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Authors: Chris Grabenstein

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BOOK: Hell Hole
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After that,
things really started to deteriorate.
The all-for-one, one-for-all Airborne Rangers started turning on each other.
Handy Andy Prescott swore he had no idea what the other guys were doing inside the men's room. He thought it was all some kind of prank. He just cut a couple video cables out in the parking lot and wore a Hawaiian shirt. He was surprised when he heard that Shareef Smith was dead.
Miguel “Mickey Mex” Hernandez let loose with a string of what I can only assume were extremely foul Spanish words and went into a tirade about how he wasn't the one who screwed up, that he was only cleaning up Sergeant Dixon's mess again, that he knew the stupid tissue papers wouldn't work.
Stephen “Butt Lips” Rutledge? He didn't say much. He was one of the featured stars in Woodrow G. Worthington's homemade YouTube video.
We let the other cops haul Dixon and the rest of Echo Company back to the house—after we made sure the Smith sisters had a suite at
one of our better bed-and-breakfasts. Looks like Ceepak's dad will have even more bunk mates this evening.
Senator Worthington? He made a few phone calls. I think the attorney general is a friend. The F.B.I. will arrest him tomorrow morning in one of those “surrendered himself to authorities” type deals.
Ceepak, Parker, Starky and I headed over to the rental house on Oak Street to say thanks to Captain Morkal and the other FDNY guys. First they saved our lives. Then they helped persuade the younger Winslow Worthington that he didn't have to live up to his nickname, he didn't have to remain Lieutenant Worthless. He could do something honorable and decent by telling us the truth about what happened to Shareef Smith in that restroom off the Garden State Parkway.
It was 11:00 when we arrived at Captain Morkal's rental house. Nobody was chanting or “hoo-hahing.” Mostly it was just a bunch of guys sitting around sipping beers, listening to the ocean waves off in the distance, nibbling honey-roasted cashew nuts, and swapping stories.
Starky and I grabbed a beer then shared a bench together over at the picnic table while everybody else hung out in the deck chairs closer to the cooler.
“I came out with Mr. Parker because the GPS deal in my cell phone only told them your general vicinity but when I saw the neighborhood Diego and her Verizon buddy were pinging you in I had a pretty good idea it might be Crazy Janey's place on account of last night, at the party, she told me she was going up to the city today and the house would be empty and would I mind swinging by at some point during the day to make sure nobody broke in or anything since she knew that I was also a cop and not just a valet parking attendant only I couldn't remember the exact address so I hopped in Parker's SUV and showed him where to find you.”
Starky is extremely attractive as she hyperventilates.
“Thanks,” I say.
“No problem, sir. It's what partners do. We back each other up.”
True. However, as we all learned in class today, it's what soldiers do too—sometimes when they probably shouldn't. So I guess the whole protect-your-comrades-at-all-costs concept might be one of those
“good thing—bad thing” situations. I'll have to ask my philosophy professor, Dr. Ceepak, about it the next time things are extremely slow on the job and I'm about to fall asleep anyway.
“Sir?” says Starky, sounding sort of nervous.
“Is it against departmental regulations for partners to fraternize?”
“Nah. I don't think so. Ceepak and I do it sometimes. Cookouts and stuff. You and I are basically fraternizing right now.”
She takes in a deep breath. “I was hoping for something more official. Would you like to have dinner together sometime? I make an awesome pork tenderloin.”
“Sure. That'd be great. And then we could go see a movie.”
“A movie would be awesome, sir.”
Perhaps. But only if Sam Starky remembers my first name isn't “Sir.”
Starky headed home around midnight.
The firefighters regaled us with stories about their adventures in New York City. Told us about the rich lady who parked in the noparking zone in front of their firehouse on West Fifty-eighth Street one weekend and when somebody came out to tell her it was illegal she said, “But it's Sunday. I thought you were closed.”
We all laughed. Maybe too loud.
One of Captain Morkal's kids came out to the patio in his pj's. A boy about six or seven. Guess we woke him up.
The captain propped his son up on his knee and told him not to worry. That Ceepak and I were police officers and, even though we were off duty, if anybody made too much noise again, we'd arrest them.
His son smiled and leaned against his father's chest while captain Morkal hugged him tight.
It's time to call it a night. We're all just about unwound. All it took was one beer to remind me that I'm totally wiped out.
“Gentlemen.” It's all Cyrus Parker says as he stands up.
It's all he needs to say.
He extends his hand. Ceepak takes it first.
“Thank you, Cyrus.”
“Hell, I'm an Airborne Ranger. Still livin' that life of guts and danger. Boyle.”
He takes my hand. His is the size of a catcher's mitt.
“Tell me, Boyle—is Ceepak as good a shot as everybody down in Fort Campbell says he is?”
“Roger that,” I say.
“Danny's quite good himself,” says Ceepak.
Parker rumbles a laugh. “Well, seeing how I am currently unemployed, maybe I should stick around town. We could find us a range, make a friendly wager.”
“Definitely,” says Ceepak. “We could use the target range over at the state police training facilities.”
“The state police, hunh? I wonder if they're hiring.”
“I'm certain they can always use another good man, Colonel Parker.” Parker seems surprised that Ceepak knows his former rank. Ceepak explains: “I still have a
friends in the military.”
Parker takes off.
Captain Morkal's son has fallen asleep in his lap.
“We should go too,” says Ceepak.
“Yeah. Thanks for the beer, guys.”
We say our good-byes and climb into our cruiser.
“You want me to drop you off at your place?” I ask.
“Negative. I feel I should swing by the jail, first. Check in on my father. Make certain he's not causing the night shift any undue grief.”
“I'll go with you.”
Hey, Ceepak's old man listened to me once—maybe my “special skills” will be required again.
We walk into the police station.
The desk sergeant tells us that Mr. Ceepak is currently being held in the interrogation room.
“There's a lock on the door so we rolled in a cot and set him up for the night. He was aggravating all the other prisoners.”
Ceepak was right. His old man is nothing but trouble.
“Sorry about that,” he says. “We'll go have a word with him.”
“Yeah,” I say, “I'll tell him to behave or he gets zero aspirins when his hangover kicks in.”
We head up the hall. Ceepak uses his master key to unlock the IR door.
When we walk in, Mr. Ceepak isn't in the cot they've set up for him. He's sitting at the far end of the conference table.
“Well, hello, Johnny. I hear you two boys had a very busy day today.”
Ceepak clenches his jaw.
“When I was in the back, I had a nice little chat with those Army morons you arrested. So they staged it, hunh? Killed one of their own guys and made it look like a suicide?”
“That's right.”
Mr. Ceepak leans back in his chair. “I gotta tell you, son, I'm surprised you caught them. Guess you weren't too busy overseas this time, off in Germany being a hot-shit soldier. They do the bit with the pistol jammed up the kid's mouth?”
Ceepak nods.
“Just like your little brother Billy, hunh? And it took, what? All five of them to pull it off? Jesus. I always told you I'm better than any of you pissants in the Army.” He taps the side of his bony skull. “Smarter too.”
Ceepak's eyes narrow. “Are you suggesting Billy's suicide wasn't?”
“You figure it out, hotshot. You figure it out.”
I have a feeling Ceepak will be heading home to Ohio soon. There is no statute of limitations on murder.
At least his mother will be safe: I think Mr. Ceepak said enough to keep him locked up while the State of Ohio puts together its case for a decades-old crime. They don't usually let you post bail when you're a murder suspect.
I'm sorry I didn't get to meet Ceepak's mom. I have a feeling she's the main reason John Ceepak turned out the way he did and became one of those “glints of courage” that Gladys-the-veggie told us about, struggling “to the light amid the thorns.”
When I got home to my apartment, I shuffled through my iPod and found that Springsteen song Ceepak mentioned when he and I were discussing his mother. The one called “The Wish.” The one Bruce wrote for his own mom.
I think these are the lyrics Ceepak wanted me to hear:
If pa's eyes were windows
Into a world so deadly and true
You couldn't stop me from looking
But you kept me from crawlin' through
Don't worry, Mrs. Ceepak. Your son might've looked into that deadly darkness, but he didn't crawl through.
And I won't, either.
We'll just head out to Ohio and piece together another puzzle.
You'll see, Mr. Ceepak. We'll figure it out.
Well—your son definitely will.
And when he gets to heaven
To Saint Peter he will tell
“Just another soldier reporting, sir.
I've served my time in Hell.”
Tilt a Whirl
Mad Mouse
Slay Ride
Whack a Mole
Hell for the Holidays
The Crossroads (Young Readers)
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
HELL HOLE. Copyright © 2008 by Chris Grabenstein. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
“For You” by Bruce Springsteen, copyright © 1973 Bruce Springsteen, renewed 2003 Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP). International copyright secured. All rights reserved.
“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen, copyright © 1975 Bruce Springsteen, renewed 2005 Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP). International copyright secured. All rights reserved.
“Spirit in the Night” by Bruce Springsteen, copyright © 1973 Bruce Springsteen, renewed 2003 Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP). International copyright secured. All rights reserved.
“Independence Day” by Bruce Springsteen, copyright © 1980 Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP). International copyright secured. All rights reserved.
“Leap of Faith” by Bruce Springsteen, copyright © 1992 Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP). International copyright secured. All rights reserved.
“Devils and Dust” by Bruce Springsteen, copyright © 2005 Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP). International copyright secured. All rights reserved.
“The Wish” by Bruce Springsteen, copyright © 1998 Bruce Springsteen (ASCAP). International copyright secured. All rights reserved.
eISBN 9781429982764
First eBook Edition : January 2011
The Library of Congress has catalogued the hardcover edition as follows:
Grabenstein, Chris.
Hell hole / Chris Grabenstein.—1st ed.
p. cm.
ISBN-13: 978-0-312-38230-8
ISBN-10: 0-312-38230-8
1. Police—New Jersey—Fiction. 2. Soldiers—Crimes against—Fiction. 3. Conspiracies—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3607.R27H46 2008
ISBN-13: 978-0-312-56561-9 (pbk.)
ISBN-10: 0-312-56561-5 (pbk.)
First Minotaur Books Paperback Edition: June 2009
BOOK: Hell Hole
10.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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