Police Officer Hank Johnson looked up from his desk, then immediately looked back down again, managing to miss the piercing, searching eyes of the Chief. It was his last day before retirement, and there was no way he was going to take any unnecessary risks.
“There’s a shootout at the gasoline refinery in the Warehouse District!” shouted Chief Goodwin. “I need some volunteers!”
Johnson focused even harder on his Sudoku, tucked between reports and other important official paperwork. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to do his part–far from it. He had five Medals of Merit for his 30 years on the force, which was one more than any living cop. O’Reilly had 7, but three of them were posthumous, awarded for saving a bus full of senior citizens from an artillery shell during the so-called “Murdertown Massacre.” Typical liberal media overreaction.
But you didn’t live to retirement age running into every burning drug warehouse full of orphans or throwing every bazooka-wielding drunken hobo onto a sharp iron fence. That was for rookies.
Why, they’d lost one of their own just two days ago…nobody knew why the Mob had chosen that abandoned chemical factory for their headquarters, but Osborne had been up on a catwalk when they opened up with their high-powered automatic weapons. He got hit and fell straight forward, breaking a solid steel safety railing, which exploded, and then plunged into a vat of chemicals, which also exploded. How no-tears shampoo for infants could explode was a mystery, and of no comfort to his young widow and three children, but those were the things that could happen to you on the streets, and they all knew it. Osborne’s wailing “aiieeeeee!” as he fell, then exploded, was reminder enough of that.
Goodwin’s gruff, gravelly bark brought him back to the present. “Flanagan! Take Lister and get out there! Bring your vests…you might need ‘em! And Flanagan…no smoking in that refinery!”
“Yes, sir,” Flanagan said, stubbing out his cigarette. “Let’s go, rook.”
Flanagan was a good cop, Johnson thought to himself. A real role model for Lister, who could learn a few things about policing. Lister was a firebrand, but a little more experience and he’d be a real pro.
Just like he was, once, he thought. A wistful look almost crossed his face before he remembered what he was doing, and he glared back at the Sudoku like he was interrogating a mass murderer.
“Johnson! My office, now!” yelled Goodwin.
Johnson looked up, surprised, as Goodwin stalked off into his office without a backwards glance. Here it comes, he thought. He closed the file folder, hiding the illicit number puzzle, stood up and adjusted his pants. Just have to make it through today. He pushed his chair in–you could never be too careful–and entered the office, shutting the glass door behind him.
“Sit,” said Goodwin.
“Sir,” he replied, plopping into the dark wooden chair with the less-cracked upholstery. He was a veteran officer, and deserved the best.
“Last day, right Johnson?” The Chief didn’t wait for a reply. “Well, don’t you worry…I want to see you through to that retirement you’ve earned for yourself. I think I’ve got the perfect assignment for you.”
He breathed a deep sigh of relief. “Thank you sir. For a second, I thought you were…”
Suddenly, the door burst open and Lieutenant Weaver thrust his head in. “Sir, we’ve got a situation! A rhino has broken loose from the City Zoo and is rampaging towards the Nitroglycerin Storage Depot!”
“Take one of the choppers, grab Pembroke and a rifle,” Goodwin said. Pembroke was the sharpest gun on the force; he had once shot a villainous serial sniper right through his scope, sending him flying off a construction crane and into a meth lab the size of a city block, which exploded. The press had pilloried the Chief for it, of course. Just like civilians to overreact.
But Weaver shook his head. “The chopper was shot down two minutes ago by a crackhead firing live grenades out of a potato gun near the Red Light District,” he said.
Goodwin looked at Johnson, who suddenly felt uncomfortable again. “You’re good with animal situations, Johnson. Didn’t you tranquilize those hyenas when they raided the Inter-City Ice Hockey Championships last year?”
“No sir. That was…Johnston.”
“Could have sworn it was you.”
“Similar…similar name, sir.”
“Huh,” said Goodwin. “Those hyenas sure could skate,” he added.
“Hem,” said Weaver.
“Ok!” said Goodwin. “Was Pembroke on the chopper?”
“No,” said Weaver. “Bass and Collins were, though.”
“Shame about that. Collins was set to retire next week.”
“Shame. Well, I don’t think he was wearing his helmet, if it’s any consolation.”
“You can never be too careful.”
“You never can,” said Weaver.
Johnson sat very still and stared off at the wall. There was a painting of a sailboat. It was a nice boat. Just the type he would love to sail during his retirement.
Goodwin and Weaver ignored him. “Take Pembroke and…do we have the department Humvee?”
“Drove into the ocean and exploded during that…the, uh, situation with the D.A.R.E. mascot.”
Goodwin winced. “Forgot about that. Shame about those kids.”
“And the Humvee,” Weaver added.
“Well, then, take Pembroke, a regular squad car, and try to find a rooftop that has a good view of the Nitro Depot,” Goodwin said, “then take it out.”
“The Depot, sir? Or the rhino?”
“Oh,” said Goodwin. “The rhino, of course.”
“Of course, sir.” Weaver nodded, slammed the door, and hurried off.
“Now, where were we?”
Johnson tugged at his ear. “I believe you had an…a very safe assignment for me, sir?”
“I did!” He opened a file. “The ladies knitting club at Shady Acres is having an afternoon ball. I want you to work the security detail. Now get going!”
“Yes sir!” He stood up immediately, threw the door open, and scurried down the hall without so much as a question.
He might make it after all.
“Wear your vest!” shouted Goodwin after him. You could never be too careful.
Johnson surveyed the scene from behind his mirrored aviators, his hands resting on his hips, service weapon in easy reach. Exits at 10 and 4 o’clock, and some cover behind the bingo machine to his left.
The ladies of Shady Acres milled about in the slow-motion milling of the elderly and infirm. Sinatra crackled from the speakers at a reasonable volume as a turntable gently spun. A puzzle was under construction on a folding card table. Nothing dangerous in the least.
And then, he noticed a low, far-off sound, like a beehive or a distant racetrack. It increased in volume as he furrowed his brow. He turned towards the front windows just as it reached a crescendo.
Scooters. Dozens of scooters.
And on each one an old lady, armed with knitting needles, heavy purses, umbrellas. The lead scooter crashed through the plate glass, sending shards into the startled crowd, and the rider leaped to her feet, whipping out a folding cane.
“It’s the Restful Fields Gang!” shouted one of the Shady Acres women, who was now holding a pair of nunchucks that appeared to be made from parts of her walker.
“Restful Fields rules this town!” shouted the woman from the scooter.
“You shut your yap, Beatrice!” replied the nunchuck-wielding senior citizen.
“That’s Queen Bea to you, Louise, and you’re first on my list for a beatdown!”
“Not if we ring your bell first! Get ‘em, girls!”
Johnson backed into the wall as the two packs of old biddies met in a tangle of blue-white hair and orthopedic shoes, screams filling the air. A silver-framed picture of adorable grandchildren whizzed by, thunking into the plaster scant inches from his head.
He pulled his gun, then stopped, thinking of the implications of opening fire on a nursing home. Even if it was a nursing home in the middle of an unlikely gang war.
Of course, he didn’t have to actually shoot anybody. Sure, they were well-armed and surprisingly spry, but they’d see the light when he threatened them with some hollow-point justice.
“Everybody, freeze!” he shouted.
The music stopped, the record literally scratching as an errant set of dentures hit the stylus. For a moment, everyone stood still.
“I want you all down on the ground! Hands out!” He was getting into the spirit of it. “Drop your weapons! Now!”
The woman apparently known as Queen Bea turned, pulling a pair of faux-jeweled trifocals up to her eyes from the chain where they dangled. She peered at him, squinting.
“It’s the fuzz!”
She turned her attention to a woman not far from Johnson, who had backed one of the Shady Acres gang into the bingo machine. “Suzanne! Take him out! No witnesses!”
This was an unexpected development, he thought. With a sudden flash of silver, a knitting needle plunged into his wrist.
“Aaah!” he shouted, as the gun dropped from his hand. A purse that felt as if it were filled with lead shot slammed into his knee, and he went down, as blows from a metal cane slammed into his head with startling speed and power.
“No, ladies, this isn’t…stop…” He struggled to shield himself from their blows. “I’m almost…to…retirement…”
“You’re gonna retire all right! Restful Fields style!” The voice, like his vision, was getting hazier and hazier as he slumped to the floor.
Mercifully, the world faded to black. The last thing he heard was a great thumping, clacking noise, like the sound of a rhinoceros charging on concrete.
His vision came back slowly, like a black TV screen fading into static, then into a black and white image, and finally into a color picture. A picture of a man robed in white standing over him.
“Jesus? Is that you?” he rasped.
“Actually, I pronounce it ‘Hay-soos,’ but you can call me Dr. Castillo,” the man said as he looked up from a medical chart.
At that point, he became acutely aware of acute pain. He supposed you weren’t supposed to hurt in the afterlife, at least not right away. So maybe he was still alive after all.
“Hey, Hank, you’re awake!” He turned his head, painfully, to see Officer Flanagan walking towards his bed.
“Where am I? What happened?”
“You’re in the Shady Acres infirmary,” he said. “You took a pretty nasty beating, but they said you’re going to be just fine. As soon as they’re done running some tests, you can leave. And the Chief said you can take the rest of the day off!”
Flanagan pulled a cheap gold watch from his pocket and fixed it around Johnson’s left wrist. “Congratulations! You made it to retirement!”
“Well thank God for that,” he said, letting out the deepest sigh of the day so far. “I really did it!”
The sunlight caught the plastic face of the watch. It sparkled like costume jewelry.
“Wait,” Johnson said. “I thought you and Lister were off at the gas refinery?”
Flanagan pulled out a cigarette and lit it.
“Hey, you can’t smoke in here,” said Dr. Jesus. “It’s the law.”
“I’m the law,” he said, firmly.
Dr. Jesus shrugged and turned back to his chart.
“Anyway,” Flanagan said, “I resolved the situation at the gasoline factory, but Weaver and Pembroke chased that rhino right past me. I decided to help them out with the pursuit. And wouldn’t you know it, I ended up running right by here, just in time to save you from that elderly gang.”
“Thanks,” said Johnson. “You two saved my life.”
Flanagan shook his head sadly. “Just me, buddy.”
“What happened to Lister?”
“Bought the farm at the gasoline refinery.” He took a deep drag on his cigarette.
“You’re kidding! What happened? Let me guess,” he said, cutting Flanagan off before he could reply. “Explosion of some kind?”
Flanagan blew smoke. “Lung cancer. Kid never smoked a day in his life.”
Johnson nodded. “Huh. You can never be too careful.”
“You sure can’t,” said Flanagan, as he flicked his cigarette out the window and into a low shrub, which exploded.