EXCERPT: Behind the Badge

A snippet from my current WIP, Behind the Badge. Note that this is an early draft and may change upon publication.

Jill watched as the van careened off I-83 and onto one of the countless side streets that connected North Baltimore with downtown. Her perch atop the John and Frances Angelos Law Center on the campus of the University of Baltimore gave Jill a perfect vantage point for the chaos, and she was glad she had decided to tail Colonel Downs after her conversation with Officer Carter. Not that she had considered Downs a suspect, but if he had anything that could have led her to one of the other perpetrators, then she was going to take every advantage she could.

Even if that meant breaking out the black leather and letting her hair down. The katana felt heavier than usual strapped to her back, a family heirloom that served as her symbol as much as anything else. Since the fallout from Vernon Delaney’s murder, Jill had kept her vigilante exploits to a minimum… mostly because far too many people now knew her secret. Sure, the vast majority of them were co-workers, people she trusted with her life, but the last thing Jill wanted was for her double life to become common knowledge. If that meant toning down the rooftop brooding and the bad guy pummeling for a bit, she had to make do.

But if any case begged for off-the-book investigating, this was it. If Jill’s hunch that cops were involved in Devin Buckner’s murder was correct, and if the pattern of behavior had been laid out before the brass downtown and nothing had been done, then something told Jill she wasn’t going to solve this case with her badge. Internal politics were her least favorite part of the job, and a large reason why she never showed any interest in moving up the proverbial food chain.

So why had she accepted Downs’ offer?

Sure, Captain Richards was desk-bound most of the time and got to go home at a decent hour most nights, but at what cost? She had heard some of his phone calls with the deputy commissioner and others at the Bishop over the years, and she decided long ago she wanted nothing to do with that. Jill became a cop to do good, not put up with bureaucratic hurdles. But still…

In the distance, Jill saw the van take the exit that led onto North Avenue, going far faster than any vehicle that size should. It almost toppled onto its side, and Jill wasted no time beginning her descent. This was one of those times where Jill wished Project Fusion had given her the ability to fly; at the very least, she wished she could afford to invest in a quality grappling hook. But she had to make do with fire escapes and improvising ways to get down off rooftops without injuring herself. Another multiple-story tumble was not something she needed.

Her infrared sight gave Jill the advantage of spotting the van from such a long distance. She had expected the van to keep on North, going westbound, but a sharp left took the vehicle onto Mt. Royal, and it was coming right toward her. Jill couldn’t believe how fortuitous that was, considering there was no way she could’ve made it from the University of Baltimore to North Avenue on foot and been able to keep up with the van. Then again, Jill wondered if maybe this was too easy.

But like Ramon once told her… gift horse, mouth.

◊◊◊

When Jill saw the van pull out from behind a black Cadillac, swerving into the right lane, she dropped into a crouch. She had to time this perfectly; otherwise, she would either bounce off the vehicle’s hood and wind up being run over by traffic behind, or she would miss the mark completely and possibly land in the middle of an intersection. Frankly, she didn’t want another trip to the hospital… especially considering what happened the last time. Not only did her secret get out to more people than she wanted, but Jill also had someone attack her in her own hospital bed.

Honestly, who tries to kill someone in a hospital?

Mentally counting down from three, Jill leapt into the air at one. She landed on the roof of the speeding van with a thud, trying to maintain her balance when the vehicle swerved in response. As expected, her stunt got the driver’s attention. Dropping to a knee, having an easier time balancing herself now that she had lowered her center of gravity, Jill pulled the katana from its sheath and pierced the sheet metal. She sliced through as best she could before using her free hand to pull the roof back like it was a sardine can.

She found Colonel Downs on his back, his face bloodied. He was still alive, writhing in pain. Jill was just about to drop down into the back of the van when gunfire erupted from the front of the vehicle, tearing through the partition. Jill lowered herself until her chest as flat against the roof, her free hand latching onto the peeled-back sheet metal. None of the bullets hit Downs, and none of them came up her way. Instead, the rear double doors had been hit, now resembling swiss cheese more than anything else.

Once gunfire had been replaced with the click of an empty chamber, Jill hopped into the back of the van, crouching beside the colonel and checking his pulse. It was faint, but it was there. He groaned in response to the leather-clad fingers pressed into the side of his neck, his eyes little more than open slits as he lifted a hand to point toward what was left of the partition.

Before Jill could turn around, one more gunshot burst through the partition. She ducked and covered Downs’ body with her own, squeezing her eyes shut before the realization dawned on her that neither one of them had been hit. Even with that knowledge, Jill needed a few seconds to gather her bearings — the sound of gunfire in such close proximity sending her back to a few months prior, when she had been chasing down a murder suspect downtown and wound up with a bullet in her gut. A bead of sweat rolled down Jill’s temple, her dark hair splayed out over her face. Her heartbeat thundered away in her ears, and Jill gulped in a deep breath to calm herself. But another gunshot rang out, this one clearly a shotgun blast. The concussive force dislodged her sword from the roof, and it fell to the floor with a clang.

Grabbing the weapon, and operating on pure adrenaline, Jill lunged toward the partition and sliced through it. She then reached through the hole the shotgun had torn through the metal, grabbing one of the masked figures by the neck and yanking them into the back of the van. She slammed the short man onto his back and pointed the tip of her blade at his throat.

“Keep driving!” the woman ordered, changing the clip on her pistol.

“I’d re-think that,” Jill warned. “Unless you wanna hear this guy gag on his own blood.”

“You wouldn’t,” the driver said, never once tearing his gaze from the windshield. Though the voice was muffled by the mask, it sounded an awful lot like the asshole cop she had questioned earlier that day.

“You really wanna find out?”

Silence filled the front compartment, and Jill hoped the masked attackers were reconsidering their strategy. Jill was flying by the proverbial seat of her pants; this was, by far, the strangest scenario in which she had found herself — which was saying something, considering she once had a man’s heart sitting in a box outside her apartment. She knew she wasn’t going to stab this guy in the neck, Colonel Downs probably knew she wasn’t going to stab this guy in the neck. But Jill needed the four in the masks to think she might.

What she hadn’t counted on was the press of the gun barrel into the back of her neck.

“What I want,” the female voice hissed, “is for you to put down that sword.”

Well, if this was ever an impasse… they wanted Jill to put down her sword, she wanted them to pull the van over. They didn’t appear willing to acquiesce, and Jill was worried pushing the issue further would get someone killed. But if she lowered her weapon, showed any sign of surrender at all, there was no telling what kind of signal that would send.

“How do I know you won’t pull the trigger even if I do?”

“You’ll just have to trust her,” the driver called out over his shoulder.

Jill swung her free arm behind her, her coiled fist hitting the masked woman in the elbow. The bone gave way and the woman howled in pain. The momentum of the blow sent her into the driver’s right side, their shoulders colliding before he yanked on the wheel and the van skidded across two lanes of traffic before hopping the median. The right front tire took out a fire hydrant, pressurized water shooting skyward before the van slammed back onto its wheels right in front of oncoming traffic. Cars skidded onto the sidewalk and crossed the median as they slammed on their brakes, and there were three crashes as motorists tried to keep from running into the van.

Jill reached for a metal bar on the left side of the partition, grunting when the force of the van almost popped her shoulder out of its socket. Fortunately, the four masked figures were too busy trying to hold on or control the vehicle to notice her, so by the time Jill gathered her bearings, she grabbed the sword again and reached around the driver, placing the blade flush against his neck.

“Stop the van!” she ordered. “Now!

“Or what?” the masked man in the back of the van with Jill asked. “We all know you won’t press down. That’s not your style.”

“You don’t have what it takes,” the man in the passenger’s seat, who to this point had been silent, added.

Even as they spoke, the van was decelerating, the front tires hoping over the curb as the vehicle bounced and teetered onto the sidewalk. Onlookers from across the road had pulled out their phones and were snapping pictures and taking videos — because apparently, a high-speed chase was social media fodder, but no reason to call the authorities. Not that Jill wanted the authorities here just yet; with any luck, they wouldn’t show up until she was already gone. That was seldom how it worked out, but Jill figured one of these days, it had to go her way.

Then again, it wasn’t like she could just tie up the bad guys in a makeshift spider web and just… leave them there.

She pressed the blade harder against the driver’s neck. It wasn’t yet deep enough to cut through skin, but if the van jostled just the wrong way…

“You know nothing,” Jill muttered under her breath. She didn’t need Carter recognizing her voice.

The man who had been on the ground behind Jill got up and punched Jill in her kidney. Though the blow caused her knees to buckle, and Jill bellowed in pain, she kept her grip on the katana and it moved just slightly against the driver’s neck. It cut through the material of the mask and came to rest against his skin. Carter tightened his grip on the steering wheel, and she felt him tense around the weapon.

Before Jill could react, though, she heard her attacker howl in agony before crumpling to the floor of the van. She frowned in confusion before seeing Colonel Downs, resting on his good elbow and holding onto a black taser. The anger and pain on his face made for a potent mix, and Jill reminded herself to never actually cross him. She also respected him a lot more than she had before; she had considered him part of the downtown cover-up that allowed these four officers to get away with these rough rides in the first place, but if they had kidnapped him and subjected him to a rough ride of his own…

Jill turned her head so that by the time Downs looked directly at her, he wouldn’t see her face. She so did not need someone from the Bishop figuring out who she was.

“You alright?” he asked.

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