Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Brad Coulter refused to believe he was trapped. He crouched in the corner of the hayloft, back against the rough wall, heart pounding, his breath coming in rapid gulps. His sweat-soaked shirt clung to his skin.
Not much of a hideout. The floor creaked. Light slipped through cracks in the walls and broken windows, shards of glass still attached to the frame. A slight breeze curled around him but did little to cool his anticipation. The smell of manure and animal sweat lingered heavy in the air. Coulter crawled to a window, his .38 revolver clutched in his left hand. Outside, gravel crunched, and branches snapped. A dog barked. Muffled orders from the cops surrounding the barn.
Brad scanned the barn. The window provided the only way out, and it had to be now. He took a breath, flung his legs over the windowsill, and jumped. His bootlace caught on a nail, and his foot twisted. He swallowed the pain as the lace broke and his back slammed to the sloped roof. He grasped for anything to slow his fall, missed, and dropped the last ten feet into the corral. Air burst from his lungs and his gun flew from his hand, the fall softened by several inches of wet manure.
Brad lay in the muck, gathering his breath, listening over the rustling leaves and his ragged breathing. They’d be here soon. He pushed himself up, hands sinking into the mud and shit. Pain rippled through his body. His muscles ached. He grabbed his gun, wiped it best he could, and stumbled across the corral.
The three-rail fence felt like a mountain as he hauled himself over, mustered the last bit of adrenalin and ran. Halfway across the straw field, he thought he’d made it. Free and clear.
“Take him! Take him! Take him!”
Dogs growled and barked.
Coulter glanced behind. Two German shepherds raced after him, gaining ground. Coulter dug deeper. This wasn’t part of the drill. One dog he could handle, not two.
“Constable Coulter,” Sergeant Jackson yelled. “What the hell are you doing?”
Running for his life, that’s what.
Coulter had a canvas-training sleeve for one dog attack, not two. The dogs rapidly closed the distance. Coulter couldn’t breathe. His legs burned.
He clambered up a haystack just as the dogs reached him. Snarling and snapping, they circled the hay.
Coulter glanced back at the barn. Jackson appeared on the stubble field, one hand hovered above his holster. For a brief second, Coulter thought Jackson would draw and shoot—him or the dogs.
“Jesus Christ, Coulter!” Jackson shouted across the field. “Stick to the scenario. Keep the dogs entertained for a while. I’m having lunch.” He stomped back to the barn.
So, he’d improvised a little. Adding the escape gave the drill more authenticity. Didn’t give Jackson the right to send two dogs.
Coulter pulled up his knees and caught his breath. Despite regular workouts, running from the dogs took everything out of him.
The sun pressed through the trees. The dogs circled, barking. They hopped and twisted, growing more agitated each time Coulter made even the slightest movement. One pulled a bale loose with his teeth. They clawed and tore at others without success.
Coulter knew these dogs from previous training exercises. They’d chased and bitten him too many times to count. He leaned over the edge of the stack and shouted, “Sit!”
The dogs sat and stared. Coulter started to climb down, but the moment he moved, the dogs jumped to their feet, snarling between bared teeth and snapping at the air.
Jackson shouted, “Coulter. Get your ass back here!”
“Call them off.”
Jackson nodded to the K-9 officers, who recalled the dogs. Coulter slid to the ground and jogged back to the barn. The dogs lunged from the end of their leashes, and Jackson ambled toward Coulter.
Jackson was tall and lean, with a rugged, weathered face framed by over-the-collar brown hair. A toothpick hung from the corner of his mouth, half-covered by a bushy mustache. He had a gunslinger walk—legs spread and balanced, hands loose at his side. Like a marshal from the Old West who had ridden his steed hard a few too many times.
Jackson cornered Coulter at the barn. His nose in Coulter’s face, the clean musk of Old Spice mixed with his roast beef lunch.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Jackson’s eyes bulged and the vein on his forehead pulsed. “The training is scripted for a goddamn reason. I make the script. Not you.”
Coulter sank back on his heels. Since when do dirtbags follow a script?
“These guys don’t move on to more difficult scenarios until they master the basics. Got it?”
“Yes, sir, but…”
Jackson sprayed spittle as he spoke. “I don’t want to hear it. You do as I say!”
“Yes,” Coulter mumbled.
“What was that, Coulter?” Jackson’s eyes blazed.
“That’s better,” Jackson stepped back. “Now get your ass back in the hayloft. Do it again.”
Coulter stalked into the barn. He knew what Jackson meant, but these guys were clowns. They didn’t get it. Half-assing it wouldn’t save lives.
Jackson called after him, “Let’s see you smart-ass yourself out of this one!”
Coulter climbed the stairs two at a time to the loft.
A whistle signaled the beginning of the training exercise. Coulter positioned himself in the corner like before and waited. The dogs yelped and whimpered. Silence was a strategic weapon, and these dogs were too noisy. A real criminal might be scared or panicked. Fuck the script. No one would sit in a corner waiting to be arrested.
Coulter crawled to the window. A cop sprinted from tree to tree. Amateurs.
A shotgun popped. Then another. And another. Coulter whirled toward the sounds.
Not a shotgun. One, two, three canisters landed and rolled across the old floor toward Coulter. Tear gas.
Clouds filled the barn. He covered his face with his shirt and dove to the floor. Hi eyes felt like they were on fire and his skin burned. His lungs screamed.
Claws scrambled up the stairs, growing louder. Coulter lifted his padded right arm to defend himself. The dog attacked, biting and ripping at the padding, unaffected by the tear gas.
Each breath was more painful than the last. The dog slowed its attack, satisfied holding Coulter’s arm, chewing occasionally. Coulter pulled himself along the floor, dragging the dog with him, searching for fresh air seeping through the cracks in the wall. It didn’t quench the blaze in his chest and the burning in his eyes.
The floor vibrated. Coulter waved in weak surrender. Two figures in gas masks appeared and lifted him. He couldn’t hold himself upright. The cops dragged him across the hayloft and down the stairs. His boots bounced off each step as they stomped out of the barn and dropped him on the ground.
Coulter gulped air, shallow at first, then deeper, clearing the gas from his lungs. Snot and tears streamed down his face. He closed his burning eyes.
Jackson knelt beside Coulter, the Old Spice gave him away. “Slow, deep breaths. It’ll take a while to clear.”
He took Coulter’s hand and wrapped his fingers around the handle of a bucket. “Dump this on your face.”
Coulter poured the bucket over his head—cold water. His breathing came easier. His eyes hurt less. He kept his head down, waiting for the yelling to start.
Instead, Jackson’s voice remained calm and soft. “There are problems training these guys. I don’t need you to point that out.” He rested a hand on Coulter’s shoulder and gave a squeeze. “You’re competitive and need to win. Today wasn’t about you. Get it.”
Jackson stalked away. Coulter knew he’d asked for it.
* * *
Coulter drove back to Calgary with his windows wide open. His eyes raw, breathing still tricky, but at least he could see—sort of. He pulled into the parking lot two blocks from police headquarters and checked his watch.
1630 hours. Thirty minutes until his shift started. Most days that would be plenty of time, but today he cut it close. And he’d be working with Jackson again. Couldn’t catch a break.
Tonight, he was on the swing shift, coming on at five in the afternoon and ending at three in the morning, providing coverage during the busy evening and over the 2300-hour shift change.
Coulter’s eyes still blurred from the teargas. He stumbled out of his car and across the street.
A car horn honked, and the driver gave him the finger, “Get off the road, asshole!”
Coulter kept going, down the alley to the officers’ entrance and burst into the locker room at 1635 hours.
“Right on time again, I see.” Curtis Young, Coulter’s partner, sat at his locker, lacing his boots. “Oh jeez, what happened to you? You stink. You been on a bender?”
“Fell off a roof into manure, tear-gassed, and violated by a German shepherd.” Coulter peeled off his clothes and threw them into a pile.
“Just another Friday night for you.” Young laughed.
Jackson entered the locker room. He stomped across the room and disappeared behind a row of lockers.
Coulter ducked into the shower, hoping to avoid any further attacks from his sergeant. One wrong move and Coulter would find himself alone on traffic duty.
Through the water hum of the shower, Coulter heard Larry Walker and Hank Bell from Unit 421 preparing for their shift. Walker and Bell were twenty-plus-year veterans and as old school as they come. The younger cops called them Abbott and Costello, though never to their faces. Walker was tall and thin, with a complexion like a fish’s underbelly. Bell stood no more than five-foot-eight but weighed more than two hundred pounds. His face held a permanent cherry-red flush, a stark contrast to his ghostly partner.
He shut off the water and stood in the stall, waiting for the right moment.
“Congratulations on making the Canine Unit, Young,” Jackson said. “When do you start?”
“Next week, sir,” Young replied.
“That’s quick,” Jackson said. “Dinner’s on me tonight.”
“Sounds great, Sarge.” Coulter made a move to his locker.
“That’s what you think,” Jackson said. “You screwed us today.”
“If those guys were any good, I wouldn’t have escaped so easily.”
“You had the advantage, Coulter—you knew the scenario. Upstaging the other men doesn’t benefit anyone. Least of all you. Those are your brothers out there.”
“Those clowns? They’re never going to catch on.” Coulter pulled his t-shirt over his head.
“You’re right,” Jackson shot back. “Some won’t catch on, but these new tactics will make the whole damn city safer, and what I’ve got in mind will be even better.” He paused and turned to face Coulter across the room. “I’m meeting with the chief in a couple of weeks to convince him to set up a SWAT team.”
Interesting. “Good luck finding guys who’ll measure up,” Coulter mumbled into his locker.
“You don’t know when to shut up.” Jackson hit Coulter on the side of the head with a towel.
Jackson checked his uniform in the mirror.
Bell and Walker snickered, shaking their heads.
“When we walked the beat,” Bell said, “we knew everybody.”
“And they knew us,” Walker finished. “You kids don’t know nothin’ about nobody. You drive around in your cruisers with the windows up listening to your transistor radios. Don’t know what’s happening right beside you.”
“We had street justice.” Bell struggled to pull his shirt tight enough to button. “We kept things out of the courts and off the public dime.”
“I read about that in history class,” Coulter said. “It must have been exciting catching cattle rustlers and hanging horse thieves.” He hung his head to the side and lifted his arm like he was holding a rope and rolled his eyes upward.
Young laughed and then covered it by clearing his throat.
Bell punched his locker. “You kids think you’ve got it all and then some. We paved the way for you. We did great police work without all the toys. You dummies would be lost without your radio and your fast car.”
“Great police work?” Coulter smirked. “The biggest crime around here back then was Inspector Caruthers getting shot in 1933. You guys still working on that?”
“You’re a lippy little cuss, Coulter.” Bell’s face went from its usual red to purple. “We’ve got instincts and experience. All you’ve got is your mouth.”
Coulter leaned down toward Bell’s ripening face. “All I see is twenty years of donuts.”
Walker put a large hand between them and urged Coulter back with a long arm, before speaking in a low rumble. “You’re gonna get yourself killed.” Walker jabbed a finger in Coulter’s chest. “We’ll be lucky if you don’t take some of us with you.”
Jackson slammed the locker door shut. “Enough.”
Walker and Bell’s spines shot straight. Coulter stomped back to his locker.
* * *
Brad came out of the gas station washroom.
Curtis sat on the hood of the cruiser, leaning back against the windshield, tilting his clipboard to catch the amber glow from the streetlamp. He shifted his attention to a plane crossing the downtown core leaving the city behind.
Brad crept silently beside the car, crouching low against the front wheel as he readied to pounce.
“I wouldn’t,” Curtis said flatly. “You might get shot playing that game.”
Brad popped up and sat on the hood. “Damn.”
Curtis’s eyes followed the lights as they faded into the distance.
“Making a wish?” Brad asked.
“Yeah, that you’d do some of these reports.”
Brad gazed skyward with exaggerated concentration.
“Come on, Brad. This is the fourth theft of car stereos we’ve gone to since 1900 hours. I’m buried in paperwork. Just one?” Curtis held out the clipboard.
“Nice try, but no.” Brad yawned. “We have a system here. That you agreed to.”
“You want to drive first because you plan to sleep the rest of the shift.”
“I had a rough day. You have no idea.” Coulter rubbed his neck and stretched his back.
“What did you do this time? Jackson’s got it out for you.”
“Thanks for backing me up, partner.”
“I’m not stupid. Dig your own holes, brother. I’m not pulling you out. You’d be a great cop if you followed the rules. You know it. I know it. Jackson knows it. Why do you think he rides your ass?”
“Whatever. It’s not even 2200 hours. At 2300 hours, you can drive. Not before. That’s the deal.”
“Some partner you are.”
“Best partner you’ll ever have.” Brad laughed. “Besides, writing is good for you. You need the practice for wedding invitations. Shelley proposed to you yet?”
“We shopped for rings.”
Brad raised an eyebrow. “Seriously?”
Curtis reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box, which he passed to his partner. “Okay. We looked, and then I went back and bought the one she liked.”
Brad flipped open the ring box. A tiny gold ring with a lovely diamond twinkled in the streetlight’s glow. “Nice. Why the hell are you carrying it out here?”
“Wasn’t going to leave it in my locker.”
“Bell might think it’s a small donut.”
Curtis sighed. “Let it go, buddy.”
Brad nodded, turning the gleaming ring toward the light. He handed it back to Curtis with a smile. “Another good man bites the dust.”
“You’re an ass.” Curtis stared off into the skies shaking his head and then turned back to Brad. “Be my best man?”
“Me?” Couldn’t he think of anyone else?
“I’ve got to plan a bachelor party. I know just the girls…”
“You can plan the party, but no girls.”
Brad wasn’t opposed to begging. “Come on. Just a couple?”
“No.” Curtis cocked his head and glared.
“One for me?”
“I thought you and Tina were an item?” Curtis put his hand over his heart and fluttered his eyelashes. “Last time we were at The Cuff, she followed you around like a puppy, hanging on your every word.”
“I broke it off. Haven’t seen her for a month. Shift work screws up relationships, especially with cops. Besides, she was nuts.”
“Nuts about you,” Curtis said. “Maybe Shelley can set you up with the maid of honor?”
“Got a picture?” Brad perked up. Being a best man wouldn’t be so bad after all.
“She has a great personality.”
Brad laughed. “I’ll find my own date, thanks.” He lay back against the windshield. “How’s the mutt?”
“Lobo? He’d chew your leg off if he knew you called him a mutt. He’s proud of his regal lineage.”
“You know he loves me more than you.”
“You wish.” Curtis set down the clipboard. “The other day he cleared a five-foot fence in the park, no problem.”
“The fence in my backyard is four feet.”
“Came home yesterday, and he was sitting on the front porch.”
“Be glad he stuck around.”
“He’s gonna be a better cop than you.” Curtis paused for a second. “What do you think of Jackson’s idea for a SWAT team?”
“Do you have any idea what those special tactics guys do? He can’t get guys to stop stepping on twigs and tripping over their feet. How’s he going to train any of us to be elite cops? I wish him luck. He’ll need it.”
A loud muffler caught Brad’s attention. A dented piece of crap car rumbled past. The driver kept his head forward, leaning down into the steering wheel, making a cautious glance in their direction as he drove past. Brad tracked him down the street. Tires squealed at the end of the next block.
“You want to go after him?” Curtis asked.
“Nah,” Brad said. “What were you saying?”
“You’re just pissed because Jackson has your number. That story was making the rounds before you crawled into the locker room this afternoon. You deserved every word of that tirade, and you know it.”
Brad sighed. “Yeah, maybe. It would be better to select a few guys rather than train everyone. It’s a good idea, but I’m not gonna tell Jackson that.”
“I think you want to be on that team.”
“What, and be training with Jackson all the time? I’d sooner eat a bullet.”
“You say that, but you’d jump at the chance. You don’t hate Jackson. You respect him. Then you fight your instincts. It’s a love-hate relationship. You worship him.”
“Worship is a strong word.”
Curtis cuffed Brad on the back of the head, knocking his hat off, then slid down the hood and opened the driver’s side door.
Brad spun off the front of the cruiser, swept up his cap, and wheeled around to face his partner, left hand on the butt of his service revolver. “I don’t think so, podnuh,” he drawled.
Brad stepped around the door, pulled Curtis back with one hand, and slid behind the wheel. “2300. Not before.”
Author | Speaker | Instructor
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