“Yeah,” Steve remarked quietly over the top of Cheeks’ head, “cute, little cottage on the lake. These fuckers with all this money make me sick. I bust my ass…”
“It’s Chicago money,” Cheeks said quietly. “Most of the properties here are. My parents have a place on this lake. It ain’t the mansion this place is, but it’s a nice, little weekend cottage.”
“Cottage my ass,” Pat’s whispering tone grew dangerously loud as he chuckled out his reply. “Your parent’s place is like thirty-five-hundred square feet. That’s a bit bigger than what I would consider a cottage.”
“I’m sure glad you guys are able to laugh and joke at a time like this,” Steve sighed. “We’re about to do some serious shit that could really fuck us up.”
“Sorry,” Pat dropped the volume of his voice.
“It really pisses some of the folks in this state off that a bunch of FIBs own all of the good land in their state, land they can’t afford,” Cheeks tried to explain.
“I must be missing the punchline,” Steve whispered. “That doesn’t seem all that funny to me.”
“You’d have to have grown up in one of the two places to get it,” Cheeks leaned over and whispered to him.
“I guess,” Steve shrugged as he pulled a pair of night vision goggles out of the backpack he had just slipped off his shoulders. Then he added, “I find it far more amusing that both of you now belong to the group of people you’re laughing about.”
“Where the fuck did you get those?” Cheeks ignored the jab as he watched Steve slip the goggles over his head.
“Not that it’s important, but do you remember when Captain French was trying like hell to get us a S.W.A.T. team in West Allis?”
Despite Steve’s slight scolding, a laugh slammed up against the inside of Cheeks’ tightly clinched lips. All of the effort it took to hold the guffaw back kept him from responding.
“You guys almost had a S.W.A.T. team?” Pat asked, his whisper again growing a hair louder than it should have been. “Why’s that funny? That’s fucking awesome.”
Steve sighed, shook his head, and then handled the question while Cheeks shook with the laugh he wouldn’t allow to leave his mouth, “We did. There was some City Council bullshit agenda that kept us from calling it a S.W.A.T team though.”
“So what did you have to call it?” Pat was dying to know what was so funny about a S.W.A.T. team.
Steve tried like hell to maintain his stern expression. He lost the battle and a wide grin spread across his face while he replied, “Crisis Unit Negotiating Team, Captain French came up with the name with assistance from that same City Council that had such a big issue with calling it S.W.A.T.”
Cheeks’ voice sounded like a piglet quietly dying as he finally opened his lips and squeaked out, “It was the fucking C.U.N.T. squad.”
Steve mostly kept his composure. His body shook only slightly with a silent chuckle just before he finished the story for Cheeks, “Captain French didn’t realize what a spectacular acronym he and the City Council had come up with until your pal here,” he pointed over at Cheeks, “and a few of his clever, fellow officers had t-shirts made and started wearing them to the station.”
The redness of Cheeks’ cheeks was hidden by the darkness as he added, “That was the end of the C.U.N.T. squad.”
“It was,” Steve agreed. “Captain French banned the shirts from work and tried renaming the thing the Crisis Response Unit Negotiating Team, but C.R.U.N.T. squad wasn’t much better. On top of that, his big idea had turned into the biggest joke of the year at the station, and his dream of running a S.W.A.T. team died.” Steve turned back toward the fence as he finished with, “After all of that, we ended up with a few new toys that we were able to keep. These sweet, night-vision goggles were among them. Now, seriously, we need to get our heads in the game.”
Pat and Cheeks giggled as quietly as they could while they watched Steve scan the yard beyond the fence.
“I count eight guns in front of the house,” Steve whispered out of the left side of his mouth. “There are two cars parked in the drive. Holy shit that’s bright.”
“Yeah,” Cheeks replied, finally able to compose himself. “There’s another car pulling up. Get down.”
“That’s like a hundred yards,” Pat argued quietly. “They can’t see us from there.”
Steve pulled the goggles off of his head, stowed them back into the backpack, and slipped it on his shoulders. The house looked like it was sitting in the middle of a sunny day with all of the light shining at it. All that lighting didn’t do anything for the yard though. Most of the eight guards that Steve had spotted with the night vision goggles were nearly invisible without their aid. He was the only one that could make them out, and that was only because he knew precisely where to look. Pat and Cheeks could only see the three closest to the house. Those three looked on as two big bodies appeared to be dragging someone out of the car that had just pulled up.
Steve glanced over at Cheeks and asked, “Can you see anything?”
“Nothing you haven’t already reported,” Cheeks whispered
“We need to get closer,” Pat added.
“Yeah,” Steve agreed. “We at least need to get on the other side of this fence.” After straining his eyes at the group by the car for a few more moments he added, “They all seem to be focused on who or what is coming out of the car that just pulled up. We can hop over right there,” he motioned to the brick pillar to Pat’s left. “If we take the proper angle, they’ll never be able to see us passed that fountain and we can regroup in the shrubs surrounding it.”
Pat was pulling himself up onto it by the time Steve finished. He made the six feet to top of the thing easily enough. The little bit of pride swelling in his breast at getting his big body up the narrow thing fled as his chest flopped down on the two-foot by two-foot square platform that marked its apex. He managed to suppress the groan that wanted to slip passed his lips. His balance proved a bit harder to master as he rolled over and off of it, barely missing the sharp points of the fence sitting just six inches below. The brief moment of relief that Pat felt at avoiding impalement was short-lived. When the ground rushed up to greet his falling body with a dull thud, all three of the men froze.
“Fuck,” Cheeks whispered out of the side of his mouth. Both men drew their guns and aimed toward all of the commotion going on around the car that had just pulled up in front of the Rosatti house. That car was still getting every bit of each guard’s attention. It didn’t appear that anyone up there had noticed Pat’s inelegant entrance or the dull thud that accompanied it.
After two minutes of silent stillness, Steve whispered through the fence at Pat, “I don’t think anybody heard anything. Get your ass up to that fountain and stay low.”
Pat did exactly that, covering the fifty or so yard jaunt with a slow jog that ended in something akin to a slide but a little more awkward. Two seconds later, his gun was drawn and he had a clear shot at the car that everyone was focused on. Ten seconds after that, Cheeks flopped down beside him. Roughly ten seconds later, Steve joined them.
By the time the three were situated in the shrubs surrounding the fountain, Pat had time to come up with a clearer assessment of what they were dealing with. He leaned back toward Steve and whispered, “There are eleven now; the eight that you spotted and three more that were in the car that just pulled up. One of them is in a wheelchair.”
“The guy in the wheelchair and the two with him are heading into the house,” Cheeks piped in. A few moments later he added, “Two of the original eight are following them in.”
“Wait a minute,” Steve replied. “One of those two is coming back.”
“Alright,” Pat turned toward them, slid to his butt, and leaned his back up against the wall of the fountain, “now we know exactly what we’re dealing with outside. What’s the plan? We can’t really walk up to the front door and introduce ourselves. Like you hinted at, we’re off the clock and really shouldn’t be here.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Cheeks agreed.
“No,” Steve shook his head, “even if we could be here the front door wouldn’t be the option for us. These fuckers are expecting a war or something. They all have guns drawn already. We wouldn’t even have a chance to identify ourselves before the bullets started flying.”
“We need to figure out what else we’re dealing with here,” Cheeks added.
“Yeah,” Pat agreed. “With eight guns out front, how many more do they have inside?”
Steve pulled a black, hooded sweatshirt out of his backpack, handed the bag to Cheeks, and then slipped the sweatshirt on, “I think it’s dark enough that they won’t see me if I skirt the fence line. I’ll signal you guys once I see what’s on the side of the house. One flash of my light means sit tight and watch the front. Two means follow me around.”
Before either man could argue, Steve was charging back toward the fence. Both Pat and Cheeks kept their weapons trained on the front of the house, systematically targeting each of the seven guards and looking for any clue that Steve had been made. None came.
“I counted sixty,” Pat whispered.
“Me too,” Cheeks replied.
“He must have at least made the side of the house,” Pat continued.
“Yeah,” Cheeks agreed.
“Do you think…” Pat never got the opportunity to finish his question as Cheeks shushed him in the wake of two gun shots that cracked off almost simultaneously.
“I think those came from inside,” Cheeks whispered, “two separate guns.”
Pat spun back to his knees and said, “Three of the guards just ran into the house.” Then he looked over toward the left of the building and added, “I can’t see Steve anywhere.”
“It’s too fucking dark over there,” Cheeks agreed.
“What do you think?” Pat asked. “Do we sit tight or move in?”
Before Cheeks could reply, the vehicle furthest left of them erupted in flames that lit up the night sky. There were two more explosions, but Pat only heard and felt them. After the concussion from the first blast knocked him on his ass, the sky was the only thing he was looking at. The second explosion came almost immediately after the first. The third took a bit longer as if it were an afterthought. In fact, the shock had worn off to the point that he was almost about to scramble to his feet to assess the situation before the third blast occurred – at least the third one in front of the house. Even with the ringing in his ears that began immediately after his ass connected with the ground, he could still distinguish two additional explosions somewhere else very close by.
Pat’s gaze moved left from the sky above his head until it met Cheeks’ wide eyes staring at him. His old friend mouthed, ‘What the fuck?’ Then he lifted his left hand with three of his fingers raised and nodded toward Pat. Immediately after the nod, Cheeks counted off by raising each of the three fingers that he had just held up to Pat. Once the final finger came up, both men scrambled to their feet and aimed their guns toward the burning mess in front of the house.
An eerie silence settled in. Perhaps the only reason that it existed was also the only thing disrupting it, that loud ringing in Pat’s ears. Somebody fired. With all of the ringing, it was impossible to tell where the shot had come from. At that point, its origin didn’t really matter. Somebody had fired and the hiding spot in the shrubs behind the fountain had become far less spectacular with the light of three blazing cars setting the yard all aglow. Pat’s vision became a tightly focused circle as he crouched, took aim at one of the henchman, and squeezed his trigger. The gunman got off one shot that ricocheted off the brick on the other side of the fountain before the back of his head split open and he fell to his knees. ‘One down,’ Pat thought as his aim moved left toward another target. That target fell before he could pull his trigger. Just as his aim began to move left again, a bullet zipped passed his head. It was so close that he could feel it on his cheek, something almost like wind but not quite. That wind – or whatever the sensation was – was accompanied by a sound that managed to raise itself up above the loud ringing in his ear. While the world slowed before his eyes, the best adjective to describe that sound troubled him. Was it a whistling or whizzing sound? Did it go whoosh or did it maybe hum? He squeezed his trigger again before deciding.
Pat had never shot anyone before he dropped the first target he drew on, some hired muscle standing in front of a burning car, probably disoriented and trying to shake off the wicked ringing in his ears, firing at an enemy he couldn’t really see, and wishing he hadn’t shown up for work today. The ease with which he pulled the trigger occurred to him as he watched the second bullet he had ever fired at a human being inch toward the threat. That’s what he was firing at in his slow motion world where the spin of a bullet could be seen and clouds of red hover in spaces that heads formerly occupied. It wasn’t a person. It couldn’t be. Pat was fairly certain that he could never fire his weapon at a person. Threats were a different story. It was his job to stop the threat, on or off the clock.
Fire blazed behind that nameless, soulless, second threat. Flames dancing as slowly as Pat’s bullet spun toward a heart that soon would cease beating in a chest that would just as quickly be replaced by a cloud of red, tiny droplets of blood painted against the orange and yellow backdrop of a flickering canvas of fire. The moment that the soft tip of Pat’s bullet contacted the fibers of the target’s shirt – an incident that Pat was certain he could clearly see – the right, rear section of the gunman’s head exploded. Bits of cranium covered in blood and hair along with bits of brain expanded from the crater that remained. Each small piece cataloged in Pat’s memory. A moment – so brief even in slow motion – later, his bullet ripped into the falling target’s chest. ‘Double dead,’ Pat thought as he continued his slow motion sweep left across the front of the house and the burning mess of melting metal blazing before it. The sweep continued until Pat’s gaze fell on a kneeling Steve, whose gun was still aiming in the spot where the last target had stood.
All four targets were down and at least two were dead. Pat’s world sped back up as Steve looked over at him and motioned toward the house with his gun, time to move. As Pat rose up from his crouch, he glanced down at the ground next to him. Cheeks had been hit. Wide eyes stained with bewilderment stared up at Steve from Cheeks’ face. Even in the darkness the paleness of the skin around those shocked eyes was a striking testament to the horror consuming Pat’s oldest friend.
The Brookfield cop quickly dropped back to his knees to examine his fallen comrade. “Were you hit,” Pat shouted. The time for whispering had raced away on the tails of flying bullets and the echoes of the tiny explosions that propelled them toward their targets.
“My fucking shoulder is burning,” Cheeks grunted.
Pat’s gaze moved to the bloody fingers of Cheeks’ right hand, “Let me see it.”
“Holy shit! I’ve never been shot before,” the words flopping out of Cheeks’ mouth sounded more like an animal growling than a human speaking.
“Move your hand,” Pat commanded. “I’ve got to see what we’re dealing with.”
“No. Fuck you,” the wounded soldier’s shout was saturated with thick spittle that flew up a few inches before falling back to his lips and chin.
Pat sucked in a deep breath, held it for a few moments, and then released it in a quick burst. His heart rate slowly decreased as he said, in a far calmer tone, “Look buddy, I need to see how bad you’re hurt. They have more guns in there and they’re going to be spitting lead all over the place real quick. I need to know if I can leave you here, or if we need to get you the hell out.”
Cheeks clinched his eyelids tightly together and reluctantly moved his hand away. “Fine,” he spat.
Pat pulled a small flashlight from his belt. After a few moments, he unzipped his jacket and pulled both his shirt and his undershirt out of his beltline. Then he ripped a three inch wide strip off the bottom of his t-shirt. He tied a knot in the middle of it and stuck it over the wound.
“Motherfucker!” Cheeks sat up a bit as he shouted in Pat’s face.
“Relax,” Pat kept his tone as calm as he could. “The bullet just grazed you, but we’ve got to stop the bleeding.” As he did his best to sooth his bleeding friend, he tied the two ends together under Cheeks’ armpit. Then he added, “Keep pressure on that and sit tight. Unless you think you can make it back over the fence. Then you should head back to the car. If not, hide out in these bushes. Either way, you’re not going to bleed to death.”
“You can’t leave me here.”
“Calm down. Breathe,” Pat’s control of his tone continued to improve. “You’re going to be fine. I can’t let Huft go in there alone.”
“But you’ll leave me alone?”
“Nobody will find you here.”
Cheeks shook his head, sighed, and finally said, “Alright, go. Help me sit up.”
Pat dragged Cheeks up by his good arm and helped him slide back against the side of the fountain. “Keep your gun ready. How many shots did you fire?”
“Just two,” Cheeks sighed. “I dropped one of those fuckers, and then I let another one slip as I was heading toward the ground.”
“Alright,” Pat scratched his head. “Don’t shoot unless you have to.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Cheeks agreed as his eyes shifted toward the fence. “Hey Pat,” he added after a brief pause, “I’ve never killed a man before.”
“This was a fucking mistake.”
“Maybe,” Pat said as he patted Cheeks’ leg and stood to see Steve already making his way around the burning cars toward the front of the house. Three steps into a slow jog he turned and added, “Stay hidden. I’ll be back for you.”