.....A sports car engine might whine when you kick down on the gas, but a Ford Crown-Vic with a police package V-8 growls, lowers itself like a fighter, and punches you back in the seat. You can hear the pavement-eating snarl even above the scream and wail of the siren. My boot mashed the gas hard. I felt the vibration from the engine slash up my leg and rattle my balls.
.....The Buick Regal in front of me was listed on the hot sheet as a fresh steal from the last twenty-four hours. It had caught my attention when it jerked into an alley as my patrol car turned onto Hamilton Avenue. Instead of playing it cool, the driver spooked at seeing the police car. The Regal fled into a cross alley. An electric-fueled dump of adrenaline flushed through my veins and stabbed down into my stomach.
.....My radio’s mic flapped at my left shoulder, responding to the pot-holed alleyway stretched behind what passed for homes along East 10th Street. I keyed the mic.
.....“2134, rush traffic!”
.....“Control, I am in vehicle pursuit Tenth and Hamilton, alley north, east-bound. Brown Buick Regal. Indiana…Nine…Two…Seven…Adam…Charles…Lincoln.”
.....“Attention all cars, 2134 is in pursuit of a brown Buick Regal east-bound from Tenth and Hamilton.”
.....Overgrown bushes from abandoned yards slapped the sides of the car. Branches caught in the spotlight and screeched across the roof. Stray stones and bricks tugged at the tires, bouncing and jarring my hands through the steering wheel.
.....“2134, that plate comes back to a stolen vehicle.”
.....Yeah, no shit. The Regal cut its nose south into another alley. I relayed the change to control. Dust flowed from the fleeing car like smoke from a souped up muscle-machine in some cheesy adventure flick. The blare of the siren wrapped itself around the red and blue flashes of light, flushing through the cloud of dust. I framed the rear end of the Regal in my windshield still locked on target. It bucked high off something hiding in the flying dirt. I braced for impact. It felt like taking a tackle from an NFL linebacker at full steam. The Ford shuddered and cringed. My right hip sledged into the console. The grip of my Glock ricocheted off my hip bone.
.....The Regal shot out of the alley and turned the wrong way on Michigan Street. The cars coming at us veered to either side, tapping horns and flipping birds. Our speed was rising. I felt the adrenaline tug lower in my gut.
.....“East bound Michigan…looks like a black male driver.” I’d seen half of the driver’s face when he barreled out of the alley as he flipped a black hoodie up over his head. Dumb ass was going to wreck. That hoodie had to cut his vision in half.
.....I fell back a couple of car lengths. If he took out a car head on, I didn’t want to stack up on the back of him. He started swerving across the lanes. Even though I’d dropped back his eyes were still visible when they flashed in his rearview mirror. That’s when the gun came out the driver’s side window.
.....The wheel wrenched in my hands as I swerved to the right. My fender almost clipped a beat up Chevy pickup filled with metal scraps and old tires. Another truck parked too far out into the street brought me back in line with the Regal.
.....The shot sounded like one of those pop-its you give to kids on the Fourth of July to throw on the ground or toss at a wall to explode in harmless little snaps and cracks. I almost didn’t hear it over the engines, tires, and siren.
.....“Shots fired.” My asshole clenched like a zip-tie, and my hips tried to climb up out of the seatbelt. The radio crackled as control relayed the warning.
.....As the driver craned back for another shot, the Regal drifted left and ripped through the red light at Sherman Drive. The patrol car blocking traffic there tucked in behind me and took over calling the pursuit. The low gravel-toned voice let me know it was Ed Bricker, an old-timer who’d passed twenty-five years on the job when I’d still been a fresh-faced Rookie. He was old school, but hadn’t slowed down much. His front fender locked itself in my left-hand side mirror and refused to shake loose.
.....“Still east bound from Sherman.” His voice was calm, almost bored. The dull syllables settled my nerves, letting me concentrate on not catching a bullet.
.....Before the driver of the Regal could let loose another wild finger-jerked shot, a stray black and white pit-bull trotted off the sidewalk in front of him, cringed at the hurtling hulk of the Buick and came apart as the front tire sliced him through the middle.
.....It’s funny what your brain takes in under stress. I could have sworn the pit looked up, thinking he should have taken the alley and maybe, just maybe, he shouldn’t have run away from that useless redneck owner of his in the first place.
.....Fur and blood slapped the front of the Police Interceptor. A strip of hair-lined skin clung to my spotlight, flapping like a flag in a cavalry charge. A laugh bubbled up and out of my chest. “Holy fucking shit!” I kept laughing as two more shots slapped lead projectiles across my hood. I cut the wheel back and forth. Ed and another car behind him juked and jived along with me. Not that it made any difference. By the time you hear the shot, the bullet is already in you or past you. Still, maybe it would throw off the next one.
.....Mister Runaway Regal circled back north then west. Back across Sherman and another hard left on Dearborn, a street and block recognized by its rotting houses, corner-crouching dope slingers, and hollow-eyed whores. Now the streets we passed seethed with red and blues flashing out promises of an ass kicking when this fucker bailed from his stolen ride. In Marion County, where the jail was full and crime was up, a car thief cracking shots at the Po-Po might get a few months in the slammer, but most likely the prosecutor would plead him to theft and laugh if asked about an attempted murder charge. Time served would probably be a gift. The ass kicking would probably be the only sentence he received.
.....At Ninth and Dearborn he hit the brakes hard. If I hadn’t been giving him some room, I might have been out of the chase for good. The driver’s door slung open, and I watched his skinny frame fly from the car as the Regal bounced over a curb, slewed across a yard and broke itself on an Elm tree. Branches shook. Leaves rained down on the steaming crumpled hood. Its horn jammed and blared out in an off-key howl.
.....“Driver bailed. Running east-bound.” Ed enunciated his words with precision.
.....Black hoodie and jean shorts disappeared between two doubles shedding cracked leaves of grey paint. Who the fuck wears jean shorts anymore? I punched the seatbelt release while my tires were still rolling, one foot out the door as the shifter slammed into park. My door was left open, siren and lights still advertising their presences to the street-corner-hoods and gawkers.
.....The extra set of keys snapped to my belt rang out with every jarring step of my one-hundred-eighty pounds plus another twenty of gun, gear, and vest. Calls went out as Ed set up a perimeter. This stupid fuck was as good as caught. He’d committed a critical error when running. To get away you got to bail in the first couple blocks before there’s enough back-up to zip you inside a perimeter.
.....I’d lost sight of the runner and took it slow around the corner of the first double, Glock up and out. Sprinting after this fucker was a good way to catch one in the face. Two grime-faced kids, I couldn’t tell if they were boys or girls wearing the same shoulder length grunge-blond hair, stared at me as I cleared the corner. The smell of something old and grease-fried leached out of the open curtain-free windows. A cigarette-scratched voice screamed at the two kids.
“Juney, Junior, get your asses in the house! Now!"
.....In the back yard, I stood in the weeds at the edge of the alley and called for a K-9. It was no good to keep on if I wasn’t sure which way he’d run. Turning in a half circle, I saw good citizens slouched on porches, beer or fifths of cheap liquor clutched close. They had all seen which way the hoodie had ran, but none of them were about to volunteer anything. Even if I asked they’d just lie.
.....Royce Rivera was the K-9 officer who ran our district, and I heard him say on the radio he was two blocks away. I hit in and told him which address I was behind. He screeched up thirty seconds later. Stepping out with his partner’s leash draped across his neck and shoulders, Royce surveyed the yards.
.....“Where’d you last see him, Rob?” He was all business.
.....“Right through here.” I gestured with my left hand, cutting the air between the two doubles. My right still gripped the un-holstered Glock.
.....“Control, I need one officer with a shotgun or rifle up here where the suspect bailed.” Royce went back to his car as Mark Spooner hustled up with a shotgun held vertical. Royce’s car rocked and we could all hear the snarls and barks of his K-9 partner, Raider, a four year old Belgian Malinois. The door popped open and Royce clipped leash to collar. Raider’s feet hit the ground and the barking stopped. His jaws hung open, tongue lolling.
.....“Alright, let’s go. If either of you see him, don’t wait for me. Shoot his fucking ass.” Royce issued a command to Raider, and the dog snuffed the air with tail cocked, pulling us into a half-trot.
.....It didn’t take long for Raider to lead us to a two story with cracked brick walls. The back half was boarded up, and a side door had been pushed open with little resistance from the lock. Raider let loose a harsh stream of roaring barks at the cracked door.
.....“Police department,” Royce shouted over his partner then shoved the door open all the way.
.....The four of us, Raider on point, squeezed inside the abandoned house. Mold and old dead sweat slashed my nose. Inside was a wash of cigarette butts, crumpled beer cans, and broken bottles. Outside dogs on chains barked their complaints at our invasion of their territory. Raider pulled Royce inside. Mark was next with the shotgun, and I brought up the rear.
.....Once inside I could hear the sound of running water. Raider pulled us forward and the water became louder. Guns up, we followed, eyes skipping from room to door to hallway. At the end of the hall was the bathroom. The door was shut, light coming from under the crack at the floor. Roaches crunched under each step.
.....“Police department.” Royce’s second announcement was stepped on by Raider’s barking.
.....Inching down the hall Raider’s teeth raged, our gun barrels searched for a target. We searched the empty bedrooms as we went until we were left with the bathroom door at the end of the hall. It was clear now that the sound of water was coming from the bathroom like someone running themselves a bath.
.....“What the hell?” Mark lowered the shotgun as Royce stepped in front of him. Raider growled some more and strained at the leash. Saliva splattered the wall. Royce pulled him back. “Rob, kick that door.”
.....A kick was hardly necessary. The door caved so easily I almost stumbled into the room. Gun still up, I pressed back against the wall.
.....A skinny black man in his twenties sat shirtless in the tub. Water gushed from the faucet.
..... Frothing soap-foam swirled around his legs. Fear sketched his face, shading the corners of his eyes chalky pale. His hands made washing motions under the water and soap bubbles. Pupils lost in wide whites blinked once, twice, and a third time.
.....“What? What’s going on, man,” he said.
..... Raider surged forward. His teeth flashed and made loud clacks as they crashed together with each bark pushed past lips peeled up and down. The black nose was just shy of the white porcelain. Condensation formed and disappeared as Raider’s breath brushed the tub’s surface.
.....“Show me your fucking hands!” Royce’s command topped the barking K-9. “Hands hands… your fucking hands.” His gun was out now, Raider’s leash cinched around the fingers of his other hand, turning them white.
.....“What’s going on?” The man in the tub began scrubbing his arms with soap and water. His eyes slipping in a constant rotation of gun barrel, gun barrel, razor-white jaws, gun barrel and repeat. “What’s going on?” His mouth seemed to be stuck on the same track.
.....It was so insane that a small doubt actually sprouted in the back of my mind. Maybe this house wasn’t abandoned, all evidence to the contrary. Maybe this was just some poor fuck who happened to match the general description and unlucky enough to be selected by fate and Raider’s nose to suffer the consequences of someone else’s poppin-shots-ghetto-joyride. I’d seen crazier shit, and when you see crazy on a daily basis, sometimes a suspect’s most illogical denial sounds almost plausible.
.....I knew what Royce wanted to know. Was this the guy?
.....None of us could see the gun, but a blue hoodie was stuffed between the toilet and the tub. It was the exuberant repeat scrub wash scrub of the same body parts that threw off the doubt. The complete absence of steam, indicating the water was cold, tallied itself on the list of our mutual observations.
.....“Yeah, it’s him.”
.....“Put your fucking hands up.” Royce let the leather leash slip forward another inch.
.....The man’s hands rose, trailing suds. He leaned back at the waist, and I could see the tops of his jean shorts in the swirl of water.
.....“Get out of there.”
.....“But…but what’s going on?”
.....We were all thinking the same thing. He’d probably dumped the gun. If the prosecutor pussied out on the auto theft charge, this thug-turd would end up with a simple resist arrest pled down to a misdemeanor fleeing charge. He would do less than twenty-four hours in jail for jacking a car and capping shots at a few coppers. The only justice this son-of-a-bitch was going to get would be right here in this room.
.....Royce didn’t have to look at me. We’d been through this before. His eyes ran to Mark who’d only been on the street a little over a year. Some guys were squeamish about this sort of thing. A grin splashed across Mark’s face. Technically the gun could be in the water with our two-bit-hood friend. Royce nodded and dropped the leash.
.....Raider lunged as the doomed thug reared up and out of the bath. He scrabbled for anything to rescue his ass from the white fangs coming for him. There was a scream and a splash. Raider sunk his bite into a leg just below the knee, yanked the man back down into the water. Then the man did the wrong thing, even more wrong than all his actions that had led him there to that bathroom. He tried to fight the dog.
.....When you fight a police dog, instead of a few puncture wounds, you get vicious tears. A dog’s back teeth work like scissors when they get worked up and shake their heads back and forth with a mouth full of flesh.
.....Blood squirted. Saliva hung in pink strands from Raider’s mouth. Soap and foam, water and blood and screams stirred themselves into a froth. The dog pulled, bit and chewed forward for a better grip. Tendons parted with a sound like cracking knuckles. When Raider’s jaws sliced downward with a thrashing tug, the kneecap slid sideways under the skin and rolled around to the side of the leg. A cringe shivered up my spine and I tried to ignore the sounds.
.....There was another big splash as Raider pulled the man’s entire body down and out of the tub. Royce let him have another couple good tugs before he started trying to get him off the butchered leg.
.....“Raider, off. Off.” Giving the dog’s collar a hard jerk upward in a choke, Royce rewrapped the leash around his other hand. Blood spattered his uniform. “Son of a bitch!” He yanked and pulled harder on the collar till Raider’s air was almost completely cut off. Finally the dog let go.
.....Skirting Raider, who was so worked up he’d bite most anything that moved, Mark and I grabbed a wrist each and flipped the man onto his belly for the handcuffs. With a click click it was over.
.....Gravel ground under my boots as I walked back to my car. I caught some radio traffic that one of the rounds dipshit had slung at us ended up in a twelve year old girl. The adrenaline high of the last few minutes melted off me like blowtorch put to work on an ice sculpture.
.....The same disinterested eyes that had ignored me after the suspect bailed from the Regal now riddled me with accusations. The men clenched fists and spit off their porches, swigged their drinks, and spit again. The women glared openly, some cursing the poh-leese loud enough for us to hear but not loud enough to cause enough of a scene to go to jail. They walked the line between irritation and disturbance with the skill of rough-schooled diplomats.
.....Sweat had soaked through my t-shirt. I could smell it, the old and the new, floating up from my chest, curling fingers of stench to rub the ultimate failure of the day in my face. It made my ballistic vest feel like lead. I walked over to the Regal and wrote down the VIN number on a notepad. The gun, a cheap-ass High Point .40, lay on the floor of the driver’s side. I didn’t touch it. The registration was in the glove box and told me the car’s owner lived one street over. He might even have been one of those shadows staring stones at me right then. My fist balled up and punched the hood of my car. “Fuck!”
.....There would never be justice for the thug. Once he was stitched up, he would have a cool story and wicked scars to add to his rep and impress the girls who actually hang around with his type. If the victim died, he’d plead to involuntary-whatever-bullshit, and if she didn’t, he would get even less time. We’d tried to even the score, but now there were two ambulances headed to Wishard Hospital.
.....I got in my car, found an empty parking lot to finish my paperwork. After I marked back in service, I took my next call. Maybe there would be justice for the next guy.