Officer Paulie Santorino sat down across from Jamadigni Renuka at the Tourney Field. The old police officer looked more worn and tired than she had ever seen him before—bags under his eyes and new wrinkles all over his face told the tale of some very stressful weeks around the holidays.

"I'm glad you came to see me." He told her gruffly, his hands cupped around a hot bowl of vegetable beef stew while a cold beer sweated condensation onto the tabletop. "All this craziness around town...well, it reminds me of something I ran into when I was a rookie. Must've been twenty years ago now."

"Frankly, I do not expect this to be believed. But I'm going to tell it anyway, simply because it's been weighing upon my mind lately. I ran into Flash last weekend, who was back in town, and he spoke to me about it.

Knowledge of the physical environment is essential to an LEO in Patrol. It is one reason why seniority counts for a great deal in this line of work—the longer you work a given jurisdiction, the better you know it. And locals who become police officers quickly learn that growing up in an area does not mean you truly know it.

Part of it, is that an LEO, unlike most people, has no perception of private or personal space. We can go anywhere, given correct circumstances. And because of that, a great deal of 'idle time' or 'routine patrol' is spent exploring. Can you get a patrol car through the gap in this fence? Where does that track lead? Is there a way to get from this parking lot to another? If you walk this easement or power-line access, what will you see?

This is essential, because at some point this knowledge can mean shaving thirty seconds off a response time, or catching a fleeing subject.

In every police jurisdiction of any size, in my experience, there is always at least one strange place. Not the spots you take rookies and play Find the Mud Hole, or the crime scenes you use to scare Explorers, but the real thing. The places that nobody talks about much. The places you don't find out about until you have to go there. The places you go to only if you have to.

We had a place that is sometimes called the Patch. It was about five blocks of old ruined lots on the edge of town, completely isolated from everywhere else, out beyond an old electrical plant that now makes memory plastic. Nothing, as far as I can tell, has ever been built there, nor is it really good for anything. It's at the base of the tall ridge of imported trees and grass that currently marks the west boundary of our sector, cut by numerous gullies, and whose red-clay soil is about useless from growing anything of any use.

The City seized it for taxes back in 2082 from a land company; it was listed as 'waste land' (no commercial use) back then.

It's really a strange place. I've been on search teams across it six times in eleven years, and every time I've been on it, it creeps me out. It gave me the willies when I first explored it shortly after being cut loose on my own; you can't get a car very deep into it, and frankly, a short walk on foot into it gave me such a bad feeling I never went back without a reason. It wasn't until about eighteen months later that I learned that I was not alone in my reaction to the place.

One factual thing that bothers me about the place, is that I get lost in it. I have, since I was old enough to think about such things, an unerring instinct about the direction north. I can always find it. Night time, snowstorms, forest, whatever; give me a few seconds to concentrate, and I know which direction north is. Even the desert, which screws many people up, never bothered me. And the Army taught me land nav to a fine degree; I've run compass courses with multiple doglegs and hit my target location every time, even on featureless terrain such at Fort Hood, where one bit of scrub is identical to every other bit.

But every time I've been in the Patch, I've gotten turned around. In broad daylight, with a ridgeline a quarter-mile away that is only a couple degrees off a true north-south axis. After the first search, I started taking a GPS unit with me.

Near the center of the Patch is a structure we call the Playhouse. Its a building made out of sheets of old galvanized tin nailed to thick posts and four-by fours, with a grimy dirt floor. We call it the Playhouse because there is absolutely no rationale for its positioning or design; firstly, you can't get a vehicle larger than an ATV or motorcycle to it due to rubble and debris; maybe a jacked-up 4x4 if it was dry and you really did not care about your paint job.

Secondly, because the place is big (about 3000 square feet, as near as we can tell), but has no purpose. There's no animal pens near it, nothing; just a wood framework with tin nailed to it, no tar on the roof-seams, no doors (but several doorway sized openings), no windows at all. Inside its split into at least a dozen 'rooms' by either more tin sheets, or partitions made out of old packing crates from the railroad. Some of the rooms are completely isolated from the exterior walls.

There is no logic or reason to how the rooms are laid out; several have openings that are barely three feet high. It reminds you of how kids put together a fort or treehouse.

Except that this one has cut-down telephone poles for roof supports set several feet into the ground. Whatever else you can say about it, someone built it to last.

There no junk or litter about the playhouse, and no graffiti; while its not very obvious, it has been there since before the City seized the place, and with all the generations of kids, you would expect some beer-drinking, ghost-hunting, or general spray-can antics.

Nor is there any sign of animals taking advantage of the shelter, nor have I seen any bird's nests, although hornet's nests and mud daubers are present.

And it smells odd. That's all I can say about it: it smells different than what I think it should. This has been commented on by others, as well. No specific odor. Just odd.

And flashlights fail in it. Yes, flashlights fail everywhere, but flashlights seem to fail a lot more in it than anywhere else. Streamlight Stingers that cost more than this meal and are City-issue and have reliable rechargeable batteries go abruptly dead in there. And not in the usual fashion, the light going yellow for twenty minutes, getting dimmer and dimmer until they just fade away; rather, going from hard white light to dead in a minute's span. When you carry the same light every day for years, you know its battery in detail. Yet many of us have been caught by an unexpected dead battery in the Playhouse.

Some time in the past, we were searching for a missing girl. It was likely that she had been carried off by a recent high water after massive cloud burst (10" in ten hours), but foul play was also a possibility, for reasons best unrelated. A search was mounted. I was tasked with taking two officers and checking the area around the old electrical plant and the Patch.

I had two veteran officers, both entry team members and well-known to me; call them Chinney and Flash. They readily accepted my suggestion that we change into tactical gear in order to protect our uniforms from the brush; to be frank, I was less concerned with the brush, than for having an excuse to bring my MP-12 along. I wasn't alone in that, as unbidden, both Flash & MD got their shotguns out of the arms room. Flash had a 14" pump, and Chinney a Benneli automatic.

We searched the Patch first; and although all three of us were carefully keeping track of where we were in a place we had all been in before, we managed to get well and truly turned around twice in the space of ninety minutes.

It took us a lot longer than it should have to search the area, because frankly, we weren't splitting up. At all. Anywhere else, we would have been twenty to thirty feet apart walking on line. Here, we stuck together. We had been on other search teams which had gotten got hopelessly jumbled and separated in the Patch before.

It was late afternoon when we went to the Playhouse. The sky was completely overcast, the color of lead. The ground was muddy, everything was wet, and there was a cold breeze out of the north. To say it was a miserable day was an understatement.

We circled the Playhouse, looking for footprints, and found nothing. However, drainage was such that it was possible that they could have been washed away, so a search was necessary.

Inside, there were no gaps in the ceiling to speak of, and very few in the walls; the gray daylight hardly made its presence known through what gaps there were, although the dull light through nail holes made you think (unpleasantly) of animal eyes in the night.

I led the way in. Twenty feet in a portable metal detector (a wand type used to check for weapons) that Flash was carrying suddenly started beeping, and did not stop until he pulled the battery pack; he swore it had been turned off the whole time he had been out. Later, at the PD, it worked perfectly.

We were clearing the place like a hostile building, rather than a search; we had not talked about it, but all three of us were on edge. Very much so. The place smelled very wrong; not a smell of anything in particular, just not the way such a place should smell. I can't explain it any way better than that.

I was on one knee checking out a closet sized-'room' when abruptly the light on my MP-12 died, going from white & bright to dead in a couple seconds. Flash took point and Chinney center while I tagged along and switched batteries (I had a couple full-charged spares on me, as well as two more flashlights and some cylumes).

A minute or so later Flash's light died the same way, and he dropped to the rear to change out, while Chinney and I moved up a place. We stopped at that point, and we heard something. Flash muttered 'What was that?' and we all listened carefully.

It was coming from ahead and to our right; we did not speak at the time, of course, but later, we never agreed on what it sounded like. To me, it had sounded like a sick cat might sound as it whimpers.

We moved forward towards the noise, and came to a largish room which had the exterior wall on one side. Chinney made entry, and at that exact moment his flashlight died. He immediately sidestepped and dropped to one knee; I moved in and past him along the wall as Flash slid along the wall on the opposite side of the 'doorway'.

Flash was to the left of the 'doorway', Chinney was right, kneeling, and I was about two feet to Chinney's right. The room was about twenty by eleven, with us at the narrow side.

And something moved in the far right corner. Flash hit it with his light a second before I did; I remember Chinney yelling, and then both fired.

To this day, I swear I saw a big dark dog, I mean large, over a hundred and fifty pound, bull mastiff-sized, in Flash's light, moving fast.

I fired, three-round burst, and then kept firing as Chinney and Flash pounded away. Both went empty and yelled that they were withdrawing—team procedure --, and I fired to cover them as I backed out last.

After the first burst, I couldn't see much for the muzzle flash, so I just ripped up the corner with three-round bursts. I fired off the full thirty-round mag.

In retrospect, I can not explain why I fired thirty rounds at a dog. There was no valid reason to simply hose it down; nor for Flash and Chinney to blaze away like we had. Nerves, is the only explanation I can offer. All I can say is that that encounter was quite simply the most stressful incident I have ever had, bar none.

In the second room, we reloaded, and Chinney switched out batteries. Then we reentered the long room.

There was no dog. No body. No blood. Zip.

None of us described what we saw the same way. Flash was extremely reluctant to describe what he saw at all.

But there are a couple facts: all three saw a target 'in motion'. Despite the fact that we all perceived it as being in motion, we all saw it in a corner, and never shifted our point of aim, despite the fact that we all trained regularly on moving targets, Chinney & Flash were hunters (I shoot lots of moving varmints), I served in military actions, and both Flash and I had been in fatal police shootings.

And we had twelve 12 gauge 3" magnum hulls and 30 expended 9mm brass. Thirty bullets and 108 000 pellets were fired at a specific area, in this case an area consisting of a dirt floor and tin walls. All three of us were classified as expert shots.

No matter how closely we, nor the two investigators who came out later, looked, we could find no hits on the floor, and only 23 projectile penetrations in the tin walls. Out of 138 projectiles fired (000 pellets are 0.36" in diameter steel balls; 9mm bullets are roughly 0.38), 105 remain unaccounted for. The 23 holes we found were concentrated in the target corner; 9 to the left, 14 to the right of the corner, with the two groups 22" apart at the closest.

As if something solid between the two groups had soaked up the missing rounds.

The dept. wrote the incident off as an 'accidental discharge'.

The girl was eventually found elsewhere.

Flash, Chinney, and I never really talked about the incident except indirectly. All three admitted having felt more stress than before or since.

None of the three of us have been to the Patch since. Both Chinney and Flash have moved on to other agencies for unrelated reasons. And the Patch was torn up about two years ago and turned into a strip mall. Nothing unusual's been reported out there since.

That's all there is to it."