kept zooming in tight, and now, when the shooter appeared and fired, I got a pretty good look at him. This asshole was dressed head-to-toe in black body armor and was wearing a gas mask. He would pop up, looking like an extra in a Steven Seagal movie, and squeeze off a five-second burst, then disappear. His window choices seemed random.

I took off my watch, set it on the table in front of me, and started to time him. First he worked the downstairs. He'd shoot through three or four different windows at random, then move upstairs. After watching for about three minutes I could see the pattern.

Downstairs, he was all over the place shooting short, twenty-round bursts. But he always ended at the window on the far left side of the house. He'd fire a long stream of lead from that position, and then be gone for thirty to forty seconds before reappearing upstairs. He'd shoot randomly out of the upstairs windows, then be downstairs again. But his last firing position on the ground floor was always that same window on the far left of the house. My guess was that the staircase was over there.

It took him thirty seconds to get upstairs and start shooting again. He was triggering off five-second bursts, which I estimated at about fifteen or twenty rounds. He probably needed another ten seconds to change C-clips at the top of the stairs before again going to work in the upstairs windows. The time for me to make my move up to the porch was after he shot the long burst through the far left downstairs window.

I turned off the TVs and decided to test my theory. Moving to the front door, I waited for him to shoot out of the last window downstairs, then ran out of the house and across the street. I settled down behind the same squad car where I had been earlier, easily beating the next burst of gunfire from the upstairs window.

Sonny was already there and turned when I arrived. 'Where were you?' he asked.

'Watching TV.'

Sonny gave me a strange look, so I said, 'Are we good to go?'

'Loo says no. The captain wants to wait for the incident commander from the downtown bureau.'

'What is he, some kinda desk commander?' I said.

'More or less,' Sonny agreed.

'Then I say screw him. Emo could be pumping dry. He could be dying. We can't just leave him up there.'

Sonny didn't speak, but after a second he nodded.

I told Sonny my plan. We both tried to watch the shooter take one more lap around the house so Sonny could see for himself. But in truth, it was damn hard to keep your head up while he was pouring those lead cores down on us.

'Next time, after he does the last downstairs window on the left, we go,' I said. 'Okay?'

Sonny licked his lips and nodded grimly.

We waited until the shooter finished his last downstairs popup, then both of us exploded out from behind the car and ran low, heads down, across the lawn and dove under the porch. I don't think the shooter saw us, but then I wasn't looking either. The minute we started our run there was a lot of yelling from the sheriff's troops behind us. Somebody started screaming and calling us assholes.

Once we were under the porch, Sonny pulled his transmitter off his Tac vest and spoke clearly into it. 'We're gonna pull Emo off there,' he said. 'Lay down some cover fire, but aim high. Don't hit us! Get our SWAT van up here on the lawn. Give us a place to take him. This is going down after the next time he shoots.'

A few seconds later another lead burp ripped the air: BLAP-BLAPBLAPBLAP! Fifty sheriffs and two SWAT teams responded, pouring lead into the house as Sonny and I rolled up simultaneously and grabbed Emo by the ankles. Bullets thunked and glass shattered from the sheriffs' volley as we started pulling Emo off the deck. He streaked a wide stripe of bright red blood and brown stomach matter on the porch behind him before flopping down onto the lawn with us. As soon as he hit I knew he was dead. There was a huge hole in his gut, another in the center of his chest, his pants were messed. His bowels had let go; urine soaked his leg.

I held his head anyway.

Just then six SWAT guys who were all tricked out in black jumpsuits opened up with grenade launchers, mortaring hot gas canisters through half a dozen windows in the house: THUNK-THUNK-THUNK. A few remaining windows shattered. Smoke billowed.

'Who the hell are those guys?' I asked Sonny. 'That's hot gas. They should use the cold canisters. They're gonna set the house on fire. The whole hillside could go.'

Sonny shook his head. 'Don't know,' he said.

They looked like SRT to me.

Two minutes later the house flamed. Black smoke billowed out of the upstairs windows. But the barricaded suspect had a gas mask, and kept shooting, popping up, firing short bursts. Sonny and I were trapped under the porch.

After about ten minutes we heard on the radio that the man had stopped shooting out of the upstairs window and was now running back and forth downstairs. The roaring fire covered the sound of everything but the occasional high, shrill wail of a late-arriving fire unit and the short, choppy bursts from the AK-47. Eventually, as the fire raged, his gun went silent.

It was getting so hot where Sonny and I were that we had to pull back or be incinerated. The shooter hadn't fired for more than two minutes, so we grabbed Emo's body and dragged him across the lawn to the SWAT van. The sheriff's department SEB long rifles covered us, firing a deadly volley into the raging fire and billowing smoke. The heat from the blaze seared my back as we dragged Emo's body behind the van and laid him down.

When I turned I wasn't at all prepared for what I saw. Every room in the house had flames and black smoke pouring out of the windows. The roof was on fire. Ten minutes later the entire second floor collapsed. Then, one by one, boxes of ammo started going off in the garage. Armor-piercing.308s and.223s whizzed through the neighborhood like deadly hornets. Without warning, huge explosions rocked the cars we hid behind. Whatever just went up, it wasn't conventional ordnance. It was some kind of high-grade explosive. Everybody out front hit the deck and stayed down until it was over.

Finally, when they were sure that whatever caused the explosions had detonated, the fire units moved in, concentrating on keeping the dry brush in the foothills from going up, and working to keep the sparks from igniting the houses next door.

I found out from one of the deputies that Emo Rojas, who was a sheriff's motorcycle officer, had volunteered at roll call that morning to serve the warrant at end of watch.

Apparently, one of the home owners, a guy named Vincent Smiley, had been walking around the Hidden Ranch neighborhood flashing a badge and impersonating a sheriff's deputy. The neighbors called the department and found out that Smiley wasn't a sheriff. A warrant to pick him up was issued. Emo borrowed a D-car at the substation and came out here with his partner, Dave Brill. It was a nothing bust. A class-B felony. So Emo just walked up and rang the front doorbell with the arrest warrant in his hand while Brill stayed in the car filling out the incident report. Nobody was expecting trouble.

Then Smiley opened the front door and shot twice.

Emo was probably dead before he hit the ground.

Chapter 3


After emo's corpse left in the ambulance I tried to disappear. I wanted to hide in some dark place and check my psyche for damage, to see how I really felt about this, before something I couldn't fix broke inside me. The Agoura substation's area commander, Captain Matthews, was still in charge because the incident commander from LASD headquarters didn't make it to the site until Vincent Smiley had changed categories, going from an active shooter to a crispy critter. When the IC finally showed up the site was already Code 4. He didn't want any part of it and gave this disaster a kiss and a wave, leaving a dead deputy, a smoldering house, and angry neighbors for Captain Matthews to deal with. Naturally, Matthews was pissed. He recognized career leprosy when he saw it.

He grabbed my arm and stopped me from leaving. 'Gonna need your statement,' he growled.

'Right, Skipper. Solid,' I said, trying to sound hard-boiled and competent.

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