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Authors: Caleb Dahlia West


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Dahlia West


Chapter 1

Izzy’s boots slammed the pavement and her thighs were starting to burn. The skip was still in sight, but she was losing ground. His jacket had indicated he was a high school
dropout, low-rent meth dealer with a penchant for teenage girls. It had said nothing about his alter ego being The Flash. He reached a chain link fence that separated the apartment building from the train yard behind it and started to scale it.

oddamnit,” she muttered as she raced after him. There were no trains moving in the yard at the moment, but if she lost sight of him and he jumped into an open car, it could be a while before she found him. The sun was already starting to set and she had zero interest in searching the Denver train yards by herself at night.

She grabbed the fence and scrambled to the top, the treads in her boots giving her better traction than the skip had gotten. She was up and over much more quickly, thankfully there was no razor wire at the top. She jumped down to the gravel and took off after the skip, who was already reaching the first stalled train. He climbed over a coupling between two of the cars and vanished. Izzy grumbled again and ducked underneath the nearest car instead of following him over the coupling. She had eyes on his sneakers this way, and as she crawled to the other side, she saw him moving west just past the second stalled train.

She rolled to the second track and scrambled underneath it. When she popped up on the other side, the skip glanced over his shoulder. He spotted her and re-doubled his efforts to put more distance between them. Izzy took off straight down the line, hoping to close as much distance between them as she could before he put another train between them. He was fast-maybe faster than she was, she noted grudgingly- but the thin Denver air was taking its toll on him. He was breathing hard and she knew he couldn’t keep up the pace for too much longer. Izzy wasn’t a sprinter, certainly not in her heavy, steel-toed boots, but she ran two miles every day and was well-acclimated to running long distances this high in the mountains.

She started to close in on him and felt a tingle of glee that she was that much closer to nailing him. The skip couldn’t resist another backward glance and the look on his face said he felt exactly the opposite about his imminent capture. He swerved and launched himself at a coupling on the third train. He climbed over and she ducked beneath again. This time though, his sneakers disappeared, and Izzy was moving too fast to count how many cars ahead of her he’d gotten before he vanished again. When she made it to the other side, the gravel lane was empty. She pulled her gun out of the holster strapped to her thigh and stalked past the first two open cars, ignoring them.

The skip hadn’t back-tracked, so she’d start with the third. From her pocket she produced a small but powerful mag light and switched it on. From her position on the ground, she swept the beam over the darkened interior of the car. It was empty, no pallets or shipping containers stacked inside. She headed toward the next car, listening for the sound of heavy breathing as she approached.

When she reached the next car, she heard nothing but silence from inside. Again she swept the beam and hit upon a dirty blanket, rustling silently. She pulled back the Glock’s hammer. The sharp click didn’t have quite the same ominous sound as, say, a shotgun being racked, but it was enough to garner attention just the same. An equally dirty face appeared from beneath the filthy blanket. Izzy was careful not to shine the light directly into his face. Better to let him see she was armed. He had no way of knowing whether or not she regularly used bums for target practice. Perhaps the sight of the gun would keep him where he was.

Rail riders were notoriously territorial and had been known to kill outsiders whom they perceived to be encroaching on their turf. Izzy was reasonably confident the skip hadn’t chosen this car. If he had, the rider would’ve had something to say about it. The way he did now with her.

“Go ‘way!” he hissed through grayed teeth.

Izzy took one more quick pass over the car’s interior, then stepped back. She moved toward the next car, careful to keep an ear out for the sounds of the bum coming up behind her. She didn’t hear him moving, but she caught the faint sounds of feet shuffling in the next car. As she approached, the skip was valiantly trying to silence his breathing as well, but she could still make it out.

She swept the light over the interior, hitting upon a stack of pallets off to one side, where the skip was undoubtedly crouching even though she couldn’t make him out. In a quick decision, she switched off the light and continued past the car, putting the open door behind her. It was a risky move if he had a gun, but if he had
one, she felt reasonably confident he would have shot at her by now. When she’d knocked on the apartment door, he’d immediately gone for the window and the fire escape beyond. Unless he’d already had the gun on him, he wouldn’t have had time to grab it. Plus, he was shirtless, so unless it was in his pants…

Izzy crunched her boots on the gravel, being deliberately loud and hoping Mr. High School Drop Out wasn’t smart enough to see through her ruse. The train car was a gamble, or a worse one anyway than simply giving him her back. It was too dark in the car and if she lost the mag light once inside the car it would be a serious problem. There was no way to know if another rider might be in there, lurking in the shadows. If she had especially bad luck he’d be hiding in a dark corner at the rear of the car. Being caught between two assholes was not how she wanted to go out, if she had to go at all.

“Always have a plan,” Pop’s voice sounded in her head. “Easiest way to catch a skip is to let ‘em come to you.”

Izzy slid the Glock back into the thigh holster and reached into her leather jacket instead. The sun was in front of her, which would make it harder for him to see her clearly. Nice, but it would be better if they were facing the other way where she would have the advantage of at least seeing his shadow cast on the ground. She held her cell phone slightly out to the side, pretending to punch in numbers. In the phone’s glass reflection, she caught a glimpse of the skip sliding out of the open car door. He was careful not to make much noise as his sneakers hit the gravel. Izzy sighed loudly, in mock frustration, to cover up the noise he was making. He paused, aware he was being too loud, but as Izzy hadn’t seemed to notice, he
appeared to rally and started toward her again. He lifted something in his hand. The phone’s screen had a slight glare and she couldn’t tell exactly what it was.

Her heart was pounding from the adrenaline spike. She never let fear overwhelm her, but it was always there. “Even the best laid plans…” Pop always said.

“Stupid bitch.”

Izzy spun on her heel and raised the second gun. She pulled the trigger and two darts shot out, catching his bare chest. He seized as
300k volts ran through him. He’d been holding a board, cracked and filthy, obviously planning to bash her in the head with it. She shivered as it hit the ground.
It might have broken,
she told herself optimistically.

She dropped the
Taser and dashed forward. She fished a zip tie out of her pocket and rolled the skip to his side. He groaned as she fastened his wrists behind his back. He said something that sounded a lot like ‘bitch’ again.

“You’re drooling,” Izzy told him and pulled him up into a sitting position. She patted his bare shoulder and grinned at him. “And I’m pretty sure you’re the bitch.”

Chapter 2

Caleb angled his Harley into a parking space at the far left of the station’s lot. He put the kickstand down and swung his leg over the back. He had on a brown leather jacket, but hadn’t zipped it. The fall weather hadn’t yet turned crisp and he was determined to take the bike to work for as long as he still could. He strode past the line of Rapid City PD cruisers all parked and awaiting tonight’s shift change. Caleb only worked two
nights a week; the rest of the week he was on days. In some ways, though, he preferred his night shifts even though the scheduling often wreaked havoc on his sleep schedule.

It was usually on the night shift that he caught the type of calls he most anticipated. Caleb wouldn’t say he looked forward to them, far from it, but he answered each dispatch with a kind of electricity humming just under the surface of his skin. To match it, though, was an underlying feeling of dread as he drove to each call, constantly wary of what he might find when he arrived. Some nights he didn’t get those calls at all and on those nights he felt the same slightly horrifying mixture of relief and disappointment. As he eyed the freshly washed police cars, he wondered what tonight’s shift would bring.

In the locker room, he stripped out of his T-shirt and jeans, having already showered at home before coming in. He slid the lightweight Kevlar vest over his undershirt and fastened the Velcro. He caught Randolph, a ten-year vet, smirking at him, undoubtedly thinking that Caleb, who had only a few years under his belt by comparison, was twitchy about getting shot on the job. Most rookies wore a vest their first year, but eventually their nerves settled and they stopped wearing. Caleb had a bit of a reputation for cowardice due to the fact that he’d still not ditched the vest. He had no partner, either, having opted for solo duty.

He was a bit of an anomaly, a chicken shit loner by all accounts, which didn’t bother Caleb in the least. So long as no one got together and
accounts, he was under the radar. He slipped his blue uniform shirt on, the fabric covering the US Army Ranger tattoo on his forearm. He laced up his heavy, steel-toed boots, not department issue but either brass had never noticed or they didn’t much care. He closed his locker, spun the dial, and headed back out to the line of waiting cruisers. He slid into the front seat, adjusted it to accommodate his 6'4" frame, and lined up the mirrors. Before he pulled out, he turned on the dispatch radio and adjusted the sound. When he was satisfied he was ready for active duty, he slid out of the space and nosed the cruiser onto the street to do his own version of hunting.



Rapid City was mostly a blue collar town and Caleb preferred patrolling its most blue collar area. Not that he didn’t get the occasional call to one of Rapid City’s few gated communities, but unless the calls were of the type he was interested in, he really didn’t want to waste his shift getting Fluffy out of a tree or taking pictures of a sideswiped, parked Lexus. He preferred calls (of the right kind) in upscale communities, though. There was an added sense of satisfaction in pulling the mask off the assholes who hid their true natures behind
thousand-dollar suits and hundred-dollar haircuts. The feeling was hard to come by, though, as people in expensive glass houses often went to great lengths to keep stones at bay. On the rare occasion he did get a call, the feeling—as hard as it was to come by—was also short-lived because rich assholes had smug lawyers, and no one in a Stepford community ever did any real time. Not unless they robbed some
rich asshole of his hedge fund, but Caleb didn’t give a shit about that.

Growing up dirt poor himself, he found it hard to drum up much sympathy for people who appeared to have too much for their own damn good. When he turned 18, he had been more than ready to strike out on his own. The problem was, foster care didn’t dole out much cash to kids who’d survived the system long enough to collect. The day after his birthday, he’d moved out of Barb and Henry Dupree’s home, his fourth and final home after being shuffled around from the age of 10. Henry had never been a bad sort as far as people who often collected stray children for extra cash went. He’d driven Caleb to the local recruitment office right there in Bakersfield, California. Henry had been an ex-grunt himself, though he’d never risen very high in rank.

Caleb had been a good student, but couldn’t afford college. The Army had seemed like as good a choice as any. He’d joined, made some good friends in basic, and when Hawk and Tex basically dared each other to sign up for Ranger school, Caleb, Easy, and Shooter had tagged along for the ride. Before he’d even consciously realized it, Caleb had turned a brief stint in the Army into an actual career—that is until a roadside bomb in Iraq had crippled his unit. In the space of a few moments, half their number had been lost, dead or dying, as Caleb, with his medic training, had tried and failed to save them.

When the dust had settled and the cavalry had finally arrived, only Caleb, Shooter, Tex, Hawk, and Easy (such as was left of him) had remained. Caleb couldn’t remember the exact moment at which they’d all decided to stay together. In fact, he wasn’t entirely certain there’d ever really been anything like a discussion. Shooter had simply announced his intention to head to his
hometown of Rapid City and open a garage. He was their lieutenant and unit leader, so Caleb and the others had naturally fallen in line. Caleb had nothing back in California except a pair of foster parents who’d only sporadically written to him over the years. Rapid City had seemed as good a place as any since the only real family he had left he’d vowed never to see or speak to again.

Though Caleb had moved to South Dakota sight unseen, he was the only one who didn’t work at the garage alongside the others. He helped out on weekends, enjoying the camaraderie as well as the opportunity to work with his hands, but he had always felt the tug of a higher purpose spurring him onward. If he no longer patched people up in the Army, then he’d save them on the force.
This was all well and good and had the air of heroism, which had undoubtedly gotten him the badge in the first damn place, but saving anyone was tangential to his true motivation for trading one uniform for another. As he rolled past Burnout, locked up tight for the night as his brothers were at home with their families, Caleb swept the mounted searchlight over the gravel lot that lay beyond the padlocked gate. Satisfied that it was secure, he continued on toward the honky-tonk just a few blocks down.

Maria’s had been Maria’s longer than Caleb himself had been a resident of Rapid City. Rumor had it that the bar’s namesake had blown into town as a
tough-talking, twenty-something, and had gotten hired at a roughneck bar called The Waterin’ Hole, and promptly told the owner that one day she’d own the place.

Maria’d had a rocky start in life as little more than a club whore for a
one-percenter gang. She’d escaped that life, though, found herself a job, and true to her sharply-edged word, one day the sign for the Hole had indeed come down and Maria’s name had gone up in its place. She and her husband, Thomas, ran the place themselves. Maria’s bar catered to a roughneck crowd, her kind of people—bikers, cowboys (in denim work shirts, not rhinestones) and more than a few ex-military. As much as they were Maria’s kind of people, she and Thomas found it difficult to keep the peace on some nights. Maria kept a shotgun behind the bar, but when that wasn’t enough, she had a few ex-Army Rangers at her back most Friday and Saturday nights. On weekdays, Caleb started and ended his patrol with a drive-by that took him past the garage and the bar.

He rolled past now, keeping a keen eye on the people coming out. None of the women seemed particularly drunk or reluctant to go with whomever they’d picked up. Caleb circled the block and parked across the street, making his presence clearly visible underneath the street light. It was a bit early, the parking lot only held a few stragglers. He’d wait here for half
an hour and then return at closing time. He had only stayed 20 minutes, though, before his radio squawked out a call—
call, as luck would have it. As he reached for his radio, fingers tingling, he heard Otto’s voice alerting dispatch he was en route. Otto gave his 20 as almost six blocks closer to the scene than Caleb, but the address wasn’t far, and it wasn’t just a call—it was
call. Caleb gripped the button on the hand-held mike so tightly that his knuckles turned white.

“Dispatch, this is 3080. En route. ETA less than five,” he said then he slapped the mike back into the cradle and pulled off the curb.

“Negative, 3080,” the male dispatcher replied. “5210 already en route.”

Caleb switched off the radio and pretended not to have heard. He gunned the cruiser’s engine and ran the stale yellow traffic light at the end of the street. As he sailed through the first intersection, he switched on the lights and siren. In truth, he was probably less than three minutes away, as the roads were dry and rush hour traffic had subsided. He nudged the wheel and took the corner hard. The tires held, though, and the car rocketed down the main drag.

The address wasn’t in a swanky community. It was a neighborhood of run-down little one-story ranches just beyond the steel mill. Not perfect, but it’d do. Caleb hadn’t had a call in a few weeks and he was edgy from the lack of endorphins and adrenaline that now coursed through his system. Two turns later, he spotted Otto’s cruiser parked in a gravel drive, blocking both parked civilian cars. Caleb yanked the wheel, skidded to a stop, and threw the gear shift into park. He launched himself out of the vehicle, slamming the door behind him. Instinctively, he ran his palm over his chest and down to the Glock at his hip. Vest on, gun ready. He didn’t unsnap the holster, though, to make for a quicker draw. Caleb wouldn’t let it come down to a gunfight if he could avoid it.

Where was the fun in that?

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