Authors: Algor X. Dennison
Part 1.5 of the
by Algor X. Dennison
Copyright 2015 Algor X. Dennison
This novelette is Part One and a Half of the Denver Burning series. It follows two police officers trying to deal with the social meltdown that McLean and Carrie flee from in
Part One: Get Out of Denver
Police sergeant Alicia Hendrickson first realized something was wrong when her desk officer left his post at the front office to stand in front of the wall-mounted television with four other policemen, gawking at something on the news. She had never known the young man to leave his desk during a shift, not even for lunch. Too eager to prove his work ethic, she supposed. Now the trim brunette sergeant’s hackles were raised, so she went to see what was going on.
Squaring her shoulders to make up for the height difference between her and the male officers standing around the TV, she swaggered into the common area. Alicia was the only female officer in the district, and had made quite a name for herself as a rising star, making sergeant after only three years and getting the district promotion after six. She had learned how to make herself noticed and respected on the Denver force. A discreet tug straightened her navy-blue blouse around her figure, and she cleared her throat.
“Officers. What are we watching?”
She tried not to be an office Nazi, but as the sergeant in command it was up to her to run a tight ship in her district. She was the first to celebrate and congratulate when things were done right, especially off-hours. But in the office, with the public walking up to the front desk and watching the officers in the background, she felt a constant need to ensure that office decorum matched the results she demanded on the street.
Usually the mere act of stepping out of her office made the others perk up and check her body language to see what was about to happen. But this time only one of the officers watching the TV even turned his head: the recent academy grad from the front desk, Winstone. She knew privately that the assiduous young man was intimidated by his thirty-year-old female sergeant, but this had never bothered her before. Now he looked at her with a mixture of fear and worry, but didn’t step aside or go back to his desk. He just pointed to the screen.
As Alicia’s attention finally focused on the newscasters’ frantic commentary, it took her several seconds to figure out what was going on. Instead of the usual slick candor with which the local news anchors rattled off the latest headlines, usually with a wink or a knowing grin as they poked fun at some target of derision, the man was ignoring the papers in front of him and silently reading something just off camera. The woman was dazedly staring into the camera and saying a lot of filler words to patch over the moment of difficulty. But the moment stretched on and on.
“What we’re all left wondering here is whether or not there’s any official word yet from… we’re awaiting a statement or an update, rather, from our parent news agency in New York. In the meantime, of course, we’ll be with you throughout the morning for constant coverage, here at the Denver Local Newsdesk, and if you’ll bear with us for just one moment I think we’ll have some details on these disturbing events…”
The anchor never did get around to saying anything of substance, but the ticker text at the bottom of the screen was full of words that Alicia visually scanned alongside the other officers: “Rumored disruption of Eastern power grid, possible cyber or terrorist attack -- Major media outlets down in NYC -- Wall Street freezes trading -- White House under attack?”.
And then it all went dark.
“Turn it back on!” one officer cried, somehow failing to notice that all the lights and computers and phones throughout the office were dead as well. Dim sunlight filtered in through the windows in the offices along the outer wall, barely illuminating silhouettes where a moment before there had been a busy, brightly-lit district station interior. There was a swell of noise as the office workers and policemen murmured their confusion and dismay, and then a hush as everyone waited for the lights to come back on.
“Did you hear that?” Winstone whispered to the others around the TV. “They said the White House was attacked. Is this for real?” No one had a reply.
Several seconds went by, and the lights still didn’t come on. It seemed that the backup generator wasn’t responding, which had grave implications for the 911 dispatch center in the corner.
Alicia, troubling feelings swirling in her chest, decided it was time for her to act. She peered at the shadowy figures surrounding her. “Okay, police! Let’s find out what’s going on here. Raise somebody on the radio. Winstone, see if you can get online with a smartphone and figure out how widespread this is. Officer Porter, try to get through to the power company. The rest of you, step outside for some air, but remain cautious, please. And somebody find a flashlight!”
She turned to retrieve her personal phone from her office, but Winstone put an unsteady hand on her shoulder. He was looking at his phone. “I’m sorry, Sergeant,” he said, voice cracking. “There’s no connection. Cell towers must be down too.”
That didn’t bode well. Alicia went to her office, cautiously feeling her way through the darkened doorway so she didn’t bark her knuckles on the doorknob. She buckled on her sidearm, a .40 Smith and Wesson revolver, and grabbed her police jacket. She slipped her phone into her pants pocket even though she could see it had no signal.
Finally, she opened her desk drawer and felt around in the darkness until her fingers closed on a small book. It was a pocket bible. She hadn’t opened it in several months, but it had a few twenty-dollar bills tucked away in its pages, as well as a photo of her husband, Jason, and her eight-year-old daughter Sadie, who were visiting Jason’s parents in Salt Lake City.
Then she stepped back out into the main room and made her way through the suddenly-imposed twilight to the dispatcher’s desk.
“Carlisle, can you get anybody on the radio?”
“No, Sergeant. All silent.”
“Highway Patrol? Aurora?”
“No, I can’t even get a buzz of static,” the portly dispatch officer replied. “The equipment’s dead.”
“Did you try--”
“Yeah, I’m trying everything. The battery backup is doing no good at all, at least on our end.”
“Okay, keep trying. Give a shout if you hear anything.”
Alicia stepped outside with the others. The sunlight outside was reassuring, and she did a quick scan of her officers. There were eight of them here, plus four staffers. She probably had twenty officers out on the streets as well, now cut off from their district headquarters. She wondered if any of them knew what was going on. Surely someone, somewhere did.
Andrews, a tall officer with graying hair, pointed up at the sky. Everyone looked and there were gasps of horror as they tracked, in unison, the fall of an airliner right into the city. It wasn’t diving, wasn’t losing altitude. It was tumbling, whirling, dropping to the earth like a stone.
The knowledge that over a hundred people were on board and about to die, and that she couldn’t do a thing to stop it, stung Alicia like a whip. Then the plane disappeared behind a building that blocked their view, and it almost felt like a mercy not to have to see it. But the sound, and the orange flash, and the smoke that billowed up were awful enough.
Another plane was falling in the distance. Alicia noticed for the first time that all the cars were stopped in the street, and not just stopped to rubberneck at the sight of the downed aircraft. They were dead in the middle of the road. People were coming out of the buildings up and down the street, looking around in confusion and dismay.
She snapped into action. “All right, this is big and it's bad, officers. My guess is a major terrorist attack--who knows how widespread it could be. Until we can get direction from up top, we’re on our own to try to make contact with our boys out on patrol, and to keep order in the district. This is a code red scramble, I want everybody armed and ready for anything, and until we get radios working everyone meets back here every half hour for reports and assignments.”
She spent the next several minutes giving orders, sending runners out to reconnoiter the last known locations of her patrol officers and the site of the downed airliner. She also sent a man to the nearest district office to their own, and an officer with EMT experience to the crash site.
By the time she had gotten all of that organized and looked up again, she noticed a growing crowd in front of the station. They didn’t look happy at being rebuffed by her officers, and one man was shouting threats. “We want answers! Tell us the truth or we'll come in there and find it ourselves!”
Alicia frowned, unsure what the man meant and why the crowd was being so hostile at such a time. Officer Andrews went to quiet the crowd, trying to explain that they were working as quickly as they could to understand and respond to the situation, and that they had no more information than the people assembled. Alicia looked down at her clipboard and tried to concentrate on planning what needed to happen next in order to keep a lid on the chaos that was unfolding in her district.
She was interrupted again by a noise that had been common enough an hour earlier, but now made everyone stop and look: the rumble of an engine. A pick-up truck roared past, careening down the street and screeching to a stop near a block or two farther on where there appeared to be a scuffle between some thugs and a young woman.
“At least somebody’s car works,” Alicia muttered. She opened her mouth to send someone to talk to the guy in the truck-- the thought briefly crossed her mind that she could confiscate the working vehicle and get what she needed in a fraction of the time it would take her officers to walk around the city. But she never got the chance.
Shots rang out, high-powered ones, coming from just across the street. People began running for cover, ducking behind bushes and fences, anything that could provide a moment’s protection. The police officers all drew their guns, and Andrews shielded Alicia with his tall body, aiming his weapon at the crowd. But the crowd was rapidly dispersing and there were no shooters to be identified there.
Another rifle cracked, and young Winstone fell to the ground.
“Officer down!” Andrews yelled, whirling to the sound of the gunshots. Finally he located the shooter, and Alicia tracked along his gun arm to see who it was. Someone was standing at the corner of a building across the street, aiming a long gun at the station. Alicia noticed another shooter, dressed in dark clothing and wielding a sawed-off shotgun, running across the street with a lit Molotov cocktail in one hand.
“Stop them!” she yelled, drawing her own pistol. Leveling it at the runner, she took off the safety and checked that no one was running across her field of fire. Just as she drew a bead, her target ducked out of sight, approaching the station from the far side where he could do his damage without being shot at.
Andrews was blasting away at the first shooter across the street, an arc of nine millimeter shell casings flying out to the side. He clicked on empty, but his accurate fire had kept the shooter down for vital seconds during which people scrambled to safety and some of the other officers got into position to return fire.
Alicia’s ears rang from all the close-proximity shooting. She yelled loud enough that she could hear her own words, and hoped the others would be able to as well. “Dannor, Simmins, get across the street and take that shooter down! Everybody else hunker down and provide cover, you have a weapon." Her unarmed staffers were cowering on the ground with arms over their heads. Officer Simmins sprinted to his patrol car, parked in the lot next to the building, and took shelter behind it as he rummaged in its trunk for his AR-15. "Andrews, reload and come with me,” Alicia told the taller officer. “There’s a gunman attacking the station on the far side.”
Together, Alicia and Officer Andrews dashed around the back side of the building, scanning with their pistols as they ran, senses on high alert. They passed the air conditioning units, now silent, and moved quickly through a smaller patio area near the parking lot. Still no shooter in sight.
Just as Alicia was beginning to think the attacker had gained entry to the building and they would have to hunt him through the darkened hallways inside, they spotted him. The terrorist had lobbed his incendiary onto the roof and was now running back across the street.
Andrews crouched and fired three times, dropping the man with a hit to the back, center mass. It was coolly and professionally done, and the man rolled over and then went still. Alicia wasn’t sure how the ruthless shooting would play out in court when all this was over, but decided to figure it out later. They were under attack, and their station was more like a warzone at the moment than a bastion of law and order.
She turned her attention to the flames on the roof, which had splashed across several square yards of the building top. “We’ve got to stop that fire!” she cried out. With the phones down, fire engines could be a long time coming. They were on their own.
Andrews shrugged, watching the street as he swapped magazines. “That’s probably the least of our worries, Sergeant. We've got active shooters here.”
But Alicia wasn’t about to watch her station burn down. She ran to the hose coiled by the side of the station, which they sometimes used to spray down patrol cars. She cranked the faucet and yanked several yards of hose away from the wall, but when she clamped down the spray nozzle’s handle, she only got a few seconds of pressure before the stream died down to a pathetic spurt.
"No, no, how can we be losing water pressure at a time like this?" she muttered. Something catastrophic must have happened to the city’s water supply. If fire crews couldn’t even get water from the hydrants, the city would be in very deep trouble soon. Especially with the damage spreading from the plane crash they had witnessed earlier.