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41

Hood got back his old Region II patrol shift. It felt right to be in the summer-weight cotton-poly uniform and the law enforcement Ford. He had failed homicide and he felt shame but some relief. Maybe someday hed get another shot. His thoughts were often of Suzanne Jones and Reginald Wyte, and his dreams were haunted by them.

Rolling through his first September night back on patrol, Hood had the repeating thought that he was alone in L.A. and far removed from the powers that shaped it but nonetheless entrusted with this small piece.

On his third night out Hood was up in Vernon when Marlon radioed him. Charlie, Allison Murrieta just stuck up the Lynwood Dennys on Long Beach Boulevard. Shots fired. Im on my way.

Hood hit his siren and running lights and made the scene in twelve minutes. Gunning the Ford down Long Beach Boulevard, he saw three cruisers jammed at crazy angles outside the restaurant, their lights pulsing yellow and red in the darkness, and the bristling silhouettes of armed officers moving like figures in firelight. A helicopter already hovered in the sky above.

Two deputies stood guard at the entrance. Hood saw blood on the ground and bullet holes in the windows. Through the shattered glass he saw that two other deputies had witnesses corralled in a rear section and they were letting some of the diners exit by the back door.

In the lobby by the cash register a young South Side Compton Crip gesticulated elaborately before two more patrol deputies and three of his homies. Hood could hear some of his words through the shut glass doors, and he could hear the wail of sirens in the distance.

The bitch has me dead but she dont pull

Murrieta was robbing the place and the Crip shot her, said one of the deputies, nodding toward the lobby without looking. Someone said her gun jammed. She ran into the parking lot, through the bushes.

Hood made his way across the lot, then through a wilted hedge of hibiscus to the poorly lit street. Three more cruisers and a paramedic unit were parked at the end of a cul-de-sac ahead of him. He ran down a narrow, dislocated sidewalk, past the old cars and the beaten houses and the people inside their heavy screen doors or standing in their yards.

That Allison in there at Rachmans?

Thats Allison, shot up and bleeding.

You go get her, cowboy. You rescue old Rachman!

Hood bent low and joined the deputies behind the forward car. Cruz, the patrol sergeant, squatted with a megaphone in one hand. A big deputy peered over the hood of the car cradling a combat shotgun in one arm. Three other deputies steadied their sidearms on the roofs of their units, feet spread for balance and heads still.

Shes got an old man hostage, said Cruz. She shot at us a few minutes ago. SWAT and the negotiators are on the way.

Give me the megaphone, said Hood.

To his surprise the sergeant gave it up. Hood stood and looked at the house. It was square and plain, with a dirt front yard and a For Sale sign and simple iron grates over the windows and curtains behind them. The lights were faint inside.

Allison, its Charlie, he blared. Charlie Hood. Im going to come talk to you. If you want a hostage, use me. Im coming now.

He tossed the megaphone to Cruz and walked toward the house with his hands up and open. He heard the sirens getting louder and the voices behind him.

The mans goin in. He is actually goin into Rachmans!

Get her, cowboy!

Take that mask off her! Rescue Rachman!

Hood knocked on the door. He heard voices. A moment later the door cracked open and Hood found himself looking up at a large black face.

She said let you in. But I aint sure.

Open the door. Youre free to go.

She needs help.

Go.

Deputy, you cant throw me out of my own house.

He turned and walked away, and Hood followed him inside and shut the door. He was taller than Hood by a head and almost twice as thick.

Its the teacher, Rachman said. Crazy. The teacher is Allison. Thats something. But she wont let the paramedics in. I cant talk any sense into her.

Suzanne lay on her back on the living room sofa. She was wrapped in what looked like bedsheets and a brightly colored purple-and-blue afghan. Her wig and gun and mask were on the floor beside her. Her face was pale and he heard her teeth chattering and saw the rapid rise and fall of the covers that she had pulled up tight to her chin. Her knuckles were hard and white.

Charlie.

Dont talk-listen. The medics can keep you from dying, Suzanne, but I cant.

She shivered and coughed red. Hood touched her forehead, which was cool and damp. When hed worked the covers free of her grip, he lifted them and saw the blood and smelled it.

Im getting the medics, Suzanne.

Okay.

Hood slid the derringer far under the couch, then crossed the room and threw open the front door. He called out from the porch. Rachman joined him, waving them in.

Back inside, Hood knelt beside her. He took Suzannes hand. Her fingers were strong and her nails dug into him and her voice was thin and wet.

Like your diamonds, Charlie?

Theyre beautiful.

It took that kid forever to get his gun up. I just couldnt shoot him.

Thats okay, Suzanne.

Bradleys age.

You did the right thing.

Tell the boys I love them.

You can tell them that yourself.

This isnt right. So much to do. So much you dont know.

Right now you think about good things, and you keep breathing in and out. Youre going to be okay, Suzanne. Theyre almost here. These guys are good.

Hood leaned over her and put his face next to hers, felt the coolness of her skin against his, smelled the faint aroma of her perfume and the strong metallic odor of the life draining out of her.

Oh, I like you, she whispered.

I love you. Be strong.

He heard Rachmans voice, then the deputy with the shotgun burst into the house, then more uniforms with their weapons drawn. Last were two firemen carrying medical equipment, and two paramedics angling a back-board through the doorway.

Suzanne coughed again. Hood rose up, and he felt her nails digging deeper into his hand.

Call me later, she said.

She looked at the men, then back at Hood. Her throat rattled and the light retreated from her eyes and her face relaxed.

I will.

He stared at her a moment. The paramedics pushed Hood aside, and threw back the covers and lifted Suzanne to the floor. One of them strapped an Ambu bag to her head then started an IV in each arm. A fireman cut away her blouse and pressed a big defibrillator patch to her chest while the other started CPR. A moment later the EKG monitor showed only a small, occasional blip.

Shes in PEA, said one of the medics. Epinephrine and atropine, run the IVs wide open. Im going to needle her.

He stabbed a large IV needle between her ribs. Hood heard the trapped air hissing out but the EKG line had gone flat.

He turned away.

A minute later he stopped for Marlon on the front walkway. Suzanne was Murrieta. A kid shot her.

Marlon nodded.

Ill notify her family, Hood said. If thats okay with you.

Its okay. Im sorry, Charlie. I know she meant something to you.

Her gun is under the couch.


Back at the Dennys Hood talked to the shooter for a few minutes, found out his gang name was Kick because he took kung fu once, and his gun was a.38-caliber. A South Side Crip. Kick asked about the reward and Hood told him there was no reward and Kick said too bad, his mama needed money for an operation. Hood had no idea what theyd do with him-just carrying a concealed piece was a crime, and it was probably stolen property anyway-but when a woman in a mask is brandishing her own handgun, youve got a good start on self-defense.

He walked back through the parking lot and down the cul-de-sac. He lingered outside the house until the coroners team wheeled her out, wondering how to tell Ernest and the boys.

Two hours later when he pulled up, Ernest was standing on the Valley Center porch in the glow of a yellow bug light with a mug of coffee in his hand and the dogs alert at his feet.


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