Tio was far from first to arrive on the scene, but upon looking around, he clearly had the required seniority to do what he planned. He scanned the perimeter for the local constabulary and spotted the man in charge almost immediately. He could tell from the shine on the badge, and the span on the waist, that this was an important man. It also did not hurt that he was red in the face from barking orders at anyone who came within his field of view.
Tio manoeuvred through the throng that had gathered for the spectacle, a swirling mass of people that had no clear perimeter, and approached the hoarse and screaming man.
“I take it you’re in charge here?” Tio did his best to stand at his full height, and managed to come to the officer’s chin.
“Captain Stewart, Ultor precinct. Who the hell are you and why are you interfering with my op?” He looked Tio over, and seemed displeased with what he found.
“Solar Marshall Adjunct Lenz Tio,” he said, hoping the length of his title would make up for the deficit of his legs. “I received a call that the Butcher had holed himself up with the Sisters and came to assist.”
“Adjunct, eh? Where’s your boss; the real Marshall?”
Tio flushed at this, his ears burning red. “Captain Stewart, I can assure you that as a Solar Marshall- “
“Adjunct,” the Captain interjected, grinning. “Adjunct Solar Marshall. You barely outrank me, here, kid.” He poked his right forefinger into Tio’s badge. “Now fess up. Where’s your boss? Marshall Fort? I figured he’d be all over this one, seein’ as how we’ve cornered one of the Most Wanted fugitives this side of the Belt.”
“Senior Marshall Fort has the day off, if you must know.” Tio knew it was a weak excuse, but at least it was not a lie. “I’m the only Marshall you’ve got within an hour of this place.”
The Captain sniffed, and spat on the ground. “Can’t imagine why they’d leave a runt like you in charge. What was it, working the desk?” He grinned widely as Tio’s blush deepened. “Goddamn, kid. Well, I guess you’ve gotta earn your stripes sometime.” He handed Tio the megaphone he had been using to order his men around. “All yours, Adjunct Marshall. Show us city boys how you do things down at the old H.Q.”
Tio jumped as the megaphone squawked feedback, leading the Captain to break out in hoarse laughter. He did his best to rally, but he knew any chance he had had of commanding the necessary respect was gone. And he had had such bright hopes, too. The way it had gone in his mind was about as polar opposite from reality as one could get. He should have been hailed as a well-equipped saviour, someone the people could rally around. Instead, this damn Captain had to have his number, and no mistake. Still, it could be worse.
He cleared his throat, and turned to the towering cathedral of the Sisters of Mercy. He depressed the bright red trigger on the megaphone and spoke as stoutly as he could manage. “Bartholme the Butcher, this is Solar Marshall Adjunct Lenz Tio,” maybe it would work a second time? he had hoped, “formally requesting your surrender and the release of all hostages from the premises.”
The Captain rolled his eyes, but Tio had to play this by the book if he was going to salvage anything from today. First step, an offer of amnesty. Second step, and here he dodged a spray of fire by leaping bodily behind one of the Ultor men’s rocket cars, second step, you initiate parley. He inched the megaphone over the rear of the car and spoke again, “Bartholme the Butcher, you are surrounded on all sides and have just fired upon Keepers of the Peace. Your conditions of surrender now include a fine of up to- “And here is where his megaphone was shot from his hand and turned into a biting mist of shrapnel and sparks.
“What the fuck do you even think you’re doing, kid?” The Captain had crawled up beside him, pistol drawn. “You’re dealing with number two of the Most Wanted and you’re offering parley? What the hell do they teach you down there?”
Tio sucked at his bleeding hand, scowling at the Captain. “I was just following standard procedure.”
“Standard procedure for a two-bit carjacker may be, but this here’s Bart the Butcher. This man takes hostages like I take vacation days.” They both ducked another volley of automatic fire, Tio swearing loudly. “Look, kid, you’re in over your head. Call in Fort and let him handle this. You’ve done your part, but it’s over, alright?”
“I appreciate your concern, Captain.” He really did. He was most certainly in over his head, and he knew it. But to call in Marshall Fort, that would be to call it quits on this whole affair. Moreover, he was not too much in the mood to be eviscerated by his superiors. “You go along and send out the All Call, I’ll handle Bartholme until they get here.” He smiled at the captain, holding up his long rifle. “For what it’s worth, I’m a dead shot.”
“You’re a dead something,” Captain Stewart muttered, before crawling away between the cars on his forearms.
Tio sat with his back to the car, eyes closed, trying to sort out his breathing. He had not been lying about being a sharpshooter, that much was true. It is what had qualified him for entry into the Solar Marshalls more than anything else had. In point of fact, he knew, that is probably the only reason they had not laughed him out the door. Well, probably why they had not laughed more than they already had when he had shown up for the trials.
He had been even skinnier then, fresh from the Phobos colony, and looking to make a name for himself. He came in dead last on the equipped run, the obstacle course (both wet and dry), and he did not like to remember the wet one. There had been an incident with the barbed wire and his pants that was best soon forgotten. He especially failed the height and weight requirements. Nevertheless, one thing they could not deny was his grouping at the furthest end of the shooting range. Almost a perfect cluster of shots, near as dead centre as the distance would allow without a better rifle. He had hoped they would take to calling him something like Dead Eye, or the Rifleman. Something that would look good on a marquee. Instead, they put him on desk duty and only called him up when someone was out sick. Even then, he was in the field as support. He had never led an op, nothing close to this, and he was feeling it now, the nerves.
The bile rose in his throat, but he choked it down with what will he had left. He took a slow, deep breath and clenched his rifle in both hands. The next few minutes would determine everything for him, going forward. It was time. He leapt to his feet, put his rifle at his right shoulder, and squeezed the trigger. Immediately, two things happened. Thing the first: a small flash of blood flew from the Butcher’s left ear. Thing the second: a bloodstain began spreading across Tio’s left shoulder. Tio dropped in time with Bartholme, both taking refuge from the other’s aim.
It was Tio who rose first, firing a volley of rounds into and around the window that Bartholme had been firing from. The Butcher returned blind fire with a pistol raised over the stone lip of the window. The shots went wild and into the crowd, and Tio had to duck again under the rear of the car he was hiding behind. People were screaming now, running for cover, the nosey onlookers getting more than the show they had bargained for. Tio tuned it all out, even the spreading, throbbing pain in his shoulder, all to focus on reloading and recharging his rifle.
He slammed the magazine home and fished a mirror from his pocket, angling it over the rear of the car. Bartholme and his gun were gone from the window. Replacing the pair was a woman in a green habit, dangling precariously by her bright red hair. Tio groaned in dismay. Bartholme did not keep hostages, and this woman at the end of his shaking fist did not have much time left. There was enough flesh exposed for a good hit, he had to take the shot. The pain in his shoulder was full and present in his mind now, a hot flash of pain that would not go away.
This time, he did not spring up. He took slow, methodical aim, centred the hairy, veined fist in his sights, and breathed out slowly, his finger almost caressing the trigger as he pulled it home. There was an angry shout, a scream, and the woman fell back away from the window and into the building. Tio slumped back with a sigh of relief and was about to wave over a cautiously approaching medic when the shots began inside. He could see the bright flashes light up the dark interior space, hear the women screaming, and all he could do was stare off into the middle distance. What else was there for a mad beast to do when cornered than strike out at any and every throat within reach of its foaming muzzle? He had been so focused on getting the easy shot that he had ignored everything else he knew. Adjunct nothing. He was a rookie, he knew it. A no good, soon to be condemned rookie. He held his head in his good hand, and willed the world away.
However, the world was not done with him yet. A sharp slap across both cheeks brought him back into focus, and staring at the beet-purple face of Chief Stewart.
“You fucking idiot.” He clenched Tio’s collar in his left fist, his right shaking in Tio’s face. “Your playing at being Mister Big Shot Hero is going to be filling up a hell of a lot of body bags.”
Tio could only shake his head in disbelief. “I had the shot. I had to take it.”
“Take the shot, my ass. You’re over here playing cops and robbers, making out like some deadeye dick just firing away, when he’s taking it to the crowds. To the Sisters!” He moved to slap Tio again, but Tio caught the incoming hand by the wrist.
“I fucked up. Fine. Sure. But this isn’t over.” He shoved the Captain away, and got to his feet, rifle at the ready. The shooting had stopped, and the screaming, but there was no telling what had gone down up there. How many dead? Wounded? The Butcher did not get his name lightly. Had he taken his own life, knowing that there was no recourse for him now? He had to find out, Tio knew, and that left just the one option: storming the gates. He walked around the front of the police car and was about to take off running when a voice stopped him in his tracks.
“And where the fuck do you think you’re going?”
Tio froze where he stood; his eyes clenched shut tighter than his teeth. That was the voice of command, all right. That was the voice of Marshall Fort. Tio had figured he would be a bit further away than he clearly was, and had hoped to have this entire fiasco resolved before he had managed to get his speeder to the Sisters’.
Slowly, Tio turned on his boot-heel and raised his uninjured arm in salute. “Marshall Fort, sir-“
“Don’t ‘sir’ me, you little pissant. What the hell is going on here? Why are you the only one present? Why the hell,” here he pointed at the Captain, “am I getting the call from some punk downtown?”
“Hey now,” the Captain started, but he backed down under the glare from Marshall Fort.
“Marshall Fort, I…,” Tio was at a loss for words. He really had not planned to need to cover his ass so soon. “I took the call that the Butcher had been sighted in town and hurried over as fast I could. I guess in the hurry I forgot to send out-“
“Forgot! Forgot he says!” Marshall Fort was furious. “Your one goddamned job was to man the fucking phones, and you couldn’t send the call out before you ran off to play hero?”
Tio shrank under the look of rage Fort was throwing his way. “Sir, I-“
“Fuck you.” Marshall Fort put his left hand on Tio’s wounded shoulder and squeezed. “You’re going to make this shit right, kid. And then your ass is going to answer for every single body we find in this mess.”
Tio was shaking, the pain in his shoulder and arm enormous, but he was in agreement with Fort. He was going to make this all right, even if it killed him.