Parties were never this quiet, even for a surprise entrance, Detective Inspector John Lander thought, as he barged into the designated room where a squad was supposed to be celebrating. Looking down the barrel of a gun as he was quickly frisked but kept quiet as he assessed the situation and stilted his surprise. This kind of thing never happened at parties at his division.
Looking around, in the dim light he spotted the eight member police unit were handcuffed to various things around the room, all looking pretty humbled, no doubt by how quickly they had been captured. None of them in the mood to party. The table in the centre of the room with the drinks on looking very dishevelled as if some of them had given a fight.
‘I didn’t realise this was an invitation only. Have I missed the dancing girls?’
Lander collapsed to the ground as he was hit in the solar plexus. Not hard but enough not to resist as he was also handcuffed and someone frisked and took his police ID and stepped on his phone.
‘You don’t belong to this division. What are you doing here, Detective Inspector?’ one of his assailants asked, inspecting his ID.
‘Investigating. Someone’s been killing police officers. I put together the clues and came here because they used to belong to this unit. I take it that’s you people doing this? What are you doing? Upping the body count now and doing them as a group discount?’
He looked around, his eyes better adapted. The other officers were gagged, explaining why they hadn’t uttered a word. But that wouldn’t explain why they hadn’t gagged him. That jibe hadn’t gotten him an angry retort. Were they professionals or just acting under orders? If they hadn’t done anything, then they were in a holding pattern. It wasn’t himself, so the killer or their boss was somewhere else and he or she was late for the party.
His own involvement in the case happened a few weeks back. There was a cop killer in the city. Three in different wards all by sniper. When the fourth had been killed at his ward by a sniper, Lander initiated a check to see if there was a connection. With only one killer, there had to be something linking the four of them up. No doubt others had tried but it all depended on the right question and he must had it when the computer flicked up they had all worked together in this division before promotion and a move elsewhere. All of them had distinguished arrest records.
Where to look in their combined police files was a lot more difficult as it has to be down to one specific case. This was a busy part of the city and it could any of a dozen or more cases these officers had been involved in. It would be easier to ask the surviving men and at least get them to keep their heads down. Better to do it in person than ring them. From the looks of things, he made the right call as they had all come in from solving a case and he doubted if any of them would answer the call. This squad was particularly good even if they didn’t look like it right now. No wonder men were continually being promoted out of it. Was this the reason?
Lander watched mindfully now. It was their move. Keeping quiet might stop them gagging him as well. He’d protest as needed but this was more of a waiting game. He wanted to talk to the man in charge not his foot soldiers. At least, that was what hostage training had taught him. It would be important to keep the body count down now. If they started shooting, they would all be witness to murder and no one left alive.
He didn’t have long to wait. A tall man in a trench-coat came through the door, herding a lean gangly man. The badge on the second man’s coat identified him immediately. An angel. Not willing but definitely a quiet protest in the way he walked. What better way to get someone unprotesting through an entire police department than come willingly? He was also fast enough to realise something wasn’t right, although Lander doubted that this was anything to do with the angel ability to give passage to family to say goodbye to their dead. The sniper hadn’t given a thought to that in his four assassinations. Just seeing the squad chained up would tell anyone this wasn’t some bondage party.
‘What’s going on?’ the angel asked.
‘Sit on the chair’, the tall man indicated at the centre of the room. ‘If you stay put, you won’t be handcuffed.’
The angel caught my eye as he walked across and Lander mouthed, ‘Do as they say.’
The man took off his trench-coat. Just an average looking man whom you would miss in the street, except for his above average height, although in shirtsleeves, he had an automatic slipped under his belt.
‘You don’t remember me?’ he addressed the angel. ‘We met very briefly after you were late for my wife’s death and you apologised.’
‘That happens from time to time. We can’t always make it for everyone. We don’t choose the time of death. That’s why we have clinics to reduce travelling.’
‘But you would have been there on time if this team hadn’t waylaid you on the way to the clinic where we were waiting.’
‘When was this?’
‘Seventeenth of last month.’
‘The Simpson murder?’
‘That’s the one. Tell me about it.’
‘It happened in the street. A woman was stabbed and was dying. A detective grabbed me and asked me to travel with her to Limbo City and see if she could give me information so they could catch her killer. She took half an hour to die and I took three officers as witnesses and we got the information. It made me late for the rest of the day. You weren’t the only one I missed.’
‘I thought I was just unlucky in not seeing my dying wife off,’ the man added. ‘Then I found this wasn’t the first time. My two colleagues here on the same day have similar stories.’
‘Having someone dying in the street isn’t something any officer can anticipate,’ He finally spoke up.
The man turned. ‘Who asked you to talk? And just who are you? You’re not part of this unit.’
‘Lander. Detective Inspector Lander. From central. Ex-officers from this squad have been killed recently. I came here to warn them. Looks like I’m going to be a key witness.’
‘I know nothing about that.’
‘So why are you here?’
‘To get some truth out about these people.’
‘Coerced evidence won’t stand up in court.’
The two other men looked at each other a little confused but turned back to their leader.
‘We are recording this,’ he said pointing at the cameras. ‘The gags are more to stop them shouting for help in case anyone wanders past. If you feel better being a witness or have some questions, then please don’t hesitate, Inspector. If you shout, I’ll have you gagged. We’re not the criminals here.’
‘Is he?’ Lander nodded towards the pensive angel.
‘No. Just a witness. You aren’t under any pressure, are you?’
Although shaken, the angel shook his head. ‘I was just invited to a party but you keeping me here is going to delay me seeing some dying. You’ll be no better than these officers.’
‘Can we continue? The Detective Inspector can determine if we should be arrested later.’
‘Then let me ask the questions?’ Lander pressed. ‘Then perhaps we can all go home early.’
The man gave a curt bow. ‘For the moment.’
‘Are many of you angels…sorry, sensitives interrupted in your activities by police.’
‘It happens from time to time,’ admitted the angel, ‘especially in this part of the city. You’ve seen the newspaper joke that we always tend to be around when death is near.’
The angel was putting it polite, Lander thought. Some people thought that was creepy and more demonic harbinger than angelic.
‘Officers in this unit say they keep an eye on us for our own protection when we’re off to a nearly deceased. The instances of murder seems to happen a lot more lately.’
‘Do you believe they are the cause?’
The angel shrugged. ‘I’ve talked to my colleagues and when we visited Limbo City with them, some victims descriptions tend to suggest there’s a couple serial killers and a rapist in the area. Our co-operation found them. The victims don’t know much beyond a description.’
‘That doesn’t have anything to do with their track record.’
‘There’s also been about twenty or thirty fatal car accidents and the evidence we’ve made has always led to a conviction of the hit and run driver. They seem to remember number plates and faces.’
‘So your people have been helping with enquiries. I can see how you get your reputation as death magnets. Does it interfere with your job at the clinics?’
The angel nodded. ‘These…gentlemen aren’t the only cases where we’ve arrived too late. I can sympathise, it’s getting in the way of our regular job…’
‘And you don’t get your fees.’
‘Not from anyone. We don’t make much profit from our fees but it keeps us fed.’
That all depends on how many people they see off to Limbo City a day but Lander kept that thought to himself.
‘Currently the police department owes your people money then.’ Lander finally looked at the other handcuffed officers with distain. No wonder they were so successful and with members of the team leaving and joining other divisions, he could see it escalating as it spread across the country, let alone the world. Was that such a bad thing? They were getting results. It was if these angels were being stopped all the time and being unpaid helpers.
He turned to the tall man. ‘I would need to check records to see if similar events happened when the…sensitives weren’t in the area on certain days.’
‘You realise this is more than luck, Inspector?’
‘I’m not a scientist. If the police want sensitives, then they should pay for them and free other sensitives to see the dying off. Would that be a better compromise?’
Instinctively, Lander looked first at the window and then around the room. One of the squad officers had been hit. Dead. A sniper. The sniper!
‘EVERYONE DOWN!’ he ordered.
The officers shook their handcuffs. They couldn’t move anywhere.
Another officer was shot. The others were shaking. They were all sitting ducks. Including himself.
The three captors are dropped to the floor. The angel was under his chair. Two more officers were dead.
‘Is this your doing?’
The tall man, now on the floor, turned and shook his head. ‘Would I be down here if it was?’
‘Whoever is shooting has timed it to what we were saying. Either he’s bugged this office or he’s got sound equipment. Release them all now. No sense you becoming accessories to murder.’
The three men looked at each other. Unspoken, they crawled across the floor and unlocked the remaining five officers, who flattened to the ground before crawling undercover and removing their plaster gags.
Lander shook his own handcuffs. ‘Do you think he won’t shoot me?’
The tall man crawled over and undid Lander’s manacles.
One of the other police officers moved towards the windows and ducked down as another bullet went through the window.
‘Get away from the window you stupid…’
Lander looked at the officers. ‘Who’s ranking?’
‘They were,’ one said pointing at the shot men.
‘Are they dead?’
Another police officer was checking. ‘The sarge’s still alive…Just!’
‘Can we phone out?’
‘I had the landline cut when we took over,’ The tall man admitted.
‘And all the mobiles smashed. Does anyone want to try to get through the door?’
The shaking of heads was enough. It was in direct line with the window. If the lights were on, maybe the sniper wouldn’t have such a clear view but he’d just as likely have a sniperscope.
‘All it’ll take is if he’s got something bigger to fire this way,’ Lander muttered. ‘At least it explains the other murders of ex-members of this team. You people aren’t the only ones with a grudge and he’s taking the group discount.’
The officer with the sergeant called out. ‘The sarge’s dying.’
The angel crawled from under his chair towards the dying man.
‘What are you doing?’
The angel stopped and turned. ‘He’s dying and scared. I can give him peace and go across with him. Reassure him’ He continued crawling.
‘Can you get a message out that way, too?’
The angel nodded. ‘There’s always some of us there.’
‘Then stay behind him so you don’t get hurt. The sniper might have a grudge against angels as well.’
The angel took over from the officer and held the sergeant’s shaking hand and looked him in the eyes but couldn’t utter a word. The damage by the sniper’s bullet was extensive. He didn’t have long to live.
‘Can you get a move on?’
The angel gave Lander a sharp look. ‘Would you want to die suddenly?’
‘Yes, if it would help us here.’
One of the three captors made a rush for the door.
The bullet penetrated his head. He was dead before he took another step.
‘Stay down,’ ordered Lander again, ‘not unless you want to die slow and give the angel another route out of here to get help.’
He turned and saw the same thought had been going through the rest of them.
‘I know what you’re thinking. He can’t get all of you. You’re wrong. He’s using high calibre teflon bullets on semi-automatic. He’d have it on automatic before your second step. He’s taking his time. Savouring the action. He wants you to suffer.’
He looked at the tall man. ‘And don’t think you’re off scot-free. This one doesn’t mind who he kills in here. Look what he did to him. Did you tell anyone your plans who backed off?’
‘We were looking for support off the Net but didn’t tell anyone about when we were doing this.’
‘And you didn’t think anyone else would be as pissed as you are?’
‘I don’t think he’s going to wait forever,’ one of the detective constables said. ‘What does he do then?’
‘He’s probably got a bazooka.’
‘I wonder why he hasn’t used it…’
‘WILL YOU SHUT UP,’ Lander shouted, before saying in a more muted tone. ‘We already know he’s probably bugged this room.’
Lander ducked as the bazooka hit and brick debris crashes around them. It wasn’t meant to do anything but shatter the wall. Looking to the angel, both he and the dead detective are untouched with only a light glow surrounding them and they had been in the line of fire. Incredulously, he looks around. The others were less fortunate being nearer the line of fire. No way of checking if they were alive. Having been cuffed to the far side had only just spared him. If the sniper’s bug was still working and caught him or the angel breathing, he’d have plenty of time to shoot again.
The glow faded and the angel looked around. ‘He died. The message is sent…what happened?’
Lander put his finger to his mouth. ‘Whisper. We’re lucky we can hear ourselves. He might still hear you. How did you survive the blast?’
The angel looked confused.
‘You’re surrounded by the blast area but you’re not hurt. Nothing touched either of you. That one just opened the wall up.’
‘I don’t know. I wasn’t here.’
‘Listen. If he fires again, we’ve had it. Whatever you’re doing when you’re in Limbo City seems to protect your body here. Can you do it again and take us?’
The angel shook his head. ‘We only get there with the dying.’
‘Can you tell the living from the dying?’
The angel nodded his head.
‘Two of the officers are dead. So is that man’s friend. He’s still alive. Barely.’
‘So if you comfort him into Limbo, the rest of us can bag a lift…even if they’re unconscious?’
‘I’ve never carried an unconscious man.’
Lander slid across the floor. Those three still alive, yes?’ He pulled their hands from the rubble and got them touching hands. One stirred.’
‘Get to him. Do you know how long he’s going to live?’
The angel shook his head as he held the tall man. ‘That’s why we arrive so early. We aren’t gods. We can’t predict these things.’
‘Just their messengers.’
The angel raised his eyebrow at that. ‘We think that’s what an early generation took our kind for.’
‘We can’t just wait for him to fire. If he knows they’re going to crash in on him, he’ll complete his revenge.’
‘If he’s going to die, why don’t I just kill him? Better one than all.’
The angel looked horrified. ‘That would be murder. I don’t know what would happen…or if I could take you to Limbo.’
‘Let’s hope he’s barricaded himself in. That extra piece of time.’
‘Why hasn’t he fired?’
‘If he can hear us, maybe he wants us to suffer. Shame it’s not a two-way communication. Now we want him to try to kill one of us, he won’t. Bastard!’
One of the unconscious detectives stirred.
‘Maybe he wants us all awake?’
‘One last time.’
‘Glad you waited for me.’
Lander looked up and cursed that he hadn’t heard any noise from a cable being attached from across the street or the sniper coming across. So much for him being caught over there.
‘We’ve been kinda busy.’
The sniper was armed but none of them had enough puff to take him on.
‘Come to gloat, have you?’
‘I’ve come to join you in death.’ He opened his coat, revealing a bomb attached to his chest. ‘These are the last of the cops who stopped him coming to my wife’s death.’
‘Seems to be open season on this squad or what’s left of it. If you look at the bodies, I think you’ve already achieved that. Why us as well?’
The sniper pointed at two of the detectives in the chain. ‘No, they aren’t.’
‘They’re hardly awake.’
‘You,’ the sniper pointed at the angel. ‘They’d be awake in Limbo City, won’t they?’
The angel nodded. ‘Only for the short time they’re there.’
‘Fine!’ The sniper pressed a button and a timer flicked on his chest declared 60 seconds left.
‘A minute left. So you’re not even going to say who you are?’
‘Why bother? It won’t do any of you any good where we’re all going. Sorry about the angel going but let’s just say I’ve got all those responsible for keeping him from my seeing my wife off to the next life.’
Time always seems to slow down when something big happens, Lander thought but watching the digital timer run down to zero, he never felt to helpless as no…
He opened his eyes. Was death as quick as that?
The stark white and blue buildings of Limbo City loomed over him. The description from the books was well matched but much larger than he imagined in the plaza. It was quiet despite the number of people here. How many died every minute of the day?
By his side were the three detective constables and the tall man who got him into this mess in the first place all still holding hands. The angel was by his side. No change in his appearance. No wings or halo. Just as ordinary as the rest of them. The sniper was facing them. In the distance were other people and they were vanishing, going to wherever was next.
‘Don’t any of you let go,’ the angel warned, although he didn’t appear to be speaking.
What did he mean? We were all dead, weren’t we?
The sniper looked at them. ‘I killed you all. I won.’
The angel shook his head. ‘You blew up but I caught some of your flesh and jumped. I hope there’s a hell where you’re going.’
The sniper looked shocked and then vanished.
Lander closed his eyes and suddenly they were back in the room or rather what’s left of it. They were still on the floor. All six of them. The tall man wasn’t dead but still dying. It must have been the sniper’s body that triggered the jump. Just like the angel said.
This time, the room was a bigger mess and more exposed. They shouldn’t have survived.
The angel turned. ‘I think it was because you were linked to me in a chain. We must have all been protected when jumping to Limbo City. It seems true of anyone we’re touching as well.’
‘Are we safe here? I mean, can we let go hands yet?’
The angel nodded towards two of the detectives. ‘They’re still unconscious. Serious injuries from before. I might be keeping them alive like this.’
The door crashed open and a fireman looked at the mess.
‘Jeeze! We didn’t think anyone was alive.’
‘Neither did we. Can you get us out of here? This floor doesn’t feel safe. Some of these officers need some serious help.’
‘Blown to kingdom come. We saw him on the way out.’
Another police officer popped his head through the doorway. ‘Sorry we didn’t get there in time.’
Lander dipped his head. ‘You wouldn’t have known he’s gotten a line over here. My angel…sensitive says that only by holding hands were we kept alive. Can you get some medics and equipment in to keep them going?’
‘On their way.’
‘Then I can stop looking like a pansy holding hands.’
Lander gave a wry grin and turned to the angel. ‘As much as I hate to say it, I think these people had a point. We really ought to have a couple angels on the for…’
They were back in Limbo City. The big man who had started off the events was no longer in the chain but facing them. The chain to the other officers broken by his death, so it was just the two of them. He mouthed I’m sorry before vanishing.
(c) GF Willmetts 2015
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