Little factoid for you: the National Park Service has the highest casualty rate in federal law enforcement. Not the FBI. Not Border Patrol. Not the Marshals Service. Park Service rangers put their lives on the line every day. It was no accident that I made my heroine Raven Virtue one of these brave souls.
Just the simple traffic stop is fraught with danger, as any patrol cop will tell you. Within Park Service boundaries, rangers fill that duty. You think you’re having a tough day at work? This scene was inspired by an actual situation I had the misfortune of seeing via a patrol car’s dash cam:
She got out. As she did so, the driver opened his vehicle’s door and clambered out as well. His hair looked greasy, but it was probably sweat, she thought. His unkempt hair was par for the course; his sallow face had two days worth of stubble, his clothes were wrinkled and sweat-stained, and his eyes were sunken.
Raven put her left hand on her taser. Traffic stops were the most dangerous part of a law enforcement officer’s job. Even the most ‘routine’ stops could turn ugly in an instant. Keeping her tone calm but firm, she called out, “Sir, I need you to stop right there.”
He didn’t show any sign he’d heard her. In fact, he never looked at her at all. Instead, the man wandered onto the road, still blessedly empty of traffic, and went to the straight white line that indicated where the shoulder of the highway began.
“Oh yeah,” he wheezed and began dancing down the line to music only he could hear.
Definitely impaired, Raven thought. The man’s legs wavered like spaghetti as he boogeyed to the beat playing in his inebriated brain. She had to suppress a smile at the sight. He did look funny.
Steeling herself to do her job properly, Raven tried to talk to him again. “Sir, I need you to go over and stand next to your truck. We need to talk.”
The man stopped dancing. He finally looked at her, and the loopy expression on his face turned to fury in an instant. “Fuck you!”
Yeah, this is going to be pleasant, she thought with resignation. Her hand tightened on the taser, readying to pull it out if necessary. “Sir, I’d appreciate it if you’d step on over to the back of the truck and let’s talk about this.”
Spittle flew as the man screamed at her. “Go to hell, bitch! I got nothing to say!”
With that bit of sweetness, he stormed to his truck and leaned in. Raven started to hurry over to him, afraid he’d get in and take off, making things far too dangerous for himself and other drivers he might meet up with.
“Sir—” she began, starting to draw the taser out.
Raven stopped cold. The man wasn’t getting into the truck, he was reaching in. She immediately abandoned the taser and reached on her right hip for her firearm. As it cleared the holster, the man straightened, coming out of the truck cab. With a shotgun.
“Put it down! Put it down now!” she screamed.
The shotgun’s barrel was still coming up, still on its way to sighting on her when she had hers ready to fire. She squeezed the trigger, but the man was standing sideways to her. He jerked as she shot him in the shoulder.
His face suffused not with pain, but with rage. It was not a surprising reaction for those who were psychologically impaired, drunk, or high. Back at the academy, they’d shown dash cam footage of officers caught in similar situations. This was the first time Raven had seen it in person, and she lost precious seconds gaping at the man when he didn’t go down.
Instead he screamed, “Fucking cunt! You can’t shoot me! I’ll kill you, bitch!”
Training kicked in, and Raven moved back, hurrying to get behind her truck. She shot again, but she was in the grip of tunnel vision, only seeing the black hole of the barrel sighted on her. She shot at that instead of at the man who was now running towards her, bringing that deadly maw closer and closer.
A spark of fire emitted from that immense cavern. An instant later something kicked Raven in the center of her chest, knocking her backwards. There was a thunderous blast that echoed all around. It was followed by a horrible, high-pitched scream splitting the air, the screech of a terrified rabbit facing a coyote. It came from her own throat, shredding the tissues as unspeakable agony burst through the center of her body.
Raven’s left arm went numb just a moment before another gun blast nearly deafened her ears. He was shooting her, and she was feeling each hit before the sound registered.
She crashed to the asphalt. All this time she’d been falling, falling since the first bullet entered her body. Now she was finally down, thumping hard to the road. The pain of it was nearly lost in the shrieking hell of her blasted heart and lungs still refusing to stop their work, keeping her alive despite the violence done to them.
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