Dragon Tears Page 3

Of course, cop instinct wasn't always reliable. The coat might just be old and out of shape. The guy might actually be the absentminded professor he appeared to be; in which case his coat might be stuffed with nothing more sinister than a pipe, tobacco pouch, slide rule, calculator, lecture notes, and all sorts of items he had slipped into his pockets without quite realizing it.

Harry whose voice had trailed off in midsentence, slowly put down his chicken sandwich. He was intently focused on the man in the misshapen coat.

Connie had picked up a few shoestring french fries. She dropped them onto the plate instead of eating them, and she wiped her greasy fingers on her napkin, all the while trying to watch the new customer without obviously staring at him.

The hostess, a petite blonde in her twenties, returned to the reception area after seating the couple by the window, and the man in the Ultrasuede coat smiled. She spoke to him, he replied, and the blonde laughed politely as if what he'd said was mildly amusing.

When the customer said something more and the hostess laughed again, Connie relaxed slightly She reached for a couple of fries.

The newcomer seized the hostess by her belt, jerked her toward him, and grabbed a handful of her blouse. His assault was so sudden and unexpected, his moves so catquick, that he had lifted her off the floor before she began to scream. As if she weighed nothing, he threw her at nearby diners.

“Oh, shit.” Connie pushed back from the table and came to her feet, reaching under her jacket and behind to the revolver that was holstered in the small of her back.

Harry rose, too, his own revolver in hand. “Police!”

His warning was drowned out by the sickening crash of the young blonde slamming into a table, which tipped sideways. The diners toppled out of their chairs, and glasses shattered. All over the restaurant people looked up from their food, startled by the uproar.

The stranger's flamboyance and savagery might just mean he was on drugsr he might also be genuinely psychotic.

Connie took no chances, dropping into a crouch as she brought her gun up. “Police!”

Either the guy had heard Harry's first warning or he had seen them out of the corner of his eye, because he was already scuttling toward the back of the restaurant, between the tables.

He had a handgun of his ownmaybe a Browning 9mm, judging by the sound and by the glimpse she got. He was using it, too, firing at random, each shot thunderous in the confines of the restaurant.

Beside Connie, a painted terracotta pot exploded. Chips of glazed clay showered onto her. The dracaena margenata in the pot toppled over, raking her with long narrow leaves, and she crouched even lower, trying to use a nearby table as a shield.

She wanted in the worst way to get a shot at the bastard, but the risk of hitting one of the other customers was too great. When she looked across the restaurant at child's level, thinking maybe she could pulverize one of the creep's knees with a wellplaced round, she could see him scrambling across the room. The trouble was, between her and him, a scattering of panicked, wideeyed people had taken refuge under their tables.

“Shit.” She pursued the geek while trying to make as small a target of herself as possible, aware that Harry was going after him from another direction.

People were screaming because they were scared, or had been shot and were in pain. The crazy bastard's gun boomed too often. Either he could change clips with superhuman speed or he had another pistol.

One of the big windows took a direct hit and came down in a jingle jangle clangor. A waterfall of glass splashed across the cold Santa Fe tile floor.

As Connie crept from table to table, her shoes picked up mashed french fries, ketchup, mustard, bits of oozing cacti, and crunchingtinkling pieces of glass. And as she passed the wounded, they cried out or pawed at her, desperate for help.

She hated to ignore them, but she had to shake them off, keep moving, try to get a shot at the walking phlegm in the Ultrasuede coat. What meager firstaid she might be able to provide wasn't going to help them. She couldn't do anything about the terror and pain the sonofabitch had already wrought, but she might be able to stop him from doing more damage if she stayed on his ass.

She raised her head, risking a bullet in the brain, and saw the scumbag was all the way at the back of the restaurant, standing at a swinging door that had a glass porthole in the center. Grinning, he squeezed off rounds at anything that caught his attention, apparently equally pleased to hit a potted plant or a human being. He was still unnervingly ordinary in appearance, roundfaced and bland, with a weak chin and soft mouth. Even his grin failed to make him look like a madman; it was more the broad and affable smile of someone who had just seen a clown take a pratfall. But there was no doubt he was crazydangerous, because he shot a big saguaro cactus, then a guy in a checkered shirt, then the saguaro again, and he did have two guns, one in each hand.

Welcome to the 1990s.

Connie rose from shelter far enough to line up a shot.

Harry was especially quick to take advantage of the lunatic's sudden obsession with the saguaro. He came to his feet in another part of the restaurant and fired. Connie fired twice. Chunks of wood exploded from the door frame beside the psycho's head, and the glass blew out of the porthole; they had bracketed him by inches with their first shots.

The geek vanished through the swinging door, which took both Harry's and Connie's next rounds and kept swinging. Judging by the size of the bullet holes, the door was hollowcore, so the slugs maght have gone through and nailed the sonofabitch on the other side.

Connie ran toward the kitchen, slipping a little on the food strewn floor. She doubted they were going to be lucky enough to a find the creep wounded and squirming like a halfcrushed cockroach on the other side of that door. More likely, he was waiting for them. But she couldn't rein herself in. He might even step through the door from the kitchen and cut her down as she approached. But her juices were up; she was jazzed. When her juices were up, she couldn't help but do everything fullbore, and it didn't even matter that her juices were up most of the time.

God, she loved this job.

Harry hated this cowboy stuff.

When you were a cop, you knew violence might come down sooner or later.

You might suddenly find yourself up to your neck in wolves a lot nastier than any Red Kicking Hood ever had to deal with.

But even if it was part of the job, you didn't enjoy it.

Well, maybe you did if you were Connie Gulliver.

As Harry rushed the kitchen door, going in low and fast with his revolver ready, he heard her behind him, feet slappingcrunchingsquishing on the floor, coming fulltilt. He knew that if he looked back at her, she would be grinning, not unlike the maniac who had shot up the restaurant, and although he knew she was on the side of the angels, that grin never failed to unnerve him.

He skidded to a halt at the door, kicked it, and instantly jumped to one side, expecting an answering hail of bullets.

But the door slammed inward, swung back out, and no gunfire followed.

So when it swung inward again, Connie burst past him and went into the kitchen with it. He followed her, cursing under his breath, which was the only way he ever cursed.

In the humid, claustrophobic confines of the kitchen, burgers sizzled on a grill and fat bubbled in a deepfryer. Pots of water boiled on a stovetop. Gas ovens creaked and popped from the intense heat they contained, and a bank of microwave ovens hummed softly.

Half a dozen cooks and other employees, dressed in white slacks and Tshirts, their hair tucked under white stringtied caps, pale as dead men, stood or cowered amidst the culinary equipment. They were wrapped by curling tendrils of steam and meat smoke, looking less like real people than like ghosts. Almost as one they turned toward Connie and Harry.

“Where?” Harry whispered.

One of the employees pointed toward a halfopen door at the back of the kitchen.

Harry led the way along a narrow aisle flanked on the left by racks of pots and utensils. On the right was a series of butcher blocks, a machine used to cut wellscrubbed potatoes into raw french fries, and another that shredded lettuce.

The aisle widened into a clear space with deep sinks and heavy duty commercial dishwashers along the wall to the left. The half open door was about twenty feet directly ahead, past the sinks.

Connie moved up to his side as they drew near the door. She kept enough distance between them to assure they couldn't both be taken out by one burst of gunfire.

The darkness past that threshold bothered Harry. A windowless storeroom probably lay beyond. The smiling, moonfaced perp would be even more dangerous once cornered.

After flanking the door, they hesitated, taking a moment to thin Harry would gladly have taken half the day to think, giving the perp plenty of time to stew in there. But that wasn't how it worked. Cops were expected to act rather than react. If there was a way out of the storeroom, any delay on their part would allow the perp to escape.

Besides, when your partner was Connie Gulliver, you did not have the luxury of dawdling or ruminating. She was never reckless, always professional and cautiousbut so quick and aggressive that it seemed sometimes as if she had come to homicide investigations by way of a SWAT team.

Connie snatched up a broom that was leaning against the wall.

Holding it near the base, she poked the handle against the halfopen door, which swung inward with a protracted squeak. When the door was all the way open, she threw the broom aside. It clattered like old bones on the tile floor.

They regarded each other tensely from opposite sides of the doorway.

Silence in the storeroom.

Without exposing himself to the perp, Harry could see just a narrow wedge of darkness beyond the threshold.

The only sounds were the chuckling and sputtering of the pots and deep fryers in the kitchen, the hum of the exhaust fans overhead.

As Harry's eyes adjusted to the gloom beyond the door, he saw geometric forms, dark gray in the threatening black. Suddenly he realized it wasn't a storeroom. It was the bottom of a stairwell.

He cursed under his breath again.

Connie whispered: “What?”


He crossed the threshold, as heedless of his safety as Connie was of hers, because there was no other way to do it. Stairways were narrow traps in which you couldn't easily dodge a bullets and dark stairways were worse. The gloom above was such that he couldn't see if the perp was up there, but he figured he made a perfect target with the backlighting from the kitchen. He would have preferred to blockade the stairwell door and find another route onto the second floor, but by then the perp would be long gone or barricaded so well that it might cost a couple of other cops' lives to root him out.

Once committed, he took the stairs as fast as he dared, slowed only by the need to stay to one side, against the wall, where the floorboards would be the tightest and the least likely to sag and squeak underfoot.

He reached a narrow landing, moving blindly with his back to the wall.

Squinting up into utter lightlessness, he wondered how a second floor could be as perfectly dark as a basement.

From above came soft laughter.

Harry froze on the landing. He was confident that he was no longer backlit. He pressed tighter to the wall.

Connie bumped into him and also froze.

Harry waited for the queer laugh to come again. He hoped to get a fix precise enough to make it worth risking a shot and revealing his own location.


He held his breath.

Then something thumped. Rattled. Thumped again. Rattled.

Thumped again.

He realized some object was rolling and bouncing down the steps toward them. What? He had no idea. His imagination deserted him.

Thump. Rattle. Thump.

Intuitively he knew that whatever was coming down the stairs was not good. That's why the perp had laughed. Something small from the sound of it, but deadly in spite of being small. He was infuriated with himself for being unable to think, to visualize. He felt stupid and useless. A foul sweat suddenly sheathed him.

The object hit the landing and rolled to a stop against his left foot.

It bumped his shoe. He jerked back, then immediately squatted, blindly felt the floor, found the damn thing. Larger than an egg but roughly eggshaped. With the intricate geometric surface of a pinecone.

Heavier than a pinecone. With a lever on top.

“Get down!” He stood and threw the hand grenade back into the upper hall before following his own advice and dropping as flat as possible on the landing.

He heard the grenade clatter against something above.

He hoped his throw had sent the damn thing all the way into the secondfloor hall. But maybe it bounced off a stairwell wall and was arcing down even now, the timer ticking off the last second or two before detonation. Or maybe it had barely landed in the upstairs hall and the perp had kicked it back at him.

The explosion was loud, bright, cataclysmic. His ears rang painfully, every bone seemed to vibrate as the blast wave passed through him, and his heartbeat accelerated even though it had been racing already Chunks of wood, plaster, and other debris rained over him, and the stairwell was filled with the acrid stench of burnt powder like a Fourth of July night after a big fireworks display.

He had a vivid mental picture of what might have happened if he had been two seconds slower: his hand dissolving in a spray of blood as he gripped the grenade upon detonation, his arm tearing loose of his body, his face crumpling in on itself. ...

“What the hell?” Connie demanded, her voice close yet far away, distorted because Harry's ears were still ringing.

“Grenade,” he said, scrambling to his feet.

“Grenade? Who is this bozo?”

Harry had no clue as to the guy's identity or motivation, but he now knew why the Ultrasuede jacket had hung so lumpily. If the perp had been packing one grenade, why not two? Or three?

After the brief flash of the explosion, the darkness on the stairs was as deep as ever.

Harry discarded caution and clambered up the second flight, aware that Connie was coming close behind him. Caution didn't seem prudent under the circumstances. You always had a chance of dodging a bullet, but if the perp was carrying grenades, all the caution in the world wouldn't count when the blast hit.

Not that they were accustomed to dealing with grenades. This was a first.

He hoped the lunatic had been waiting to hear them die in the explosionand had instead been caught unawares when the grenade boomeranged on him. Any time a cop killed a perp, the paperwork was horrendous, but Harry was willing to sit at a typewriter happily for days if only the guy in the Ultrasuede coat had been transformed into wet wallpaper.

The long upstairs corridor was windowless and must have been nightblack before the explosion. But the grenade had blown one door off its hinges and had torn holes in another. Some daylight filtered through the windows of unseen rooms and into the hallway.

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