Sirens are ringing in my ears. I'm lying face-down on the pavement. My cheek is wet and warm.
I open my eyes and strain to focus. I'm staring straight into the face of the kid with the Air Jordans. He's lying beside me, blood still seeping from his ruined face. His nose and left cheek and eye socket are crushed. Half a dozen broken teeth lie on the pavement between us. I stare at him for a few seconds before I see a bubble in the blood, and then another -- he's still breathing. Then I realize the wetness on my own cheek is his blood, pooled across to me.
Suddenly, I am very, very alert.
I push myself to my knees. The sirens are still several blocks away -- I haven't been out for more than a minute. I'm still shaky as I rise to my feet, but my heart-rate has increased almost to normal. I feel a bit weak, and ravenous, but otherwise no worse for the wear, considering the shotgun blast and everything else. I look back down at Jordans lying in a pool of his own blood.
Jesus. Can't tell from the crushed face, but judging by his skinny arms, the kid's sixteen. Seventeen, tops. Jesus.
The sirens are getting closer.
I look up and down the alley. The girl is gone -- basically just a smear on the pavement. That shotgun to the face at close range...if her prints aren't already in the system, there won't be any way for her parents to even identify her. The guy with the .45 is in no better shape: both of his arms and one leg, cauterized where they separated from the body, lie in a grotesque bread-crumb trail between me and the fused, smoking lump of flesh and fiber that used to be the rest of him.
The others are faring better. The kid with the mustache, who got clipped in the hip before the fight even started, appears to have passed out from the pain. With luck, he'll walk with a limp the rest of his life. Without it, he'll be rocking a wheelchair and a catheter at his next birthday party. Dodger lies in a crumpled heap where my punch sent him, still unconscious. He'll have a helluva headache and maybe a concussion, but that's it. Polo looks about the same -- whatever was in that trash bag laid him out cold, but I can see his chest rise and fall. Judging by the blood on his shoe, he'll lose a toe or two.
I look down at my hands, gloves covered in Jordans' blood. Why in hell didn't these kids run? I fly into the middle of a Rollin' 40s drug corner, they scatter like roaches. And those guys are iron-hard. These kids -- they aren't even wearing colors I recognize. Even the older ones. I kneel down next to Dodger and pull up his shirt. No tattoos, not even for a girlfriend or his mom.
The sirens are practically on top of me now. For a moment I think about just getting the hell out of here, but only for a moment. I just beat the shit out of a kid who's not yet old enough to get into an R rated movie. I don't need anyone saying I fled the scene. I flip open my LAPD beeper and activate it. A half second later, I hear squealing brakes, and spotlights flash on me from both ends of the alley. I raise my arms in case it's someone's first night on the job -- the suit's proven itself adequately bulletproof, but I'd rather not take two more in the chest, not after the night I've already had.
Doors on both cars burst open, and cops crouch behind each, guns pointed toward me. The sirens are screaming. My heart instinctively begins to race -- there's a reason loud noises and bright lights are universally used by law enforcement: the human brain freaks out at the combination. Unfortunately, after the energy discharge my system is not up to handling this new rush of adrenaline.
"Don't move!" one of the cops yells.
"It's Providence," I shout. I can feel the arrhythmic beating of my heart, and I start to feel dizzy again.
"Who?" the cop screams back. "Keep your arms up!"
My jaw clenches. "I am!"
"Don't shoot him!" another cop yells from the opposite side of the alley. "He's that superhero guy."
"We've got hurt kids," I shout, neglecting to explain how they got hurt. "One here, two over there. This one's really bad. Call an ambulance."
"All right," the second cop calls back. "We're on it. You can put your arms down."
I do so. "Thanks."
One of the cops leans into his squad car to call an ambulance. The others come toward me cautiously, but their guns are lowered. Their eyes dart back and forth between the scattered bodies, guns and garbage littering the alley.
"Check that door," I say, my voice still raised to cut through the sirens. "They came from there."
"What happened here?" the first cop asks, while the other two move toward the door.
I can't fight the dizziness anymore. I bend over, hands on my knees. I watch as a drop of blood falls from my temple and splashes on the pavement, an insignificant addition to the mess that was the girl and the pool still spreading from Jordans. I take three deep slow breaths.
"You okay?" the cop asks. Up close I can see he's old for a beat cop -- late forties, maybe even early fifties. His face is deeply lined. Probably on the force since he was a kid; close to, if not past, his twenty-five.
I straighten back up. "Yeah. Sorry."
"I don't know," I say. "Jesus, they're just kids."
"Yeah," the old cop agrees, surveying the scene. His face looks almost serene, as if this is no big deal. As if he's seen it all before. His age, he probably has. He likely had ten years in before the Rodney King riots. He's probably ridden back to the station with hundreds, maybe thousands, of crack dealers in the back of his car. I wonder what a guy his age is still doing out here on the streets. Did he piss someone off, someone important? Is he a drunk? Or a fuck-up? Or, my cynical mind barely allows the possibility, someone who cares too much about fighting crime to retire voluntarily? Have I just seen Serpico one too many times?
The old cop turns back to me. He looks at the purple horseshoe emblem on my chest, then back up at my face.
"Which one are you again?" he asks.