CRAIS: THE SENTRY
The paramedics were two sturdy, forty-something women
who pulled on vinyl gloves when they
saw the blood. They went to work on
the victim while Pike filled them
The banger, facedown on the floor with Pike’s knee in
his back, said, “Dude broke my arm.
He attacked me, yo? I need somethin’
for the pain.”
The lead paramedic glanced at Pike. Her name was
“He the guy who did this?”
“Him and a friend.”
“His arm really broken?”
She told Pike to let the man sit up, then nodded at her
“Check out the lovely. I have this one.”
Stiles managed to rouse the victim, whose speech was
muddy and slurred, but grew more
focused as she checked his pulse and
blood pressure. He identified
himself as Wilson Smith, a
transplant from New Orleans who
relocated after the storm. Pike
found it interesting Smith did not
refer to Hurricane Katrina by name;
he called it “the storm.” Pike also
found it interesting Mr. Smith did
not have what Pike would have called
a Southern accent. He sounded like
he was from New York.
When Stiles flashed a penlight in his eyes, Smith tried
to push her away.
“No, sir, you’re not. You have a scalp wound with an
open flap, and a concussion. My
guess, you’re looking at ten or
twelve stitches here. We’re bringing
Smith tried to push her away again, but abruptly threw
up. He settled down after that and
closed his eyes. Pike watched the
paramedics work as he waited for the
officers to arrive. He was in it
now, so he had to stay. There was
nothing else to do.
The first responding officers showed up within minutes.
The lead officer was a middle-aged
Latina with calm eyes and P3 stripes
who introduced herself as Officer
Hydeck, the Anglo name probably
coming from a marriage. Her partner
was a big, tough-looking rookie
named Paul Macintosh who stood with
his thumbs hooked in his Sam Browne
like he wanted something to happen.
Hydeck spoke quietly with Stiles for a few minutes,
asked both the victim and the
suspect how they were doing, then
came over to Pike.
“You the one called it in?”
The emergency services operator would have relayed the
information Pike provided.
“Uh-huh. And your name would be?”
The banger, who was being fitted with an air splint,
said, “Dude broke my arm, yo? I want
him arrested. I wanna press
Hydeck asked for their identification. Pike handed over
his driver’s license, which
Macintosh copied onto a Field
Interview card along with Pike’s
phone number. The suspect had none.
Pike wasn’t surprised. Ninety-five
percent of the people he had
arrested while a police officer did
not have a valid DL. The suspect
identified himself as Reuben
Mendoza, and claimed he had never
Macintosh towered over him.
“You ganged up?”
“No way, bro. I roll clean.”
Macintosh pointed at the initials on his neck. VT,
which Pike, the paramedics, and the
officers all knew meant Venice Trece—Venice
Thirteen, a Latin gang.
“That why you’re inked Venice Thirteen?”
“Them’s my initials.”
Hydeck said, “How you get V. T. out of Reuben Mendoza?”
“That’s how you spell it in European.”
Pike told them what he knew to be true in short,
declarative sentences just as he had
been taught when he was a boot
patrol officer, and gave Hydeck the
pistol he had taken from Mendoza.
“Had this in his pocket.”
Mendoza said, “That ain’t mine, man, don’t put that on
me. I never seen that gun before.”
“Was he hitting Mr. Smith with it?”
“Not that I saw. It was in his pocket.”
Mendoza said, “I’m gonna sue you, bro, way you attacked
me. He did something to my neck like
Mr. Spock, yo? Gonna get pain and
Macintosh told him to shut up, then turned back to
“What about the other one? He have a gun?”
“Didn’t see it if he did. When I entered, Mr. Smith was
on the floor. The other man was
punching him in the head. This one
was kicking him. When I took this
one down, his buddy ran out the
back. I didn’t see a weapon.”
Macintosh arched his eyebrows at Mendoza.
“Homie had your back, bro. Right out the door.”
Hydeck passed the gun to Macintosh, told him to secure
it in their vehicle and call in a
second EMS wagon. The victim and
suspect would not be transported in
the same vehicle.
Another patrol car and the second EMS ambulance arrived
a few minutes later. The new
officers took Mendoza out while
Stiles and her partner brought in
their gurney. Hydeck questioned
Smith while the paramedics worked on
him. Smith told her the two men
asked for a sandwich, but he wanted
to close so he could go to the bank,
and told them to leave. He claimed
the two men refused, and that’s how
the fight started.
Hydeck appeared doubtful.
“So they didn’t try to rob you or anything like that?
You got in a fight ‘cause they
wanted a po’boy and you wanted to
“I mighta said something. It got out of hand.”
The paramedics were lifting him onto the gurney when
Pike saw her enter through the rear
door. She hadn’t seen the ambulances
and police vehicles out front, and
now the uniforms crowding the small
room stopped her as if she had
slammed into an invisible wall. Pike
watched her eyes snap from the
paramedics to the gurney to the
police—snap, snap, snap--sucking up
the scene until—snap—her eyes
came to him, and that’s where they
stayed. She looked at him as if she
had never seen anything like him,
and was scared of him and fascinated
by him at the same time, and sensed
he was somehow responsible. Pike
guessed she was in her early
thirties, with olive skin and lines
around her eyes. She had smart eyes.
She wore a sleeveless linen dress,
flat sandals, and short dark hair.
The dress was wrinkled. Pike liked
Then Hydeck and Macintosh turned, and her eyes left him
Hydeck said, “May I help you?”
“What happened? Wilson, are you all right? Wilson’s my
Smith shifted to see past the paramedics.
“That’s Dru. She’s my niece.”
Her name was Dru Rayne, and she moved between Smith and
the police as they told her what
“You were assaulted right here? Right here in the shop?
They attacked you?”
“I was doing okay, then this guy here stopped it.”
Dru Rayne studied Pike again, and this time she mouthed
two words, as if the officers and
paramedics and her uncle could not
see or were not there, creating a
moment between the two of them that
included no one else.
Pike nodded once.
Then she turned to the paramedics.
“Is he going to be all right?”
“They’ll keep him for observation. With head injuries
like this, they like to keep them
“I’m not staying. They stitch me up, I’m outta there.”
Dru Rayne moved to the gurney and looked down at him.
“Wilson. Please don’t be like that.”
Hydeck gave her card to Ms. Rayne, and informed her
that detectives would likely
interview her uncle at the hospital.
The paramedics finished strapping
Smith to the cart, and Pike watched
his niece follow them out. She did
not look back at Pike as she left.
Hydeck waited until they were gone, then turned back to
Pike. She still held his driver’s
“You think what happened here was a dispute over a
Pike shook his head, and Hydeck glanced at his license
“You look familiar. Do I know you?”
“Those tattoos ring a bell.”
A bright red arrow was inked onto the outside of each
of Pike’s deltoids. She could see
them because Pike wore a gray
sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off.
Government-issue sunglasses shiny
and black as a beetle’s shell hid
his eyes, but the arrows hung on his
arms like neon signs. They pointed
forward. Pike was six feet one,
weighed just over two hundred
pounds, and his arms were ropey with
muscle. His hair was quarter-inch
short, his skin was cooked dark, and
his knuckles were scarred and
Hydeck thumbed the edge of his license.
“Most people walk into a beat-down like this, they run.
But looking at you, I guess you can
handle yourself. What do you do, Mr.
Pike expected her to ask what kind of business, but she
returned his license. If she noticed
a bulge where one of the two pistols
he carried was hidden, she ignored
“Guess Mr. Smith is lucky it was you who happened by”
She gave him a business card.
“The detectives will probably call you, but this is my
card. You think of anything in the
Pike took the card, and Hydeck left to join Macintosh
at their radio car. Dru Rayne was
with her uncle as the paramedics
opened their vehicle. She clutched
his hand as she spoke to him, and
seemed very intent. Then she stepped
away and the paramedics slid the
gurney into their truck. Hydeck and
Macintosh climbed into the radio
car, flipped on their lights, and
stopped traffic to let the ambulance
leave. The paramedics headed toward
the hospital. Hydeck and Macintosh
turned in the opposite direction,
already rolling to another call.
Dru Rayne watched the ambulance. She stared after it
until the ambulance was gone, then
hurried back to the shop. Pike
didn’t like the way she hurried. He
thought it looked like she was
running for cover.
Pike said, “Why is he lying?”
She startled, making a little jump.
“You scared me.”
Pike nodded, then thought he should probably apologize.
She gave him another grateful smile, then went behind
“It’s me. I’m jumpy, I guess. I have to go the
“Why is he lying?”
“Why do you think? He’s scared they’ll come back.”
“They’ve been here before?”
She turned off the deep fryers and put lids on metal
condiment containers, speaking as
she worked. Wilson sounded like a
New Yorker, but her accent was
softer, maybe because she was a
“They live here, we live here, so we have to think
about these things. People like
that, they always come back.”
“If you think they’ll come back, you should tell the
police. Hydeck knows what she’s
She cocked her head.
“I thought you were the police.”
“You look like a policeman. Kinda.”
“Just passing by.”
She smiled again, then offered her hand across the
“Dru Rayne. You can call me Dru.”
“Then that was extra nice, what you did, helping like
that, Mr. Pike. Thank you.”
They shook, then Dru Rayne turned back to her work,
speaking over her shoulder.
“Now, I don’t want to be rude or anything, but I have
to get this place locked up so I can
get to the hospital.”
Pike nodded, thinking there was no reason he shouldn’t
leave, but he didn’t. He clocked her
hand. No wedding ring.
“Would you like me to take you?”
“That’s all right, no. But thank you for offering.”
Pike tried to think of something else to say.
“Talk to the police.”
“We’ll be fine. You don’t know my uncle. He probably
called them names.”
She flashed a warm smile, but Pike knew she wasn’t
going to tell the police any more
than her uncle.
She stacked the metal containers, then carried the
stack into the back room. When she
disappeared, Pike wrote his name and
cell number on an order pad he found
by the cash register. He wrote his
personal cell number, not the
business number he gave the police.
“I’m leaving my number. You need me, call.”
She was still in the back.
“Okay. Thanks again.”
Pike returned to his Jeep, but did not leave the scene.
He found the service alley that ran
behind Wilson’s sandwich shop, and
waited at the far end. A few minutes
later, Dru Rayne came out, locked
the door, and hurried to a silver
Tercel. It was an older model with
paint scraped from the rear bumper,
and it needed a wash. Pike thought
she looked worried.
He sat in the Jeep for a while, then got out and walked
the length of the block, first in
the alley, then on the sidewalk. He
took in the people on the sidewalks
and in the stores, and the rooflines
of the surrounding buildings. He
studied the people behind the wheels
of the passing cars, thinking about
something she said: They always
Pike was across from the gas station when a maroon
Monte Carlo slow-rolled past with
the windows down. Two young men were
in front, with a third in back, all
three showing gang ink and jailhouse
faces. They stared at Pike as they
passed, so Pike stared back.
The man in the back seat made a gun of his hand, aimed,
and pulled the trigger.
Pike watched them go, thinking how
Dru Rayne had run for cover.
always come back.
No, Pike thought. Not if they fear you.
© 2010 by Robert Crais