Ten Seconds 'til...
This was not the place to be at night, they said. Black, white, red, yellow — no lives mattered here, if you listened to the press. Some considered it no-man’s land even during the brightest hour of the day.
The police seldom ventured here and when they did, they regretted it. Not that they became targets, although that, too, happened on occasion—the random gunshot at a patrol car. Inevitably on patrol, they would come across someone else’s target, dumped there for eventual discovery. Or not.
So, why in the world had “Susan” driven down this road? Sure, Google maps said this was the shortest and fastest path to an open gas station that now sat just a few blocks away, where the street opened onto the service road adjacent to the interstate. Couldn’t she have made it there, or to a different station, using a different route? She could see the brightly lit facility not far away, with only one stop sign between it and her to slow her down. Should she ignore it? She saw no other headlights moving toward the intersection.
The question about stopping became a moot issue as her car coasted to a halt a hundred feet before the intersection. Also obvious was that, no, taking a different path would not have helped. She appeared to be out of gas.
The correct choice of a sane person would be to grab your cell phone and call for assistance. As a sign of her sanity, she decided that would take too long, even if she could convince AAA to come to her location. She looked into the distance at the bright lights that beckoned and knew she had one choice. How long would it take her, in heels, to get there?
She grabbed her purse and pulled a handgun from it. A 9mm Beretta. She tucked it into her coat pocket and exited the car. She set off at as fast a pace as she could comfortably handle without risking breaking a heel. As she passed the stop sign, the voices seemed to come from nowhere.
“Slow down there, mama. Wassup?”
“Yeah, baby. We gonna show you a good time.”
She turned toward the voices to see three young men, in hoodies that hid their faces. Gloves covered their hands. She would guess them to be black, but then, she would never be able to testify to that. She couldn’t see their faces between the hoodies and shadows. Definitely not white. Not in this part of town.
“Ple-please, don’t hurt me. I-I ran out of gas. I just need to get a little to get it started and I’ll be out of here.”
Her voice choked as she began to speak. The rest of her sentence sounded raspy. One of the men cocked his head to scrutinize her. A second turned to look at the car. She doubted the twelve-year-old Camry interested them, especially being out of gas. That left two things of potential interest, her purse . . . and her. She zipped her purse closed and felt it click.
The second man turned back and said, “Car’s a piece a junk. But you lookin’ good.”
In the faint light, she could see an attempt at a smile, minus most of his teeth. The first man leaned over and said something into the man’s ear. The smile faded.
“Ya think? Mighty C, why don’we check unda da hood and see whats we got here?”
As he stepped toward her, she pulled her gun from her pocket and pointed it toward them. They didn’t seem fazed.
The third man surprised her by grabbing her purse and ripping it off her shoulder. She was knocked off-balance, but she held on to the gun. She started to reissue her warning, but the trio began to laugh and took off running.
“We be back. Don’t go far!” one of them yelled.
She saw them again about fifty yards away, walking, as they passed through the light cast off by a nearby billboard. They stopped at the base of the sign and, using its light, began to inspect the purse.
Oh, I doubt it, Mighty C, she thought as she smiled. The explosion toppled the billboard onto a work van parked nearby. She regretted the task that lay ahead for the city’s Evidence Technician Unit (ETU).
At the same brisk walk, she returned to the car and retrieved the key from under the seat. She doffed the long, black wig and tossed it into the back seat before starting the car and driving off. She laughed as she made a turn at the stop sign. She didn’t want anyone at the gas station seeing her drive past. Plus, she didn’t want to drive through the crime scene. Tires tracking through blood could be matched.
She thought about “her” performance. Getting into character, finding the right attitude, and acting the part made her actions so much more convincing. Female tonight. Maybe a male persona the next time. Still, tonight’s female made a mental note to work on the voice.
Seamus O’Connor sat down at his kitchen table with some heated leftovers after a much-too-long day. He wondered what had been added to the water that now caused the craziness he witnessed each day. Gang slayings. Drive-by shootings, also gang related. Attacks on fellow officers. Kids shooting their siblings. Murder-suicides by raging ex-spouses.
What had happened to sanity? Where was all this leading society? Did the rule of law no longer mean anything?
He had expected the gangs to increase their attacks on each other. The shooting two years earlier of a young thug by an officer in a nearby community had set off days of riots and months of protests, all based upon the lies of a few “witnesses” whose self-interests were in conflict with the truth. The mainstream media had been eager to promote that lie and castigate the police. One of the many truths they hadn’t reported was that the situation had produced a ripe field for recruiting by the gangs. New initiates, out to prove themselves worthy, now surfed a wave of shootings and homicides that once again made St. Louis one of the most dangerous cities in America. The rise of that wave into a tsunami was what surprised him.
Halfway into his meal, his cell phone rang.
“Shay, your services are requested up north on Bircher near Marcus.”
Seamus sighed. Why didn’t his lieutenant ever call with good news, like being awarded a medal for meritorious service, or that his March Madness bracket won the office pool?
“That’s District Six. Why are they calling us?”
“Not them. The Chief has assigned you to a joint task force with the FBI. Apparently, they don’t know any better and asked for you by name.”
Seamus rolled his eyes at the gibe but thought about that for a moment. He’d been on joint task forces before. That meant this case was unusual. Seamus offered a half grin to the phone. He liked the challenge of the unusual.
“Okay. Do I have time to finish eating?”
“Sure. They’ll be there all night.”
Seamus frowned at the way his superior emphasized ‘all.’ He’d need to stop and get a strong cup of coffee on the way. He’d opt for a gallon, if someone would sell it in bulk.
Twenty-five minutes later, Seamus arrived on scene from the west end of Bircher Boulevard but was stopped two blocks away by uniformed officers. He showed his police credentials, but that moved him no closer. He parked between two marked patrol cars and headed the rest of the way on foot. While still a block away, he saw his first evidence marker . . . next to a finger.
He looked ahead and saw the crumpled remains of someone’s work truck, partially covered by the twisted mass of a fallen billboard. He couldn’t make out the sign’s message nor the company’s name on the side of the truck. The truck appeared to be of the boom lift variety—a cherry picker, as some would call it. No businesses came to mind in the area that would require the lift, but then, this wasn’t his precinct and he couldn’t be expected to know it as well as his own.
As he progressed toward the main area of activity, the evidence tags and body parts became more prominent. He had counted three arms to that point, so he knew they had at least two victims. There might be more. He watched where he stepped.
“Took you long enough.”
“Detective LaToya, que pasa?”
Having astutely surmised that they were dealing with some sort of bombing, Seamus felt no surprise at seeing Sergeant Denise LaToya at the scene. The slim woman, whose coal black hair seemed always pulled back into a ponytail, was all-business whenever they had crossed paths. No, in reflection, she came across as hard and unemotional, something of a loner. Perhaps she had been this way since childhood, but Seamus suspected that her time in the Middle East had left its mark on her psyche.
An ex-Army ordinance expert and member of the bomb squad, she knew more about the forensics of an explosion than most of the other metropolitan detectives combined, except maybe for one hard-headed senior tech of Polish descent. He had no doubt Joe Marcinkiewicz was somewhere on the scene. Still, from the pool of explosive forensics experts nationwide, she had been called in as an expert at the Boston Marathon bombing two years earlier.
“Just what it looks like. So far, we’ve identified three individuals. Well, not as in knowing who they were, just that three were involved. The point of detonation appears to have been right under the billboard.” She held up an evidence bag holding what looked like imitation leather. Real leather would have appeared shredded, not torn, at the edges. “Taking this to my van for a quick test for residue. Has kind of a funky peppermint smell to it.” She held it up to him to sniff. “Weird.”
Seamus wondered whether he would even have thought to smell something like that
to notice, but he nodded in agreement. “Where do I find the incident command?”
“Keep going down Bircher. Just past the downed billboard. You’ll see the tables about a hundred yards beyond. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Seamus nodded and turned back to his original course.
“Hey, O’Connor, good to see you.”
Seamus turned at the voice to see Sergeant AJ Darst of the Evidence Technician Unit, the city’s version of CSI. The man held an expensive camera in his hands.
“You, too, AJ. What are you doing here? The FBI has its own crime scene techs.”
“Yeah, they needed more eyes and hands, so a few of us got called to the task force, too. I think they’re also going to use our lab for some of their testing. The hard stuff will go to the FBI labs, but they’re backlogged almost as much as we are.”
Seamus nodded and pointed to the camera. “So, what . . . they got you taking still lifes or just glamour shots of LaToya there?”
Surprised that she responded, he grinned as LaToya shouted back, “I heard that.”
“Doing the video walk-through of the scene. I’d need a special camera to shoot LaToya.”
Both men grinned as she shouted, “Idiots! I heard that, too. Keep it up and you’ll need to check your cars before starting them.”
He glanced at the woman. A sense of humor? Sort of. Maybe Seamus didn’t know the woman as well as he thought. He turned back to the ETU sergeant.
“Is your team out in force with the bomb squad?”
Darst nodded. “Yeah. We called everyone in that we could, because of the size of the scene. I’ve been working on this video for over 30 minutes. I’ve covered so much territory, I feel like I’m doing a travelogue for a small country.”
Seamus chuckled. “Well, I better find the command center and get to work then. See you around.”
“Yeah. Hey, let’s get together for a beer sometime.” “Sure.” He gave the ETU sergeant a thumb up.
As stated, the command center was beyond the billboard. He could see it now. He passed a BP station which sat across from the lot holding the billboard, which he now saw advertised a bank. That lot, on the east side of Marcus Avenue, held an automotive repair company. Maybe the cherry picker was there for repairs. Too late for that now.
The St. Louis Regional Bomb & Arson Unit was out in force, from what Seamus saw as he approached the command tables. Two years earlier, the city and county had merged their bomb squads into one unit. The results had been good for the area, and a cost-saver for both police departments. The unit now had the latest “toys” and the price tag had been split between the two sets of bean counters.
” ‘Bout time you showed up,” quipped Frank DeLeo. Seamus had worked a few times before with the five-foot-six FBI agent. “The other guys are out helping locate and tag body parts.” Most of those “other guys” called DeLeo “Napoleon.” Some had a name for him that was a less than flattering play on the name. Behind his back, of course.
Seamus shrugged. “Got here as soon as I could.” He grabbed a stack of evidence markers and turned to join the others.
“Not so fast, baby face. I have a different task for you.”
Seamus closed his eyes and counted to ten. It might be true that his Irish roots had given him a pale complexion, red hair, and a face that hadn’t aged much for the past fifteen years. Yet, at age 31, his five-foot-ten-inch frame had fifty pounds of muscle over DeLeo, and he’d been working homicides for nearly five years now, compared to Napoleon’s two with the agency. He had learned to control his Irish anger about fifteen years earlier as well, but there were times.
He was about to turn back to the short man and say something less than complimentary, but the Special Agent-in-Charge walked up. SAC Randolph Redmond was an old-school, feet-on-the-ground kind of investigator who begrudgingly accepted today’s technology. The older man grabbed the evidence markers from Seamus and shoved them into DeLeo’s hands.
“Go help find and mark anything that looks like evidence. I’ve got a different task for O’Connor.”
Napoleon looked insulted but stepped from behind the table and set off toward the billboard. Seamus let about half of the smile he felt inside show on his face.
“I hear he’s being his usual pain in the . . .” The SAC paused. “Well, that should keep him busy. Anyway, Welch should be here in a moment.”
Detective Brian Welch was with the Sixth District. This was his home turf. They’d met, but Seamus didn’t know him well. At least he had a reputation of being easygoing and playing well with others.
“Looks like we might have IDs from two of the victims.” The man held up two clear plastic evidence bags. Each held a bloody driver’s license. “These were fished from the back pockets of shredded jeans. Actually, that’s overstating the condition of those jeans. If these guys were up to no good, I’m hoping Welch might know them.”
“Who might I know? Hey, O’Connor, good to see you again.” He peeled off his pair of bloody vinyl gloves, tossed them into a trash receptacle next to the closest table, and extended his hand in greeting.
“Welch. You, too.” Seamus accepted his handshake.
SAC Redmond held out the evidence bags. Welch scrutinized the IDs. He nodded.
“Yeah, I know these two. A couple of gangbangers—with the Crips. Each one has a lengthy rap sheet for B&E, assault, and burglary. Both have served some hard time.” He shook his head. “Never heard of them being involved with explosives. That would be a big step for them.” He appeared to be thinking about that possibility. “I’ll ask around about the bomb aspect. But, if these two are dead, our third guy is probably Seymour Hutchins, a.k.a. ‘Mighty C.’ He’s the older brother of this one.” He held up one of the two bags to show that ID. “Now, him? Yeah, I could see him graduating from Explosives 101. Bad as they come. He was convicted of second-degree murder a few months ago, and had the conviction overturned on a technicality. A new trial date was set and the prosecution’s lead witness disappeared. Nada. No trace.”
“Hey! Whadda we got here?”
Seamus turned toward the gravelly voice. Marcinkiewicz.
“We don’t need you guys. We got this scene covered.”
Seamus knew better than to take the old Pole’s tough talk to heart. He could see the gleam in the detective’s eye, a telltale sign the man was goading them. Likewise, he could tell Redmond didn’t know the man, much less that he was jesting. He spoke up before the SAC.
“Q-wicz, you might have the scene covered, but we’re here to solve the case.”
The bomb tech’s face broke into a broad smile. “Shay, good to see you. Who you got with you?” He nodded toward the other two men.
Seamus made the introductions, just as Sgt. LaToya walked up to be included.
“So, a joint task force?” asked Marcinkiewicz. “We don’t need the extra bodies.”
“Your chief demanded it,” replied the agent. “Otherwise, we can claim total jurisdiction on this one.”
LaToya nodded. “And I think the chief is right on this one. Same guy, Q-wicz.”
The older detective shook his head as something that sounded like “shhhi …” escaped his lips but didn’t finish.
Seamus wondered. “Same guy? What’s that mean?” He hadn’t heard of any other bomb incidents, much less any with injuries.
Q-wicz spoke up. “Someone’s been blowing up street-side trash cans. Nothing major, and no collateral damage, but we couldn’t ID the explosive. Had its own peculiar odor, though.”
“Yeah, that’s why I think this is the same guy.”
Seamus shook his head. If that was true, the trash cans were just practice. And the practice swings were finished.
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Ten Seconds ‘til
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Ten Seconds ‘til – Copyright © 2017 by Braxton DeGarmo. All rights reserved under International and PanAmerican Copyright Conventions. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of Braxton DeGarmo.
ISBN (paperback): 978-1-943509-30-0
ISBN (mobi): 978-1-943509-28-7
ISBN (ePub): 978-1-943509-29-4
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogs are products of the author’s imagination and are not construed to be real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. The use of real places and companies is done to add a sense of reality, but the circumstances surrounding such use is also fictional. The employees of such companies, their actions, and their comments are fiction and should not be construed as implied or explicit endorsements by or the beliefs of said companies. The use of public figures, such as politicians, is also done for the purpose of realism. Actions or comments attributed to them may be fiction, but may also come from public records, such as their own writings.
Cover design by Rocking Book Covers
This story is dedicated to first responders everywhere, who often place their lives at risk to maintain the safety of ours.
For those of you who have never read my work, Sergeant Seamus O’Connor is the main character from my debut novel, The Militant Genome. I have had many requests for a sequel to that novel, as well as for a series based on his character and that of his kinda-sorta girlfriend, Sarah Wade, MD. Unfortunately, I already had my MedAir Series in the works with a different set of characters. So, I added Seamus to the storyline at the end of book two: Rescued and Remembered. Since then, he has been a re-occurring character in the series, as well as my go-to guy for novellas such as this one.
I hope you enjoy this story. It was fun researching explosives and bomb disposal techniques. So far, no police authorities have come knocking on my door to ask about my online search history.