Authors: Jon H. Thompson
Jon H Thompson
Copyright © 2011 Jon H Thompson
All rights reserved.
ISBN-13: 978 – 1466308626
This is for Avery, my editor
The black and white police cruiser slid slowly to a stop at the curb in front of the sprawling apartment building, directly opposite the glass front door. The driver, Sergeant Dan Sinski, a twenty two-year veteran, looked over, his eyes automatically probing the gloom visible inside the structure for any movement.
Seated beside him, Officer Jim Belles, just entering his fourth year as one of the Los Angeles Police Department’s finest, heaved a deep sigh and glanced down again at the paper on the clipboard in his lap.
“1540 Kittridge,” he said flatly, “Apartment 220.”
Dan nodded thoughtfully.
It was yet another routine chore that had recently been dumped into the hands of the patrol forces, the direct result of yet another round of budgetary cutbacks by a bureaucracy finding itself squeezed for cash, and deciding that the already meager resources available to serve and protect the good people of Los Angeles County could be trimmed just a little bit further. As a result, many of the standard, low-hazard information gathering duties once performed exclusively by specially trained plain-clothes officers would be folded into the “to-do” lists of uniformed sector patrol personnel.
In this case it was a preliminary interview with a potential witness to a rather bizarre encounter at a liquor store the previous day that had resulted in one person sustaining a very nasty head wound, and an incomprehensible explanation provided by the swarthy store clerk to whom English was most definitely a second, perhaps even third language.
According to the clerk, the alleged victim had been jumped by another customer the moment he had stepped through the front door of the shop and tackled to the floor by the rather slightly built man who clung to his back while shoving a hand into the space behind the victim’s long windbreaker.
The clerk had, naturally, begun bellowing rapidly in whatever his native gibberish was, and bustled around the counter to try and pry them apart, or at least achieve a much closer position from which to shout down at the pair. But by the time he had cleared the end of the counter and stepped halfway to where they were sprawled, the attacker was pushing himself up, a palm pressed firmly into the back of the bigger man beneath him, and there was a large, dark, ugly looking gun in his free hand. Naturally the clerk had jerked to a halt, his tirade choked to a sudden silence, his body going rigid in panicked confusion and fear. Considering his line of work, he was not unfamiliar with seeing firearms in the store and it never boded well for him or the contents of his employer’s cash drawer.
But then the attacker had done something amazingly bizarre. Raising the gun, which had turned out to be a rather impressive Smith & Wesson .38 special, he had swung it, hard, clipping it firmly across the back of the victims’ head, causing the bigger man's form to instantly sag in an eerie stillness on the floor. Without even looking up, the attacker had carefully placed the pistol on the floor and given it a shove, skidding it across the dirty linoleum to the feet of the stunned clerk.
Before the clerk could react, the attacker had thrown himself off the now unconscious man and scrambled to his feet, already shooting out a hand to shove open the door and flee into the parking lot.
It had taken several seconds for the clerk to process this unusual chain of events and finally step over to the door, just in time to catch the barest glimpse of the license plate of the car the attacker had scrambled into, and memorize all but the last digit of the number before the vehicle had peeled out of the parking lot that ran along the length of the collection of stores in the long, low single building and roar off down the street, disappearing into traffic.
After listening to his rather confused explanation of the events, Sergeant Sinski had called in the sketchy facts and run a routine check on the identity of the victim, obtained from his wallet just before the EMT’s had loaded him onto the stretcher.
He was a bit surprised to be informed a few moments later that this victim was in fact on parole after having served a five year stretch in Folsom Penitentiary for, of all things, robbing a liquor store. Apparently it hadn’t been his first, as he had at the time of his prior arrest already been a suspect in a half dozen more such crimes.
Returning to the Precinct to begin the grueling round of endless paperwork such events always generated, Sinski had been informed that the weapon which had put the rather unpleasant minor dent in the now-only-alleged victim’s skull, was in fact registered to that same alleged-victim’s cousin. The fact that the clerk had scooped the gun off the floor, turning it over in his hands as he stared at it in trembling disbelief, had rendered any fingerprint evidence utterly useless.
When Sinski had been provided with the list of owners’ names and addresses for all vehicles whose license numbers matched the known digits of the attackers’ plates, the Lieutenant had informed Dan and his partner it would be their responsibility to check them out, see if they could match the clerk
s somewhat vague physical description of the attacker to any of the owners when interviewed in person. There were, thankfully, only five possibilities on the list as, for some unknown reason, no letters and no odd numbers had been used for that final missing digit on any plates bearing the rest of the already known sequence. Even more strange, was the fact that four of the five possible plates had been issued to residents of Los Angeles county, the fifth going to someone residing in Sacramento.
This was stop number four for the pair of now thoroughly bored officers. The other three had wound up belonging to, in turn, an ancient Asian man who hadn’t driven his vehicle for over a month, a pleasingly attractive black woman who had just returned from a lengthy trip, and one of a small fleet of sedans owned by a carpet cleaning company, none of which had been off the company lot in the past week.
Dan sighed, having assessed what he could see of the dimly lit lobby beyond the glass doors across the street from where their black and white was parked, and judged it normal and containing not the least threat of any kind. He reached for the door handle.
“Let’s go," he said.
It took only a few moments for the apartment manager, seated in his office with a view across the lobby to the front door, to bustle out from behind his desk and usher the two policemen into the building. A brief exchange of their need to talk to one of the tenants led to their moving down the second story hallway within a minute of having first knocked on the building’s front door.
The apartment manager nervously pointed out the door to the apartment in question, and when Dan simply nodded and then stared at him, the manager silently took a couple steps back, giving the two police officers a bit more space.
Dan turned and knocked on the door.
After a few moments the door was pulled open, and Dan found himself facing a man of average height, a bit on the thin side with a disorderly mop of light sandy hair, ordinary features and a pair of wide startled eyes.
“Uhhhhh, yeah?” the man said after a few seconds.
“Mr. Kleinschmidt? John Kleinschmidt?” Dan asked, his tone quiet and unthreatening.
“Uhhhh, yeah. What’s… ?” the man responded, his brows furrowing down slightly.
“Mr. Kleinschmidt, we’d like to ask you a few questions, if that’s okay.”
John hesitated for only a moment before giving a sharp nod and stepping back, opening the entrance to the narrow passage from the building hallway into his own small single-room apartment.
“Come on in,” he said, his voice suddenly a bit falsely bright, “Make yourselves comfy. I, uh, just have to take a leak. Sit down. Be right back.”
As he said this he had turned and begun moving toward the door tucked in the corner next to the small kitchen area.
Instantly Dan’s senses crackled. Something in the man’s tone wasn’t quite right, and he’d been in enough situations that had gone south with unexpected suddenness to know that the only way to be sure some seemingly innocent individual wouldn’t suddenly whirl around pointing a handful of weapon at him, was to get them seated a few feet away and preferably with their hands zip-cuffed behind their backs.
“Wait, Mr. Kleinshmidt – “ he began, stepping forward to where John was already moving toward the half open door, one hand reaching out to grab at his shoulder if necessary, the other raising to rest on the butt of his holstered .9mm, just in case.
Then the man was bolting toward the door and Dan reacted totally on twenty-plus years of instinct, his thumb flicking the snap on the small strap that held his Glock tightly in its holster, even as his fingers curled around the butt of the pistol and began drawing it free. But he also knew there was no way in Hell he would ever actually fire the weapon in this place unless the suspect literally pointed the business end of a firearm at him. These cheap apartment walls were not thick enough to prevent his own high-powered bullet from punching into the room beyond the surface that divided that adjacent space from this one, and probably through the wall on the opposite side of that enclosure as well, hitting God knew what along the way. All he could reasonably hope to do would be to aim directly at this guy’s face and, maybe, for an extra attention-getter, cock the hammer. Beyond that, unless this guy was unquestionably about to kill him, Dan was setting up nothing more than a six pound, impressive-looking bluff.
The man hit the half-open door with an extended arm and plunged into the gloom beyond. The bang of the door bouncing off the wall in the dark space instantly confirmed that the room must indeed be a bathroom, small, tight and essentially hollow.
As his body passed beyond the threshold the man was already whirling, slapping at the door to send it back, already closing off the smaller space.
It had barely slammed closed with a sharp thud when Dan reached it, not bothering to attempt grabbing and turn the knob, but leaning his shoulder into his forward movement, hoping to burst the weak seal of the bolt and, with luck, slam into the guy himself and send him sprawling before he could manage to grab anything he might have hidden within the smaller room.
Dan tensed his body as his shoulder rammed the door, which flew open out of the way of his bulk, and gave one extra lunge with his feet into the dark space.
But all he encountered was the cool air inside the empty room and before he could pull back –
John Kleinschmidt opened his eyes to find himself standing before the sink in the small, dark bathroom.
How long had he gone, he wondered? Was it long enough?
He couldn’t worry about that now, he told himself, reaching to yank open the bathroom door and hurrying through into the small kitchenette, snatching up his car keys that sat atop the microwave oven, whirling and moving toward the apartment’s front door.
In seconds he was in the hallway, pausing only long enough to jam the key into the lock and give it a swift turn before yanking it free and moving briskly to the stairwell.
A quarter minute later he was striding across the small lobby toward the door that led to the ground level parking area and beyond. Within a minute of opening his eyes in the bathroom he was sliding behind the driver’s seat of his small sedan and cranking the engine to life, while he pushed the button on the small device clipped to the visor which caused the heavy iron gate to begin rumbling along its track, opening the portal to the street beyond. Before the gate had reached its fully opened position he was nosing up the slight ramp, pausing to scan down the street and then slipping into the traffic lane and accelerating toward the corner a hundred yards ahead.
He stopped, allowing the rather heavy flow of traffic on the wide, multi-lane cross street to clear and then turned right, pushing on the gas, gathering speed. In seconds he was lost in the collection of moving vehicles and out of sight of the building.