Friday, October 30, 2020

Sheriff of the Swamps Chapter 4


Three Little Pigs

the commotion of the morning, the ferry terminal was once again as lethargic as it was when Kayla had arrived. Yellow crime scene tape blocked off half the parking lot, encompassing the field of combat. A bored deputy stood watch, protecting what little evidence remained. Dark stains marked where the dead men had lain. Wreckers had towed away the stricken vehicles, leaving behind sparkling shards.

The moment they retrieved their things, Clark hired a taxi to return them to the scene of the shoot. They said little during the drive, and nothing of import. The driver was a fan of Clark’s, gushing about the work she had done and the need for a new broom, but he was also an outsider. Operational security remained paramount.

With their eyeshields in MISD custody for so long, there was no telling what they’d done to them. They scrambled the identity modules on their eyeshields, generated fresh burner numbers on an app, then powered them off and stowed them in RFID blocking bags.

As she worked, Kayla thought of what they had to do. Organize accommodations, plan travel routes, audit security arrangements, prepare backup plans and backups to backups. The shoot had thrown Kayla’s plans out of order. And now that the whole damn world knew who and where they were and what they were doing here, she and James would have to improvise on the fly.

They were two steps away from a clusterfuck. They’d have to figure out how to step back from the line, back up towards something resembling normalcy.

But first: they needed hardware.

Clark’s vehicle sat right at the edge of the crime scene. Technically it hadn’t been involved in the shootout. The techs had already documented its presence, so they were free to drive it away. As Clark hung back. Kayla and James swept the vehicle, hunting for bugs and bombs and anything out of place.

“Awfully paranoid, aren’t you?” Clark asked.

“It’s how we stayed alive,” Kayla replied.

As she waited, Clark dug her eyeshields out of an RFID blocking bag and switched it on, just long enough to check for messages and mails. Then she turned them off and stowed them again. No use giving the bad guys a way to track them.

Clark unlocked the doors. As she climbed in, James called out to Kayla.

“There’s a black bag in the trunk. Could you take it out for us?”

The trunk was crammed. Traffic and rescue equipment. Spare tire. Fire extinguisher. And a huge black duffel bag.

She hauled it out. It was much, much heavier than it looked. Sturdy combination locks held the zippers closed. Metal clanked and shifted around as she waddled back around the vehicle. The familiar scent of lubricant drifted into her nose.

Kayla clambered into the backseat, setting the duffel bag on her lap.

“Combination is 1-6-3,” James said.

She opened the lock and zipped the bag open. Inside were two padded compartments, each holding a strapped-down MR-77.

“Nice,” she said.

Very nice indeed. The matte black carbines were a matched pair. Low powered variable optics rode atop the 12 o’clock rails, complemented by a tiny offset red dot sight. Two-point slings dangled from the attachment points. Pressure switches fed to flashlights mounted on the side rails. Grip pods hung off the bottom rails. Thirty-round magazines nestled in the mag wells, ready for use. Each muzzle wore a short, bulky suppressor. Fitted with twelve and a half-inch barrels, the carbines were lightweight and compact, yet still had enough oomph to get the job done.

“Both carbines have identical set-ups and loads,” James said. “Primary optic is zeroed for 25/300, offset for point blank. You have three spare mags each in the side pockets, loaded with Silver State ballistic tips.”

“You do know how to get gifts for a girl,” Kayla said.

Not quite her preferred setup. But any port in a storm.

“You need pistols?”

“I still have my backup.”

A matching M99, formerly on her left hip, now migrated to her right. She hadn’t fired it, which was the only reason the deputies had, very reluctantly, agreed to return it to her.

“I’ve got a secondary too.”

“Ma’am, you’ve got your own weapon too?”

“Yes,” Clark said. “They didn’t take my gun, thank God.”

“If the big bad wolves come for us again, we’ll be ready for them,” James said.

“Oink oink, three little pigs, that’s us,” Kayla said.

Everyone exploded in uproarious laughter, louder than gunfire, than grenades, than anything that had come close to them in recent months. Kayla couldn’t help it. The line was so natural, so perfect for their situation.

“Three well-armed pigs,” James said at last, gasping for breath.

“We’ve got a lot of work and a short day ahead of us,” Kayla said. “What’s first on the agenda?”

“We investigate the hitters.”

“We know who they are?” James asked.

“Just received an email from a friend. Forensics have confirmed the decedents.”

“So quickly?”

“They weren’t trying to hide it. They had their ID on them, and their fingerprints and DNA are on file.”

“Who are they?”

“John Lambert, Chris Lindon and Joel Brown. The top enforcer of the Hatchet Crew and his two sidekicks.”

“Who’s the Hatchet Crew?” Kayla asked.

“Outlaw motorcycle gang based in Saint Lucile,” Clark said. “They specialize in narcotics, gun running, and vehicle theft. The biggest homegrown OMG in Moreno, about eighty members in all, with ties to organized crime on the mainland.”

“Why would they want you dead?”

“I was in Gangs and Narcotics. The Hatchet Crew was my number one target. If I win the elections, they know they’re on the chopping block.”

“It looks convenient, but it doesn’t make sense,” James argued. “Everybody hates a cop-killer. If they kill you, they’ll just bring down the weight of the law on their heads.”

“I was thinking that too. Only reason we let them walk around for so long is ‘coz of lack of evidence and testimonies. Take a shot at a cop and the equation changes. We’ll have every reason to squeeze them night and day. Even the Peebs will want to get involved.”

“Unless they’re confident that the SD won’t retaliate,” Kayla said.

“Which means they have juice with the SD,” Smith said darkly.

“And they have the New Gods on their side,” James said.

“We don’t have proof that they’re affiliated with the New Gods. We know they’re pledged to a tutelary spirit, the Black Hatchet, and the New Gods are jealous gods.”

“But they’re not above working with lesser gods if it suits their agenda,” Kayla said.

“True. There’s only one way to find out what’s going on.”

“Which is?”

“We ask them.”

“You’re joking.”

“I’m dead serious. The President of the Hatchet Crew, Tom Sullivan, runs a bar downtown. Every Friday at five pm, before the start of business, he meets with his officers to discuss the week’s business and plan for the following week. If we leave now, we can catch him there.”

“You’re walking right into the lion’s den,” Kayla said.

“Exactly. Leave it to the detectives,” James urged.

“Do you trust them to do their jobs?”

“You don’t?” Kayla asked.

“No one, and no one, takes out a hit on a cop. Especially a cop running for Sheriff. In the underworld, if someone kills a cop during a fight, it happens sometimes. But deliberately hunting a cop? Suicide. Only way they’d do that is if they have juice in the PD.”

“You’ve got proof of that?” James asked.

“No, but it makes sense, doesn’t it?”

“Now you know how I feel every time I bring up the involvement of the New Gods.”

“We’ve got nothing that shows whether or not they’re involved. But logic tells us that there’s something dirty going on with the Hatchet Crew and the SD. That’s the difference.”

“Don’t you have friends in the SD?”

“I do. But the ones I can count on aren’t in Gangs and Narcotics. They don’t have the jurisdiction, or the background, to follow up on this.”

“What’s your plan? Enter the bar, walk right up to Sullivan and ask, did you take a hit out on me?” he asked.

“Pretty much.”

“Come on! You’re practically delivering yourself on a silver platter!”

“They’re not going to touch a hair on my head. They kill or disappear me, they will never, ever, be able to conduct business in peace inside the bar again. They know it too. Hell, their headquarters is probably the safest place on the planet for me right now.”

“What do you want to do? What exactly do you get out of it?” Kayla asked.

“I want to look Sullivan in the eye and demand answers. I want him to know that there’s a price for ordering a hit on any cop, on anybody, anywhere on Moreno Island.”

“You’re angry. Understandable. But you do that, you’re just tipping your hand. After the elections, after you solidify your position, you can go after him. Or you can attack the problem through your friends. You don’t have to do this.”

Smith sucked in a breath. Her shoulders tensed. Kayla couldn’t see her face from here, but she sensed the emotions roiling off her.

“Kayla is right,” James said. “You have more than enough enemies already.”

“There’s one more thing too,” Smith said.

“What is it?”

“The last thing they’ll expect is for me to brace them. We do this, we shake them up, knock them off their game. If—when—they make a mistake, the SD will clean them out.”

“They could retaliate against you and your family. Have you thought of that?” Kayla asked.

Smith sighed.

“Yes. But we can’t just sit on our hands and wait for them to try again. They’ll learn from their mistakes. We might not have a second chance.”

“The smart move would be to take your family and go underground until this is all over,” James said.

Smith clenched her fists and spun around.

“I will not live in fear. For too long we’ve lived in the shadow of the New Gods. Now is our one shot to fight for a better world. If I give up now, we’ll be wasting this chance. You were in the STS, you’d understand that, right?”

“In the STS, we had a hundred operators and the backing of the military, police and government. Here, it’s just the three of us,” James said.

“As I recall, six STS operators went rogue and took on the New Gods. And won.”

James spread his arms.

“The STS was disbanded, we were terminated, we have no hope in hell of getting another job ever again. I wouldn’t call this a victory.”

“We had Yuri then. Now we don’t,” Kayla said.


“Yuri Yamamoto. Our team leader. He… He could speak to God. His god. He was our secret weapon. Whenever the New Gods showed up, he chanted his prayers and neutralized their magics. It gave us a fighting chance. Here… we don’t even have a god on our side.”

“He’s a Christian, isn’t he?”

“I think so. Why?”

She smiled.

“There’s more of us in the world than you may think.”

Clark reached under her shirt and pulled out her necklace. A simple silver cross.

“You’re just full of surprises, aren’t you,” James said.

She stowed the cross away.

“God is with us. And God helps those who help themselves. This is a golden opportunity to get answers, to deal with this once and for all, and I’m not going to pass it up.”

James sighed.

“We’re not going to be able to talk you out of this, are we?”


“Then we’d better plan for the worst.”

“And hope for the best,” Clark said.


Hogs & Hatchets stood apart from its neighbors. In a street of concrete build, it crafted from wood. Solid, aged, lacquered wood, proofed against the sun and wind and swampy humidity. A huge sun-faded disk proudly displayed its logo, the head of a warthog backed by crossed hatchets.

Bikes crammed the parking lot out front. They were muscular machines, built for speed and control on the open roads, chromed up to reflect the evening sun in a blinding glare. Kayla didn’t have an eye for bikes, but she sensed the raw power pent up in the engines, yearning to be unleashed.

A prominent closed sign hung from the main door. But through the darkened windows, Kayla made out a group of men clustered around a large table by the entrance. Clark rapped her knuckles against the door. Every knock was an authoritative boom, shaking the windows and reverberating inside the bar.

The men twisted around, orienting to the door. Hands went to hips and belts. The guy closest to the door swaggered over and opened the door a crack.

“We’re closed,” he spat.

He was a short one, shorter even than Kayla. But he radiated meanness from his pores and blazed hatred from his eyes. Stale cigarette smoke wafted around him. His leather jacket, old and never washed, reeked of man-stink and oil and other indescribable fluids.

Clark held up her badge.

“Remember me, Russel?”

“Detective Janet Clark,” he snarled.

“Detective Sergeant Clark to you,” she said. “I need to see your boss.”

“This is a private event. We don’t talk to pigs or niggers.”

Russel tried to close the door. Clark rammed her palm against the hardwood, holding it open.

“Your boys tried to kill me this morning. Talk to me now or talk to the Special Response Team in ten minutes. Your call.”

“The fuck do you want?”

“Answers. This isn’t a bust, but it can be if you want it to be.”

“You got a warrant?”

“This is just a friendly chat. I don’t need a warrant for that.”

“No warrant, no chat. Fuck off.”

“I do that, SRT’s going to come for you. You want that?”

“Let ‘em—”

“Russ!” a man shouted.

“Yeah, boss?”

Russel continued glaring at Clark. At James. At Kayla.

“Let them in.”


“As she said, either we talk to her now, or we talk to the SRT.”

Russel clicked his tongue.

“I’ll be keeping an eye on you two.”

He stepped aside. Clark moved to open the door. James laid a hand on her shoulder.

“Us first,” he said.

James went first. Kayla entered right behind him. As she passed through the doorway, she reflexively scanned the interior.

The dark and dingy bar stank of cigarettes, alcohol, and rotting bodily fluids. Glasses and bottles stood ready behind the counter, as neatly arranged as soldiers on a parade ground. Wooden tables and chairs filled the tiny space.

To the right, seven men sat around a pair of tables brought together, taking as their axis a stout bald man with a thick white beard. Russel stood by the counter beside them, crossing his enormous arms. His shoulder patch read ‘SGT AT ARMS’.

“Detective Sergeant Clark,” the bald and bearded man said. “What do we owe the pleasure of your visit?”

“John Sullivan,” Clark said. “Your enforcer and his lackeys tried to kill me this morning. Why?”

“Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Don’t bullshit me, Sully-John. Everyone knows what happens if you try to whack a cop. Someone put you up to this job. Who is it?”

“Jumping to lots of conclusions there, Detective. Why don’t you go out and detect some more before you start spouting off unfounded allegations?”

“I’d believe you if you sent some rando patch. But you sent your enforcer, and he’s room temperature now. You don’t send someone like that unless you really want to get the job done. You ain’t stupid enough to make war on the Sheriff. That means you were hired for a job. Tell us who it is.”

Sullivan lifted a thick cigar to his lips and took a long, luxurious inhale. He held the smoke in his mouth for a moment, then blew it out as a thick gray stream.

“James Wood and Kayla Fox. Am I right?”

“Who wants to know?” James asked.

“That’s not important,” Clark cut in.

“You don’t trust your department to protect you, so you brought in outsiders. Gunslingers and mankillers. You think you can scare us?” Sullivan asked.

“I know you tried with your cute drive-by. It didn’t work. My shooters wasted your shooters. You don’t tell me who hired you, who told you where I was, things will get uglier from here.”

“I don’t know nothing about no drive-bys and hits,” Sullivan said.

A wide shit-eating grin spread over his face.

It was a lie. Everyone knew it, he knew that everybody knew it, and he knew that Clark knew that she couldn’t act on it.

“It was the New Gods, wasn’t it?” James asked.

Sullivan arched an eyebrow.

“It speaks!”

“What did they promise you? Money? Protection? Status? A chance to become part of them?”

Sullivan took another puff.

“We already have a god. You don’t.”

“Don’t be so sure about that,” Clark said.

Russel snarled. Stepping off from the counter, he bunched his fists and—

“Easy,” Sullivan said.

Russel snorted. And stayed put.

Sullivan turned to Clark.

“Your god ain’t here.”

“I am. And I’m not leaving until you tell me who hired you.”

“Is this an interview? Or is it an arrest?”

“Just a friendly discussion.”

“That we’re not telling you shit.”

“Here’s what’s going to happen. You are my prime suspect. I’m personally going to take time out of campaigning to make your business my business. Gangs and Narcotics will search every front you own. Traffic will stop you for every minor infraction on the streets. Patrol will keep an eye on you. Everything you do, the SD will keep hammering you hard, until you tell us what’s going on.”

Russel glared at Clark. The other bikers shifted in their seats, positioning their hands for a fast draw. Kayla brought her own to her belly and began prioritizing targets. She met their glare with a cool gaze of her own, a fox on the hunt, letting them see her seeing them as prey.

Sullivan sniffed hard, as though unimpressed. He leaned back, reached for a glass of golden liquid, and chugged it down in one gulp.

“Is that a threat, Miss Clark?”

“A statement of fact, Silly-John. We’ll keep squeezing your balls until you start singing.”

“There’s no ‘we’ here. Just you and your hired guns.”

“You’re saying the SD won’t act?”

Sullivan grinned.

“I’m saying you sound real confident. Overconfident. I were you, I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”

“Did you just admit to knowledge of corruption in the SD?”

Sullivan laughed.

“Like I keep telling you from the start. I don’t know nothing. Nobody here knows nothing. But I do know that if you turn to the SD for help, you’ll find yourself disappointed.”

“You want us to squeeze you dry. Got it.”

He barked a laugh.

“Here’s my counteroffer. Lie low. Hide out. Wait until this is all over.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Then I can’t guarantee your safety.”

“You’re saying you want to throw down, here and now?” James asked.

The room chilled. The bikers tensed, ready to spring themselves from their seats. Russel’s hand drifted to his hip, his eyes studying Clark’s and James’ and Kayla’s hands.

“Cool off a little,” Sullivan said, waving his cigar around. “This is a friendly discussion, isn’t it?”

“Sure it is,” Clark said.

“Then here’s some advice. Lots of people like Moreno Island the way it used to be. You threatening to shake things up. You can’t hope to fight all of them. Give up. Go home to your family. Take a trip somewhere safe. Do that and nothing else will happen to you.”

“And let people like you run this town? Never.”

“Then we’ve got nothing more to discuss.”

Russel cracked his knuckles.

“You heard the boss. Beat it.”

“This isn’t over,” Clark said.

Sullivan smiled. But his dark eyes were as flat and hard as a serpent’s.

“It will be over. One way or another.”

Back outside, they regrouped at the car. Once more, Kayla and James swept it, and once more, they found nothing out of place.

James drove, running an aggressive surveillance detection route. Thirty minutes and twelve blocks away, when they were clear of the area, Kayla finally spoke.

“Well, that worked out well.”

“We know they’ve got backers. They’re just shooters, not shot callers,” Clark said.

“We also made enemies out of them, and everyone backing them,” James said. “It’s going to get fast and furious from here on out.”

“We’ve planned for that, right?”

“Funny thing about plans, they don’t work out the way you want them to.” James sighed. “I hope this plan is worth the risk.”

“I’ve got two of the finest operators in the world with me. If anyone can do it, it’s you two.”

“We’ve just crossed the red line. We can’t step back. All we can do is follow this road all the way to the bitter end,” Kayla said.

“I’m ready. Are you?”


Even so, Kayla wondered how many more people would die before this was over.

And whether any of them would be part of that number.

Or all of them.

The last time James Wood and Kayla Fox confronted a Dark Power, it didn't end so well. Check out their stories in BABYLON BLUES!

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