Greg Salem was a long way from the beach. Thin streams of sweat raced from his short blonde curls and down his neck. The tips of the tattoos that covered his back and chest were poking up just above his collar, like the tentacles of a giant squid. His hands shook as he forced a clip into the Glock. It was almost impossible to concentrate over the sound of the woman shrieking, but the sickening silence that followed was worse. Greg tensed and waited for the shooting to start.
His partner was a rookie, so new to the force that they’d only met that day. The third partner he’d had in as many months. The last one left the force to become a private security guard for some Hollywood starlet. Greg didn’t keep in touch with any of them.
The rookie was pressed against the hallway wall making ridiculous hand signals that he must have memorized at the academy. Greg winced. Some part of him still hated taking orders from cops, even though he’d been one himself for a decade.
The sleeve of his partner’s nylon jacket made a soft scratching sound as he motioned. The high-pitched ringing in Greg’s left ear was drowning it out. Tinnitus was a dubious badge of honor from years touring the punk rock circuit. It only got worse when his heart raced.
Greg swung into the hall, lifted his foot and kicked hard with the sole of his boot. The door split away from the jamb, spraying splinters. His partner slipped into the apartment ahead of him, waving his gun from side to side. A bedroom door slammed shut on the far side of the living room. The woman began shrieking again, louder this time, like a caged animal. Greg followed his partner deeper inside.
They split up, Greg securing the kitchen while his partner checked the closets. The coast was clear leaving only the bedroom. The two officers edged toward the door slowly. Tense moments ticked by. The shrieking was replaced by muffled sobbing. His partner checked the doorknob. Unlocked.
Greg turned the knob and let the door creak open. The officers waited for any signs of movement. There was only stillness and a faint humming sound. They traded looks, silently daring each other to go first.
Greg always thought of his brother Tim in situations like this, when everything was on the line and there was only one person in the world to rely on. Whatever was waiting for them inside that room, he knew it wasn’t going to be his brother. He closed his eyes and tried to clear his thoughts before pivoting inside.
A middle-aged woman sat tied to a chair, tears streaming down her round cheeks. Balled up socks were lodged in her mouth and held in place with a pair of nylons tied around the back of her head. She watched the two men with terror in her eyes. Her panties were down around her ankles and she was shifting in her seat in a vain attempt to dge the hem of her skirt forward. An oscillating fan was behind her, mindlessly scanning the room and ruffling the curtains around the open window.
His partner untied her while Greg made sure the room was clear. The woman collapsed into his partner’s arms, never taking her eyes off Greg’s Glock.
“No more guns, please…”
Greg was turning back to check on her when he saw something move outside of the window. He spun around with his gun leveled. The suspect dropped to the street from a drainpipe that ran vertically along the corner of the building. Greg ran out the apartment door, taking the stairs two at a time. He looked up at the bedroom window to get his bearings and then started off down the street at a sprint.
He was almost forty years old but still pretty fast thanks to all those early morning runs on the beach. The sidewalks were mostly empty except for the occasional warehouse worker wheeling dollies full of boxes between buildings. He bounded from block to block looking for the blue baseball cap and white T-shirt. The plastic sheath that held his badge swung from the string around his neck and banged into his chest.
The blocks passed by in a blur. His lungs were burning from the suffocating industrial air, so he stopped to catch his breath. He was bent over with his hands on his knees when a blue and white streak flashed between two slow moving buses across the street. He ran out into the light weekend traffic narrowly dodging trucks as he crossed. He kept his eyes focused on the blue cap bouncing in the distance a few blocks ahead of him, and watched as it vanished between two buildings. Greg used his last burst of energy and rounded the corner into the small service alley several agonizing moments later.
The kid in the blue hat was standing on top of a dumpster trying to climb into a second story window that was just out of reach. Greg pointed his gun and shouted, “Stop! Police!” The kid half looked over his shoulder in disbelief while his fingers groped for the sill. Greg repeated the warning, motioning with the Glock toward the ground with a series of exaggerated gestures. The kids hands slowly left the wall as he raised them up above his head in a practiced motion.
Greg acknowledged his surrender. He gestured for him to climb down off the dumpster. The kid reached the ground and spun to face his captor. Greg watched the fear flickering in his eyes as they darted from side to side, desperate searching for an escape route. Greg planted his feet and leveled his weapon at the kid’s chest to discourage him from making another run for it.
Moments passed. Greg inched forward, closing the distance between them. The kid looked young, not much older than his friend Junior’s son. He was half way there when the kid reached into his waistband, bringing his hands up in front of him.
Greg had practiced for this. He instinctively squeezed off two shots, the first he ever fired in the line of duty. A deafening sound echoed off of the tall brick walls surrounding them. The black object flew from the kid’s hand and spiraled up into the air before clattering across the pavement and out of sight.
He seemed to fall in slow motion. His body twisted and his arms flailed around him as he spun from the force of the bullet. Greg couldn’t see any blood on the white T-shirt yet. He prayed he had missed, but had spent too many hours at the firing range to have that kind of luck.