by Rachael Ross
" ... just picking up a little milk, little eggs," I said into my phone. "Do you like cranberry juice?"
"Cranberry juice?" Stacy laughed lightly and I smiled, walking down the familiar aisle and swinging my basket. "Yeah, I like it."
"Good," I said. "When you come down this weekend..."
The sound of a twelve gauge being racked is distinctive and after hearing it once, you'll recognize it anywhere. I was already dropping to the floor by the time the guy started yelling half a second later.
"Don't you move, motherfucker! Open the register! Now!"
"Candi?" Stacy asked me. "Are you still there? Candice?"
"Everybody move!" Another voice, another man shouting. "Move the fuck over there!"
"Call you back," I whispered.
A woman began screaming, her voice shrill with fear. Probably the old Vietnamese woman who owned the corner market.
"I love yo..."
I disconnected on her and dialed 911, setting my phone down on a shelf loaded with Campbell's soup.
"Bitch! Gimme the fuckin' money!" the first guy yelled.
Three or four people screamed as the spent shell rattled hollow on the floor.
"Don't you fuckers move!" perp number two shouted, and I pulled my SIG Sauer, very much hoping they hadn't just blown away any chance for a happy ending.
I moved low to the end of the aisle, popping up for a quick look and the place wasn't very big. Five aisles with me in number four. The freezers were behind me, the chillers with beer and milk at the other end, near the checkout and the front doors. Two armed men, one black and one white. Black was holding down the owner with the sawed-off gauge, getting the cash; White had four customers lined up against the chiller, playing crowd control with a pistol. They were ten feet apart from each other and maybe ten yards away from me. The only thing dead so far was the surveillance camera that Black had blown away to make his point. That was about the only good news.
I picked up a jar of pickles and tossed it to my left, across the diapers, and it smashed on the floor in aisle number five.
"Fuck was that?" White's voice sounded scared. "Fuck's there?"
"Check it out!" Black told him, and then yelled at the old woman again. "Get that fuckin' safe open, bitch!"
I crept around the back of the store, moving from aisle four into three as White moved towards the broken pickle jar. He had his back to the hostages, to his accomplice as well, and Black had to split his attention between the safe, the doors, and a bunch of frightened customers. That was about the best I could hope for under the circumstances and now it would be up to God more than anyone else. I took a deep breath and wondered if I really wanted to do this.
"Federal officer!" I shouted, rising just enough to get a good look at Black. I'll admit that I didn't give him much of a chance, not with his friend moving unseen to my left. The Vietnamese woman was low behind the counter, apparently busy opening her safe. I had a good line of fire, the man's weapon pointed away from the civilians as he turned towards me, and it was an easy shot. So I took it.
My first round went high with adrenalin, taking Black's head off, and the second missed because of that, exploding the cigarette rack behind him. I barely saw it because I was already turning, standing straighter and bringing my weapon around to find White frozen with surprise, but that wasn't going to last. If he dropped behind the shelves I'd be in trouble. My training told me to take the shot, my instincts too, and maybe I was making a mistake.
"Drop your weapon!" I told him loudly. "Now! Drop it!"
He got off the first round, but I had no idea what he was shooting at. It could've been just a nervous twitch, an accidental discharge and nothing more. His bullet went through some dog food and ricocheted off the floor, ending up in the wall. It took forensics a couple hours to find it, I heard later. Mine were much easier to locate; two .357 hollow points high in his chest, just below his throat and above the heart. Taking both perps down had taken ten, maybe fifteen seconds and I moved to cover the doors in case they had a driver. I put the civilians on their faces and kept them there, called in a Bush Fire using the the hardline, and waited until the police showed up.
" ... and that's the story," I finished. One of the uniforms had brought me coffee and I took a sip.
"Candice Claibourn. Secret Service, huh?" The homicide detective from Arlington PD looked at my badge. "Just happened to be in the neighborhood?"
"Just happen to live in the neighborhood," I replied with a wan smile, pulling my blonde hair back and tucking it behind my ear. "I'm a block and a half that way."
"Two bad for them," he observed dryly, and we watched as one of the two bodies rolled out of the store in a body bag. "What's a Bush Fire?"
"What's that?" I looked at the man.
"Bush Fire," he repeated. "You said you called one in? I don't know what that means."
"Oh." I cleared my throat. "It's a code we use, uh ... in-house. It means there's a situation involving an agent."
"One that could be embarrassing for the Service," I explained carefully.
"Like a shoot-out in a grocery store?" he wondered, and I shrugged. After Ruby Ridge and Waco, everybody walked a fine line and I didn't have to say much more than I had. "Okay. I guess your people want the Q and A on this, but I'm going to need you to come by and sign a statement."
"Sure," I agreed.
"Tomorrow afternoon maybe," the detective said. "I'll give you a call."
"You have my number," I said absently, watching a black Ford with government plates pull into the lot. That would be someone from the Service and I'd be looking at a long night trying to explain why I'd felt it necessary to kill two men.
"Yeah." He was looking at me and not in a professional way. "After this is over, maybe we could..."
"Thanks, but..." I wrinkled my nose with an apologetic smile. "I don't think so, Detective."
"Right," he sighed, taking one last look at my legs as I took my ID from his fingers. It was time to go.
"Are you alright?" Stacy's hazel eyes looked ready to cry and I'd tried to tell her not to come, but not too hard. I needed her more than I wanted to admit.
"I'm fine," I said, taking the woman into my arms and letting her hold me for a long moment.
"I was so scared," she said. "After you called..."
"I know," I whispered, and maybe I felt a little uncomfortable. Nobody had ever worried about me before. "Did you eat? Come on, I'm making a salad."
We avoided the subject for fifteen minutes before sitting down with a light dinner and a bottle of wine. The hour was late and I wasn't hungry, but it kept my hands busy and the drink helped a lot.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Stacy asked, biting her bottom lip, and I shook my head.
"I'm not supposed to," I said. "They have to do an investigation and..." I shrugged. "It's over now. I'm okay."
"Were you scared?" she wondered, not knowing all the details; only that I'd been in a shooting. That I'd used my weapon.
"Yeah," I told her with a smile. "Before it happened and then afterwards. I was scared."
"But when you..."
"I didn't think about it," I told her honestly. "When it happened ... I don't know. It's just the job."
"I don't like your job." Stacy frowned and I picked up the wine, knowing I'd never be able to explain.
"Come on," I said gently. "Let's go to the bedroom. We'll talk about something else."
"Hey." I looked up to see Jason leaning into my office.
"I have something for you." He held up a red and yellow evidence bag with my SIG Sauer P229 inside it and I smiled at that.
It had been almost three weeks since I'd surrendered my weapon to the shooting board. I'd gone through a lot of paperwork, three days paid vacation, and two visits with a shrink to make sure my bad dreams were normal. Now it was finally over.
"The Arlington DA signed off on your shoot," Jason said, putting the weapon on my desk. "The mayor wanted to give you a medal."
"It's in your jacket," he nodded. "Along with a letter from the Director. Some good attention."
"Always nice," I said. "Any bad news?"
"You have a polygraph at nine, okay?" He smiled, but it was forced and that made me frown.
"Why?" I leaned back in my chair, letting go of the file I'd been reading.
"Routine." Jason shrugged. "How's your tennis game?"
"Getting better all the time," I said, looking back down and picking up the file.
"Good." He rapped his knuckle...