Chapter 5: Countin' On A Miracle
Megan: Emotions aren't rational, Granger. Revenge is just an emotion.
After a few blocks, downtown traffic became more congested, and Megan reluctantly let go of Larry's hand to better concentrate on the road. The 110 freeway to the 101 was theoretically the shortest route between the office and her neighborhood, but theory often ran smack into the cold hard reality of L.A. traffic. Surface streets were her preferred route home; even if they meant a lot of traffic lights, at least they'd be moving.
They were crossing Temple Street as she made the automatic rearview mirror check that was second nature ever since Driver's Ed. Her eyes were already moving forward again when something registered in the back of her mind, and she looked to the mirror again.
Three cars behind them was a white sedan. As she watched, it accelerated and overtook the first car, weaving slightly between lanes. The skin on the back of her neck began to prickle. Ignoring the usual route home, she took a right turn on Sunset. The sedan followed.
"Megan, where are we -- "
She cut him off, lifting an upraised hand. "Be quiet for a moment."
The request was unusual enough that Larry actually did fall silent. They passed through a series of stop signs and the white sedan kept perfect pace, only a rusting Toyota between it and them. C'mon, Reeves, how many white sedans are there in L.A.? she asked herself, hoping she was being paranoid.
The upcoming stoplight was beginning to turn yellow, and she sailed on through. The Toyota hit the brakes, and the white sedan swerved around it and gunned the engine, passing through the intersection on solid red. Her eyes slid to the license plate, and she drew in a sharp breath. The last two digits were 63 -- the same as she had seen two nights ago while ducking away from automatic weapons fire in this same car.
Megan started thinking ahead, looking down the street. Two more blocks to the 110, which would be at a standstill at this time of the evening. On the other side of the freeway was Chinatown, with streets too congested to lose a tail. And beyond that was an industrial area that would be almost deserted this time of the evening. Just the kind of place they might make their move.
"Megan, what is it?" Larry's voice was calm, but he was clearly concerned.
As he started to crane his neck around, she reached out to grab his upper arm. "Don't turn around," she said. "They'll see you." She slid her hand down his arm and grabbed his hand. "Larry, I need you to listen to me."
"Anything," he quickly replied.
She looked down at her waist and cursed, remembering placing her phone down on the table in the war room but not picking it back up. "Do you have a phone with you?"
Larry fumbled for his shirt pocket. "Yes."
Megan checked the mirror one more time. Two car lengths behind them and closing. She accelerated a little to make the next light, and the white sedan blew through the red again. Where's a cop when you need one? "The Chinatown Metro station is up ahead. You're going to get out and call Don, or call Charlie and have him get Don. Tell him I'm being followed by the car from the other night, and that I'm going north on Main."
She cast a quick glance at Larry to see his face nearly white. "The men from the other night? The ones who shot at you? Megan, I can't leave you to that."
"I can't be worrying about you, too. Please, I need you to do this for me." She squeezed his hand and tapped the brake as they approached a stoplight. The sedan pulled in right behind them, and she looked in the mirror to see two men in the front seat with baseball caps pulled low over their faces. There were two more figures in the back seat, but she couldn't make out any details.
"All right." His voice was quiet, and as she looked over, "stricken" was the only word that could describe the expression on his face.
"Hey, I'll be fine," she said. "I can lose them, but I don't want to have to worry about you getting hurt, okay?"
Larry nodded dubiously. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the light change, and she pulled forward. The next block had another stoplight, but it was adjacent to the Metro station, the street in shadow from the concrete pillars that soared overhead to support the train track. Larry reached for the door handle, but she grabbed his arm again. "Wait till the light changes."
He took off his seatbelt, tucking the phone back in his pocket. On the cross-street, the light was turning yellow. "Be careful, my love," he said, his hand on the door handle.
Megan gave him a tight nod. "You too."
Then the light changed. Larry dashed out the door, slammed it shut, and strode towards the escalator to the elevated train line. At the same time, Megan cut across to the left-turn lane and prayed that the sedan would stick with her.
She turned sharply onto Main and headed north, away from downtown. Off to the right, she could see the distinctive twin towers of the downtown jail, and she grimaced. If it were only her, she would be heading in that direction, seeking backup from the nearest police officer. But with Larry on the street, the men in the white sedan might well decide to go after him instead. Megan had no idea who they were, but she couldn't risk them going after her companion if they thought she was inaccessible.
So she pressed the accelerator harder as the street curved away from Chinatown, heading into an industrial area that was creepy even in full daylight. At least the risk of innocent pedestrians getting caught in the crossfire would be minimal, should it come to that. She reached down to draw her weapon and laid it on the seat next to her.
And as she'd expected, the sedan started to speed up, looming larger and larger in her rearview mirror.
Liz gunned the motor as she drove out of the parking garage. They didn't have an idea of exactly where Megan would be, but the shortest route to her neighborhood was clear enough. Beside her, Don was tapping his closed cell phone against the top of his leg, looking down at it periodically as if he could have missed it ringing. In the rearview mirror, she could see Colby and Theresa pulling out onto the street behind them. "Should we have the sirens on?" she asked.
"Not until we know something for sure," Don replied, his voice tight. "Right now, it's just a gut feeling." There was silence for a moment, and then he made a scoffing noise. "Like the same gut feeling that's had me worried about Colby for the past three days."
"Hey, it made the most sense based on what we all knew," she said. "I mean, I didn't exactly get the impression that Simeon took the wrong FBI agent the other night." Even now, she couldn't think of any indication that the cartel leader had known she wasn't the "payment" his clients were expecting, although all of a sudden Beachy's comment about their client being disappointed made a lot more sense.
"He must not have seen the picture of Megan that Moreno did," Don mused. "Or he would have known."
"Who do you suppose these guys are?" Liz asked. "The buyers, I mean." The people who are scheduled to go after Megan sometime today, she couldn't help but add in her head.
"Who knows?" came the reply. "They could be -- " Just then, Don's phone rang, and he instantly flipped it open. "Eppes."
They were coming up to the stoplight for Sunset Boulevard, and Liz pulled into the left-hand lane to head towards Echo Park, her hand hovering over the dashboard switch for the lights and sirens as she listened to one side of the conversation. "When?" A pause. "She was sure?" Then Don gave her a nod, and she flicked the switch, the whoop of the sirens cutting over the noise of the freeway on the overpass behind them. She saw the driver in front of her look over his shoulder, startled, but there was nowhere for him to go. She was about to swing around him on the left when Don grabbed her arm. "Main Street," he said, nodding to the right.
The light changed, and the cars in front of her peeled around the corner. Instead of following them, she turned hard to the right, watchful for drivers who somehow missed the flashing lights and loud noise coming from her vehicle. An echo from behind her told her Colby was on their tail.
"Tell him to get to the office and stay put, okay? Thanks, Charlie." Don ended the call and promptly dialed in to Control. She listened as he called in an FBI agent being pursued by a white sedan with four unknown persons, headed north on Main Street and in need of backup. That gave her the information she needed to navigate through the narrow streets of Chinatown, past the elevated train and onto the relatively open streets beyond.
After that, she had no idea where to go.
Don had shut his phone and was leaning forward to shut off the sirens. "What are you doing?" she asked.
"We need to be able to hear," he said.
Liz didn't ask have to ask, For what?, but instead started straining her ears for anything out of the ordinary -- like gunshots. The traffic had dropped off abruptly as they passed by an industrial neighborhood, and the red-and-blue lights would do as well as the sirens for those few vehicles still around. She started looking down side streets but didn't see anything out of the ordinary. No squealing tires or engines running at high speeds reached her ears, either.
If I was Megan, and I had these unknown guys after me, what would I do? Liz blew out a breath. The first step would be to get away from populated areas. Check. "Who called you?" she asked.
"Charlie," came the distracted reply. "Larry called and said Megan dropped him off at the Chinatown Metro station and took off with a white sedan in pursuit."
Apparently the second step was to lose a tail, or at least draw it away from the civilian with her. Liz didn't have a very good mental map of this area; it was a mish-mash of freeways and railyards and the concrete channel of the L.A. River with the occasional small, steep hill plunked in the middle. The end result was a lot of streets that went nowhere. Did Megan have an idea of where she was going?
Up ahead, the road took a sharp bend to the right, and they swung around and onto a bridge over the river. Suddenly things looked familiar, and she shook her head and eased off the accelerator as they came to the other side of the bridge. "We're coming up on Lincoln Heights," she said. "Megan's not going to lead those guys into a residential neighborhood."
"Then turn here," Don said, tapping on the window next to him. She pulled the wheel hard to the right, and they screeched around the corner and down a narrower street. In the distance, she saw what looked like a railyard. "Think that's it?" she asked.
"Sure hope so," he replied, leaning forward in his seat. She pressed the accelerator harder, and they raced on.
A few blocks later, they roared under a train overpass and found themselves in a huge expanse of rows of neatly parked truck trailers. The SUV shuddered as they ran over a railroad crossing, and Liz tapped on the brakes. Wouldn't do to have them popping a tire because the road got too rough.
Don had flipped open his phone. "Colby?" he barked into it. "Go to the far side and work your way back -- "
Whatever instructions he had been about to add were made moot by the sounds that split the air: a series of gunshots, followed by the screech of brakes and crumpling metal.
Oh, God. The rows of trailers were all angled away from them, so it wasn't until they were actually past a row that she could look back and see anything. It also made it hard to tell where they were relative to where the gunshot had gone off.
"Colby, go!" Don called, and from behind them the second SUV roared past and out into the broad expanse of the container yard.
Then a second sound far off to the left made her blood run cold. It was the rattle of automatic weapons fire. "Hold on," she said, yanking the wheel hard to the left. Don braced himself against the dash as they careened around the tighter than ninety-degree turn to head towards the back of the property where the shots were coming from.
She zoomed past rows of trailers until they were almost at the end and then slowed down. The gunfire had died down to an occasional burst, but it was clearly coming from the other side of the trailers on their right. Apparently she'd gotten lucky with the row she'd chosen to drive down. The metal boxes were packed together so closely that she couldn't see what was on the other side. "In the car or on foot?" she asked.
Don was already reaching for the door handle. "Pull around the corner. Slow."
Liz eased past the last trailer and inhaled sharply. There was a streetlight pole about thirty feet ahead and to the right, and hard up against it was a silver Acura, the driver's side slightly crumpled against the pole. From here, she could see that the right front tire was flat, which explained how the car had gotten like it was. The only question was, what had happened to the driver?
She had an answer a second later when a Glock nosed over the edge of the open passenger side window and spat out a single shot. It was answered by another burst of automatic fire, and Liz's heart leapt into her throat. She slammed the gear shift into park and reached for her own gun. Then she noticed where the bullets were going – kicking up puffs of dust from the worn concrete below the car.
Don must have recognized the same thing, for he said in a low voice, "They're trying to get her to use up her ammo." He slid the phone back onto his belt and then said, "You ready?"
"I got your back," she replied.
A small quirk of his lips was the only response before he flung the door open and slid out. Liz raced around the back of the vehicle and followed Don as he ran in a low crouch between the two trailers next to the back of their Suburban. The gunfire stopped, and their footsteps suddenly sounded loud on the crumbling concrete. A few feet from the end of the large orange trailers on either side of them, Don came to a halt. Liz's heart was thumping as they slowly peered around the corner.
They saw a white sedan about twenty feet away, doors flung wide open. One man crouched behind each door with an submachine gun leveled at Megan's car. As Liz watched, the one nearer her let out another burst with his weapon. She wanted to charge forward and aim her gun right at his unprotected back, but something occurred to her. She looked at Don and held up four fingers with a questioning look. Wasn't that what she had heard him relay to Control?
At his grim nod, she turned to look back over her shoulder, but the view was clear all the way back to the Suburban. She dropped to a squat and scanned under the trailers. There. She waved her hand to get Don's attention and pointed two fingers off to their right, the opposite direction from where Megan was. From where the remaining two men were, they would be able to see if she escaped from the car and track her in whichever direction she ran.
Don pressed his lips together, the frustration on his face clear. If they stepped out right now, they'd be caught between two sets of armed men. How far? he mouthed at her.
Liz dropped her head down and counted four trailers before the two pairs of feet. She looked back up at him and raised four fingers again.
She watched as he pursed his lips and looked back and forth between the two men they could see and the two acting as backup. Then she heard Megan fire again, followed by a sharp curse from one of the men. When the round of return fire started up, Don dove under the truck trailer at her back and started moving in a crouching run towards the two hidden men. Liz followed, gun at the ready.
Fortunately -- or not, from Megan's perspective -- this round of gunfire was longer than any of the others had been, and Liz and Don made it underneath all four trailers before silence fell again. Now they were only a few feet away from the other two men, both of whom were looking out over the aisle where their compatriots were, and she tensed herself for action. Don gave her a quick look over his shoulder, and she answered it with a firm nod. Then he darted forward, raising his gun and racking the slide at the same time.
The distinctive sound got the attention of the two men, and when Liz followed the movement, it was almost comical to see the expressions of disbelief on their faces. They were about the same height as Don, each of them with a pistol down at their side. They had medium-dark complexions and dark hair, but they weren't Hispanic. Middle Eastern, maybe?
Don said quietly but with steel in his voice, "Get down on the ground. Hands on the back of your head."
Liz waited, her finger curling around the trigger, watching every twitch of the features of the man nearest her as his dark eyes flickered between her and her partner. If his arm began to raise even a fraction of an inch…
But no, he was going to one jean-clad knee and raising his hands in the air. She tracked his downward movement with her weapon, painfully aware that the other man was still standing upright. If he made a move on Don, would the first man respond?
"On the ground, now!" Don hissed, holding his pistol up a little higher.
Her suspect was already face-down on the concrete, right arm out to the side and carefully laying his pistol on the ground before putting his hands on the back of his head. He spoke a few short words to his companion in what Liz recognized as Arabic. She shot a glance at Don, but his attention remained focused on the man who was on his feet. Finally, though, the second man reluctantly dropped to his knees and took up the same submissive posture.
Liz stepped back to cover both of them, nodding at Don. He pulled out his handcuffs and fastened them around the wrists of the second man after yanking his arms behind his back. She let go of her gun with her left hand to reach around and remove her own cuffs when a sound caught her attention. Her head shot up as Don's whipped around.
It was the scuffing of feet on concrete, and it was coming from across the aisle. Her heart pumped out an extra few beats until she recognized Colby peering out from between two trailers. Don was signaling to him, and Colby was shaking his head. Liz craned her neck, but she couldn't see Theresa. Where was the younger agent? She grimaced. If they hadn't been in such a hurry getting here, they wouldn't be without the radio earpieces that had become second nature in the field, and they wouldn't be relying on hand gestures.
A second later, Colby pointed to his right, back towards where Megan was, and she understood. The other two agents had split up to surround the shooters, not knowing where she and Don were. "I've got them," she said in a low voice, gesturing with her pistol towards the two men on the ground. "Go."
"Okay." Don turned and pointed at Colby and then in the direction the other man had just pointed. Colby nodded, and the two men stepped out from the cover of the trailers and started towards the exposed backs of the two men shooting at Megan.
Liz stepped forward and bent down over the first man, pulling his arms behind his back and snapping the handcuffs on with one hand. Then she made her way towards where Don had been, keeping her gun aimed at the two suspects but still keeping her promise to watch her partner's back.
Don and Colby were about ten feet away from the back of the white sedan, each crouched behind a trailer. They exchanged looks across the aisle, and then stepped forward at the same time and shouted, "FBI!"
She shouldn't have been surprised by the sharp bark of automatic weapons fire suddenly aimed in their direction, but her heart still shot into her throat as the agents dove for cover. The gunmen might have been aiming to keep Megan alive, but it was apparent that provision didn't extend to anyone else in the FBI. She flattened herself against the metal wall behind her and kept her eyes on the two men at her feet, both of whom were twisting to look in the direction of the gunfire. "Don't move," she barked, not wanting either one of them to get ideas.
When she peeked out again, the gunmen had opened the back doors of the sedan and were using them as shields as they fired in the general direction of the agents. A flash of movement caught Liz's eye, and she looked up to see Theresa sprinting across the open space towards Megan's damaged car. She caught her breath and hoped the men with the submachine guns kept concentrating on Don and Colby, biting her lip and thinking about what she could do to keep their attention pointed in their direction.
Apparently Colby had the same idea, for he suddenly gave a yell and stepped out into full view, raising his arms and squeezing off a shot that pinged off the metal frame of the passenger side of the white car. The man on that side promptly returned fire, and Liz gasped as Colby briefly staggered as he ducked back into safety.
"Colby!" Don shouted, but Liz was suddenly focused on the gunman on the right. His head was starting to turn around, and Theresa was still ten feet from Megan's car and completely vulnerable. But Liz had a perfect shot at him as long as she moved out from her cover, which meant she'd be exposed to the guy on the driver's side. Taking a deep breath, she brought her weapon up, stepped out, and fired.
The bullet would have gone straight into the gunman's head if he hadn't started moving towards the interior of the car. As it was, he cried out and clapped a hand to his shoulder, his gun clattering to the ground. That was all Liz saw before she dodged back behind the trailer, aiming back down at the two men who had both gone still. She heard the bark of Don's gun from her side of the aisle and a wild burst of submachine gunfire.
Then everything was quiet.
Liz cautiously moved out to survey the scene. Both gunmen were lying half inside their car, stirring but obviously injured. Don was edging towards them from the driver's side, Colby from the right, both obviously in one piece. She took a couple of steps back so she was out of kicking range of the two subdued suspects and shifted her aim towards the car, ready to back up the men if they needed it.
As it turned out, both of the gunmen were incapacitated enough that their weapons could be kicked away without further incident. Liz looked beyond the white sedan to where Theresa was carefully standing up behind Megan's car. A moment later she had rushed around to the passenger side and was pulling the door open and reaching inside. Liz held her breath, aware that Don and Colby were closely watching, too.
Theresa turned around and shouted over her shoulder, "She's all right."
Liz let out a whoosh of breath and saw Don briefly hang his head in relief. Theresa added, "But her leg's trapped; I think we're gonna need to cut her out."
"Roger that." Don grabbed for his phone, one hand still aiming his Glock at the wounded man in the driver's seat. Liz listened as he directed the earlier-requested backup to their location, including an paramedics and equipment for getting Megan out of her car.
She shifted her attention back to her two charges, satisfied that things were under control. She caught Don's eye and gave him a nod that she was okay, glad to get the same in return. Whatever difficulty they'd had the other day in the raid in Banning seemed to have disappeared, given the way they'd smoothly worked together in the last few minutes. Looks like we can make this work in the field, Liz thought with relief. Maybe things'll be okay after all.