had practiced, I crawled along the floor to the windows avoiding the eyes of possible snipers. I reached behind random furniture, and slid the window armor into place. I stood up, confident in my immediate safety, and began my preparations.

Step one: intelligence. Know your enemy. I pulled open my laptop and accessed the camera system I had installed in the immediate area. Now that took some time dressed as a municipal engineer installing small button cameras and hiding wireless routers connected to other people’s energy utilities. If I ever retire from this business, I should work for ADT.

Immediately I noticed a van that was out of place. What amateurs, I thought, they always use a van. I could see a black male in a white t-shirt and red hat sitting behind the wheel looking around the area. I didn’t know if I was being paranoid or if this guy was here for a job. By the looks of it, he was probably sent as surveillance, not to engage me. He probably was going to tail me.

What I think their game plan must be is to make the call and scare me into running. Then they would trace the cell phone and set up surveillance in the area. That seems to be where they are at now. After that, they will follow me, maybe get into a fender bender with me, at which point I stop my car instead of calling attention to myself by fleeing the scene of an accident. Then they draw a gun and… Pop! Mitch is dead.

They could also be planning an abduction and then kill me later in some remote area. Vans are great for that.

I continued looking around on the cameras. There were a few people who I didn’t recognize, but nothing that is too suspicious. But paranoia can be your best friend in a situation like this. Also having friends in low places can help. I don’t mean underworld low, I mean like the bar downstairs. I grabbed my landline and called downstairs to the bartender.

“Michaels Pub,” answered the sweet voice of Maxine, my favorite bartender with a perfect heart shaped butt in tight jeans.

“Hey Maxi, it’s Mitch, I need to ask you something.”


“Okay, are there any tourists in the bar, anyone you have never seen before?”

“Yeah, there’s this.”

“Stop there,” I interrupted “is Kurt there, can he cover for you while you go in the back?”

“Yeah. Is everything alright?” She asked.

“No, but these guys shouldn’t hear you talking about them, so get Kurt to watch the bar and talk to me on the line in back.”

“Okay.” She held her hand over the receiver of the phone as she yelled “Kurt! Watch the bar, I gotta take this!”

“She put the phone on hold and picked up a minute later.”

“Okay Mitch, now tell me what kind of shady shit is going on.” Maxi scolded me in her not so endearing mother-like tone.

“Listen, I don’t know how, but I pissed some people off. I don’t even know who. Now just tell me about this guy in the bar.”

“So this guy in the bar is some sort of lunatic who wants to kill you?”

As calm as possible I told Maxi “He’s probably not a lunatic, I would prefer it if he was. Just tell me about him, what he looks like, what he said, what he’s drinking.”

“Well, he came in here about ten minutes ago, said he was meeting someone. He ordered one beer and has barely drank any of it. He’s a lousy tipper too.”

“What does he look like, what’s he wearing, did you see a gun?”

“A gun?” Maxi exhaled.

“Just tell me”

“Well, he’s a black guy. He looks kinda gangster. His type really don’t come in here, you know, not his type of place.”

“What is he wearing?” I drilled her.

“He has one of those black nylon looking things on his head.”

“A do-rag,” I interrupted.

“Yeah, it’s one of those.” She continued. “He’s got baggy jeans and a blue t-shirt too”

“Thanks, hon. I’ll be going out your back door soon, okay.”

“Yeah, but what should I do?”

“Bartend,” I replied flatly and hung up.

I checked my camera in the stairwell, and I couldn’t see anyone there. I scanned all of my cameras one last time, and then I turned off my laptop and stuffed it in its bag.

I then grabbed what I dub my Oh-Shit Bag ready with all the essentials for me to run and leave everything behind. I hate having to move, but I won’t go far. I need to know who did this and why. I also need to contact the Vicenzies. There will be some money in this. There is always money to be made in war.

* * *

Planning an escape is one thing, but actually making one is another. I have time on my side, however, the longer I wait the more ready they will be They, whoever they are, probably have it narrowed down to the block. I don’t know if they know what I look like, but it always helps to look like someone else. I rolled over my options and went to the bathroom.

Looking in the mirror I thought about my childhood heroes, the A-Team and MacGyver. I asked myself, what would they do? I looked at my thinning dirty blonde hair. Then it hit me, my hair is thinning! I grabbed my beard trimmer and put it as low as it could go and shaved my head. Then I shaved the remains to the skin. I looked at my goatee and I thought I needed to go further. I trimmed up my goatee a little, and found some of that five minute beard dye. Just like the commercial, I brushed it in and washed it out. Bingo, I had a black beard. I did my eyebrows too. Then, I put on a black suit and tie and added some sunglasses. Now, I was all dressed up, but where to go? The answer is anywhere but here.

The key to a good disguise is not necessarily the clothing, but the visual story you create. I originally looked like a regular working class kind of guy, a guy in his late twenties who probably worked at a factory or something. I was the tee-shirt and jeans type of guy. I looked like the type of guy you wouldn’t mind having a beer with after a hard day at the foundry. Now, I had created a new visual story. Now I look like a corporate salesman in his late thirties. Baldness has a way of aging people like that. Adding to my disguise will be my baggage and especially my laptop bag. However, I needed to bring some firepower with me.

I put my forty-five in a shoulder holster underneath my coat with an extra magazine in each coat pocket. That would work well, but not as a primary weapon. A bigger weapon would be needed, just in case.

I wrenched my AK-47 out from underneath the bed. The toughest weapon ever made; it is the weapon of choice of oppressive regimes all across the world. I had a magazine loaded and two spares attached to the butt stock. If anything could get me out of this alive it was my trusty AK-47. Although, the trick seemed to be getting the rifle out unseen.

I had an epiphany of sorts, I ran to the closet. I began throwing blankets and jackets on the floor until I found it. Gift wrap, I would gift wrap my rifle. To fire it, all I would have to do is rip the paper enough for my finger to grip the trigger. I thought about how brilliant I felt, taping happy birthday onto my rifle..

Having made my disguise and gift wrapped a little surprise for my friends; I needed to make a little distraction. I hoped the van was still outside. I picked up the phone and dialed 911.

“Antioch Police, 911 Emergency, what is your emergency?” Asked the operator on the line.

In my best old man voice I mimicked “Yeah, there is some pervert in a van outside of my apartment.”

“Okay, what is the problem?”

“Well, I saw him touching himself and he has one of those big vans, and well, the school bus is due any minute…” I trailed off mumbling like my grandfather used to.

“I see, where is the van?”

“It’s at Lake Street and Victoria Street. He is a black man in a white van, the only white van around. I think I saw a gun in his pocket too.” I lied. I knew this would really rile up the police.

“Thank you, sir,” the dispatcher thanked me in such manner that I could tell that I had her full attention. “and what is your name?”

“Carlson, Matthew Carlson.”

“Thank you sir, I will have the police on their way.”

“No, thank you for getting rid of these perverts, ma’am.” I hung up the phone and congratulated myself.

“Matthew Carlson,” I chuckled to myself. He was one of my old math teachers from elementary school. I think I must have sounded just like him.

The police station is only a block away, so I knew they would be here soon. I wanted to stay and watch for more than just fun, but for intelligence reasons. I felt like a child watching an elementary school bully get yelled at by a teacher. I was going to enjoy the show. I slid open my window shield only about an inch.

The police began to arrive. Two cars came from Main Street to the East and one car came from the West on Lake Street. Their lights were going but no sirens could be heard. They arrived in silence. The car from the west turned right onto Victoria They set up a perfect high risk stop with the crossfire at the white van.

The two police cars got into a “V” shape, they opened their doors and took cover behind their cars. My plan worked perfect, until the third cop parked right in front of my car. This was a development I hadn’t planned for. I would have to go on foot.

I heard the police begin their stop, just according to textbook.

“Driver,” announced the policeman on the public address system. “Open your door”

I looked out my peephole. No one was in the stairwell. I opened the door and began my descent.

“Driver step out of the vehicle, and put your hands above your head,” ordered the Officer. “I see the gun in your pants, do not reach for it, or we will shoot.” A shot rang out, heard over the loud speaker. Then it was followed by several more shots. Then it sounded like a war was starting in my street. I leaped down the steps, two at a time, baggage in hand. At the bottom of the stairwell, I ripped the wrapping from my assault rifle. I wasn’t going to let the police die. Criminals can kill criminals, but in my book, you don’t kill the good guys. I have never killed anyone I thought might be even remotely a good guy. I briefly wondered who these people were. Real organized criminals never engage the cops, not since the era of Al Capone. I burst through the door into the pub kitchen and dropped my bags there. Maxi was there huddling against the wall near the stove.

“Mitch?” She shrieked, probably terrified and unsure if it was me with my new look and all.

“Don’t move!” I instructed her as I crashed out the screen door into the alley. With my rifle up and at the ready, I stalked down the alley between the pub and internet cafĂ©. I emerged onto Victoria Street behind the lone police officer. He was hunkered down behind his car calling for backup. It sounded like the fourth of July, except this was no party.

“Ten thirty-three, emergency, ten thirty-three, send everyone! They are on the roof, and up and down Lake Street heading in all directions. All subjects are black males, armed and dangerous. ten thirty-three” I decided to announce my presence from the end of the alley before he turned and shot me.

“Don’t shoot me, I’m here to help.”

“Ten four, all units en route to Lake and Victoria.” The dispatcher responded her voice obviously strained with tension, but controlled and professional she was doing her job.

He turned, saw my gun, and his eyes were wide. He began to point his gun in my direction. I quickly pointed my gun up and put my palm out like a crossing guard. “No! I’m a friend!” I shouted. “Where are they?”

“Over there and on the roof!” He pointed.

“Ask me to help defend you!” I yelled

“What?” The Officer questioned.

“Do it, ask me to help defend you!”

“Help, defend me, please!” The officer begged.

“Yes Sir!” I retorted. It’s a little known law, but one that can really help you out in a situation like this. If an officer of the law asks you for assistance, and you accept, you may act with full police powers. It is a really handy way to get your way out of a sticky legal situation. My lawyer told me this about a year ago. I would have to send him some flowers for that one.

I stood up about three feet from the building, rifle at the ready and gun trained skyward. I gritted my teeth and peeked out toward the building’s roof staring down my gun sights with my new found police powers. I saw movement and the silhouette of a gun barrel. I fired a small burst of legally justified lead and saw the shooter duck. I ran for the rear of the police car and took cover.

“Do you have anything with a little more firepower?” I yelled to the police officer over the gunfire. I could hear the sound of more approaching

“Yeah, a shotgun and AR-15 in the trunk, get it and toss them to me!” He popped the trunk and neatly attached to the lid was the shotgun and the AR-15 assault rifle with a scope. I tossed him the shotgun but I took hold of the AR-15. I could hear the sound of approaching sirens. This place would be crawling with cops in a minute. To the contrary, I think that is what I needed right now. There was an army out there trying to get me and maybe a blue shield is just what I need.

“Give me that!” The officer bellowed angrily.

“Believe me Officer, umm,” I looked at his name plate, “Dalton, I can shoot this better than you can.” I thought, after all, the Army Rangers don’t train just anyone. I sprayed a burst from my AK-47 toward the roof. Then I took the rifle and ran to the house across the street and motioned for the officer to follow. I sprayed another burst for the sniper as Dalton ran my way.

“Who the fuck are you anyway?” Dalton Demanded.

“Me? I am the complainant, Mr. Carlson.” I stated smugly. “Now, cover me with that while I take care of Mr. Happy up there.”

“Okay, got it.” Dalton confirmed.

I crawled on my belly under the bushes against the house. I had my AK-47 on my back and the AR-15 at the ready. I heard the gunfire and my hands began to shake and sweat started to bead down my face. For a moment, only a moment, I thought I was back in Baghdad. I could see the black cloth wrapped around the faces of the men I was fighting, the Mahdi Army of Muqtada Al Sadr. I could feel the midday heat of Baghdad through my body armor and helmet with sweat running down my face. I could hear their chants in my head.

“Allah Akbar, Allah Akbar.” I heard the militia men say in my head over and over again. “God is great, God is great.” I saw the man on the roof and for that one moment, he looked like a militia man. In my mind, he held an RPG, not a rifle.

I opened my mouth to yell “RPG!” But I caught myself. I inhaled quick and vigorously. Oxygen is the best medicine after all. The world came back into focus.

I centered my being. I made the rifle as an extension of my hand, as an extension of my will. I looked through the scope and saw the man pointing his rifle in my direction. He was looking for me. This time I did not see the black cloth masks of a militia man. He knew I had an assault rifle, but I don’t think he was counting on the scope. I lined up the crosshairs on his head. It was an easy shot. I concentrated on my breathing, and willed my finger to squeeze the trigger. The shot went off and I saw a mist of blood expelled into the air.

I looked around. Our general area was safe, it seemed. The sounds of gunfire were moving farther west down lake street. It sounded like a move and shoot battle between the cops and the gunmen. Then I remembered Maxi in the kitchen and the guy in the bar. What had happened to him?

I motioned for the cop to follow me. I ran across the street. As I passed the patrol car I threw the AR-15 back in the trunk and swung my AK-47 into the ready position. Looking down my barrel I stalked back down the alley. I hoped Maxi would be alright. I stood next to the screen door ready. I looked toward Officer Dalton. He had the shotgun ready.

“A friend of mine is in the kitchen. There was one of them in the bar. I want to make sure that the people in here are okay.”

“Got it,” the officer confirmed with the shotgun at the ready.

I threw open the screen door and swept from left to right. As I proceeded in, I saw Maxine. She was in the corner held by a black man who resembled the description of the guy from the bar, do-rag and all. He was trying to use her as a shield. He obviously was trying to hold her hostage.

“I want…”He started but I didn’t listen to more.

“Drop the weapon!” I ordered. He didn’t listen fast enough so I squeezed the trigger and the well aimed bullet passed by Maxine’s head and found it’s way into the hostage taker’s eye. Maxine was sprayed with blood and viscera but otherwise unharmed as he slumped to the ground. I was never trained to negotiate. It’s strange how it never gets to that point with me. I was trained to respond to a threat and neutralize it, not give it a hug and tell it how pretty it is. However, I could do that for Maxi. I ran to her side.

“Maxi, oh, I am so sorry, I’ll buy you a new shirt.” I said wiping the bad guy off of her and giving her a big hug. She stared at me, temporarily in shock. My humor barely registered.

Bursting from the Dalton’s radio came “All Units from Unit One, All Units from Unit One, situation is Adam Charlie, Adam Charlie, all-clear, all-clear.”

“Unit 52 copies, I am okay.” Replied Dalton as the other officers called in their situation reports. Dalton looked completely relieved.

Maxi started feeling better. I know this because she was crying. I would be worried if she didn’t cry.

“Why… Who… would do this?” She sobbed into my shoulder. Her green eyes shone through her gorgeous fiery hair as she looked up at me. Then I knew she was really going to be okay. She stopped crying and became furious. Her eyes were turning the color of her hair.

“You!” she accused. “You could have killed me!”

I let go of her and put my arms up defensively as she began to bat at my face.

“I didn’t… You’re alive… Stop it.” I grunted.

“Okay, Okay,” Interrupted Dalton. “Ma’am, I really need you to stop. Both of you need to come with me to the station for questioning in all of this.”

“What?” Asked Maxi, stunned again.

“Sir,” I began, and stepped forward. “I am afraid I cannot let you do that. My life is in danger and you would be interrupting a federal investigation.” I emphasized the point by putting my AK-47 at ready and pointing it in the general area of his nose. By reaction Dalton began to reach for his gun, but then he seemed to think better of it.

“Umm,” stuttered Dalton suddenly nervous. “What federal investigation?”

“The phone on the wall, pick it up.” I ordered.

“Okay.” Dalton said calmly and smoothly. He had been trained for stuff like this. He must think I am beyond bonkers right now.

“Mitch what are you doing?” Maxi cried. I hoped that this whole situation wouldn’t scar her mind. I mean, shit, some goon just held a gun to her head. Then I shot him. His body was still there. The drama between Dalton and I seemed to distract her from the fact that there was a body on the floor, just behind her, and she was covered in his bloody spray.

“Maxi, you might as well hear this too. Officer, put the phone on speaker. Now dial this number: 1-888-854-2936.” I instructed. Officer Dalton dialed the number, sweat started to pour down his face and his hands began to shake. He was nervous.

The phone connected rang once and an automatic system picked. A brief pleasant musical note played then a mechanical sounding female voice identified itself. “Thank you for calling the Department of Homeland Security. Please enter your ten digit operative identification number followed by the pound key. If you do not have an operative identification number, press the star key.”

The blue clad officer looked at me quizzically but still sweating.

“Seven, nine, two, four, seven, zero, zero, zero, nine, eight,” I repeated. Dalton dialed the number and pressed pound.

“Thank you Mr. Morris. You are being connected to your case administrator.” The phone rang twice and a woman picked up.

“Department of Homeland Security International Investigations Unit, how may I help you?” The secretary greeted.

“Yeah,” I shouted to the phone, “I need to talk to Director Marcos.”

“I am sorry; Director Marcos is in a meeting.” She stated flatly.

“Look, I am one of her operatives. If you look, my call came in on the emergency operative line. Now, I am standing here with a rifle pointed at a cops head because he wants to bring me to the station for questioning. That would ruin the investigation and risk my life. Now put her on the phone or I will just kill him.” I threatened.

While we were waiting, Dalton looked at me, shock had once again crept across his face. I think he knew that I didn’t want to kill him. “Who are you?” Asked Dalton.

“Do you really want to die that bad? That is what this is all about, anyway.”

“Good point. Care to clue me in on what this lady will say?”


“Okay” He said putting his hands up.

The phone clicked.

“Yes, Mr. Morris?.” The Director spoke with a lispy Spanish accent.

“Eva, I am in a bit of a jam.” I begged the Director for help.

“Do you need money?” She asked me my duress code, standard procedure.

India, Tango, Whiskey, eighty seven.” Which was my response for ‘no, I am not being forced to say this.’

“What happened?”

“I received a threat this morning. Then, as I am trying to leave, I got ambushed and the local Cops showed up. None of the local Cops were hurt, but the town is a mess, and this cop wants to take me for questioning.” I neglected to inform her that I called the cops as a distraction.

“Is he right there with you?”

“Yeah, say hi.”

“Uh, hi,” the officer grunted, however, intrigue showed on his face.

“Hello Officer,” greeted the lispy director. “Now what do you want with my operative?”

“Well, he killed two attackers with an assault rifle and he seemed to know more about this than anyone else. So, I asked him to come in for questioning and he shoves a gun in my face. Then he tells me to pick up the phone and dial this number, and, well, here we are.”

“I see.” The director chuckled. “Well, yes, he is one of mine and you will not take custody of him. You will not fingerprint him. You will not investigate him, his property, or his involvement for the sake of Homeland Security.”

“Well, okay, but what do I tell the Chief?”

“Write this phone number and code down. 1-888-854-2936, and then 7924700099, and then write this down: invisible sword”

“Okay, What do I do with this?”

“When you write your report you will write nothing but invisible sword. The code invisible sword will be known by your Police Chief only. It was a code put in place by the Department of Homeland Security, just after we were formed. He will recognize it. He will know then that someone from DHS will be there shortly to run damage control on the situation. Then he will give you a year off with pay.”

“What?” Asked Dalton surprised.

“Yes, for the next year you will be working for me. That ten digit number is your operative code. Use it and the 888 number to get in touch with my office. I look forward to meeting you. I will be there in twenty four hours. Mitch, you take care of him in the meantime.” She hung up the phone.

“Yes, ma’am.” I acquiesced in a mocking lisp and hung up. The bitch had done it to me again. Now, I had two people staring at me. They weren’t so much in shock. Now they looked pissed.

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