Spitfire Chapter 9

Heat Coming Down

~

 

“Why the fuck didn’t you lawyer up?” Dick said.  “C’mon, Barb.  Don’t ever say a thing to the police without a lawyer.  Don’t even breathe too loud without a lawyer.”

I stood still, watching Dick pace across his hotel room.  “I didn’t need one,” I said.

“Yes you did,” Dick said.  “You got lucky, talking your way out.  And you can bet the police know your name now, if they didn’t before.  I’m glad you’re okay, but Christ, Barb.  Never again.”

I said, “I knew they didn’t—”

“Not even if they’ve got nothing on you, not even if you don’t know anything,” Dick said.  “They tell you ‘Anything you say can and will be used against you’, and they mean it.  Everything, against you.  Not to help you, not to prove you innocent.  The police are not your friends, Barb.”

“Okay,” I said.  “I understand.  But the only lawyer I knew to call offhand was our guy Darryl.  The cops suspected me of gang activities, and Darryl works under Bollocks.  I figured it was best to keep my distance from the organization, keep the cops’ attention on me.”

“Huh.  Okay,” Dick said, seating himself on the bed.  “Not the right move.  But it worked, this time.  Good job.”  Dick shrugged and flashed a smile.  “Moving on.  Ready for the job on Thursday night?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “What are we stealing?”

Dick said, “Eugh.  Stealing is such a dirty goddamn word.  What you’re doing is acquiring a bit of information from a street gang that just showed up.  These crack gang boys just rolled in from NYC or somewhere and started selling as far from the fighting as they could.  Maybe they figured I’d miss em.”  Dick scoffed and let out a little laugh.  “Fuckin idiots.  Think I don’t know every single thing that goes on in my city.  They don’t even know.  I’m like—like Batman mixed with—with—”

“Kingpin?” I said.  One of my old crewmates would talk our ears off about superhero comics.

“Who the fuck is Kingpin?” Dick said.

“Um, a Daredevil character.  Marvel, not DC.”

Dick waved his hand dismissively.  “Like Batman mixed with the Penguin.  Anyway.  You and a few others are gonna go to the compound where this gang is holed up and nab their hard drives, ledgers, journals, phones, refrigerator notes—anything that’s got information on it.  I wanna know who’s selling them the cocaine, if they’ve got a lab in the city, et cetera.”

I said, “Gotcha.  Who’s coming?”

“Good question!”  Dick rubbed his hands together and hopped to his feet which, I noticed, weren’t even wearing socks.  “I brought us some outside talent for this.  Someone to get you through the building’s security without our new friends finding out.” 

Dick checked his phone then strode past me to the door and stepped out.  The door shut behind him, and I crossed my arms.  No, that’s okay, I’ll wait. 

A minute later the door opened, and Dick let in a redheaded girl who couldn’t be older than eighteen.  She had an eye patch, this wide grey band wrapped around her brow, and she was skinny like I’d been in high school.  She was dressed like any teenager—a hoodie and jeans—and she scowled as she saw me.

I pointed at the girl and said, “Dick, you don’t have her living here in the hotel, do you?”

Dick said, “What?  Do I have a bona fide professional thief living in the place I do business?  No, Barb, that’s ridiculous.”

Arching her eyebrow, the redheaded girl said, “Nice to meet you, too.”

“Let’s try this again,” Dick said.  “Sky, this ray of sunshine is Barbara.”  I winced.  I hated hearing my name passed around among criminals.

“Hey,” the girl said.  Neither of us reached out for a handshake.

“Barb, this is Skylar Temple.  She’s gonna be helping us this time around.”

“Uh-huh,” I said, looking over Skylar again.  Maybe ‘skinny’ was the wrong word; ‘wiry’ got the point across better.  Skylar looked like a runner.  I said, “Not to diss her abilities or anything, but why do we need her?”

“Because she’s gonna be your new charming sidekick!” Dick said.  “Fuck, no.  Because the gang’s hideout is a fortress.  I had a couple guys case the joint all yesterday.  Labyrinthine security, electronic and physical.  Word is Sky’s the girl to have.”

Skylar said, “If you don’t want me here, just say it.”

I said, “And this, uh, lot of theirs.  Got anything for me to set on fire?”

Skylar’s eyes widened, and Dick snorted.  He said, “No, this is a burglary.  If you wanted to, you might go so far as to call it a heist.  Is that all you think about, Barb, burning shit down?”

I shrugged.  “Sometimes I think about eating or sex.”

Skylar giggled.  “I like her.  I think this’ll be a fun job, Dick.”

“Atta girl.”  Dick gave Skylar a pat on the back and she smiled.  “Now, when I get word from David, we can work out our plan for—”

“Gotta make a call,” Skylar said, whipping out her phone. 

Dick said, “Huh?  No, uh, I’m waiting for a call from him.  There’s no need for—”

“Not him,” Skylar said.  “I don’t even know a David.  I gotta make a personal call.”  Skylar turned on her heel and stepped out through the doorway.  Amused, I watched Dick’s stunned face as the door shut.  Not a good look on him.

Dick sighed and rubbed his cheek.  “I hate being interrupted.”

“Okay, Dick, seriously,” I said.  “What’s the deal?  Why would you want a kid on a job with me?”

Dick said, “Hey, Skylar’s an adult.  Old enough to make whatever decision she wants.  Smart enough, too.  Come on, you know how it is.  You were her age once.”

“Yeah, like twenty years ago,” I said.

Dick said, “You aren’t that old.  Even I’m not that old.  Look, Barb, I’ve worked with Skylar once before.  Known her longer than I’ve known you.  She’s good.”

I said, “So you’re sure she’s not, say, tattling to the police right now?”

“Enough of that shit,” Dick said.  “People talk.  You may not get it since you been in the business just a couple months, but you do well enough, you get a reputation.  Skylar’s rep is that she’s the lady who could bust you into Fort Knox, and I can take that to the bank.”

Had Dick worked with Skylar while she was still a minor?  I glanced away and Dick said, “What?  I see that look.  What’s your problem?  You don’t trust her or something?”

I figured it was too late to back down after the fuss I’d made.  “No.”

“Well, who do you trust, then?”

I had to think about that one.  Maybe I was in the wrong line of work.  “I trust me.  I’ve come to trust Bollocks.  I guess I trust you, too.”  I trusted the rest of Dick’s people like I trusted Detective Glass.

“Aw.  Well thankya, Barb,” Dick said.  “So you trust me.  Well, I trust Skylar, so there.”

Fair enough.  “Fine,” I said.  “Where the fuck did you find her, anyway?”

Dick dropped his rear onto the bed and said, “I needed a pair of quick hands for a job last year, when our aims were more humble.  Got a recommendation from Viola.”

“The whore?” I said.

“What?” Dick said, leaping off the bed again.  “Now hold on here one goddamn second.  Don’t you fuckin call her that, Lenton.  I don’t wanna be hearing anything against Viola unless it’s fuckin grounded in fact.”

I said, “But isn’t she a—”

“What’d I say?”  Dick jabbed his finger in my face, and I had a stupid impulse to snap it.  “Viola Thomas is a valuable employee and a good friend of mine.  What the fuck do you know about her, anyway?”

I knew what I assumed to be true about her.  “Nothing, I guess.  Sorry.”

“Hn.”  Dick sighed and backed off.  “Glad to hear it.  Man, you women can be real bitches to each other, you know that?”

I wanted to call him out on that remark, but I was no better.  I was about to reply when someone said, “You two are adorable, you know that?”  I spun around to find Skylar standing in the open doorway, a black card-shaped device in her hand. 

Dick said, “Th—the door locks from the outside.  How’d you get in?”

Skylar waved the funny device and smirked.  “Remember what you hired me for.  Has everyone set their quibbles aside?”

I shrugged.  I’d lost this one, and a kid would be wading into danger with us.  I’d just have to be on call to pull her right out.  “Yeah,” Dick said, waving Skylar inside.

Skylar said, “Great.  Finally.  Can we hammer out a plan?”

 

***

 

Thursday evening I found myself stuffed in a sedan with David on one side, Skylar on the other, and two guys I barely knew up front.  Something in Skylar’s belt was poking me, but I had no room to move away.  The night was dreary and cold as winter scraped by, pouring rain when it wasn’t up to full-on snow.  Tonight was rain, and the compound before us was a spectre in the dark, a wet blur of lines.  There was no moon, just the glow of streetlamps half a block away to show us we’d arrived.

We filed out of the car, me last.  The rain hit my neck at once, and I flipped up the collar of my pea coat.  It did little good.  No one spoke; in this weather, I figured no one would feel chatty even if we weren’t sneaking.  Only Skylar seemed immune.  She skipped ahead of us, landing in the dry paths between puddles.

“Now listen,” David said.  He had a rumbling sort of voice that matched his burly frame, hard to make out in the rain but impossible to mistake.  “Dick’s put me in charge today.  Barbara, you stick with the kid.  Follow her and protect her.  I’ll be searching around; once Skylar’s cracked security, you’ll join me.  Bobby—”  David glanced at the sallow man who’d climbed out of the car with us.  “You move around and look for ears listening in, potential witnesses.”

“Shoot em?” Bobby said.

“Shoot them dead.”

“And where’s Larry?  He ain’t comin?”

David shook his head.  “Someone’s got to keep the engine warm.  In, out, ten minutes if all goes well.  These gangbangers are too stupid to pick a good hiding place.”

Something about that seemed off to me.  I said, “So who put in the security?”

“Huh?” David said.

“They’re obviously smart enough to put up some defenses.  That’s why we had to bring Skylar.  So who got them such a good setup?”

“Uh, the fucking company they called?” David said, and I resisted the urge to punch him in the throat.  “Just do your fucking job, Lenton.  Go tell the kid what we said.”

In the puddle between us, a little red dot darted to and fro.  I followed its path and found Skylar aiming a laser pointer, beckoning for us to hurry up.  We obliged and caught up to her as she reached the compound’s wire fence. 

Bobby reached out to start climbing, but Skylar slapped his hand away.  “Electric fence,” she said.  I stood under a No Trespassing sign and waited as Skylar approached a grey box mounted to a fence post.  She opened up the box and reached into its guts; I noticed she was wearing black gloves that now shone in the rain, probably insulated.  Soon enough Skylar pulled away and put a strange sort of goggle over her lone eye, peering through the chain links at the first building.  “Camera,” she said.  “Fixed.  Need to get closer to cut the feed.  I’ll go first.  Stay back.”  Skylar touched the fence which, to my relief, did not shock her to death.  Then she shimmied right up the side, gripping the strut instead of the links, and cleared the ten-foot enclosure.  She disappeared into the dark.

Bobby gave the fence a meaningful look, but I held up my hand to stop him.  I could just imagine him scrambling over the side, falling, making a huge racket.  Yet I fidgeted, resisting the urge to tap my feet.  We had no cover, and my hair and ears were getting soaked.  After a long couple of minutes, Skylar’s laser pointer shone a dot at our feet, and the lady herself crept up to the fence.  She said, “Motion sensor by the front.  I found a back door.”

Bobby whispered, “You’re like some kind of ninja!”

Skylar said, “Not really.  I don’t hurt people.  I’m not even armed.”  She drew out a set of wire cutters and cut a square out of the fence, snip by snip.  I ducked through the opening, minding my step.  I heard the others on the move behind me—then a splash as a foot hit a puddle. 

“Quiet!” David said, and Skylar glared at them.  I figured I’d say something cutting and insensitive, but nothing came to mind, so I just crept in lockstep behind Skylar.

The compound held three buildings, but the central one was far bigger than the rest.  Over at the fence corner was a square shack with its door hanging open, rusted and dirty.  There was another outbuilding further down the lot, better maintained.  Maybe this compound had originally been home to a lawn care company or something, with storage and a loading dock.  Now some gangbangers were squatting here instead; maybe the other shack contained drugs or a lab.

“David,” I said.  “That little building might have what we’re looking for.”

“That one?” David said.

“No, farther out.”  Sure, the one with its door hanging open.  Idiot.

Skylar turned her goggle eye that way.  “Unlikely.  No electronic security.  Regular lock, no chain.  We’ll check there if the main office is a bust.”

“So now you’re in charge?” David said. 

Skylar spun on her heel and faced David.  “You wanna try this without me?  Go ahead.  Let me know where the motion sensors are when you set them off.”

“Can we just go?” I said.  Now I regretted speaking up at all.  Skylar nodded and led on.  Both of us ignored David.

We crept around to the back door and Skylar knelt down, plucking something like a billfold from her belt.  She drew out two metal rods and worked them into the lock, then turned with all the gentleness of a mother putting her child to bed.  The lock opened, and something inside the building thumped.

Nobody moved.  I leaned close to Skylar, listening at the crack with her.  A full minute passed with no sound other than Skylar’s tense breaths and the rain. 

Finally Skylar urged the door open, and I swear her shoes made no sound at all as she stepped onto the linoleum floor.  Skylar passed down a hallway and leaned into a room to the right, then shone a penlight my way and beckoned us on.  My boots slid on the floor, but I wasn’t going to embarrass myself by slipping.  Soon we were all inside.  Bobby made to close the door, but Skylar motioned with her hand across her throat for him to stop.   “Might need a quick exit,” she said.

We peered into the first room with Skylar.  In the penlight’s dim glow, I saw a TV and a little coffee table.  I guessed it could be a lounge if you didn’t know lounges were supposed to be comfortable or fit more than two people.  Skylar was in the corner, fiddling with something on the wall.  A tiny light above her head blinked on, then off.  She crouch-walked back to us.

Skylar whispered, “Okay.  Alarm down.  We have the run of the place.”  Bobby started to speak, but Skylar held up her hand. “That does not mean feel free to start singing and dancing.  Assume there are people here unless you find bodies.”

“Okay,” David said.  “Bobby, get moving.  Be careful.  Barbara, Skylar, keep searching.  Check each room before you let Bobby or me inside.”

Skylar said, “We don’t need to be careful?”  

I rolled my eyes.  “Got it.  Come on, Sky.  I’ll protect you.”

“Good to hear, Barb.  Stay close,” Skylar said.

What a pair of chums we were.  I followed the girl out to the hall again, and she peeked past a barely opened door then nodded and moved on.  I said, “Pretty fancy goggles you got there.”

“Only one,” Skylar said.

“Goggle, whatever.”

“Spent a bunch getting it custom-made from a gearhead I know.  Makes my job possible—not easy, but possible.”

I said, “Huh.  Impressive.”

Skylar said, “I’m no slouch without it, of course, but electronic security is a whole new ballgame.  Gets harder every year.”

“Just how old are you?”

“An office.  Jackpot,” Skylar said; she had come to another door, and she inched it open until we made out a desk with a solitary file cabinet beside it.  Skylar said, “Think David will mind if we start looking ahead of him?”

I strode in and pawed around on the desk, feeling each object carefully through my gloves.  “I won’t tell if you won’t.”

Skylar giggled and followed me in, leaving the door open a crack.  She made her way to the file cabinet and popped the lock, then said, “Barbara.  You’ll want to take a look at this.”  She drew out a spiral notebook and offered it my way.  “This stuff is your responsibility, not mine.”

“Fair enough.” I said.  All I’d found was a stapler, phone, and other crap.  “Can I borrow your light?”

“You didn’t bring one?” Skylar said.

Something behind us thumped.  Then from the hallway someone cried out.  I spun around just as Skylar’s light flipped off.  Then I heard a gunshot.  It rattled the walls and split the chilly silence like a guillotine.

Shit. 

“Shit!” Skylar whispered.  She scrambled past my side, but I snagged her shoulder.

“Stay behind me!” I said.  I couldn’t see whether she’d nodded, but she didn’t fight me.  I drew my gun and led us into the hallway, only to stop short as someone ran past and nearly crashed into me—I guessed it was Bobby.  Something was moving in the room he’d just left.  I couldn’t see a goddamn thing.

Then someone else bound down the hall, and I swung out, striking them across the cheek.  A thick hand scrambled for my throat, but I gripped my attacker by the lapel and threw him, or her, against the wall.  The hand disappeared and I jerked Skylar’s arm.

“No time to talk,” I said.  I was all ears, all focus.  I could hear a scuffle in the lounge, the first room we’d visited.

“What the fuck!  What the fucking fuck!”  That was David’s voice coming from the room ahead.  I ducked my head down and darted in, dragging Skylar along.

“It’s me!” I said, but David didn’t hear me.  His flashlight passed over my face then pointed down the hall.  A gun went off behind me, one two three shots, and David’s flashlight dropped.  I didn’t pause to see if he’d made it, not with a kid to watch out for.  I flung the door open and charged out into the rain.

Suddenly lights flashed red and blue, and a blinding white glare hit us while a siren screamed into my ears.  No!  How?!  They couldn’t have been waiting for us!  I looked immediately to Skylar; she jerked her hand from mine and sprinted around the building.  “Wait!” I said, but the little fox was already out of sight.  I ran after her, stomping muddy water all around.  My boot caught on something and I tripped, tumbling onto my side.  A jagged pain like broken glass drove into my hip.  I got back up.  No time for pain or fear.  Motion sensors be damned, I sprinted to the gap Skylar had cut through the fence and slid through, ripping my coat on a loose wire.

My getaway car had moved ten yards or so away; I saw it down an alley lit up by another set of headlights.  Someone, probably our guy Larry, pointed a gun out of the driver’s side window.  Then another gunshot went off, and the arm jerked and went limp.  While authoritative shouts from the police closed in, the driver’s side door opened and someone shoved a body out onto the concrete.  The door shut, and I watched jaw hanging open as my get-away care got away without me.

Those assholes.  That fucking asshole, Larry or Bobby—I was seconds away and they left me to the police.  David was back in the building.  And I’d lost Skylar.  I spun away from the headlights and compound, running as hard as I could.

I felt something stiff under my arm and realized it was the notebook, wedged there since I’d heard the first shot.  I flung it into a garbage bin as I passed into an alley.  If the police were gonna catch me, I’d leave nothing incriminating for them to find.  I yanked off my gloves and jammed them into the pockets of my coat, along with my gun. 

Now angry shouting echoed in the alleyway; I realized it was Skylar’s voice.  All I made out was “Pigs!”

Then another voice, male and close to me.  “IPD!  Stop right there!” 

I’d made it barely fifty feet from the compound’s fence.  I rounded a corner into an open street with the rain shimmering off the pavement.  Nowhere to hide.

“Freeze!  I said stop!” 

I looked to my left, and there at the alleyway’s mouth was a man in uniform, isosceles stance, Glock pointed my way.  Without thinking, I spun and ran back the way I’d come.  I made it four more steps before a body crashed into me and knocked me down chest first.  I swung my elbow back, but a hand forced my face into a puddle. 

“Stop!  Goddamnit, stop!” the cop said.  There was water in my nose and water in my mouth.  Someone dragged my hands behind my back and cuffed them before I was allowed to get up.  I coughed, sputtered, and spat as the cop shoved me down the alley, back toward the compound.

The whole area was lousy with cops now, and I saw a police car door shut on Skylar, who was still screaming from the backseat.  White lights shone on the compound, illuminating the whole scene.  David had indeed made it out, and now he was face-down in a puddle filling with red, revolver clenched in his hand.  The cops had rounded up a few guys I didn’t recognize, one with a bloody shirt.  I saw one more thing as we neared the cluster of police cars: a body sprawled out beyond the gate, a man with puffy cheeks and a weeping bullet wound in his neck.

As the cop forced me into a police car, I got a good look at the body’s face.  My heart skipped a beat.  Now the dread and fear hit me like a freight train, and bile rose in my throat.   Detective Lyle Glass.  In the flesh.

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