Chapters 31, 32, 33 and 34
Today we meet - for the first time - one of God's actual children.
Uriel is a 990-million-year-old Archangel...and a spoiled brat with a gambling problem. She's also the fourth and final member of Christine's new team.
And through Alicia Sonnet, we get a horrible peek at the nature of the plan the dark side has in store for us.
Bent Copper Bar
Alicia Sonnet accepted her drink with a nod of thanks, waiting for the server to depart.
“The Irregulars were a disaster, Frank. I thought they would at least cause some damage, but nothing. Nothing but alerting our presence to Harry Moss and Black Ops.”
Juno sighed. “Really…what did you expect? They’re nothing more than unwashed cowboys.”
Frank Juno, as usual, was dressed in an expensive suit that had seen better days. There was an ancient wives’ tale that stated being ugly on the inside can affect a soul’s outward appearance. This wasn’t always the case…but for Juno, the old saying hit the nail on the head.
“I expect more from you, Frank. This shadow operation is insane. I’m the assistant deputy secretary for Homeland Security, for God’s sake. I never should have become involved.”
“Tell me about it.” Juno said. “But then again, maybe you shouldn’t have fallen in love with that James character. Quite frankly, that whole business is beneath you.”
Sonnet nodded. “Perhaps. You’re right at my side, though, you nut-bar….making the exact same mistakes that I am.”
Frank Juno blew out cigar smoke and sat back in the shadows, his forehead creased, eyes hidden.
“I see it in a different light. Who is going to come out on top? I always ask myself that question at the beginning of any operation. You see, Alicia, I naturally have a very jaundiced view of life. From my standpoint, everyone is corrupt, but I have always made that fact work in my favor.”
Sonnet sipped her bourbon, trying to relax her nerves in the dark bar. The Bent Copper in Georgetown was one of the few places where damned souls could meet – and more importantly – smoke, in Washington. She lit a Marlboro and drew in the sweet nicotine.
“Frank, you try to talk like a gangster…but cut the act. We both want the same thing.”
“And what is that precisely, my dear?”
“To live here in peace, of course! I certainly don’t want to go back to Hell, and I know you don’t. So cut the shit, okay? We both enjoy our status and comforts here.”
“True enough.” Juno shrugged. “We’re in it now, so get used to that fact. I agree, I am perfectly happy with my lot in life here on Earth. The Hallstatts chose us for a simple reason, and that is because most demons and damned souls are…what’s a good word? Ah, yes! Dumb. That’s the correct word; most escapees are as dumb as a bag of hammers. They needed our intelligence, and our connections. You just fell into the well deeper than I did; overcome by whatever James Hallstatt has in his trousers.”
Sonnet pounded the table. “You’ve made your point crystal clear concerning James. Enough already.”
“Very well. The timetable has changed, Alicia. The Sempticemic Plague will be released soon, which moves up other priorities…and you still have another important job to do.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“Nope.” Juno shook his head. “I received the flash traffic from Ulf with specific orders for you. A certain chemist needs to be released from federal custody, and Ulf thinks your credentials will work perfectly.”
“But that will blow my cover!”
“So be it.” Juno paused, and took a drink. “The Hallstatt brothers are not the trusting types, my dear. It seems they have someone specific in mind to work on the corticosteroid antibody to protect the Dal Clann Hallstatt here on Earth from the upcoming plague.”
“Hold on a second…I thought the virus wouldn’t hurt us.”
Juno puffed his cigar. “Oh, it won’t hurt you or me…but it will certainly kill any human followers here on the East Coast. And we can’t have that, now can we? The Hallstatt brothers would have our heads.”
Everyone knew that the Oubliette in Hell and its dubious operations were run by two powerful, extremely vicious brothers - King Brian the Hated and Ulf the Quarrelsome.
Unsurprisingly, they didn’t get the nicknames by playing well with others.
Both had risen to prominence in 1014 during the Battle of Clontarf in Ireland. King Brian and his younger brother Ulf put an end to Scandinavian power over the nation by uniting Ireland using the most bloody and grisly means possible. They built an army 40,000 strong, made up of rebels and malcontents, massacring anyone or anything that stood in their path.
Together, the Hallstatt brothers perfected the slow death of impalement, and quite a few other nasty methods of torture. Ulf had taken the title of most ruthless, however, when he captured the would-be Norwegian conqueror Brodir.
Ulf tied Brodir’s arms behind his back, sliced open his belly and pulled out his guts, attaching one end of the intestinal tract to a tree. Ulf then led Brodir around the tree over and over until the guts were completely removed. Brodir died in agony a short time later, his heart was eaten by the Hallstatt brothers and his head used as a fetish for years.
And with that bit of naughty mischief, Ulf the Quarrelsome cemented his name into history as a truly insane badass.
The two brothers ruled Ireland with an iron fist for decades. But one day, they made the unfortunate decision to invade England - at the same time the murderous King Harald had set his sights on the same piece of property. A very bad move.
The battle was legendary, although not in the Hallstatt brothers’ favor. After two days of desperate fighting, the Irish army was overrun…with all but 25 men killed. Both King Brian the Hated and Ulf the Quarrelsome had their skulls bashed in at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066.
This event - to history buffs, at least - marked the beginning of the High Middle Ages.
King Brian, without question, had ruled the Oubliette in Hell since his death. Given his uncompromising nature, it was inevitable, really. He had been an imposing man in life, and the epitome of the perfect demented demon in the afterlife. Brian had no conscience whatsoever; he wasn’t interested in money or the accruements of an easy life.
King Brian the Hated simply wanted to watch the world burn…just for the hell of it.
Ulf the Quarrelsome was another story altogether. His eHarmony page, in the modern world, would have read, ‘enjoys long walks on the beach and torturing people’.
Ulf ran the corrupt Out Town – the frontier-like city built onto the outer walls of the Oubliette.
All of the prostitution, weapons, alcohol, and drugs destined for the Oubliette passed through Ulf’s greedy clutches first. He also controlled the limited supply of electricity, the water mains and the telegraph station.
And no one could ever say he was good boss, either. It was rumored that one of Ulf’s deputy henchman complained of his leader one day within earshot of the demon. Ulf calmly dismembered the henchman and ate him raw in front of his other deputies.
The suggestion box remained empty after that.
Sonnet shook her head. The Hallstatt brothers were certifiable, and it was little wonder she didn’t want to go back to Hell. The place blew.
The waiter brought fresh drinks and emptied the ashtray. Juno relit his cigar and swirled his bourbon thoughtfully.
“Alicia, everything is moving forward, whether you and I like it or not. Soon, this country will be trying to bury its dead, and the government will be in utter chaos. If you don’t want a part of that, you better find a deep hole to ride out the storm.”
Sonnet smiled grimly. “Is that what you’re going to do?”
“I haven’t decided. I’m not sure there’s anywhere we could disappear to…the Hallstatt brothers would find us.”
“I think that maybe you’re right, Frank. We’re going to have to ride this one out. Who does Ulf want busted out of prison?”
“Your boyfriend’s grandfather…Fighting Jack Hallstatt.”
Blakely River Battery
East Potomac River Park
Christine and Pine Coffin leaned against the landing hand-railing, sipping their scotch.
“Thanks for what you did today.”
Pine Coffin smiled. “No problem. Those idiots got what they deserved, ma’am.”
“No more ma’am. Christine, please.”
“Okay, Christine. You’re our Operational Control?”
“Yes, that’s correct.” Christine was enjoying the warm glow of whiskey in her stomach, and how it had steadied her hands. “So…Pine Coffin….are you the muscle of the team?”
“No…no, I’m not.” Pine Coffin’s chuckle was a rumble from the Marianas Trench. “I’m a surveillance and counter-surveillance specialist, as well as long-range eliminations. Parker Noble is comms, logistics, and transportation.”
Christine heard a truck pull up outside of the flak tower, and watched as a small teen girl hopped out – then began directing the truck driver as he backed the rig into the doorway.
Christine’s spirits lifted, realizing that the tarp-covered objects on the flatbed truck were two vehicles – one of which would be the Bumblebee Camaro she’d requested. But she was puzzled by the young slip of the Asian girl waving the truck in.
“Who is that?”
Pine Coffin took a deep gulp of his drink. “That’s the muscle - Uriel.”
“God’s youngest Archangel?” Christine exclaimed. “That Uriel?”
“Yes….and the fourth member of our team.”
Christine looked again. Uriel was a Hmong teenager, about five feet tall, 95 pounds or so, and dressed in black jeans and a peach blouse.
“That’s the muscle? You’re kidding, right?”
Pine Coffin shook his head. “Nope. You and I were human at one time, Christine. We have limitations imposed upon on us by that fact. Uriel was never human.”
“Never human…that’s a little hard to comprehend.”
“It was for me too at first. Try to understand, though - Father God made her from materials only found in deep space, just like Michael, Raphael and Gabriel. But they are much, much older. Uriel is only 990-million-years old.”
Pine Coffin nodded. “Even so, she is absolutely indestructible.”
“If you say so. Let’s go see my car.”
Parker, Harry and Pine Coffin trailed behind Christine as she bounded down the spiral staircase to the ground floor.
“Harry!” Uriel squealed and hugged Harry so hard that Christine swore she heard a few ribs crack. Uriel was a pretty girl with almond-shaped eyes and silky black hair that stopped at her waist. Apparently, she liked technology. Uriel wore the latest Oris dive watch and had an iPhone 5 clipped to her belt. And like any teen, she was practically imploding with pent-up energy.
“Hello, Uriel.” Harry said patiently. “This is your team leader, Dr. Taylor.”
“Hi,Dr.Taylor!” Uriel smiled toothily. “I’mUriel,butyoucancallmePepper.”
Harry sighed. “Do not call her Pepper, Christine. It only encourages her.”
“You can understand what she’s saying?” Christine said, looking at Harry quizzically.
“I get the gist of roughly half.” Harry answered.
“Wow.” Christine said. “Does she even pause to breathe?”
Uriel frowned. “Umm…I can hear you, you know.”
“Uriel is somewhat excitable.” Harry shook his head. “It is like being under fire from a machine-gun nest, though, isn’t it?”
Uriel stomped her foot. “I can hear you, you know!”
Christine smiled. “What’s with the name Pepper?’
“Uriel has this crazy notion in her head.” Harry said. “She wants to become human, change her name to Pepper and spend her days beating the casinos in Vegas. Uriel thinks she has a system for winning at blackjack. Sadly, Uriel is developmentally-challenged.”
“I can hear everything you are saying!” Uriel hollered. “I’m standing right here! And my system is unbeatable.”
“Uriel’s system is also known as cheating.” Harry said, then tapped Uriel on the nose. “And it’s been done before…by much smarter people than you. Behave yourself.”
Uriel scuffed a boot on the concrete. “You’re no fun.”
Parker pulled the tarp from the vehicle on the back of the rig. The driver lowered the ramps and unchained the unusual 4x4.
“What is that?” Christine said.
The vehicle rolled backwards down the metal ramp and Pine Coffin put a hand up, stopping the big SUV. Then he ran a hand along the sleek, black truck’s flank.
“Nice, Parker. Armored?”
Parker Noble nodded. “Against bombs and light weapons. Called in a favor so we could have some decent wheels. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Assault DV8. Built by Noble Industries – my family.”
“The Noble Industries is your family?” Christine asked. “I thought you were a scientist.”
“I come from a family of scientists.” Parker said. “My sister took over the business after my death. But we made our money the old-fashioned way…by bilking the American government. Noble makes nearly every armored vehicle that goes into combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we are very good at building trucks that are outrageously overpriced.”
Christine assessed the armored truck. The Assault was a four-door SUV vaguely similar to the VW Touareg – a cross between an off-road vehicle and a sports car. The entire truck was air intakes, big tires and aerodynamic lines. She was impressed, but still anxious to get her Camaro off of the rig.
Uriel climbed aboard the flatbed and pulled the tarp from the second vehicle. Christine was nearly speechless…again. She took a long moment to collect herself, then sighed and punched Harry in the arm. Hard.
“Oww!” Harry said, rubbing his shoulder. “What was that for?”
“You know very well what that was for. Does that look like a Bumblebee Camaro?”
“Not exactly?” Christine fumed. “What – pray tell – does that look like, Harry? Exactly?”
“Listen, Christine…we have budget restrictions, you know. This isn’t a Michael Bay movie where Chevrolet just gives us whatever we ask for. I did the best I could to get you a high-performance muscle car.”
Christine looked at Harry in amazement. “A high-performance muscle car? That’s a Volvo wagon, Harry! From the 60s! The 60s! You can’t even use high-performance and Volvo in the same sentence, it’s against the law.”
“I think you might be overreacting a bit, sweetheart.”
“Don’t you dare ‘sweetheart’ me!” Christine screamed. “I know when I’m being bamboozled.”
Parker and Pine Coffin rolled the Volvo off of the flatbed, smiling. The three members of Christine’s team opened all of the doors, inspecting the station wagon.
“Hey, Christine!” Parked yelled. “Your ride is sweet. A mint 1967 Volvo 122? You don’t see one of these every day. I think this might be the original tan paintjob from the factory. And – whoa – brown cloth seats…nice. I may be just nursing a semi.”
Christine nearly went ballistic.
She forcibly made her blood pressure lower to an acceptable level and tried practicing yoga techniques that she’d learned in Heaven. She discovered quickly that yoga was shit – but tried to be reasonable.
“Cloth seats, Harry? Tan paint, Harry? Are you insane?”
Harry shrugged. “The guys like it. See? It’s a classic.”
“Soon, Harry.” Christine said through her teeth. “I am going to eat your bones. You won’t know when I’m coming. It could be when you’re asleep, or at the office. You will never see it coming. I will become a Harry Moss bone-eating ninja.”
“You may want to rephrase that.”
“Pumpkin,” Parker said, “maybe you should give the car a chance.”
“You,” Christine pointed at him, “shut it. You’re not helping a bit.”
Harry checked his wristwatch. “I have to get back. You know the mission, Christine. Go to the Hallstatt residence and make sure the child is safe. Keep a close eye out for anything suspicious until further notice.”
Christine, expended and resigned, turned to Uriel. “Up for a road trip?”
“You bet.” Uriel smiled sweetly. “Umm…are you really a bone-eating ninja?”
Bent Copper Bar
Sonnet downed her drink and signaled for another. “King Brian wants me to get Fighting Jack out of federal lockup? Is he insane?”
“Of course, he’s insane.” Juno said. “We’re talking about King Brian and Ulf – remember? They give new meaning to the term insane - you know that. They want this plague to work, and the Hallstatts are deadly serious.”
Indeed, she did know how serious the brothers were. Sonnet had met the King Brian and Ulf around 1910 or so, just before she’d bought her way back to Earth. Ulf had taken her life savings without a second thought, then beat her senseless just for fun. She considered herself lucky that neither brother had raped her.
“Madness.” Sonnet said. “Sheer madness. Tell me again about this plague.”
Juno smiled and settled back. “It’s all very simple and elegant, really. The Dal Clann Hallstatt will be using a virus that science has forgotten about, and for good reason. The Sempticemic Plague hasn’t been seen since it wiped out Venice and Florence back in 1381, burning its way through the trade routes right to the Mediterranean Sea.”
“How was it spread?”
“The Yersinia bacteria are transferred by a rat or insect bite initially…but after that a cough from one victim to another can easily pass the virus along.”
“Just a cough?”
“Yes.” Juno said. “However - Sempticemic Plague, like most others, dies outside of the human body within a few hours.”
Sonnet sipped her fresh drink. “Theoretically, though, someone could wipe their nose on an airplane seat and pass it on that way?”
Juno nodded. “Absolutely….within certain parameters. What most people don’t realize is the Black Plague – which unjustly got credit for the deaths in Europe - was mostly curable with a decent bath, but the Sempticemic had a 100 percent mortality rate – even by today’s standards. The poor soul that was infected usually died the same day as contraction, and it’s very hard to combat that. Even so, certain antibodies will reduce the chance of death to roughly half.”
“Wait, Frank…I thought this was some kind of super-virus. What you’re describing sounds like it will move too fast to infect a large population. I don’t understand why this plague is being used…why not something more modern…like Ebola?”
“That’s a very good question.” Juno took a slug of his bourbon. “And you’re right; the simple fact is that most plagues and viruses burn themselves out too quickly. Or rather, they kill their victims too fast to spread effectively. Ebola will kill an entire village in Africa, along with itself, before it can spread to the next village. The Sempticemic Plague can only kill in a single day when the infected has never had access to a hot shower, like in the Middle Ages. That’s usually someone who already had a weak immune system.”
“Really? It’s that simple?”
“Yes, indeed. In the modern world things are a bit different, mainly because of our sanitary conditions and superb health. This works in the Sempticemic Plague’s favor, actually, spreading at the optimum rate to decimate an entire population…from contraction to death is usually two weeks.”
“Two weeks!” Sonnet was stunned. That was a whole lot of time for a sick person to move around, coughing on everyone they met. “What happens to the infected?”
“When the bacterium first begins to multiply in the blood stream of an infected person, the body responds by going into what’s called ‘systemic response syndrome’. Microbes in the blood, urine, lungs and skin produce endotoxins that cause disseminated intravascular coagulation.”
Sonnet sighed. “English, please.”
“Severe sepsis, Alicia. Extreme necrosis of the body’s tissues due to a lack of blood circulation. To put it bluntly, the body shuts down – then the opposite begins to happen, and that’s when things get bad.”
“Bad? Worse than no circulation?”
“Yes, the body then starts bleeding and can’t stop. Organs, skin, everything. Once it starts, no hospital on Earth can save you.”
“Interesting.” Sonnet signaled the waiter, pointing to her empty glass. “How many will die, do you think?”
Juno blew out his breath. “That’s tough to answer. I think perhaps half of America’s population would succumb…maybe 150 million. That’s conjecture; really, I could be off by 25 percent either way.”
“And if this plague spreads across the ocean?”
“To Europe and Asia? It’s not a question of if, but when. The mortality rate overseas will be much, much higher. The population in Asia, for example, is much more tightly packed together than America. I would say Asia would say suffer the worst, with three out of four dead. Russia would experience the least infection, because it’s so damn big and spread out – plus, no virus likes cold weather…and the United Kingdom, I believe, would be roughly the same as North America. As for South America, I have no idea.”
“What exactly is the plan?” Sonnet said.
“King Brian has ordered a preemptive strike using the Dal Clann Hallstatt against the CDC in Atlanta. That will severely hamper any efforts to combat the virus.”
Sonnet drew on her cigarette. “And then?”
“The Sempticemic Plague will be released in nearly every big city on the East Coast immediately afterwards. We just need those antibodies first. How much do you know about Fighting Jack Hallstatt?”
“Just what James told me…apparently he’s crazier than a shithouse rat.”
Juno smiled broadly. “That would be putting it mildly.”
Blakely River Battery
“I can’t get a signal on my phone here.” Christine said to Uriel. “We really are out in the boonies.”
“Did you go Lion King on it?””
“Hold up your phone like Rafiki did when Simba was born, and do the music in your head.”
“You are a weird kid.” Christine replied, climbing into the Volvo. “An absolute mental.”
“Heard that before…like a lot.” Uriel bounced in the passenger seat. “Should I put on my seat belt, Dr. Taylor?”
“No, Uriel.” Christine said, turning the Volvo’s ignition-key. “I believe the sheer G-forces will hold you in the seat just fine. And call me Christine.”
They threaded through the front gates of the River Battery and onto the washed-out track, finally pulling out into traffic. The sun was going down and Christine found the headlamp switch, flicking it on.
Uriel practically buzzed with teenage excitement. “This is so cool. I like your ride a lot. You know, this car doesn’t sound half bad…kind of like a nuclear-powered pepper grinder. What are these?”
Christine looked over. “Those are the window winders.”
“Really? I’m used to a simple button, must be new technology.”
“I’ve seen better equipped caves. Wow, you get a radio and a dial! That’s awesome.”
“And the ride is so smooth, kind of like falling down a flight of stairs.”
Despite Uriel’s sarcasm, there were a few indicators that the Volvo was far from stock. The dash of the grocery-getter was odd, laid out with a large tachometer and two turbo boost gauges.
Christine also noticed the gear shifter wasn’t standard. A very tight six-speed and shared space with a racing-type E-brake lever. The throttle response was crisp, and the car accelerated hard when she pushed it.
Since the car wasn’t the Camaro she’d asked for, though, Christine had already decided she would never admit the station wagon was growing on her.
“So, you want become human, Uriel? Is that correct?”
“Uh-huh, uh-huh. And marry Ryan Reynolds and have some sex…have you ever had sex? I’ve never had sex…but I want to have sex. Lots of sex. Know what I mean? Intercourse, parking the plunger, vacuuming the volcano, bumping uglies, riding the pink twizzler - ”
“Uriel!” Christine was horrified. “That’s icky!”
“Uh-huh, uh-huh…I want to see Ryan Reynolds’ frank and beans, like right now. Have you ever seen a gentleman sausage?”
“Phrasing, please - or I’m going to throw up.”
Uriel giggled. “The willis and the doodleberries? Sakman and Throbbin? I want Ryan’s male genitalia to meet my female genitalia. Hello, genitalia!”
Christine held up a hand. “Bleck. I get the picture.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Uriel cackled with laughter. “Of course, Ryan has to cut that hair, though. His hair is just gross. He’s not gross….but that hair? Gross. If there are two or three or four or five things I can’t stand it’s hair like that. I like ‘em preppy, don’t get me wrong. A nice tapered cut in the back, yeah baby. I was watching Celebrity Apprentice and I noticed Donald Jr. has a terrible cut, right in the back - like father like son, right? Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. I mean, cut that crap, why don’t you? Ryan, too…all squirrely and such. Just get a decent haircut, that’s all I ask.”
“Umm,” Christine said. “You seem to have some strong opinions.”
“I watch people a lot, that’s all…for 70,000 years now. I really enjoy watching guys - but they can be real wiener-lickers, you know? Like guys that spit? Eww. Just…ick! Really? You have to spit in public? Where I walk? You’re going to make me walk in your bodily fluids? Come on, you douche canoe! I mean, really. When was spitting ever cool? Never, that’s when. Not even in middle school, you jerk-offs. And guys with visible belt loops and no belt? Not cool, dude. If I can see loops, there better damn well be a belt there…and not one of those lame braided ones from 1993, either.”
“And when has it ever been appropriate to wear Crocs…with anything? Especially with shorts and socks, Mr. I-Have-Given-Up-On-Life?”
“Or a dude in a tracksuit? What? Are you in the Russian mob? Come on! Or any guy over the age of twelve with a T-shirt advertising the WWE Raw or Tap Out? Grow up already! And any guy that chugs energy drinks, lathered in Axe body spray? Ugh! Oh, and also guys with earrings. It’s 2012, dumbass. You are not a rapper, you are not in the X-Games... put that shit away. And guys in the passenger seat of a car with their bare feet on the dash, listening to a Smash Mouth song full blast? Ick! Just ick! Makes me throw up in the back of my mouth just thinking about it. For one thing, Smash Mouth has been genetically engineered to get stuck in your head like some incurable mind-AIDS. And bare feet? On the dash? That is just so nasty.”
Christine pulled onto the Washington Memorial Parkway and shifted into fifth gear. The car was far more responsive that she’d anticipated, hitting 75 mph with ease.
She was pleasantly surprised by the car, as it gave the unique impression of holding back a great white shark from a feeding frenzy. Christine wondered what would happen when she unleashed the chained beast. When pressed, the engine changed note entirely, sounding very much like a leopard having sex with a circular saw.
She looked around, taking in landmarks. Washington hadn’t changed much since her death, and she knew the general direction to drive. The address obtained by Phillips, however, was in a bad neighborhood west of the Reagan National Airport, which was a new addition in the last few decades. Aircraft landing lights soared overhead the closer they got to the airfield.
Uriel rolled her window down. “So, you know where we’re going?”
“I used to live here.” Christine said. “What about you? What have you been up to?”
“Helping out in Laos, mainly. I’ve been living with the Flower Hmong, putting together the identities and paperwork that’s needed before they can immigrate to the states.”
“Really? Why do you do that?”
Uriel grimaced. “The Hmong are still being persecuted by the Pathet Lao, and thousands of refugees have been singled out for retribution after the U.S. pulled out of Southeast Asia. I have some strong connections in the State Department, and we’ve built sort of an underground railroad for Asians over the past few years. I was putting together passports here in Washington when Father called and said that Harry needed help with a bad situation.”
At first, Christine wasn’t so sure that Uriel could be of any assistance to their mission, but the more they talked, the more she was impressed by the young Archangel. Despite the motor mouth.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be a bad situation, Uriel. We need to locate this child and evaluate our options. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Uriel pointed. “I think we have our answer.”
Christine pulled to halt outside of the entrance to Laurel Park Apartments. A dozen police cars were parked in the lot haphazardly, blue lights flashing. A SWAT van rolled past them and stopped near the staircase of the apartment address Christine held in her hand.