Authors: Chuck Barrett
enior Inspector Pete Moss
just shot the perpetrator.
It all started when the white male suspect walked out of the bank manager's office holding a hostage in front of him, his arm wrapped around the woman's throat, gun to her neck. The only part of the perp not shielded by the hostage was his head.
"Drop the gun. Drop the gun," Moss yelled.
The man moved his gun and pointed it toward Moss.
Moss was holding his Glock and reacted the way he'd been trained when a witness's life was threatenedâwith deadly force. Moss slowed his breathing and concentrated on the shot; nervousness under pressure would only get the hostage killedâand maybe him as well. He gently squeezed off a round striking the man in the neck. The man dropped his gun and tumbled to the ground. The hostage fled. He fired two more shots into the fallen man's chest. Then, for some reason, an extra shot to the man's crotch.
He couldn't help it.
The perp was wanted for murder, was considered armed and dangerous, and was a convicted sexual predatorâso the crotch shot seemed a fitting act of revenge for one of the most heinous crimes.
That's when his instructor started yelling.
firearms training simulator at
in Chicagoâshort for Virtual Reality Training Center, pronounced
was so realistic, so intense, Moss was caught up in the moment. The virtual reality training simulator had five screens and a 300-degree, fully immersive training platform, which tested the gamut of real-world skills. Initially, Moss thought it would be worthless training but was surprised at how quickly he forgot it was only a simulation.
"Excessive force, Moss."
"What do you think rape is?" Moss yelled back at the instructor. "Besides he was already dead."
"You could have lost your star on that one."
His instructor apparently was not amused and started quoting procedure and regulation.
Moss had been with the U. S. Marshals Service for almost twenty years and outranked his instructor. The guy was still wet behind the ears and had already earned a reputation for puffing his chest, strutting around like a peacock, and scolding senior deputies. The little jerk got off on his power trip. Moss let him get away with it, this time.
In Moss's opinion, the kind of sleaze bag in this scenario didn't deserve procedure, besides this was only training, not real life. He had grown tired of the government bullshit and just plain weary. He'd worked too many night shifts in his Marshals Service career. It seemed on every assignment, he drew the night shift. Even though this was training, working the evening shift sucked. And why couldn't the training be assigned during the day? He'd rather be at home, drinking a beer, and watching the Cubs on his brand new 60-inch HD television. Best seat in the stadium, with his own private restroom and kitchen. Instant replays. No post-game traffic jams.
He was raised by a strict single mother on Chicago's Southside and, despite the odds, he was a Cubs fan. In fact, he couldn't remember a time when he wasn't a Cubs fan. Even his favorite presidentâRonald Reagan, another unlikely choice given his backgroundâhad been an announcer for the Cubs, which was probably the main reason he was Moss's favorite. It didn't matter that the Cubs hadn't won a World Series since 1908. Despite their miserable season or the fact that, once again, they were ranked dead last in their division, the Cubs were
"Are you ignoring me?"
Moss realized the instructor was still droning on about regulation. He shook his head. "No, please, dazzle me with some more of your brilliance."
The flush-faced man put his hands on his hips and stared at him.
Moss had been given this
detail just two weeks after relocating to the Chicago field office from a seven-year WitSec stint at the Little Rock office. His selection to the Enforcement Division at the Chicago office was his chance to finally move back home and hopefully work fewer nights. He'd always heard his fellow deputies say
nights and weekends is where the action isâ¦
and they could have them both.
Moss was a big man, four inches over six feet, and hadn't seen the scales under two seventy-five in ten years. In his mind he wasn't overweight even though the doctor said he could stand to lose fifty pounds. He was still solid as a rock. A left tackle in college, Moss never gave up his workout regimen. It was how he dealt with stress. That, and alcohol. Both kept his mild-mannered, matter-of-fact demeanor on an even keel. He only drank off-duty and never mixed the two, work and alcohol. It had helped him through two failed marriages and the tragic death of his mother several years ago when a busload of senior citizens on their way to a gambling casino in Mississippi crashed on the interstate. The bus driver fell asleep at the wheel, ran off the road and down an embankment killing exactly half of the forty-two passengers on board.
As a black man, it also helped him deal with the government's failed discrimination policies. Especially in his early years when there was a tremendous lack of diversity in the Marshals Service. Back then it was a white man's agency. He worked and fought hard to move up the ranks. On his own terms, by merit and skill, not the color of his skin.
Then he was assigned to the Little Rock field office. It was a step back in time. Like being thrown through a time warp into the racial-tension filled fifties and sixties. It seemed as if all his hard work had been for naught.
Until he was selected for the Chicago Enforcement position.
The overhead speaker interrupted his instructor's tirade. "Deputy Moss, you are requested to call in immediately."
Moss glanced at his watch.
What now? I've already missed an hour and a half of the game.
He looked at the young, arrogant instructor, turned, and walked off the simulator platform without saying another word.
He reached into the side pocket of his black cargo pants, pulled out his cell phone, and dialed the number. "Pete Moss."
He heard the man on the other end of the line snicker.
"Yeah, yeah. I've heard all the peat moss jokes. Calling in as requested."
The voice on the line cleared his throat. "Senior Inspector Moss, there has been an incident in Little Rock."
His heart skipped a beat. Both of his ex-wives still lived in Little Rock, not that he cared, he didn't, but he couldn't think of any WitSec business in Little Rock that he hadn't handed over to his replacement during the transition. Certainly nothing that would warrant an after-hours phone call.
"What kind of incident?"
"Are you familiar with WC 7922?"
"A little. Cox is assigned that case."
"Inspector Cox is dead, the witness has been breached, is now missing, and about forty eight hours from being considered a fugitive from justice."
"Cox? Dead? Mike Cox?" Moss was in disbelief.
"Senior Inspector Moss, this is official notification that you have been temporarily reassigned back to the Little Rock office."
about leaving Tony alone in the quarry. This wasn't Kaplan's fight, but he'd promised the Deputy U. S. Marshal he would keep Tony alive until he could deliver him to a WitSec safe site.
No guarantees beyond that.
And he would deliver. A promise made was a promise kept.
Thirty yards away he could see Tony's khaki slacks and silver hair against the dark quarry walls. The idiot was trying to climb the nearly sheer face of the cliff. In loafers, no less. What the hell was he thinking? The man must be pushing seventy. He glanced back over his shoulder and calculated how much time he had left until the real threat arrived.
He would be cutting it close.
Kaplan ran the distance to the quarry wall. The old man had climbed about twelve feet up the cliff wall. Just out of Kaplan's jumping distance.
"No. You are going to get us both killed."
"What? By morons like those two? Not likely. Besides, they were nothing more than a couple of bullies acting tough and looking for somebody to push around. They were harmless. Now get down."
"No." The old man kept climbing. "You go your way, I'll go mine."
Kaplan took several steps back and calculated his next move. Tony was fifteen feet above the base of the cliff.
"Look, I don't want to hurt you, so get back down here."
"What are you going to do, shoot me?" Tony climbed another three feet up the cliff wall.
"Don't say I didn't give you fair warning." Kaplan reached down, picked up a fist-sized rock, and hurled it at Tony, striking him in the head. The old man hung motionless on the wall for a few seconds then fell toward the ground and landed on top of Kaplan.
It was a solid impact and knocked him to the ground. He rolled Tony off him, glanced at the sky, and jumped to his feet. He grabbed Tony's shirt by the collar and hauled him to his feet.
"Anything broken?" he asked.
Tony leaned over, cupped one hand over a knee and rubbed his head with the other. "Son of a bitch. You could have killed me."
"We need to leave," Kaplan commanded. "Now."
"I need a minute." Tony gasped for air. "To catch my breath."
"A minute from now we'll be dead."
Kaplan pulled Tony upright and pointed at the rapidly approaching helicopter. Its searchlight scanned the riverbank but its trajectory was directly toward the quarry.
"Look." Kaplan pulled him toward the Harley. "This is a horseshoe canyon, if they get here first, they cut off our escape route. I promised Deputy Cox I'd keep you alive and deliver you to a WitSec safe site. I didn't promise what shape you'd be in when you arrived, now let's move it."
The spotlight beam moved up the hill and stopped on the redneck's four-wheeler. It scanned across their unconscious bodies where it seemed to pause, momentarily evaluating what they saw. Tony moved toward Kaplan's Harley with renewed urgency.
Kaplan jumped on the bike and started the engine with a roar. Tony was two seconds behind him. The spotlight found the Harley. Kaplan shifted it in gear and twisted the throttle, spraying loose gravel and dust as he accelerated toward the exit pathway.
Gunfire erupted from the copter. The ground around them was peppered with bullets. The pilot maneuvered the copter to cut off the bike's escape.
"Can you use a gun?" Kaplan yelled over the thumping noise of the copter blades.
Kaplan reached into his jacket and pulled out his weapon. He handed it to Tony butt first. "Aim for the spotlight."
The rotorcraft dipped as if trying to cut off their escape by using its blades to herd them back into the quarry. "What are you waiting for?" Kaplan yelled. "Shoot."
No telling where the first two rounds went, somewhere across the river no doubt. The third round hit something. Kaplan saw a spark fly from the copter and it pulled up leaving Kaplan a clear path down the gravel roadway.
He was a third of the way down when the gravel pathway made a slight bend to the right, directly toward the hovering rotorcraft, which had backed out over the river. More gunfire strafed the ground around them. The spotlight followed his every turn, its blinding beam hampering his vision down the hillside.
Tony fired again and the copter's spotlight exploded in a fiery blaze. The hillside went dark except for the Harley's headlight. As the roadway curved to the left, gunfire erupted around them again.
Tony fired two more rounds and the gunfire went silent. The copter rotated right and then banked left and started losing altitude. It angled toward the hillside, threatening to cut off their escape.
Over the thumping sound of the blades slicing through the humid air, Kaplan heard a strange noise coming from the copter as it plummeted toward them. It sputtered and whined and made a sound like metal grinding metal.
The rotorcraft began to lose its tug-of-war with gravity. He needed to get off the hillside before the copter came down on top of them.
And he was certain it was coming down.
He flipped on his high beams. The gravel roadway ahead appeared straight and would soon transition to asphalt.
Kaplan twisted the throttle to the stop and gambled the road ahead was clear and straight. He was certain Tony was about to go into cardiac arrest as the Harley rocketed down the hillside road.
But, it worked.
The explosion behind them created a plume of fire that roiled skyward into a glowing red mushroom cloud along the north bank of the Arkansas River. The concussion wave jolted the Harley and Kaplan eased off the throttle slowing the bike to a stop. Tiny metal fragments from the disintegrated rotorcraft rained down on them and blanketed the hillside behind them with flaming debris.
"That was close," Tony said.
"Too close," he said as he turned around and held out his hand. "Now give me my gun back."
Kaplan felt Tony jab the barrel into his ribs.
"Not yet," Tony said. "I'm setting some new ground rules."
Without hesitation and in one smooth motion, Kaplan grasped the barrel of his pistol with his right hand and smashed his left elbow into Tony's face knocking the old man off the bike and onto the ground.
He pushed down the kickstand, dismounted, and walked around the back of his bike. He looked down at Tony and said, "I'm getting tired of your foolishness." He ejected the magazine from his gun, put in a fresh one, and slipped it back in his jacket.
Tony was holding his nose, blood oozed through his fingers. "I think you broke it."
"Nope. Didn't hit you hard enough. Broke a few capillaries is all. Next time you won't be so lucky."
"What do we do now, smart guy?"
Kaplan dug around in his back pocket and pulled out a folded bandana. He threw it down at Tony. "Hold that against your nose," Kaplan pulled his cell phone from his jacket pocket, "while I make a phone call."