“Oh my Lord,” Kazsinski ranted as he steered the cruiser out of the parking garage. “You believe that load-a-crap the Captain foisted off on us?”
Mason said nothing, watching the shops and houses pass by.
Kaz took on a mocking tone. “She’s all ‘How many people trust you? How many people want to hug you? How many times do the people in the Twenties bring you flowers?’ God. Whadda tool.” He laughed and punched Mason’s arm. “At least she had a nice rack, right?”
Kaz ignored Mason’s silence and kept venting. “I got an idea for how we change things. Throw a few more in prison. Stop pussy-footing around and bring some SWAT gear down here, maybe clean out the gangs. Can’t be on the street committing crime if they’re in a cell at the pen. Or in a damn box.”
He turned a corner and pulled up behind a driver. “Looks like a tail light burned out, don’t it?” Blue and red lights flashed with the flip of a switch. “Let’s see what this guy’s up to.”
The driver’s Hispanic. Surprise, surprise. Mason sighed. This is ridiculous. Kaz can’t be the face of the police force in this community. Evidence or no evidence, I need to talk to the Captain about this.
“We don’t need to do this, J. Maybe they ain’t coming. Let’s get out of here.”
Jamal hunkered down with Chris Washington in an alleyway between Madison and Nelson. “They’ll be here. Trust me.”
Chris scoffed. “I trust you. I don’t trust them. What time they s’posed to get here?”
Jamal showed Chris his phone and laughed. “Four twenty, man.”
Chris shook his head. “Figures.”
A car pulled into the alley from the east end. Jamal watched them for a moment, then rose. “They here. Let’s go.”
It’s not too late to leave. Chris looked to the other end of the alley. The sunlight on the street looked like freedom beckoning. He almost made a break for it.
But I can’t leave Jamal behind. Chris turned and followed his friend to the meet.
Two Hispanic guys with a bouncer’s physique stepped out of the car. A blocky bulge revealed the outline of a gun tucked into one’s waistband. The other had something bulky in his pocket. A thin black man with narrow eyes and a scowl stood between his guardians. He scanned up and down the alley as Jamal approached.
Jamal extended his hand. “Lamar, my brotha, what up!”
Lamar ignored the greeting and nodded at Chris. “This the kid you told me about?”
Jamal paused. “Yeah, I’m tellin’ you man, he don’t look like much maybe. But dude is a beast with numbers. He could keep your cash flow straight, help you figure out, y’know, some fool stiffin’ you on profits or something.”
Lamar folded his arms across his chest. “I don’t like this. He looks risky.” He turned to Chris. “You look risky to me, kid. Like someone who will fold if he gets caught. Someone who’ll cry to mama and spill details to every cop that’s listenin’.”
Chris should have been happy to be excluded, but a touch of pride rose up within. Man, you don’t know me.
Jamal waved his hands to get Lamar’s attention. “Hey, dawg, nah, it ain’t like that. Look, you give us some product to store for you, I keep it at my place, not his. You know me, man, you know I’m good for it. No risk.”
Lamar cocked his head at Jamal. “Then why is he here?”
“Man, he gotta learn somehow,” Jamal said. “Someone need to take him under the wing, be his mentor. That’s me, a’ight? I know he ain’t what you need right now, but gimme some time an’ he will be.”
Lamar considered the suggestion.
Jamal pressed it further. “Did you ever have someone come alongside and teach you how to hustle, how to get by on the streets? I want to be that guy for Chris.”
“A’ight, we’ll try it out,” Lamar said. He handed Jamal a black duffel bag. “I’m givin’ you two brick for you to hang onto until we get some permanent arrangement set up. And I got half a brick for you to push in your set. Chris can help you sell it if you want, and get some of the profits—on one condition. The part you’re sellin’ on your set—that doesn’t stay with the part you’re storing for us.”
Chris stepped forward. “Wouldn’t spreading it around increase risk?”
Lamar glared at him. “I don’t want it all in one spot. You fools get caught sellin’, they’re gonna check Jamal’s house before they give you your phone call. If you lose a few bags of my goods, it won’t be hard for you to replace that. But if you lose whole bricks… that ain’t all you gonna lose, let’s just say that.”
Jamal nodded. “Sure, dawg. ‘Course. We can use Chris’s place.” He shoved the bag toward Chris.
Chris stared at Jamal and took the duffel. You know I can’t store nothin’ at my house. What are you doin’, J?
“Now about my set, I was thinkin’ if I could cover—”
A car squealed to a halt in the other end of the alley. Gunfire and shouts erupted, and Chris pulled Jamal to the ground.
“All vehicles, Headquarters,” the woman’s voice blared from the cruiser radio. “We got a two forty-five in progress between multiple four seventeens. Two suspected gangs in an alley between Madison and Nelson on the southside eighteen hundred block.”
Kazsinski spun the wheel. “That’s us, man. We’re almost on top of it.”
“Multiple shots fired,” the radio squawked. “Possible injuries on scene. Any available officers, please respond.”
Mason grabbed the transceiver and keyed the mic. “Cruiser One-Seven is on it.” Oh God, oh God, this is really happening. Shots fired.
The lights danced on buildings and reflective surfaces as the cruiser tore through the streets, siren blasting. The police car caught air on a downhill. Eyes wide and intense, Kaz let out a “Whoo!”
Mason checked over his equipment. Body cam secured. No helmets, can’t help that. Weapon loaded, safety off. The double-action trigger wouldn’t misfire even if dropped. He reached in his door panel and donned his ballistic glasses. These aren’t stopping a bullet, but every little bit helps, right?
In the distance, Mason heard soft popping sounds like firecrackers going off in clusters of two to four. Kazsinski barely slowed as the cruiser sped through the school zone of Pulaski High. It’s after four. All the kids should be long gone. I hope.
Kazsinski slammed on the brakes near a black sedan blocking the alley. The driver’s door hung ajar, its window shattered. A body lay on the ground among the glass shards. Gunfire echoed around the corner.
Mason looked to Kazsinski for guidance, but Kaz burst out of the car as soon as he hit the emergency brake. He rushed to the wall of the nearest building then slid toward the alleyway, his Beretta held level, clutched to his chest.
A young man’s voice resounded in Mason’s ears. “This is Pinoy turf now. Run home an’ tell the Kings.” More gunshots punctuated the demand. Someone wailed for help out of sight.
Kaz thrust his pistol around corner as he leaned to get a view. “Police,” he screamed. “Drop your weapons, hands above your head.” He whirled back into cover. Brick chips and dust sprayed past Kazsinski’s shoulder as bullets riddled the other side of the building.
Laughing voices swore in English and some other language, but Mason could make out “pigs” among the curses. He hunkered down and hustled over to where Kaz stood.
The vet swore. “That was close. Shoulda just let them shoot each other up a while and arrested whoever survived.” He tapped his temple with his left hand. “File that plan away for another day.”
Two more gunshots rang in the alley. Footsteps of tennis shoes on gravel sounded as the gang members sought new cover. Mason drew his weapon and checked the safety once more. “What’s the plan?”
Kaz pointed the pistol toward the car. “I’ll move behind there for another view while you cover me. We can’t both be at the same position and overlap our fields of fire. Ready?”
Mason and Kaz traded places so Mason could lean out to fire down the alleyway. He took a deep breath to steady himself. It didn’t do much good.
“Now!” Kaz dashed behind Mason, seeking cover behind the sedan. Mason stepped to the side and thrust his hands out, supporting his weapon and searching for a target.
Gravel sprayed and bullets whizzed past as the gang members fired at Kaz. Mason popped off two shots at one of the assailants before spinning back behind the corner. Kaz ducked behind the sedan’s trunk.
“Looks like two left in the middle,” Mason called. “Three or four at the other end of the alley. At least one wounded there too.”
“Ain’t worried about how many wounded,” Kaz said. “Gonna make some more of them before this is over.” He popped up, fired off two shots, and dropped back into cover. Someone in the alley screamed in pain.
More gunfire broke out at the other end of the alley. They’re distracted, still trying to kill each other. Mason poked his weapon around the corner—scraping his body cam across the wall. He found a target and took a shot.
One of the big guys at the other end jerked with a hit to the shoulder. His weapon fell in the rocks, and he dove to retrieve it.
Someone in the middle loosed a burst of bullets that riddled the man Mason wounded. The body flopped into the gravel and twitched once before going still.
A twinge of guilt struck Mason. Did I just get someone killed? He shoved the thought down. The guy was clearly a threat looking to be neutralized.
Kaz fired a couple more rounds, alternating fire from the left and right sides of the car. Then another gunman sprung from the corner of the building across the alley from Mason. With a clear view of Kazsinski, he cracked off three shots with a pistol. Kaz spun and returned fire, striking the shooter in the chest and head. But he fell to the ground, blood soaking through the shoulder and side of his uniform.
“I’m hit!” He writhed on the ground and swore repeatedly. “Oh god, it burns.”
Mason froze. He almost ran to Kaz, but more gunfire down the alley cut him off. “What do I do, man?”
“Get to the radio. Call for backup and an ambulance. Son of a—what are you doin’ standin’ there? Go, dammit!”
Training kicked in. Mason ran to the driver’s side door and ducked inside, snagging his body camera on the doorframe as it swung open. He keyed the mic as he grabbed the transceiver. “HQ, officer down at Eighteenth and Madison. Officer is responsive but bleeding heavily. Situation still in progress with sporadic gunfire and multiple offenders. Send backup.”
A woman’s voice crackled through the mic. “Hold position, drag officer to safety if able, backup enroute. Ambulance support will be dispatched.”
The body cam swung loose and rattled with Mason’s every move. He ripped the thing off, left it in the car and called out to Kaz. “I’m coming to get you, man. Hang on. Ambulance on the way.”
Kaz lay still, the gravel and dirt beneath him stained red.
Bullets struck the hood of the cruiser, and Mason dropped to the ground behind the open door. One of the gunmen tried to flee the alley but got pinned down behind a dumpster on the other side of the sedan. Concrete shattered as bullets sprayed the wall above the dumpster. The gunman whipped back and forth between keeping Mason in cover and shooting at his enemies down the alley. He fired again, creating a spider-web in the cruiser’s windshield.
Mason held his gun at the ready and tried in vain to calm his racing heart.