The call had come in a little after 2 P.M. A DNA sniffer near an open-air market had scored a hit, and dispatch had assigned two teams to the case. The profile was Clear, which meant this was a runner. Two teams was surely one too many, but Dominic Miles preferred overkill. He found that a sense of inevitability made the target more docile.
They almost never fought back. They’d tell themselves later that they were paralyzed by fear, but he always thought it was simple calculation. As long as there’s a chance, most people will fight. Once that chance hits zero? Then it’s over. They just lay down and die.
The agents arrived in two cars, both marked like ordinary police cruisers: “To Protect and Serve.” Dominic set a perimeter, assigning one agent to the front of the building and one in the back. He was in no hurry. The report indicated that the girl they were looking for was eight-and-a-half-months pregnant. She couldn’t run, but he figured she would try and hide. That meant she was somewhere inside this building, a five-story brick structure that had been abandoned since after the war. It was an old apartment complex, so searching it would be easy. They’d find her. It was only a matter of time.
And they had found her all right, but then the bitch had killed Sadosky. Dominic had never been particularly close with him, so it was nice, for once, to see one of them show a little spine. He’d killed her for her trouble, of course, but that was procedure. Now he had to clean this mess up and find a replacement.
He guessed the department would be doing some hiring.
* * *
Marcus knew it was bad news when he found the handwritten note on his desk. “Come see me,” it said. It was signed simply, “Cap.” The captain never had liked to deliver bad news over email.
The men and women in the office had learned to dread the day a handwritten note showed up on one of their desks. It was happening more and more, it seemed. There wasn’t much call for policemen these days.
Marcus had felt it coming when he arrived at work. The guys had been on edge, tense, and the looks they gave him were filled with a strange mixture of sadness and relief that only now made sense. Even Haidet, normally a man who seldom shut up—particularly around Marcus, to whom he showed a special fondness—gave him only a nod before turning away. So the note was not surprising, though it was very disappointing.
Still, it could have been worse. Marcus didn’t have a wife or kids at home. No mortgage to pay, nothing like that. But he had had dreams of something bigger, something better, long ago before the war. But all that seemed far away now. And if nothing else, he did have at least one mouth to feed—his own.
“No use wasting time,” he murmured to himself. When he looked up, the other men and women in the precinct all suddenly became busy with other things. They had been watching him. Imagining how he must feel. They sympathized with him, but were glad it had happened to someone other than themselves.
This time, at least.
He knocked on Cap’s door and didn’t wait for the obligatory “come in” before he entered. The captain looked up. He didn’t smile, didn’t give Marcus a hearty handshake before delivering the blow. It was one thing that Marcus had always liked about Cap. He wasn’t the kind of guy that would bullshit you. He wasn’t the kind that would hug you close before stabbing you in the back. He gave it to you straight, and Marcus respected that.
“I’d ask you to sit,” Cap said, “but I think you know why you’re here.”
“I’ll sit anyway, if it’s all the same to you.”
The captain nodded a couple times and then gestured to the chair across from his desk.
“I don’t know, Captain,” Marcus said. “I kinda always thought we’d close this place down, turn out the lights together.”
Captain Neal McKindrickson laughed and then settled into a mournful smile. “Me too. Me too. I wish that was the case, but you know how things work these days. You’ve been here the longest ’cept me. That means you’ve got the highest salary. Wasn’t going to insult you by asking you to take a pay cut.”
“I’m glad. I might have been tempted to accept it.”
“At half what we pay you now, and who knows how long it would last. There’s not a lot of future in this business.”
“I think I’ll take a drink, if you don’t mind.”
The captain reached down and removed a bottle of scotch from the lower drawer in his desk—prewar—where Marcus knew he kept it. They’d shared more than one round together in the lazy afternoons when most of the guys had already knocked off for the day. He pulled the cork clear and poured two healthy glasses, three fingers each. He dropped one in front of Marcus and held his own in the air.
“To a future with no crime.”
Marcus grinned. “I’ll drink to that.”
“So where do you go now?”
“Well,” Marcus said, swirling what was left of the brown liquid around the glass, trying to see if he could reach the rim without it spilling over. “Can’t say I’d given it much thought until about thirty minutes ago.”
“You had to know this was coming.”
“Knowing it and accepting it are two different things. Besides, jobs—good jobs at least—are hard to come by these days.” One dark drip achieved escape velocity and slid down the side of the glass. Marcus caught it with his tongue before it could get away.
“Well if you need a place to stay . . .”
Marcus cut him off with a laugh and downed his drink, slamming the empty glass on the desk. “Cap, the day I show up at your door and ask to sleep on the couch, start the suicide watch ’cause you’ll know I got nothing left.”
Captain McKindrickson rose and offered his hand. “Understood.”
Marcus didn’t hesitate to take it. The captain was, after all, a good man. A good man in a job that was becoming more difficult every day, but for reasons no one could have fathomed decades earlier.
“If you need me, I’ll be at the bar.”
Thirty minutes later he had made good on that promise. He was one of only two customers in the Alehouse Rock at 10:30 in the morning. The bartender didn’t ask Marcus any questions. He just filled his glass and let him go. An hour and four drinks later, it was only Marcus remaining, the other patron having departed for greener pastures. Marcus didn’t notice when the fellow left and didn’t care, nor did he notice when the door opened and another fellow walked in. It was only when he sat down next to Marcus—and ordered water—that he took notice. The man looked at him and smiled, holding up the glass.
“On duty,” he said.
“Then maybe you shouldn’t be in a bar.”
The man chuckled. “Depends on the job, I suppose.”
“And what job brings you here?”
“Looking for a man actually, one that I was told would be here.”
“Is that so? How’s that working out for you?”
“Depends. You are Marcus Ryder, correct? The same Marcus Ryder who served with the 15th in Siberia during the war?”
Marcus finished his beer and called for another. For the first time he really looked at the person next to him. He was stout, but not big. Heavy, but not fat. Cut muscle, and lean too. Marcus didn’t know if he was military, cop, or some combination of both. But whatever he did, he was Special Forces. Of that much, Marcus felt certain.
He had known dozens of guys who looked like him, served with hundreds of them in the war. But there was something else about this man, something that marked him as one not to be trifled with. It was the eyes. There was a coldness in them, like the wind blowing across the tundra. This man cared about something, but it wasn’t the sort of thing that most people cared about. He wasn’t like most people. That worried Marcus. Men like this one were meant to be feared.
“I feel special, you knowing so much about me, and I so little about you,” Marcus said, coolly.
After a period of time that could only be called uncomfortable, the other man said, “You were at Luoyang, weren’t you? When they finally broke through to the Golden Hall of the Khan, you were the man who killed him, weren’t you?”
Now it was Marcus’s turn to feel cold, to feel the ice breaking underneath him. “That’s classified.”
The man burst out laughing, cackling so hard the bartender on the other side of the room jumped, his obsession with the replay on the television of a particular football game interrupted.
“I like you already.” He held out a hand, and Marcus took it. “I’m Dominic, Dominic Miles. I’ve been looking for you.”
“How did you find me?” Marcus asked, choosing that over the perhaps more appropriate, “Why?”
“Your captain said you would be here. Or your old captain at least. I hear you’ve had a rough day.”
“You might say that.”
“Well I’m here to make you a proposition. Police work is a noble profession. Or it was, back before the war. It’s not surprising that you would choose it, after your training, all you’ve been through, all you’ve learned. I was there too, man. They train you to kill. They teach you to like it. They give you every skill you need to sow death. And then when the war ends they send you back into the world with a pat on the back and a ‘good luck, soldier.’ They expect you just to go back to the way things were. And when they ask you on an employment application what you’re good at, what your particular talents are, ‘killing men’ and ‘making things go boom’ are not usually high on the list of preferred credentials. Am I right?”
Marcus simply nodded. He was right. He guessed being a cop was a “noble profession” as Dominic put it, but it was also the only job he could get. He didn’t know how to do anything else.
“But here’s the thing, Marcus, it’s not like the old days. We don’t investigate crime anymore. We stop it before it happens. The war didn’t end, my friend. The battlefield simply changed. Guys like you, guys like McKindrickson, a dying breed. But I’m here to tell ya, it doesn’t have to be that way, not for you. I know what you did during the war. I know it was you that took out Khan, ended it all, stopped the fighting in its tracks. You ever think how many lives you saved with that one bullet? And then they told you that you couldn’t talk about it, right? They gave you a medal you couldn’t keep for a story you couldn’t tell. They didn’t want it to be about one man. They wanted it to be about all of us, in it together. After so many dead, I guess we needed that. We all killed Khan. We all pulled the trigger. We all fired the shot. But people remember what you did, the people that matter. And right now, they are finally ready to give you the reward you deserve.”
“And what reward is that?”
“A new beginning.” Dominic pulled a shield from his pocket, a badge. There was an eagle in the background, wings spread, talons out ready to strike. And crossed in front of it, two objects. One a staff, a shepherd’s crook. The other a sword, long and sharp. “I am employed by an organization that you have probably never heard of, a small enforcement division under the Department of Homeland Security. We don’t have a designation, at least not officially. Most people just call us the Shepherds.”
“The Shepherds? Why do they call you that?”
“Because, Mr. Ryder, someone has to keep the wolves at bay.”
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