December 19, 11:58 AM Mountain
Louise picked up the phone without putting down her nail file.
“Desert Bliss Salon and Spa, this is Louise, how may I help you?” she said in her chipper phone voice.
“Oh, hi Sherry!” she said in a more normal tone, “No, it’s dead here. I’m just sitting here reading the news. Isn’t it awful?” She listened to the voice on the other end for a moment, then said, “Sure, you all can come out tonight. Bring that new grandbaby!”
The electronic bell on the door dinged as she chatted with her friend. Louise put the phone to her chest as she looked up at several men who had just walked in.
“Do you gentlemen have an appointment?” she asked as one of them raised his arm and shot her in the forehead.
Louise’s body slumped down in her chair and tumbled onto the carpet. The shooter put his gun next to the phone and fired three more shots into the floor. The frightened screams on the telephone cut off as another man walked to the wall and yanked its cord out. The shooter walked around the desk, then picked up Louise and laid her across her desk so that she could be seen through the glass doors.
“Go,” he ordered in Spanish, and the rest of the group calmly walked back into the salon. They found its owner and two other employees cowering in a closet, shooting them and leaving their bodies where they fell.
Out front, the leader, Stefano, taped a foil-wrapped package to the underside of Louise’s desk, then ran a long piece of thin wire from it to the door. The tall man hooked a small spring to the door handle, then tied the wire to the other end of the spring. When he let go of both, the spring kept tension on the wire between the door and the desk. He walked back to the desk, pulled a short metal pin from the package, then joined his men in the back of the salon.
“Everyone ready?” he asked. His team all nodded, so he turned and walked up the back stairs of the building. They were exactly where the plan he carried in the breast pocket of his body armor said they would be. The door at the top was locked, but a well-placed kick sprung the lock and splintered its wood. Beyond it was the gravel roof of the strip mall, bordered with a low wall to keep workers from falling over the side and onto the sidewalk a floor below.
Stefano pointed to each of his men and then pointed them to a place along the wall. They knelt down so that they were invisible from the street and pulled their rifles from the bags they wore over their shoulders. In addition to the rifles, each man carried a pistol, a few hundred rifle and pistol cartridges, several grenades, and a few pre-packaged bombs like the one which Stefano had emplaced in the salon’s reception area.
Stefano pulled a small video camera from a pouch on his belt, and placed it on the wall. He sighted along the top of it so that its lens would pick up anything happening in the parking lot below. He pushed the small record button on its top before ducking down below the wall.
Within minutes, Stefano heard the wail of police sirens as they reacted to reports of shots fired at the beauty salon. He held his breath as he heard them get nearer, then stop in the parking lot below. He thought he heard gravel crunch under boots as someone walked to the door of the salon, then a loud bang, followed by car alarms and the sound of breaking glass filling the air.
Stefano shouted at his men as they rose from their hiding spots and opened fire on the police below. In seconds, six men lay dead or dying on the asphalt parking lot, two of them torn to pieces by flying glass when they set off the bomb by opening the door. People, who had come out of their shops to see what was going on, ran back inside, some of them clutching wounds.
Stefano pulled a cell phone from his vest and tapped in a message. “1. 1st stop. Good.” As he hit “send”, he took the video camera off the wall and plugged it into the phone. The phone buzzed as it began uploading the video of the ambush to the same website Stefano had used to report their success.
“All right, let’s get to work,” he said. His men climbed down the fire escape at the side of the roof and into the parking lot. Splitting into two-man teams, they made their way through the rest of the shops, shooting anyone they found. For a few moments, the sound of screams and gunshots competed with car alarms in the parking lot where Stefano stood and monitored his men’s progress.
Two of the businesses had someone in them with a gun. Stefano’s gunmen shot one of them before he could fire. The other armed storeowner shot the first man through the door to her liquor store before the second member of the team killed the shopkeeper. The man who had caught a bullet with his armored vest lay on the sidewalk for a moment, but then took his partner’s hand and got up. He put a hand to his chest and took a long, painful breath before helping his teammate search the shop for targets.
Stefano walked over to one of the dead police officers and picked up his radio. The sound of the dispatcher and other officers talking over each other came through its small speaker. He read the name of the dead policeman from the tag on his shirt, then brought the small radio up to his mouth.
“This is Jimenez! We’re under fire! We have two officers down, and I can’t move!” he said, speaking English with no accent.
Stefano took the battery out of the radio and put both pieces into one of his thigh pockets. Reaching into the satchel he wore over one shoulder, he pulled out a metal cylinder, a little bigger than a soup can and painted green with white lettering. Pulling the pin from the white phosphorus grenade, he threw it through the broken window of an accountant’s office. The grenade went off with a muffled thump, igniting the office’s interior. The flames quickly engulfed the office and spread into the businesses on either side.
Stefano’s men got into their trucks just as the sound of more sirens wailed in the distance. Stefano pulled a fragmentation grenade out of a pouch, pulled the pin, and carefully placed it underneath the body of the policeman whose radio he now carried, using the body’s weight to hold the grenade’s handle down. Looking around at the remains of the strip mall, he nodded in satisfaction and walked over to his truck, slamming its heavy metal door closed behind him. As the truck pulled out of the parking lot, he pulled his instructions out of the pocket of his vest and read off the next item on his list.
“Head north, under the freeway,” he ordered as the truck accelerated down the street.