In the dream they’re shooting at me. Rounds screaming past my face and popping around my head and I need to return fire, but my rifle’s empty, and my hands won’t work. They keep doing that classic fucked-up dream thing where I can’t coordinate my fingers to wrap around the magazine to jam it into place to slam the breech, bring the round home and bring the hate to the fuckers on the ridge line. I scream for Mullens to call in air support, but Mullens is down. Why Mullens? They weren’t aiming at Mullens. The one who shot him wasn’t aiming at all. Then it’s just me and McDowell. I shoot him in the face. My hands work now. When I wake up, my phone is wiggling its way off the milk crate next to the bed. I’m sweaty and my jaw hurts, like I’ve been grinding my teeth and I roll over and answer the phone like this:
On the other end of the line, Etch says, “Parks, you sound like shit.”
I squeeze my eyes hard to clear the smoke, say, “What the fuck?”
Etch gets tired of my razor-sharp wit, says “He bit. It’s go time.”
I’m upright now, a start. And I’m naked. Not unusual. I’m alone, too, not exactly surprising either. I say, “Which one, and how long?”
“Brock Mason. Two hours from now. City Park.”
I’m out of bed, wander into the kitchen to load the French press with the heavy shit, saying, “You called Harkin yet?”
Harkin says, “I’m here.” But not on the phone. It takes me about six seconds to realize that he’s sitting at my kitchen table. He’s in full battle rattle, too. Fancy, all-white BDUs, tactical vest, ski mask, Bushmaster ACR with an ACOG scope mounted to it, and a Starbucks coffee in his hand. I’m still naked.
I say, “Sup.”
And he says, “Homo.”
And I blow him a kiss, turn the burner on under the kettle and wander back into my room.
Into the phone, I say: “Never mind, we’re good. I’ll be ready in five.”
Etch: “Let’s hook ’em and book ’em.” And I hang up before one of us screams yeehaw.
It works like this: We catch bad guys. Then we bring them to good guys who don’t have the manpower or skills to find them on their own. In the good old days, bounty hunters did that by carefully cultivating contacts and listening to the word on the street, and then simply knocking on doors and doing good, old-fashioned leg work. Unfortunately, that method is inefficient, outdated, and a really good way to get your ass shot off. You raise your enemies’ awareness of you by asking their friends where they are for days on end. Then you confront them in a place in which they are familiar, and attempt to take them somewhere they really, really don’t want to go. Our method is better; safer, easier and, 9 out of 10 times, funnier.
Brittany Hart is 5’6”, 120 pounds. She has blond hair, blue eyes, a knock-out smile, and a body that would make a Barbie doll gag herself. She was born in Detroit, Michigan, but moved to Denver, Colorado in March of 1998 for school. She majored in “gettin’ loose” before hitting the bricks in ’99 and working full-time at a club downtown. She likes FarmVille, Hooked on Colfax, and Jersey Shore. She is:
Headed to the park to spark up with an old friend, 15 minutes ago.
First you find your fugitive, someone stupid who has a vice that you can exploit, like multiple drug charges or sex offenses. Then, you find their Facebook page. Almost anyone under 40 has one (yes, even wanted fugitives), and almost all the ones over 30 don’t have the Internet-savvy to set their accounts to private.
Brittany Hart went to John R. Madden High School with Brock Mason. That’s where he thinks he knows her from. It’s a big school, especially for Michigan: 2,000 students and Brock doesn’t remember a fraction of the classes he took, let alone all the people he sat through them with. But Brittany Hart is a fucking fox, and Mason would pretend to remember anything she wanted if it meant breaking off a piece of that.
Then, you find several pictures of the same sexy girl on the Internet. You make sure that this girl is very far away. Somewhere like Russia, or Yugoslavia. Once you have enough pictures to make this girl look like an average, sexy woman of an appropriate age for your target, you create a fake Facebook profile for her. Fill in all the information, tailoring her identity to interest him in some way. If he went to a big high school, she went to the same one. If he used to work at the Target on 15th Street, so did she. From there, it’s all about making contact.
Brock Mason, according to his Facebook profile, is a full time hustla, in Da Streets of Denver. He lives with his auntie and her two grandkids somewhere near Federal Boulevard. He likes Kanye West, Real Thugz, and (believe it or not) FarmVille. He has hundreds of pictures of himself flashing gang signs, holding money, and posing with his shirt off in front of mirrors, a gangly white guy with tattoos slithering across his pasty body like leeches. Nowhere on his profile does it explain that he spent seven years in a federal penitentiary for aggravated assault. Nor does it state that he is wanted in Wisconsin, Wyoming, Nebraska, and right here in Colorado, for everything from possession with intent to sell, to sexual assault. It doesn’t say that there is a $10,000 reward for information leading to his arrest, either, or that he almost never leaves his auntie’s apartment except to pick up more liquor or to pop out for the occasional booty call. A booty call like Brittany Hart. Brock Mason is:
Hyped for today, 56 minutes ago, and Rollin’ out, 20 minutes ago.
Then you send him a message. Something innocuous but provocative, like, “Hey, stranger, long time no see ;).” (Idiots love emoticons.) If he answers back, you’re golden.
Brock Mason is walking through six inches of freshly fallen snow in the middle of City Park right now, steam pouring from his face like dragon’s breath in the frigid winter air. Brock Mason is at least 30 pounds heavier than his Facebook page says he is, and judging by the way he’s walking, he’s carrying a weapon in the front of his pants.
I put my gloved hand to the Bluetooth in my ear and whisper:
“Etch, target is inbound from St. Paul Street, moving northbound through the park.”
“Copy that, I have eyes on.”
Snow falls softly on the hood of my jacket, pattering like tentative fingertips all around my head, landing in my eyelashes, settling on my cheeks. The balaclava around my face keeps the steam from escaping and giving away my position. Mason trots nearer, sticking to the trail, and from where I lie I can make out the prison tattoos on his neck. He’s wearing a red snow jacket, black pants that are roughly four sizes too big for him, and a pair of red Nikes. He’s fatter, paler, and duller than his mug shot photos. Mason is thirty feet away from me now, looking left and right but still moving, intent on getting to shelter from the snow. I am a ghost, dressed all in white, packed into a snow drift in the shadowy gloom of the tree line.
After you’ve flirted with him for about two weeks, lure him to a controlled environment where he is both isolated and disoriented.
City Park is the biggest park in Metro Denver. There’s a zoo, a museum, and a lake scattered throughout it. At the edge of the lake on the southern shore is a gazebo, 100 feet long and 40 feet wide, with iron gates on either side, effectively enclosing the inside of the structure. It was built 98 years ago by some rich industrialist to function as a band shell. Now it’s used for weddings and parties. When it’s not being partied in, all of the doors are locked except for one at the western end, which the park leaves open so that joggers can use the water fountain. That’s where Mason is headed. He’s headed there because Brittany Hart asked him to meet her there so that they could “smoke some weed, and see what happens ;).” I know that because I am Brittany Hart. Well, we are Brittany Hart.
When you’ve got him horny, disoriented, and all alone, you and your ex-military buddies swoop in like the Horsemen of the Apocalypse and wipe his ass out. Oh, yeah, join the military and make some friends. Simple as that.
“Subject entering the gazebo. Engage.”
I’m running now, up and running through the driving snow, with ice pluming off me in clouds. To my left I see Etch moving, too, diagonally through the trees, 12-gauge Benelli M1 Super on his shoulder, checking for hostiles. I see him only because I know where he is supposed to be, and even then it’s difficult to make him out. Harkin hangs back for support, further north, lined up with the building. As the edge of the tree line nears, I yank the FNP .45 from the holster on my hip and bring it to a ready position midway up my chest.
Harkin in my ear: “Subject has moved to the western end of the building. Be advised, subject is favoring a weapon, front waistband.”
Out of the trees, across the clearing, the building looms before us like a monolith. Etch and I converge on the eastern wall of the structure. There are no windows or doors on this side, so we’re covered for the moment. The wind howls, furious, and my legs are on fire from lying in the snow for so long, but I’m ready to do this, so I give Etch the signal and we split, Etch around one side, me on the other, around the corner sharply, and in the open gate. The wind outside the building is deafening, and Mason’s back is to me when I enter.
“Brock Mason.” My voice is steady, ice-cold mercury, and Mason’s shoulders rise infinitesimally in alarm. He does not reach for the weapon, so I don’t put a double tap in his spine. He turns to look over his shoulder. Brock Mason is:
Shitting his pants, 5 seconds ago.
I’m not a big guy, about 5’8” and lean, going on stocky; but I don’t know anybody who likes being on that side of a .45, especially when the person holding it is in full tactical with a ski mask on.
Mason says: “Fuck.”
“Mason: raise your hands out to either side and interlace your fingers behind your head. If you move for the piece I will light you the fuck up.” He considers his options for a millisecond, and then the arms go up.
“On your knees, Mason. Good. Now put your forehead on the ground. Flatten out.”
I move closer to him, watching him breathe heavily on the other side of my iron sights. Five feet away I say:
“Mason, I’m going to cuff you now. If you fight me, my friend will shoot you in the face with a 12-gauge shotgun.” On the other side of the iron bars, Etch appears like a ghoul and blows him a kiss over the breech of his weapon. Mason grinds his forehead into the floor. I holster my weapon, grab his right wrist and drop to a crouch, my knees on his neck and low back. Wrist, click, wrist, click and he’s done. I turn him over with my boot and yank a Taurus .25 from the front of his pants. Clear it, stow it.
“Harkin, subject in custody. Extracting to the tree line, move to cover.”
He says: “I’m at Taco Bell. Be there in like fifteen minutes.”
I tell him to fuck his own face.
We extract Mason from the park quickly and quietly. Harkin brings the van around, and the four of us are gone before anyone even knows we exist. It’s a short drive to our usual bail bondsman’s place of business. Etch phones ahead to tell Mark that the bust was good, and that we’re bringing Mason in. Mark says he’s just hanging around. Big fucking surprise. Mark’s an ex-Department of Corrections guy who got booted from his gig as a prison guard for smuggling dope into a correctional facility. After that, he decided to try his hand at putting shitheads in prison instead of keeping them there. Mark is a burly, lazy-looking S.O.B. A hulking white guy with a beer gut and a shaved head, teeth like a mammoth, forehead like a caveman. Like if Barney Fife had a baby with Chuck Liddell. We drop Mason off at the duplex Mark runs his gig out of, and he meets us at the door in jeans and a T-shirt. He says, “Cool.”
Mark gives us $5,000 under the table, three quarters of what Crime Stoppers is going to give him for the bust. We need Mark because:
a) The way we operate is pretty illegal.
b) The criminal justice system crawls as far as payment systems are concerned (six months to wait for five grand, and that’s if Mason gets convicted) and we are way too broke to wait that long.
Mark needs us because:
a) We bring him free bad guys.
b) He’s a piss-poor bounty hunter.
Two and a half hours later finds Etch, Harkin, and myself in the Goosetown Tavern. The snow is falling harder outside; flakes like cotton balls, falling heavily, lumbering on the breeze and settling on the sidewalks and in the gutters and streets. It’ll pile up by evening, freeze by night, melt in the morning and flood the gutters by tomorrow afternoon. Then it’ll freeze again. Fucking Denver. Beers hit the table with a splash, and the waiter stammers something about the pizza being on the way as he retreats from the table in reverse. No one’s surprised. We’re all wearing our tactical shit. The weapons are in the car, but you can’t blame the kid for being careful. Plus, Harkin and Etch look like comic book characters. The two huge fuckers with their shaved heads, John Harkin with his lumberjack beard, Eric “Etch” Echevaria with his goatee, 500 pounds of muscle, paunch, and sinew between the two of them.
The beer is cold and cheap, the way I like it, and I down it with fervor while the winter paces like a lion outside the windows.
Etch says, “So, what? About $1,700 each?”
About $1,660; but either way, it isn’t a terrible haul for a few hours’ worth of ninja shit and a few days on Facebook pretending to be a sexy blond. When Etch gets home he’ll wipe Britney’s profile and clean out his temporary Internet files so Mason can’t come looking for her, or us, when and if he gets to use a computer again. That’s the other reason we use pictures of girls in Russia; it’s not likely that one of these assholes is going to run into them at a bar anytime soon.
Etch wipes foam off his face with the sleeve of his coat, asks, “What’s the plan for your pieces?”
I’m spending mine on not starving or getting evicted from my apartment, say, “I’m going to buy a tiger with a saddle. Just for cruising around.”
Harkin says, “I’m going to buy a rocket ship, strap my girlfriend to it.” He makes a blast-off sound, trails a finger off into the cosmos. Getting rid of his girlfriend, Stacy, has been a running gag since their first date, and my theory that anyone crazy enough to go on a second date with Harkin is jacked in the brain still stands. Two weeks ago she got drunk and stuck Harkin with a fork because he “was asking for it.” He may very well have been, knowing Harkin; but still. Not a Nicholas Sparks novel in the making.
Harkin asks Etch what he’s got planned. He smiles, tips his mug at us and mumbles something like “soon,” and before anyone can ask what he’s talking about, the slices are on the table. Three of them, the size of kites, steam curling off like a naked flame, cheese running down onto the plate. The Tavern makes some of the best $3 pizza in the city, and I always order mine with pineapple and jalapeños because I’m a troll. It gets real quiet at the table. Etch and Harkin watch Man vs. Wild with the sound off on the flat screen above the bar, and I scoop the dismembered newspaper off the table behind us. Ads, ads, Big 5: box of 50 .40 caliber rounds for $15.99, Sports section, Opinion. Half a world away, people are charging checkpoints with dirty bombs strapped to their chests. No articles, no pictures, nothing. You can walk into any grocery store in America and find out what top J-Lo wore to the beach or who Ashton Kutcher is having sex with, but if you want to know who got their face shot off while brushing their teeth in a tent so that J-Lo or Ashton could keep rocking in the free world, good fucking luck. Your average teen can tell you the entire cast of the Jersey Shore, but has no idea where Afghanistan or Iraq is on a map. I swallow down the bitterness with my next bite. Buried beneath it all on the second page of the local section I find a two-paragraph article about some kid getting stabbed to death near The Stampede, a country-western bar in Aurora. Something about it bites me. Call it a premonition, call it gas. I read it twice, and can’t figure out what it is that feels wrong about it, turn the page, flip to the funnies. On the TV, Bear Grylls drinks his pee out of a snake.
Sebastian Parks is drowning in a flood of his own creation. Dishonorably discharged from the Army, he’s wracked with night terrors and an anger that he can’t abate. Unemployable and uninterested in anything resembling a normal job, Parks makes his living in fugitive apprehension, finding wanted felons on Facebook and thumping them into custody with his ex-military buddies John Harkin and Eric “Etch” Echevarria. When the body of a teenage Muslim boy is found in front of a downtown Denver nightclub Parks, Harkin and Etch are called on to do what they do best: Find bad men and make them pay.
First-time author Kellen Burden serves up edgy humor, brutal action and characters you can’t get enough of. Flash Bang will keep you turning pages until the end.
Received “Honorable Mention at Los Angeles Book Festival 2014”
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Genre – Thriller, Mystery
Rating – R
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