Crime Fiction Friday: “When The Hammer Comes Down” by Josh Stallings


We’re looking forward to hosting Josh Stallings this upcoming Monday, February 1st, at 7 PM, along with Terry Shames and Scott Frank. His novel Young Americans is a heist novel set in the glam rock 70s. Here he takes a look at the war on drugs in the late 80s, with appearances from Daryl Gates and Nancy Reagan. The story originally appeared in Protectors 2: Heroes, edited by Thomas Pluck, an anthology we’re proud to sell here at BookPeople. Profits from Protectors 2: Heroes go to PROTECT, an organization that lobbies for legislation that protects children from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

Click here for more details about the event. 

“When The Hammer Comes Down” by Josh Stallings

“3:23 PM Los Angeles.

April hit like a firebomb. It was murder your best friend weather. Too hot to fuck weather. Watch what you say or this shit steps off weather. The only thing Angelenos hate more than rain is excessive heat. When you live in paradise anything less than perfection is an attack on your birthright. Traffic on the Harbor Freeway was building into a snarling mess. At under ten miles an hour no air moved throughthe Caprice’s open windows. Sweat dripped off Detective Madsen’s Neanderthal brow. “It is hotter than two rats fucking in a wool sock.”

“Two rats huh? Guess it is.” Detective Lunt wanted a cool drink in a cooler restaurant, instead he was driving across town for a P.R. bust and grin. “Apologize to Caselli. Eat a little shit and he’ll have our air blowing cold in bang time.”

“That walleyed inbred needle dick wrench monkey deserves nothing but my boot in his ass.”

“Preaching to the choir, Hem. But-”

“Omit his son being high as Mount Whitney from our report? He’s lucky I didn’t dime him to IAG.”

“You called the man’s son ‘Cheech and Chong’s gay love child.’ Said he had the brains God gave a roadkill armadillo.”

“Roadkill is a compliment. You met the kid.”

“Not the point. Net-net? Caselli’s chilling in a nice air-conditioned garage and you and me are out here sweating up our Jockeys. On the upside, our moral superiority is intact.”

“Screw ‘em all but six.”

“And save them for pallbearers.” Lunt had a hard time generating any real indignation. This was nowhere near the first time Hemming Madsen’s intractable moral code made life hard for them. A few years back they had the highest clearance rate in homicide and were on track for LAPD superstardom. Then came Candy Fox, a dead fourteen year old runaway. Madsen refused to redact a studio boss’s name from the list of suspects. Ultimately the creep’s only crime was paying a girl younger than his daughter to blow him. That Madsen leaked the big-wig-pays-for-pedophile-pleasure story to the LA Times was speculated, but not proven. As payback for insubordination, Madsen and Lunt were dropped into the career ghetto of narcotics enforcement.

The brass lacked the prescience to see that soldiers in the war on drugs were tomorrow’s heroes. Nixon started the war on drugs, Reagan made it a jihad, George H. W. Bush mechanized it. By 1989 any police force dumb enough not to deliver high narcotics arrest counts for the DOJ was in for a long cold winter with no federal funding to warm them. Go along with them and the Feds were handing out military toys and cash prizes. The man in the Glass Tower’s big office shifted priorities on a dime, murder was out and narcotics enforcement was the best funded division in LAPD.
4:10 PM South Central.

The LAPD staging area was in the parking lot of an abandoned strip mall. Protected by multiple black and whites, two Secret Service Suburbans and a SWAT van was a twenty-nine foot Airstream Ambassador with “The Establishment” stenciled in tall letters across it. Behind the silver walls and tinted windows a former first lady and the Chief of the LAPD sat eating fruit salad and sipping lattes from china mugs. Above them the air conditioner groaned and squealed in its battle against the heat.

“Maybe when this is over, you can give me a private tour of Parker Center, Chief Gates, and show me your restraint technique.”

“Call me Daryl, ma’am.”

“Only if you call me Nancy.” Her eyes where batting like a puppet whose master has palsy.

“Ok Nancy.” He gave her a sly wink.

“Are we safe here Daryl?” Mrs. Reagan wore a blue windbreaker over her bulletproof vest, it had “Police” written across the back and “Nancy” stitched in rolling cursive over her left breast.

“Thugs around here poop their drawers when they hear I’m dropping by.” Chief Gates had a white shirt and deep blue tie under his LAPD windbreaker. A scholar of self-realization as the pathway to success, he believed in the power of intentions. He extrapolated that wearing a bulletproof vest meant you were intending to get shot. Besides, they made him look pudgy.

“You are God’s general in this holy war.” Nancy gave Gates a longing look. She loved his ramrod straight back. His firm jaw. His unbending will.

“And you are our Joan of Arc.”

“No, I’m just a gal who dreams of a world free from evil.”

“God’s will be done.” Gates reached up to pluck a nonexistent eyelash from her cheek. She emitted an almost silent groan at the feel of his touch. The last time she felt this turned on was when Ronnie canceled federal funding for rehab centers and methadone clinics. You don’t fight the Devil by talking nice, holding hands and passing out medication.

“We make a hell of a pair, Nancy.” Daryl looked deep into Nancy’s eyes. She tried to match his steely gaze, but he brought out her inner ingénue. Smiling coyly, Nancy studied the pail pink gloss on her fingernails.

Twenty feet away from the Airstream, Officer Johnny Wolfe took off his Oakley’s, wiped sweat from his eyes and slid them back on. This was his first engagement with SWAT. He studied the clipboard in his hand. The target was a crack den. In the recon photos he saw a two story brown stucco box, one front entrance and one rear exit. The 1960s utilitarian architecture was indistinguishable from the other apartment buildings that dotted the street. Closing his eyes, Wolfe visualized breaching the door, mentally prepping himself. Boots on the gravel behind him popped his eyes open and snapped his head around.

“Relax, brother. This is just like you trained, only more fun.” King spit a string of tobacco juice, it sizzled when it hit the sidewalk.

“I’m chill, ice in my veins.”

“All right then Wolfe, solid. I want you on the battering ram.”

“You want me first in?”

“That is correct, son.” King let loose a fresh stream. “Cherry always takes lead. If in the excitement you blow your load early, you’ll cap thugs instead of good guys.”

Wolfe nodded and looked back down at the file. King watched him, trying to divine if he was ready for this.
5:13 PM Apartment 2B.

Lamar Cray sat on the floor. His sweaty back stuck to the plastic sofa protector. His earphones filled with Public Enemy bum rushing the show.” His head bounced to the wack beats. His mother hated hip-hop, “Just a lot of broke-ass punks yammering on about how rich and fly they are.” Lamar knew better than to argue it. He was twelve, what did he know? Right? Right?

Lamar was buried in homework. Pre-algebra. Fractions, decimals, probabilities. It was cool, simple. No gray in math, an answer eitherwas or wasn’t correct. Personal opinion meant nothing. Mr. Belson asked Lamar if he was interested in becoming a mathlete on MLK’s quiz team. Right? Um, no. Quiz team was the path to never dating and a rock solid guarantee his big brother Jazz would never let up. No quiz team. Only real move was to act stupid at home and let the clock run out on his teen years. College would be his time. UCLA. He had no evidence to prove his theorem, but he was dead sure that college girls found brains sexy, and baggy jean wearing gangsters a turn-off. Until then he would be a Machiavellian motherfucker. He’d play the long assed game. Keep his big brain on the down low.

Directly beneath Lamar was apartment 1B, where Jazz lay on the nsty stained shag carpet laughing his ass off. Andy was on his back slamming thumbs and fists on the Atari 7800’s control pad. His 8 bit stand-in was martial artist Billy Lee, a white guy in a karate gi. Billy Lee was fighting his way across Double Dragon’s clean ghetto street.

“Homes, check me, I’m breaking ass and taking names.” Andy raised a power fist above his head. On the screen Abobo, the monstrous first level boss, slammed a fist down on Billy Lee’s skull. Jazz laughed even more explosively. “What the fuck are you laughing at Homes?”

“Nothing.” Jazz struggled to regained control. He slowed his breathing.

“Good, ‘cause you want to try and kick this motherfucker’s ass, step to it.”

“No.” The laughter was quelled.

“That’s right, I’m on the set, raining death on all bosses that dare to oppose me.”

Jazz fought the grin spreading across his face. “Yo, Andy, this bud is no joke.” The smile broke free.

“Yo, you are one goofy-looking motherfucker. You gonna call yourself Smiling Jazzy Jazz?”

“I may, A, I just may.” Jazz was seventeen and fly as fuck. The apartment he and Andy were kicking in was a thug’s nirvana. It had bad-assed history. Two short years back Pinky, a homicidal local gangster and his crew controlled the building. They dealt crack out of 1B. It had a steel reinforced door. All the windows were covered in plywood. The walls were splashed with lots of graceless graffiti. Pinky was locked down because he met a curvalicious undercover mamacita at Arco’s bar and taqueria. To get in her frillies he bragged about his crack operation and dropping a competing dealer. No one in the neighborhood disagreed that the undercover cop had nice titties, but only an idiot wouldn’t notice she vibed five-o. That idiot was was Pinky.

LAPD cleared out Pinky’s crew and the Crays moved into 2B. Ghost, a geriatric O.G. moved into 1B. As criminals go Ghost was small time. He slung a little rock, a little tar, a little weed, “Fly under the radar boy, that there is the only solid stay out of jail plan.” He hired Jazz for deliveries and minding the store on nights he was either tending to his business or doing Amyl and sliding three deep in cooch and baby oil at the Royal Inn Motel. To Jazz, it was easy money. Ghost laid out a spread of manila envelopes with a name and a dollar amount written on each. “Collect the cash, then pass the goods. No credit no matter how round the booty or deep the cleavage.”

Ghost showed Jazz the twelve gauge behind the sofa, “Insurance. Not that any of these pension kings and queens I sell to would dare go up against you.”

Jazz was intimidating, when he wasn’t grinning madly. 6’5” and two hundred and sixty pounds, he was built like a linebacker. He played football freshmen year but by sophomore his grades slipped and he wasn’t eligible to play. Now he played video games, got stoned and went to school only when his mother screamed loud and long enough.

Jazz rolled strong. Rolled bad. Rolled flush. He drove a 1962 Chevelle Malibu, candy green over bone, sun bleached in some patches and chipping in others. Foam and springs poked up through the seats. Who cared, it was a motherfucking Malibu. Fly. Jazz bought the ride from Herbie, an older cat in the next apartment building over. In his freaky sweaters and fuzzy slippers he looked more like Dr. Huxtable than a low level pot dealer. When LAPD broke down his front door they found three baggies of rag, and one ounce of Turkish, real deal, gold government sealed hash. The kind with swirls of opium mixed in. That tiny taste of dope, that spice to the game, that is what fucked Herbie. Felony possession with intent to sell. He was going down for a long long jolt at Pelican Bay. Herbie needed dead presidents in his commissary account more than he needed his short. It was lucky for Jazz that Herbie wasn’t busted in the Malibu, or some fed would be driving it now.

Cube, Dre and Easy-E shredded the speaker cones in Andy’s ghetto blaster. “Fuck the Police, these are my boys.”

“No, they a’ight but you want the real uncut dope, have go with Ice-capital-T’s‘6’n the Morning.’ That shits the real real.” Jazz and Andy would argue the skill and swagger of hip-hop artists all night. Getting paid for kicking it, smoking boo and playing Double Dragon. Who worries about tomorrows when today was this fly.
5:46 PM Abandoned strip mall.

Madsen, Lunt and several SWAT officers stood around the Caprice’s trunk looking down at a floor plan and street map.

“How long have East Street Thugs been dealing out of this location?” Madsen arched an eyebrow.

“You got a problem with our intel, Detective Madsen? Don’t pussy around, just say it.” King accented his words with stream of tobacco juice.

“I have a problem.” Madsen didn’t back up an inch.

“What might that be, Detective.” King made the word sound like an insult.

“For one, your intel is notoriously weak.”

“Says the detective who didn’t know there was a crack den in his back yard.”

“It doesn’t strike you as odd that we never heard about it, not even a bat’s fart of a rumor?”

“Weirder still, this-” Lunt stabbed his finger on the map “-is Wizard Crew territory.”

“We have a search warrant signed sealed and ready for delivery.” King was not hiding his dislike of anyone outside the SWAT brotherhood.

“Getting a judge’s rubber stamp don’t make it right.” The man’s stupidity was driving Madsen’s blood pressure up.

“Be clear detective, we invited you suits to our shindig as a courtesy. Boss said you add legitimacy, whatever the fuck that means.”

Lunt spoke to King like he was a slow student. “It’s called plausible deniability.”

“What the fuck is that?”

“You played ball in school, right?”

“Hell yes, ‘79 Pedro Pirates, undefeated.” King gave Lunt a quick once over. “Chess club, right?”

“Burn. Nailed you there Lunt.” Madsen knew his partner was both smart and deadly. While King was slamming into other sweaty boys in some homoerotic coliseum fantasy, Lunt was working in Afghanistan, assassinating Marxist leaders and trafficking arms to the mujahedeen.

“Pay attention, this is a SWAT op.” King gave them his steeliest stare. “We breach the perimeter. We take down the trash. You clean it up, we all good with that?”

Lunt’s anger flared, he started to speak but Madsen beat him to it. “That’s good with us. We’re team players, coach.”

King paused, unsure if Madsen is fucking with him, then he smiled, how could these suits have the stones to mess with SWAT? Circling two fingers over his head, his team fell in behind him as he walked away.

Once the SWAT boys disappeared behind their TAC van Madsen let out a long held laugh. “Man, QB number one is more than a few Eagle Scouts short of a circle jerk.”

“In the chess club?” Lunt flipped the van the bird. “I was the goddamn president.”

“You have issues? You wanna talk about it?” Madsen thoughtfully stroked a nonexistent beard. “Go on, tell me about the time a footballer broke up your Dungeons and Ogres game?”

“Dragons. Dungeons and Dragons.”

“Those machine-gun toting frat boys are the Chief’s favorite sons. We on the other hand, are his redheaded stepchildren.”

“Have we entered backward world, Hem? Are you preaching political realities to me?”

“I know. Feels weird right?” Madsen pursed his mouth. He cleaned his lips on his finger. “Your ever get used to the taste of shit in your mouth?”

“Never. I find two or three cervezas wash it away.”

“Solid advice. Once this insane rodeo is over we are going to El Coyote, first three rounds on you, for making me wear the long pants.”
6:20 PM Apartment 1B.

“Check this out, in Raw? Eddy Murphy said fuck 223 times. Replaced Scarface for most fucks ever.” How Jazz could retain facts like that and not his locker’s padlock number was a bafflement.

“Yeah, Eddie is the real street deal.” Andy was still playing Atari. A joint hung from his lip, bouncing around when he spoke. “Have a Coke and a smile and shut the fuck up.” He said to Cosby, called him a Jell-O pudding-eating motherfucker.

“Cosby Kids were the shit. Hey hey hey!” Fat Albert and his crew lived in the only place on TV that looked like Jazz’s hood.

“Cartoon bullshit. New Cosby can suck my dick.”

A tattoo on the door kept Jazz from arguing the point. Maddy Sin was warped by the fisheye peephole, stretching and rounding her out. She was two years older than Jazz. Smoking hot. Everybody wanted to hit it. Everybody. He spent eight months gathering the courage and resources to take her out. He had a knot in his pocket, over a gee. The day he bought the Malibu, he cruised to the burger joint she hung at. Maddy Sin had left town that morning. And here it was five months later and she’s knocking on the door. This day couldn’t get any better.

The opening door revealed Jazz’s dream girl. Time hadn’t been kind. Her curves, her sumptuous booty, gone. She was skinny, not skinny-skinny, she was Biafran save the children poster skinny. Red bumps from brewing and picked acne dotted her beautiful skin. Her eyes hid behind rose-colored Dior knockoffs. “Jazzie, damn you look fine boy.”

“I heard you went to Zoo York?” Jazz blocked her from entering the apartment.

“Still there. I’m doing some modeling, lingerie.” She struck a pose that thirty pounds ago would have had Jazz busting a nut. “Time been good to you Jazzie, no lie.” She ran a finger down his chest, starting to undo the top button. “Heard you was holding. Wanna party with an old friend?”

“Who told you I was holding?”

“Oh baby, the street, you know. You gonna hook me up?”

“Can’t do it. This shit is Ghost’s. You gonna have to page him.”

“I did. Didn’t I say that? Ghosty said you should hook me up. Cross my heart.” She crossed her heart and looked sincere. Jazz wasn’t buying so she switched tack. “I heard Pinky busted out. That’s why I come over, you know, warn you.”

“Bullshit. Ghost would have told me.”

“Ghost ain’t here, I am.” Her purr was more pathetic than sexy. “I’m telling you straight. Come on Jazzie, baby, we got history you and me.”

“You said more to me today than in the entire time we’ve known each other.”

“Doesn’t mean I didn’t think about you.” Tilting her head she flicked eyes from his lips to his crotch then back up. “Come on Jazzie, just a little taste.”


“I’ll suck your dick, curl your toes. Come on.” She tried to unbuckle his belt but he grabbed her wrist. “What baby, you know you want it. Let me rock your world.”

“Ain’t gonna happen.” Jazz pushed Maddy Sin back across the threshold.

“Fuck you then. Fuck your lame punk ass. Don’t wanna fuck me? Shit I wouldn’t suck your tiny penis if you had a fifty pound rock. Fuck you Jazz I hope Pinky…” She had more to say but the steel reinforced door muffled it into unintelligibility.

Jazz threw two of the four deadbolts. He looked at Andy and shook his head.

“What’s wrong with you? That strawberry wanna suck some dick, you invite her in. I’ll introduce her to an anaconda.”

“You got some rock for her?”

“Hell no. Get our shit off, then we bounce her nonexistent ass out of here.”

“You gonna shoplift a blow job now?”

“Dine and dash, more like it. Only she doing the dining.”

“You’re ill and not in a good way. Think that game is rotting your brain.”

“Really, one day all wars gonna be fought on an Atari.”

“Wizard Crew turning their nines in for joysticks?”

“Laugh all you want, when it happens you be begging me to teach you my moves.” Andy did a blur of fingers and thumbs pushing Billy Lee into a flying punch kick combination. The bad, ripped off Bruce Lee sound effects and thin plinky synthesizer music made Jazz smile.
7:56 PM Airstream.

Gates glanced at his military chronograph, a gift from the Marines he paid to train his SWAT teams. “We tee-off in thirty minutes.”

“I better have Rosita finish my make up. A shiny nose and unkempt hair does not make for winning photographs.”

“Nancy, you look stunning as you are. Don’t want to gild the lily.”

“Oh Daryl, you know how to say just the right thing to a gal. But I need to be camera ready. I can have her take a look at you.”

“LAPD’s Chief doesn’t wear makeup.”

“The President, my husband, he wears makeup for photo ops.”

“He was an actor, he gets a pass. I’m just a simple cop.” Truth was, he would have smeared on black face if he thought it would raise his TV Q score. Operation Hammer was his and his alone. City Council, the DA, even their jungle bunny of a Mayor had stepped back from it. It was his sword to raise over his head or fall on. It was one year to the day since Operation Hammer began. In 365 days LAPD had arrested thousands and thousands of young black men and women. Sometimes as many as fifteen hundred in one weekend. Most arrests were bullshit. Pulling youth in under the pretext of curfew violations or associating with known gang members. The charges for the most part didn’t stick, but that wasn’t the point. Before charging them, detectives interrogated them. Names were taken, files filled and thugs put on notice, Fuck The Police wasn’t going to play in LA no more. So what if South Central residents got angry? As long as they feared him and his men Gates called it a success. Middle class white people, on the other black gloved hand, voted and paid taxes and wrote letters to the editor. Gates had enough secret files on local politicians and power brokers to keep the cash tap open. But lose the real citizen’s confidence and it was a problem. Calling in Nancy Reagan was PR brilliance, who was whiter or more comforting to voters? She was a national treasure.

Now Gates just needed for his cops not to screw this up. Nail the bad guys. Stand tall. Be heroic. From the intelligence report they knew the thugs protecting the crack house were armed and dangerous. The formula was simple, show and scare the citizens. Take down some bad guys. Make the citizens understand that their protection was dependent on your power. Problem was, citizens had very short attention spans and no real stomach for collateral damage. For it to work, Gates needed this night to go flawlessly. He needed another SLA showdown moment. His SWAT program was on life support when those crazy radicals decided not to surrender. It was TV gold.
8:11 PM Abandoned strip mall.

KTLA was first to arrive. Jane Shaw, an over-eager public relations officer, showed them where to park out of the way. LA Times sent a reporter and photographer. More TV crews arrived, their helicopters hovered not far off waiting for the signal from the police that they were cleared to film the action from above. LA Weekly hadn’t been invited, but that freedom of the press thing meant they couldn’t be turned away.

Shaw assembled the reporters. “No cameras yet, please. Trust me, I’m not the story. Our target tonight is an infamous crack house controlled by heavily armed gang members. It isn’t far from where we are standing. It is a mere ten point four miles from the Santa Monica mall. The plan is, we let SWAT roll out first, feel free to film that. After they set up I’ll show you a spot that you can film from where you will be safe if the drug dealers opt for a shootout instead of surrendering.”

“Officer Shaw, are you expecting a shoot out?” The woman from the LA Weekly broke form and asked a question.

“We always assume when going up against hardened criminals that there is a high probability of gunfire.”

“Have you evacuated the local residents?”

“I’m not sure of particulars. What I can tell you is, Chief Gates is in a tactical session finalizing battle plans with the SWAT commander. As soon as they complete their mission the Chief will be glad to answer all of your questions.”

Across the parking lot, the SWAT team geared up. They strapped on pistols and extra magazines and Kevlar vests and fingerless shooting gloves and knee and elbow pads. The Times camera man focused his telephoto lens on the officers, bad-asses in commando battle uniforms packing serious full auto 600 rounds a minute death sticks. Behind their sunglasses the squad was casually grim. Several grumbled that it was bullshit for the press to be there at the same moment striking poses they hoped were candid, natural and heroic. The van rocked slightly when officer Reeves climbed onto its roof. He lay down and shouldered his Remington 700. Scanning the neighborhood through the crosshairs, he dialed in his scope.

Sergeant Dung Nguyen watched it go down leaning on the rear fender of his patrol car. If asked, Nguyen would say the most important things in his life were his wife, Binh, and their progeny. Secretly they didn’t make the top three. In order of importance, it was one, his LAPD badge. Two, the chevrons of rank on his shoulder. Three, a snapshot from Hanoi 1968. Playmate Angie Chester is snuggled in his arms at Mi Chang’s fun-time bar. Her macramé bikini shows miles of deep brown skin. Nguyen looks snappy in his AEVN dress uniform. He still had the confidence of an officer, sure of the righteousness of his cause and of the US air support that would drive the Communists out of his country. The weekend with Angie was what all others would be weighed against. He wasn’t sure what made him think back on those days. Maybe it was watching SWAT getting ready. “You are there as support. Public safety.” Nguyen told his patrolmen at roll-call. “If the targets go Tony Montana and introduce SWAT to their lil’ friend, let the TAC boys handle it. Remember, they get the hazard pay.”

“Sarge, what if SWAT fails to contain the bangers? We clear to take the safety off?” Ramirez was a veteran soldier in the war on gangs in South Central.

“Then, Officer Ramirez, you light them up.”

“Yes Sir.” The room spoke as one.

Now six patrol cars and a prisoner transport van sat ready. Madsen handed Sargent Nguyen a styrofoam cup of coffee. “Thanks Hem.”

“Thank our bosses, they have a table set up for reporters, figured they wouldn’t mind.”

“Probably take the cost out of our paychecks.”

“You losing faith in the blue machine, Nguyen? We really are fucked.”

“It’s this.” He looked around at the growing chaos. “Tomorrow none of them will be here. Not the Chief, not SWAT, surely not the news people. But me and my officers will be.”

“No one throwing you a liberator’s parade?”

“Do you know what lost my country to the Communists?”


“They were better at winning hearts and minds.” Nguyen scanned the patrol cars, insuring his men were behind the wheels and ready. He took a long pull on his coffee. “What the hell, beats working for a living.”

“True that. Maybe we can get through this one without anyone dying.”

“Forgoing that, let it not be one of ours.” Nguyen reached out a hand, Madsen shook it, both men felt the moment was more weighted than it seemed on the surface.

At 8:30 PM on the dot, Chief Gates picked up his radio and gave the command to roll out. Nancy squeezed his hand with excitement as the Airstream lurched forward. Wolfe gripped the handle of the battering ram. He sat shotgun, ready to hit the ground running. His heart was jackhammering, and he was dizzy from hyperventilating. King stuffed a cut of chew into his cheek. He dropped the magazine from his M16, slapped it against his leg and reinserted it. On the roof Reeves was strapped down and holding on. When they stopped, he would be their only cover fire. Normally they would insert snipers before hitting the door, but around here, any scent of cops and the dealers would be in the wind. Nguyen and his officers followed behind the Airstream. The news vans followed them. Madsen let them all pass. “What a parade.”

“It’s a three ring circus. Clowns, sharp shooters, strong men. They are an elephant act away from a good time.” Lunt’s smile didn’t reach his eyes.

The SWAT van braked violently in front of the target. Before the wheels stopped moving, Wolfe and King leapt out. Running low, they crossed a wide dirt patch that might have been a lawn once. Two other officers flew out of the back of the van and ran down the driveway towards the back of the structure and the utility box. Reeves whipped his rifle up, and through his scope he roamed the apartment building’s windows, looking for movement. Until they breached, his team was completely exposed. Wolfe and King reached the front entryway and positioned themselves on either side of the front door. Wolfe held his breath and waited. His heart was a machine gun. His knuckles were white from gripping the battering ram.

“Shut that shit off. You hear that?” Jazz stood up.

“Heard what?” Andy hit fumbled to pause the game. Jazz held up a finger to silence him.

“Car skidding. Boots running.”

“So, some buster’s in a hurry to piss.”

“Or Pinky is coming to deep six us.” Jazz’s eyes banged around the room, hunting for a rear exit he knew wasn’t there.

“He wouldn’t… Five-o knows this was his crib. He that stupid?”

“Hell to the yes he is.” Jazz lifted the shotgun from behind the sofa. Andy shook his head slowly. Jazz nodded. If it was Pinky, they didn’t have a lot of options. Jazz racked a shell into twelve gauge and took aim at the door. He hoped Andy couldn’t see how bad his hands were trembling.

The Airstream parked behind the SWAT van. Gates stood in its open door, doing his best impression of John Wayne in The Searchers. He surveyed the field of battle. Police cruisers sped into position, blocking the street in either direction. The news reporters were given positions where they could get clear shots of the crack house. Gates knew the way of the world. If it bleeds it leads and if it doesn’t air, it didn’t happen. He needed a hemorrhage to get the public on his side.

Through Lamar’s headphones Ice Cube was instructing him to ‘keep one in the chamber.’ He drew numbers in the air trying to solve the last equation. Evaluate: -8÷(1+3)-1= one big headache. Trying his hardest, he couldn’t pluck a number from the jumble in his mind. It was almost a relief when the power went out. Fucking Edison, must be another mistake. His Moms worked two gigs to do it, but the bills got knocked out. Fumbling blind, Lamar felt across the coffee table. Damn. His Kool-Aid fell over spilling wet sugary goodness. He could feel soggy papers. If his homework was ruined, would fucking Edison make good? No, not a chance in hell, they always found a way to blame the customer. He found the candle he was looking for, the sandalwood scented one Moms lit to clear the ‘boy funk.’ Feeling for the matches, he found them, wet and useless. Across the living room, spikes of street light leaked around the heavy curtains. If he could cross the room without creaming his knee on a chair or knocking over the dinner table, he would have light.

King gave Wolfe a thumbs up. Wolfe swung the battering ram. The door protecting the apartment building’s main entrance splinters in. King and Wolfe swept the vestibule corner to corner. It was clear. The rest of the team flooded in behind them. With two fingers King pointed to Apartment 1B. Wolfe slammed the door. It shuddered but didn’t cave. He slammed again. The hinges started to give.

Jazz watched the door lit from Andy’s Maglite. It shook and groaned on impact. Suddenly it was very real, it wasn’t a song or a movie or a game. This was how his life would end. Time slowed. Plaster dust from the door frame danced playfully. The door was struck again, it wouldn’t hold long. Jazz felt smooth dimples on the shotgun’s trigger. Oh shit, this was it. He wouldn’t be getting laid again. He wouldn’t get to see who his freaky smart brother grew up to be. “Who’s gonna protect Lamar now?” Andy didn’t answer. He was frozen. Wide eyes pinning the door.

Lamar was reaching for the curtain when he heard the building’s front door crash in. Gang bangers, cops, national guard, who ever, the response was the same. Get away from the windows and get low. All Angelenos knew the earthquake drill and the brushfire drill. In South Central those were welcome distractions from the stray bullet drill. Lamar could feel deep impacts thud through the floor beneath his head. UCLA couldn’t come soon enough.

Sweat stung Wolfe’s eyes. He was aware of the other team members watching him. Swinging back, he put all he had into the battering ram.

The door crashed in, falling on the floor. Andy dropped the flashlight and ran for the bed room. Jazz squeezed the shotgun’s trigger. Nothing happened. No boom. No flame. Fuck.

Adrenaline flooded Wolfe’s brain. Tossing the battering ram like a bat after a home run, he grabbed his assault rifle and stormed the crack den. The tactical illuminator mounted on his barrel flared across a thug aiming a shotgun.

Light blinded Jazz. Behind the light a man took aim at him. Flame jumped from the rifle barrel.

Wolfe’s boot hit the fallen door and slid out from under him. His rifle rattled and spit shells across the room. Star shaped flame flashed like an old movie projector across the apartment. Bullets buzzed past Jazz like angry bees. Plaster exploded from the walls and ceiling, dusting him. The noise stopped when the magazine quickly ran out of ammunition. It had only been a few seconds but it felt like hours. Jazz saw the fallen man was a cop. He heard boots running towards him. Throwing the shotgun away, he raised his hands. “I’m unarmed, swear to god. Don’t shoot me.”

King moved into the doorway barrel up, ready. “Hit the mothering deck asshole.”

Jazz knelt slowly, keeping his hands wide, away from his body.

“Wolfe, you hit?”

“No, I’m fine.” Wolfe stood up, dusting himself off.

“We are not clear here.” King pointed to the bedroom. Wolfe slammed a fresh magazine home. King tossed a flash boom into the bedroom. White light and mind melting noise filled the apartment. King stormed the room. Andy was pinned between a bed and the wall. He was screaming. The stun grenade had landed on him. His legs and the mattress were burning. King kicked open the closet. He ripped out suits and shirts but found nothing. Andy continued to scream. “Clear.”

“What do we do with him?” Bronson pointed his gun barrel at Andy.

“Shoot him or put him out. I don’t give a fuck as long as you shut him up.”

After the crime scene was secured Madsen and Lunt went in. They found two teenagers on the floor, belly down and cuffed. One of them was badly burned and crying softly. The other just watched them through cold hateful eyes. After calling in the paramedics, the two detectives searched the apartment. They found a stack of envelopes, containing one bottle of heart medicine, one bubble pack of anti-seizure medication, two grams of marijuana, and several zip locks with small crack rocks. They also found a counterfeit Rolex and $632 and change. Andy was transported to the hospital and Jazz sat on the floor. Madsen turned slowly on his boot heel taking in the bullet riddled room. He wanted to say something snappy and biting but he didn’t have it in him.

Stepping into the night air Madsen inhaled. “Feels cooler.”

“Offshore breeze, can smell the salt.” Lunt said, firing up a cigarette, breathing in the smoke.

“Thought you quit.”

“I did.”

“Got another?”

“Bummed it from Sergeant Nguyen.” Lunt passed the cigarette to Madsen. They stood sharing a smoke. “Aren’t we supposed to be over there?” Lunt motioned with his chin to the news crews setting up for interviews.

“Lend this jug-fuck credibility? Hell no.” Madsen stepped deeper into the shadows. They watched Daryl and Nancy pose for the cameras. They stood in front of the destroyed door with a battering ram in their hands.

“Chief Gates, you recovered so few drugs, do you consider this a success?” The reporter from LA Weekly pointed her microphone at him.

“I’m not sure we can speak directly about an ongoing investigation.” Shaw tried to shut the reporter down, but Gates wasn’t having it.

“No, I’ll answer this. Beth,” he used the reporter’s first name even though they’d never met. “Truth is, there are no small amounts of crack cocaine, when it’s destroying your community. That might not mean much in Arcadia, but in South Central we’re fighting for our lives.” He used her home town so she knew he could reach out and touch her whenever he wanted.

“Zero tolerance means zero tolerance.” Nancy was quick to defend her knight.

“Fact is, if we had come one hour earlier, we would have found stacks of crack cocaine.” Daryl puffed his chest out. “This crack house was so busy they sold out of drugs before we hit them. We did nail the dealers. They are out of business, as of right now.” Gates held Nancy’s hand up like a champ at the prize fight.

Watching them exhausted Madsen. “We should call the Parks Department.”

“Why’s that?”

“Have them pick up some of this prime bullshit.”

“Might as well put it to good use.” Lunt turned away from the lights. “Let’s roll partner, before one of us starts talking truth to these news dogs.”

“Can’t have that.” Madsen followed Lunt away from the media. When they reached the Caprice Madsen stopped, holding the key in his hand but not opening the door. “I’m thinking about pushing for a transfer back into homicide.”

“And give up all this glamour?”

“I think I can live without it.” He slid behind the wheel. “You wanna come with me?”

“Long as we don’t have to deal with toy soldier assholes, I’m in.” Pulling onto the Harbor Freeway, traffic was light and the air coming in the window was refreshing. Within a few days Angelenos would be bitching that the marine layer was screwing with their sunbathing, but for tonight all was groovy and copacetic.

12:16 AM Apartment 2B.

It was after midnight before the news vans and police teams finally cleared out and Catherine Cray was permitted to return to apartment 2B. Her son, Lamar lay on the floor surrounded by a congealing lake of blood. Six 5.56 mm rounds had punched through the floor. One of them entered his left temple. The scream came from a place Catherine didn’t know existed. Lamar’s death was ruled accidental. Who fired the fatal shots was never made public.

The morning edition of the Los Angeles Times headline read, Ex-First Lady Just Said Yes to Drug Raid. “We thought Nancy ought to see it for herself and she did…She is a very courageous woman.” Gates praised Nancy Reagan. Nancy said of her ‘crack house’ tour, “I saw people on the floor, rooms that were unfurnished …all very depressing.”

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