Monday, December 27, 2010

You Rang?

Roma, even with three Anti-Terrorist Squad members backing her up, held her breath. They were in the hallway outside #405 on North Cumberland in the upper part of the city. Fourth floor. Corner apartment. The hall light was off. On purpose. The apartments to the right and left had been evacuated, successfully, quietly. That was step one. There were voices coming from #405. Not loud but loud enough. Confident. Laughter. No TV, though. No radio, either.

From across Cumberland in the abandoned hotel at the corner of North Cumberland and Jackson, it's north most corner room stationed right across the street from #405, was a surveillance team, with a 15-power night-scope focused on the room looking practically right through the flimsy window drapes, relaying information to Roma. That was sort of like step zero. It was a dilemma when you take up the bomb building hobby whether to leave the windows and blinds open, like normal people and risk observation, or, close up tight and make everyone suspicious, but at least not be seen.

Roma was a tough cop. She'd been shot and pistol whipped and had developed a reputation for being quick and brave. Sometimes, she thought, a little too quick (one suspension for popping a child molester in the interrogation room. He asked her if she like little girls and she cracked him across the bridge of his nose with the clipboard.) and sometimes a little too brave (for tackling a line-backer type who had a very large knife). She backed up her troops and her troops backed her to the core. She had the scars, literally, to prove it. She'd given out more than a few scars, as awards, sort of. They all had war wounds. Tomason, last in line, walked with a limp where a hockey-puck size mine that took a chunk out of his shinbone.

Hence, tonight. Step three had been to get the lay of the land. All four of them at one time or another had dressed in dungarees, toting a ladder, to inspect the lights or fuse boxes or water pipes. Even accompanied the super on his annual inspection of the apartment. The building on North Cumberland was not a hotbed of criminal activity. It was a middle-class, middle-scale, mid-town black-brick building with 40 units, reasonably priced, mostly filled. Except for #305, below the target apartment. Roma and the watchers had been in the building dozens of times,

Harry Anderson, second in line, was the door banger. No knocking. No persuasion. No preliminaries. No announcements. His job was to open the door. Open it with one good swing of the ram. Not two. One. Period. In practice, sometimes, he'd hit the doors so hard the whole frame caved in with a crash. Other times the door would give so easily all the remaining momentum in the ram would twist Anderson and he'd do a pirouette and land on his side against the wall or the jam. Nobody laughed a second time. They'd all been there.

Nicky Mason was actually Roma's second in command which is why he and Roma would squeeze through the door almost side by side. He was as wiry as she was and probably a lot tougher. More war wounds. Absolutely fearless to a fault.

Roma held up her fist. Locked eyes. Each raised an acknowledging finger, index fingers mostly, according to protocol, but not all. Tomason liked to hook his pinkie in response. Around the corner half a dozen SWAT cops tensed for action. She nodded to Anderson who stepped out into the hallway and gave the cheap door such a punch with the ram that the deadbolt sailed across the room. Roma and Mason were on the four terrorists probably before they knew anyone was even there.

It was over including the shoutin' in five minutes. Cuffed. Frisked. The bomb squad awaited downstairs until the entire crew was out. They began to gear up to defuse any thing they found more complex than a light bulb.

Roma's cell phone went off, singing, "Mary had a little lamb." She held up her hand indicating to everyone to wait.

"Hello," she said. Then rolled her eyes. "No! I don't want any! Yeah, and screw you, too, lady! Take me off your list!" And slammed the phone shut. She waved the bomb squad to proceed.

Apartment #405 on North Cumberland ignited --erupted, exploded, blasted, inflated-- in a ball of flame not seen in the city in years. Right over everyone's heads. Glass. Shears. Trim. Paneling. Sofa parts. Sofa pillows. Flame. Paper. Junk. Dishes. Glassware. Plastic ware. Styrofoam cups. Carried out by the vacuum of the shock wave. Just about everything including the kitchen sink followed the windows outward. The fire exploded throughout the rooms and instantly ate up the rest of the floating debris, not racing out the window, all well oxygenated by their suspension in the room. Up in #505 the couple had heard the door crash and took refuge in a closet. They were later found dead from smoke inhalation. The heat and shock wave weakened the floor so that the rest of the furniture --sofa, dining room table, TV, fridge, bathtub-- all ruined but still massive, crashed down into #305. Water pipes burst. Electricity sparked. The building went dark.

After everyone had picked themselves up off the damp sidewalk, one of the bombers, a little bit older than the rest, began to praise Allah for his masterful display of such power! And another, maybe the youngest, maybe a teenager, began thanking Allah for their being outside the room.

Roma, not in a mood to praise anyone, grabbed the oldest by the collar and gave him a yank of authority. Pulled a full grown adult male down to her height. Made him bend over, awkwardly, nearly down to his knees. To a woman.

"Listen up, Curly," she said, spitting raw anger. Her voice was beyond hysterical but not scared. Roma didn't scare. "You better hope that the rest of your lot is on the no-call list 'cause otherwise your DIY firecracker will go off in your face. Then who's side is Allah on?"