Home Fires (Common Law, #4)
This title is #4 of the Common Law series.
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Trouble comes to Mosely, Montana, from the outside world. When the residents of Mosely are left on their own, they can make things work. Sure, there’s always been a militia operating up in the hills, but they were small-scale—just survivalists doing their thing—until organizers came in from out of state. Now Jericho Crewe and the rest of the sheriff’s department are facing down a heavily armed band of fanatics, and the feds are busy elsewhere.
The odds are hopeless, but Jericho swore an oath to serve and protect the citizens of Mosely. He won’t walk away from that, even if Wade Granger’s begging him to run away somewhere and finally be together the way they always should have been.
But this time, it’s Jericho who refuses to leave Mosely, even if staying kills him.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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“Is there any possibility it’s a practical joke?” Jericho Crewe asked. “Or just a rumor, maybe?”
Unfortunately, Sheriff Kayla Morgan shook her head. “I was the one who called them,” she said, leaning back in her battered leather desk chair.
“You called the feds.” Jericho waited a few seconds for the words to make sense, then gave up. “We have feds in town worrying about the border, feds in town still cleaning up the biker mess, feds in town investigating your dad, feds in town trying to catch Wade—and you woke up one morning, looked around, asked yourself, ‘What does this town need more of?’ and the answer you came up with was ‘feds.’ Honestly?”
Kayla’s scowl suggested that Jericho wasn’t the first person to express a similar opinion. “I’m not going to let my pride get in the way of doing my job, Jay. The FBI already knew about the basic situation—they’re tracking about a dozen little militia groups in this part of the country—but they needed to know Tennant and his boys are flaring up. Receiving a big shipment of illegal weapons is definitely a break in their typical pattern of behavior.”
“And you know that because you got an anonymous tip?” Jericho hated to do it. He didn’t want to think it, much less say it. But . . . “Have you considered the possibility that this is more of Wade’s bullshit? I mean, he—” Jericho’s throat tightened as if the words shouldn’t be spoken, but he was fairly used to his body betraying him when Wade was involved “—he was with me all weekend.” Maybe Kay hadn’t formally known that, but she wasn’t clueless, and Jericho would be damned if he’d hide it. “So maybe this was just another case of him using me as an alibi, setting up something to distract everyone else, and then having one of his minions run a shipment across the border.”
“I never thought I’d say this, Jay, but not every criminal activity in Mosely is connected to Wade Granger. Ninety-five percent of it, yeah. But I think this may have been something from that other five percent.”
Jericho wanted to believe it. The weekend had been—well, not perfect, not considering the long car ride with two highly unpleasant children and then a lot more snakes than Jericho had ever wanted to see in one place—but it had been memorable, all the same. Jericho and Wade, outside of Mosely, weren’t cop and criminal. They weren’t their parents’ sons, weren’t men with painful histories, weren’t running, and weren’t refusing to run. They were just Jericho and Wade, and that was all they ever needed to be, as long as the world left them alone.
There had been nothing romantic about taking Jericho’s half siblings on a road trip to the Billings zoo in order to fulfill Jericho’s promise to get Elijah more access to snakes. Nothing romantic at all. And the two nights together had been fairly tame since Elijah and Nicolette had been sleeping in the adjoining motel room, but that hadn’t mattered. It had still been Jericho and Wade in bed together, warm bodies and hot kisses, and Jericho was pretty sure he’d remember it all for the rest of his life.
They’d driven back the night before, dropped off the kids, and gone to Jericho’s place as if it was the most natural thing in the world for them to stay together, and with no kids to worry about the night had been considerably hotter than the previous two. Then a late breakfast before Wade had left to do whatever Wade did all day and Jericho went for a run. Jericho hoped to be able to remember it as something pure, rather than as the latest episode of Wade’s endless series of manipulations and games.
But Jericho was at work now, wearing the brown and beige polyester even if it was for one of the last times, and he needed to think like an under-sheriff, not a hormone-raddled teenager. “So if it wasn’t Wade, who was it? Who do you think the tip was from?”
“Someone with knowledge of a single shipment of illegal weapons and ammo. So that means probably someone on the arms-dealer side, because it was only one shipment, no mention of the overall arsenal the militia has stockpiled.”
“Or a disgruntled ex, or a neighbor who doesn’t like the guys and wants to stir shit up. Might not be anything at all. The department’s had an eye on these guys since well before I got here, and we’ve never seen anything to worry about before.”
“Are you negging me, Jay? Is that what you’re doing?” Kay frowned for a moment before her brows lifted in understanding. “Oh. You’re worrying about how this is going to affect you. A bit harder to bail on me, guilt-free, if I’m in the middle of a big situation. Is that what you’re thinking?”
Damn. Maybe it was. For too long Jericho had felt as if his life was out of his control, and he’d only recently started clawing it back. The weekend had been his announcement, to himself if no one else was listening, that the situation was going to change. But now? “Is it harder for me to bail out now? I mean, my reasons for quitting are the same as they were—I don’t think I can be a good cop, the kind of cop I want to be, when I’m not sure I believe following the law is always the best idea, and—”
A shout from the main room interrupted his declaration. “We have agents down! Agents under fire, agents down!”
For a frozen half second, Jericho stared at Kayla, who stared back at him. Then they were both in motion, sprinting out to the central room.
The scene there was close to chaos. Federal agents and sheriff’s deputies, all electrified and ready for action, desperately waiting for someone to tell them what to do.
The man on the phone, one finger plugging the ear he wasn’t using to listen, was unfamiliar to Jericho, but his suit, haircut, and general attitude announced him as a fed. Almost certainly one of the new crop of FBI agents Kayla had invited into town. “Coldcreek Road,” he told the crowd, but he spoke as if the words were in a foreign language. “Just past the canyon turnoff?”
And with that, half the room was in motion. The locals—and the feds who’d been around for a while—knew where they were going. The other half were pulling out their phones, tapping at them to call up the GPS.
Jericho let himself be washed along in the flow down the stairs. In LA, this all would have been different. There would have been a call to the SWAT team, a central command to coordinate squad cars and helicopters and snipers. But in Mosely, there was one M4 per squad car, and there were sidearms. That was all.
The feds wouldn’t even have the M4s. Feds were good at stirring shit up, but they generally left the cleanup to special teams or locals. And the locals, officially, weren’t too well armed, though if there’d been time, practically every deputy in the department could have run home to pick up a few hunting rifles or bigger stuff. But there was no time.
“Is this the militia?” Jericho demanded as he followed Kay to her squad car. “Coldcreek by the canyon turnoff—that’s on the way to Tennant’s place. Were there feds heading out there this afternoon?”
Her grim expression answered his question. A bunch of fanatics who’d just received a shipment of arms, and the sheriff’s department was going after them with little more than cap guns and courage. “This is a federal operation,” Jericho tried as Kayla wheeled the car out onto the street. “We don’t actually have to get involved.”
She kept her eyes on the road. “I can’t hear you over the siren.”
He leaned back in his seat. Shit. He was still wearing the brown and beige, and even if he hadn’t been, he’d have followed Kayla wherever she led. So this was going to happen.
“Talk to dispatch, get things coordinated,” Kayla ordered.
It would have made better sense for Jericho to have been driving so Kayla could do all that, but he did his best. As they raced through town and out into the mountains, he listened to the dispatchers sending back reports as they came in. Three feds injured, two others still active on-site. The feds were pinned down behind their vehicles, returning fire against an unknown number of perps who’d taken cover behind three cube vans. There was a more specific location, a helicopter was on the way, and someone was back at the dispatch center taking charge and directing units.
“Mosely County Five,” the dispatcher called, and Jericho reached for the radio.
“County Five, go ahead,” he said. Kayla kept her eyes on the road, but he could practically see her ears straining toward the radio.
“You’re two klicks from a secondary road, no name on the map,” the man at dispatch said. “It should lead around behind the incident. Break.”
“Go ahead,” Jericho barked. He hated radio protocols, but that was a fight for a different day. Or for never, he remembered. He was getting out of this policing business. The radio wouldn’t be his problem soon. But already, that dream seemed to be receding.
“Assuming the road is passable, we’re sending you and Mosely County Three down it. Circle the incident and block approaching traffic.”
“We’re not traffic cops,” Kayla protested, but she wasn’t holding the handset. If she had been, she probably wouldn’t have said anything.
“Copy,” Jericho confirmed, then ignored the radio as he scanned the road ahead. “See it?” he asked Kayla once he’d found the break in the trees.
“This is bullshit,” she growled.
Of course she wanted to charge in with the rest of the team, wanted to be part of the action, wanted to prove she wasn’t the local yokel the feds seemed to take them all for. But the car ahead of them was Mosely Three and it had its turn signal on. Kayla wouldn’t leave any of her deputies without backup, and there was no time to argue with the assignments.
“Taking orders sucks,” Jericho agreed as they bounced off the main road onto the much rougher path. Kayla didn’t answer, so he busied himself with the GPS, then clicked on the radio handset. The road was so rutted he wished he had a third hand he could brace against the ceiling to steady himself. “Dispatch, County Five here. We’re coming up on a spot that’s really close to the active event. We could go cross-country on foot and get another angle on things.”
Kayla glanced at him, clearly wanting to see the GPS and confirm his observation. But the car was still bouncing and jouncing and she was fighting to keep it on the road, which was more like a wide hiking trail.
“Copy, County Five,” dispatch responded. “Stand by.”
The wait was agonizing. “We’re coming up on the best spot,” Jericho told Kay.
“It’s good?” she demanded. “This is a good path you’re seeing?”
He crouched down to get a better view of the terrain out her side of the vehicle. “If it’s passable, it’s good. And it looks passable.”
She reached over and flipped the siren on, just one long meeeeeep, the sound the department used to get the attention of other officers. Jericho was unlocking the M4 as Kay pulled them to a stop and by the time he had the ammo free of the glove box, she was out of the car, yelling instructions to the deputies, Meeks and— Shit. Meeks and Jackson.
Jericho hit the radio button. “Dispatch, County Three and Five are going cross-country. Advise other officers that we’ll be on the slope above the event.”
Outside the car, Jackson was arguing. “Dispatch directed us to—”
“I’m the sheriff,” Kayla said calmly. No showdown, no getting in his face, just a simple reminder as she checked her gear and then started for the slope. His objections clearly weren’t important enough for her to pay attention to. “Fall in.”
Meeks and Jericho jogged up beside her, and they started into the woods.
Jackson was still back at the car, messing with the radio.
“Jackson, fall in now.” Kayla barked.
He ignored her, holding on to the handset as if it were his route to salvation.
“Jackson, you’re suspended from duty,” Kayla said. “This is a restricted area. Remove yourself immediately—on foot, back along this road.”
And then she turned to Jericho, her eyes a little brighter than usual, her cheeks flushed, but her voice still strong and level. “Jay, this is your area of expertise. You direct.”
Too many tours of duty made that an unfortunate truth, and some part of Jay’s mind had already been calculating, analyzing. The hill was steep, the ground covered in duff and debris that made them slide back half a step for every one they took forward. But all three of them were fit, and they were moving well.
“Shit.” He sped up a little to get into the front. “I— Yeah, okay, but you guys tell me if you’ve got better ideas. I’ll take point; you guys pick a flank. Keep your eyes open, let me know if you see anything.” That was all straightforward enough. “We’ll have to get a better plan once we see what we’re into.”
That was when the sound of gunfire reached them. It was loud enough that Jericho knew the earlier silence had been because of a lull in the shooting, not because they’d been too far away to hear. He listened as he jogged up the hill, and his gut tightened. The noises were familiar, but after he got out of the military he’d hoped to never hear them again.
Automatic weapons, mixed in with a few single cracks, probably from the FBI agents’ handguns. So at least one of them was still able to fire back. Jericho wondered how much ammunition an FBI agent would carry on a casual drive, and he picked up his pace until he was practically sprinting up the hill.
He was almost to the top when he sensed movement, just over the rise of the hill, off to the right.
Instinct and training made him drop to the ground, waving for the others to lower themselves behind him. Then he crawled forward, fast but careful. He eased his head around the side of a tree and his forehead burned, just as it always did in situations like this, as if his skin was anticipating the bullet. At least two inches of vulnerable skull had to be exposed before his eyes made it clear of the tree and he could see what was going on.
Three men. Unfamiliar, dressed in mismatched camo, carrying some serious firepower. Jesus, one of them had a fucking grenade launcher.
Jericho glanced behind him, saw Kay and Meeks only a yard or so away, and gestured for them to move sideways along the ridge, to the right. Toward the men, but as long as the team stayed quiet, the groups should pass each other without notice. And then Kay and Meeks would be behind the action, ready to step in as needed.
Jericho waited as long as he could. He watched the three men striding forward—so confident, so oblivious. They were probably trying to circle around behind the agents below, hoping to take them out before reinforcements arrived. It was a reasonable strategy, but there was nothing else competent about them as they stomped through the forest; they seemed used to hunting things that didn’t shoot back. Men who’d decided to play soldier, but who didn’t want to follow the rules of being in the actual military.
Of course, stupid men were still dangerous, or maybe even more dangerous, when they were packing as heavy as these assholes were.
So Jericho took a deep breath and had his M4 ready before he half stepped out from behind the tree. “Mosely County Sheriff’s Department,” he barked. “Drop your weapons.”
And as he’d known they would but prayed they wouldn’t, the assholes swung their barrels up and toward him. He squeezed off a shot as he shifted back behind the tree. The guys had been five paces away, and Jericho had good aim; he didn’t need to see the target’s chest explode to know it had happened. But that left two assholes, and his tree wasn’t the world’s best cover.
Then Kayla shouted, “Freeze!” followed almost immediately by one shot, then another. Kayla’s sidearm, Meeks’s M4. Obviously the perps hadn’t frozen.
Jericho spun back around his tree and found one of the targets with a bloody shoulder but still standing, still pointing his gun toward where Kayla and Meeks had returned to their sheltered position.
“Drop it,” Jericho said. He tried to sound calmer than he had before, tried to make it apparent this was all over and there was no need to die for the cause. The only logical path forward was surrender.
Then Jericho’s weird extra sense kicked into action, and he spun back behind his tree, crouched, edged around— Shit. There was someone coming toward them up the hill, and if Jericho moved to have cover from the new arrival, he’d be exposing himself to the wounded asshole. “Movement on our six!” Jericho bellowed. “Meeks, cover the injured perp. Morgan, cover Meeks against the new target.”
Jericho flattened himself on the ground, making himself way less mobile than he wanted to be. He trained the barrel of his M4 back down the hill, pinpointed the movement, recognized the approaching figure—and was tempted to pull the trigger anyway.
“Drop it,” he heard Meeks yell, and then the seemingly inevitable rattle of the M4 firing.
Then there was silence, even the gunfight below temporarily quiet, as Jericho glowered at Jackson struggling up the hill behind them.
The errant deputy saw Kayla, then shifted around so his back was to her and told Jericho, “We’ve been ordered to this position.”
“No shit, asshole. Kay ordered us here.” Jericho turned away, trying not to look at Jackson. Trying not to punch him in the face. Sure, maybe the third militia guy would have died anyway; maybe he would have stayed stupid, even if Jericho hadn’t been distracted and had been able to keep trying to talk him down. But maybe not.
He turned to Kayla to see how she wanted to proceed, and found both her and Meeks staring at the bodies. Oh, shit. Things were usually pretty quiet in Mosely; it was entirely possible that neither of them had ever shot anyone before. Never taken a life, and never had to confront what their own bullets had done to a human who’d been alive only moments before.
“Forget it for now,” he ordered them both. Things were still active, and they needed to stay on task. “Check your weapons and reload.” Stay busy, don’t think. Don’t look at what you just did, and don’t start wondering who these guys were, what brought them here, or how else you could have handled the situation. Don’t think about who’s at home waiting for them, and who’s going to be at their funerals. Those thoughts would all come to anyone who hadn’t lost all humanity, but they couldn’t come while you were still in the field.
Jericho kept his weapon ready as he eased toward the three bodies. There was no doubt about their status, but training was training, and there could be other enemies nearby.
He crouched by the first man, the one who’d been carrying the grenade launcher. The sounds of the firefight flared up again, and this time Jericho was relieved to hear the three-round burst of the sheriff’s department’s M4s. The cavalry had arrived. But they would still be woefully underpowered if the gear on these three was typical. Jericho started working the weapons off the dead body as he turned and told Jackson, “Run back down the hill and tell dispatch we have three bad guys down. One M32 in our custody, with—” Jericho jerked the man over and poked into his backpack “—12 HE rounds.” He surveyed the other bodies and added, “M4 with an M203, double-barreled shotgun, couple handguns—”
He broke off as Jackson moved closer and poked one of the bodies with the toe of his boot.
Somehow, it was that gesture that made Jericho’s rage explode. “Get the fuck away from him, you insubordinate coward!” He was about to say something about Jackson not deserving to touch one of the men someone else had killed, but he caught himself in time. They weren’t hunters, and the fallen weren’t trophies. They were human beings, or had been, and there was no damn reason for anyone to be kicking them. Instead he stepped forward, brought his face to within an inch of Jackson’s, and growled, “Get your ass down the hill. Report in as ordered. And don’t come back up. Is that fucking clear?”
Jackson’s eyes widened. Jericho knew why. The deputy was used to living in the safe, respectful civilian world, where his politics and connections made a difference. But up here, at this moment?
“You’ve been suspended,” Jericho said. “And you came up the hill anyway and messed up our operation. The only reason you’re not sitting there cuffed to a goddamn tree is that you might be useful if you follow your fucking orders. So get moving or turn around and give me your wrist.”
“Yeah, you’d like it if I turned around,” Jackson sneered.
It was so stupid. So petty, so childish, so absurd. Right up there on the mountain, with three dead bodies at his feet and a firefight raging down the hill, Jericho laughed out loud. Mostly in surprise, and maybe a bit of extra aggression mixed in.
“Jesus, Jackson,” Kay said, shaking her head. “Don’t give me any more reasons to fire you. Get your ass down the goddamn hill.”
Jackson had his eyes narrowed and his mouth open, never a good combination for him, when Meeks urgently said, “Go, Jack. Shit. Just go.”
And finally Jackson started moving.
The whole exchange had been quick, maybe fifteen seconds, and Jericho was pretty sure it had been worthwhile. Dispatch needed to know about the grenade launcher, if nothing else. But, still, he felt guilty for wasting time. A lot of rounds could be fired in fifteen seconds, a lot of bullets that could do a lot of damage to human bodies. Feds’ bodies, and deputies’ too.
“Let’s move,” Jericho said, gesturing to the right. “Back to the original plan. We’ll try to get in behind them, like their guys were trying to do to ours.”
Then they were off again, a shuffling run that had all of Jericho’s muscles singing a familiar song. The adrenaline, the mix of fear and relief, the savage triumph he was almost ashamed of but couldn’t deny. For a moment, he thought of Wade. Was the difference between them just that Wade was more honest about the things Jericho tried to hide? Wade embraced his darkness just as surely as his light, and there was something about that—
Something that Jericho couldn’t think about in the middle of a goddamn combat situation! Shit, he was losing it.
He sped up a little, heard Meeks grunting in exertion, heard Kayla’s breathing, heavy but controlled. It was important for him to keep his mind on the job for their sakes as much as his own.
So he got his brain working, let his awareness spread as it always did in combat, no focus, only a blur of everything. No time to study any details when all he needed was the general classification of dangerous or not dangerous.
They moved fast along the ridge for a few hundred yards before Jericho started angling down. There was still sporadic fire from below, and he checked his watch. Less than thirty minutes since the call had come in. Not enough time to get a helicopter to them, apparently, but it must have felt like a damn lifetime for the agents below. Maybe literally their lifetime.
Jericho dropped low and let himself skid down the slope, sending duff and pebbles tumbling below. He had a better view now, and could see how the situation was laid out. The road was narrow, with a slope up on one side, a slope down on the other. Three cube vans blocked the road in one direction, and about a hundred yards in the other direction there were the original two fed sedans, shot up almost beyond recognition, and behind that a stream of cruisers, sedans, and ambulances. The problem was that the terrain was so linear. There was no room for law enforcement to spread out and put their greater numbers to work. At least, there was no room for that on the lower level. But Jericho’s team was up high.
They worked forward, worked sideways, and then he found it. The spot wasn’t perfect; there were a couple of trees obscuring parts of the militia line. But it was good. Definitely good enough.
“Rifles shoot, handgun covers shooters,” he hissed to the other two. He didn’t care who did which job, but the division of labor was common sense. They were about two hundred yards from the militia, well beyond the effective range of a sidearm. He was tempted to break out the grenade launcher, but something in him just couldn’t do it. Grenades were for Afghanistan, not for the United States. Not for Mosely.
“Trade,” Kayla said, and he heard her and Meeks shuffling around as he found a good firing position. Kayla wasn’t a great shot, but she was fine, and he had the feeling she might be taking the gun as a way to take the responsibility; Meeks was still looking pretty shaky after the previous engagement. He might not be ready to pull the trigger again, and Kayla probably wanted to spare him from making the decision.
And Kay was solid. Gray-faced and wide-eyed, but Jay knew to his core that she wouldn’t let it slow her down.
“Okay,” he said quietly as she settled beside him. “I’ve spotted seven perps. If they stay under cover, we just observe, but as soon as one of them pops up to fire, we take him out. If two come up at the same time, you take the one on the left. If more than two, you start left and work in, I’ll start right and do the same.”
Her nod was jerky, but clear.
They didn’t have to wait long. There was a signal from one of the militia members, and all of them rose at once, practically brazen from Jericho’s perspective, poking their guns around the vehicles they were using for cover—
Jericho’s shot came a fraction of a second before Kay’s. Two men fell, and the others stood frozen, confused. Jericho’s second shot found its target, and he was lined up for his third before Kay fired. By then, the militia was moving, scrambling, and Kay’s bullet hit the side of the van where a perp had been a second earlier. They were yelling as they crowded inside the vans, hoping for whatever shelter could be offered by a bit of sheet metal, and Jericho didn’t want to think about them in there, sitting in the dark, waiting for the bullets that would pierce the metal, then their bodies.
Jericho needed direction. He wasn’t a leader, wasn’t good at being in charge. He’d risk his own life, but hated the idea of risking someone else’s. “Disable the vans, or let them get away?” he asked Kay.
She didn’t answer for a full breath, out and in, and then said, “Fuck. No, the bastards shot federal agents. It’d be easier to let them disengage, but then they’d be out there.”
So she took her aim and Jericho took his. They focused on the tires and the engine block, creating explosive destruction that would have been fun if he hadn’t been far too aware of the human lives protected by the thin van walls.
When all the tires were flat and the engines steaming, Jericho checked his ammo and passed an extra clip to Kay while keeping his eyes on the scene below. “Okay. I think I can hear the helicopters. We can give cover so the ambulances can make it in and pick up our guys.” He saw her grim nod out of his peripheral vision. “So, essentially, our work here is done. Would now be a good time for us to talk about my resignation?”