Maggie opened the door that led out into the alley. Wally stood there in full tactical gear, his gun pointed at the ground.
“All clear?” he asked.
Maggie nodded. “It’s just the two of us.”
Michelle stuck her head into view so that Wally could see she was there. The couple shared a quick smile, but then Wally was back to all business.
“You’re sure about this?” Wally wanted to confirm while there was still time to bail on the plan.
“It’s what Chip wants, so it’s fine with me,” she assured him.
Wally nodded and gave a little wave to someone standing in the darkness. Moments later, there was a short parade of police officers through the door. They carried between them two queen mattresses, a couch, and a few boxes.
The men walked out to the main bar and awaited further instructions.
“Two mattresses?” Maggie asked. “I thought Tex and the girl were a couple.”
“They are,” Michelle replied, “but we weren’t sure how serious they were, so we figured we’d bring another bed just to be safe.”
Wally cracked a slight smile while maintaining a watchful eye over the delivery truck that was parked in the alley.
“You’d be surprised what the department confiscates when we make an arrest or bring down a large criminal enterprise. There’s a storage facility full of stuff that never gets used. No one is going to miss any of this.”
Wally gave another wave into the alley. This time, two officers in tactical gear appeared and escorted Tex and Aspen into the bar.
Wally followed them inside and closed the door behind him. Maggie promptly locked it without any prompting.
Everyone stood in silence because no one knew what to say.
“Welcome home,” Maggie finally broke the silence and gave Tex a hug. “You missed your last shift, but I guess I’ll let it slide and not fire you.”
Everyone laughed nervously at the joke.
“You must be Aspen,” Maggie said and gave her an awkward hug. “It’s so nice to finally meet you. I’m Maggie.”
“We’ve actually met before,” Aspen revealed with a sly smile. “When I’m a little less freaked out and not surrounded by heavily armed men, I’d love to explain.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Maggie replied.
“Alright,” Wally decided it was time to take charge and get everyone moved up into the apartment that would now serve as the safe house. “You told me you had some locks installed on the door that leads upstairs?”
“Wait a second,” Maggie cut him off. “Where’s Champ?”
All eyes turned to Wally for an explanation.
“The doctors didn’t feel he was medically or mentally cleared to be released just yet. They wanted to keep him overnight for observation and gave him something to help him sleep…”
“They’re freaking out because he had a near death experience and won’t stop babbling about it,” Aspen filled in the blanks. “He is now obsessed with talking to angels and making sure his nose is properly crushed. You know…typical Champ kind of stuff.”
Tex chuckled despite being worried about his friend.
“I left two guards on his room, and the doctors made it sound like he would be discharged this afternoon if his next round of testing goes well,” Wally confirmed.
“This is the only door that leads to the back of the bar,” she explained. “My office is back there as are all the supplies. It’s the only way to get to the staircase that leads upstairs, and there are no other points of entry in this part of the bar. I had a deadbolt installed as you requested.”
Maggie tried to open the door, but it would not budge. She then pulled out a ring of keys and unlocked the deadbolt, at which point the door opened.
“So who’s going to have keys to this door?” Wally asked.
“As far as employees go, no one needs a set other than Champ, Tex, and me,” she replied. “One of us is always here. If we’re busy and someone needs to get beer or liquor, they can borrow a set from one of us and immediately return it upon completing the task.”
Wally nodded his approval.
“I’d like a set for me, Detective Ng, and whatever undercover officers are in the building at the time,” Wally added. “I can be responsible for those last sets and make sure they get passed to the next officers at shift change.”
“Do I get a set?” Aspen inquired with a slight bit of attitude.
“Of course,” Wally replied. “I didn’t mean to forget you.”
“What about Agent Vlak?” Michelle asked.
Wally shook his head. “He shouldn’t be upstairs without me or Detective Ng. This will ensure that he doesn’t forget that.”
“Shouldn’t Michelle get a set?” Maggie added. “She might need to question our guests, or maybe she might want to check on her friends.”
Wally turned to Michelle for her opinion.
“I wouldn’t mind a set, but if that interferes with security, I can just ask Maggie to let me in,” she said politely so as not to usurp Wally’s authority.
“Can I ask how many cops are going to be here and exactly how much danger we’re in?” Tex interrupted the great key debate.
Again, all eyes turned to Wally. This was one of those moments when the rookie wished Bruno was around to take charge of the situation. No one ever had the courage to question the great detective’s decisions, but he had a feeling there might be some doubts about his plans.
“Detective Bruno thought one undercover in the bar would be enough,” Wally wisely invoked the name of his mentor. “Not guarding the door, but keeping an eye out to make sure no one who shouldn’t be using it tried to go through. There would be another officer upstairs in the hallway outside the apartment. Before every shift, I will text you a photo of the officer on duty. If anyone other than that officer knocks on the apartment door, you call me or Detective Ng immediately and you do not open the door. Is that clear?”
Tex and Aspen nodded.
“Ironically, I never wanted this to be a cop bar, but I guess it is now when you add the undercover who’s already here keeping a watch out for vengeful bank robbers,” Maggie commented with a nervous laugh.
“So we are in danger?” Aspen asked again since Wally didn’t answer Tex’s question.
Wally sighed. “I wish I could tell you that you were perfectly safe, but armed men wouldn’t be sneaking you into a bar via a delivery truck at two thirty in the morning if all was well. I’d like to believe that we are erring on the side of caution with all this, but that would be a disservice to you because you might take that to mean you could let your guard down.”
“Let’s operate like there is a credible threat for the time being. Aspen, there will also be an undercover officer in your café, and I have a feeling Detective Ng and I will be getting our coffee there on the regular for the time being.”
“Not how I planned on increasing business, but whatever works,” Aspen joked.
Wally motioned for the other men to take the furniture upstairs. Once they were gone, he went over the final details.
“Tex, your stuff is already here. Champ gave me the key to his apartment, so I’m going to head over to pack a bag for him. The landlord is a friend of Detective Bruno’s, so I’ll ask him to give me a call if anyone shows up asking around for Champ.”
Wally turned to Aspen. “That leaves you. I know you live at home, so are your parents going to be suspicious if you’re suddenly not there?”
Aspen shook her head. “I’m an adult. They know I come and go. I’ve told them there was a new guy, so I’ll grab some things and mention in passing that I’m staying at his place for a while. I’ll keep the details as vague as they would expect from me. If they need me, they know they can find me at the café.”
“That’s good,” Wally confirmed. “I’ll have an unmarked car cruise past your parents’ house a few times a day just to make sure no one’s casing it. You’ll go about your days as normally as possible. Any questions?”
“They are going to let Champ out today, right?” Tex asked. “This doesn’t feel right if we’re not together. I hate the idea of his being alone in the hospital.”
“He’s going to be fine,” Aspen squeezed Tex’s hand reassuringly. “And when he does return, we can finally have a nice chat about how Champ and I have met before…”
Everyone looked at Aspen curiously, but all she offered was a charming smile in return.
“Let’s go see our safe house!” she urged and led the way through the door.
TO BE CONTINUED…