Runner-up 4

The bar at the Stadium Club was packed and the noise level rose as fans in suits and jerseys rushed through their greetings, offered to buy each other's drinks and voiced their personal gripes against this player or that. The DEA agents did their best to keep Steve Lopez occupied, watch the action unfolding at the table and listen to Ernesto's instructions coming through their earpiece.

"OK, we got it, we're coming in," an exuberant Ernesto spoke into the mike. All that was coming back was indistinguishable rants and guffaws. Bonner's mike told a new story.

Judge Larry Green snapped. Too many years engrossed in sordid tales of crime and corruption had finally leached into his life. His current problems at home had only added to the blown fuse in his head.

Bonner was going to pay and Palmieri, he'd be doing everyone a favor by putting that drug dealer six feet under. As he rose from the table, he grabbed Carmen by the hair and yanked her to her feet. Holding her firmly against his chest, he waved his gun at Bonner, "You don't believe me. You're a dead man."

Ernesto just about jumped out of his skin as screams of panic filled the surveillance van. This wasn't how he had hoped it would go down, but then again there were more civilians involved than he had originally anticipated. Switching into melee mode, the van emptied into the parking lot.

At the bar, the DEA agents made their way along with the stream of terrified fans scrambling toward the exits. At the end of the bar, one agent grabbed on tight to the squirming Lopez and pushed his head down and shoved him under and behind the bar with the other agent right behind.

"It's clearing out. Table of four with one, wait two, no three guns," an agent reported back.

Palmieri wasn't going down so easy. He'd been in way worse situations. After all, he conducted business in Mexico. They were all finished in his mind. Bonner, who was really starting to tick him off, the judge who was so pathetic he thought he could take him down and Carmen, be a human body shield, he could take them both out in a split second.

Bonner had suddenly gone into some trance-like state and was an easy pick as Palmieri pistol whipped him upside the head and he fell to the hard floor like the sad sack he was.

"OK, Judge. Give me your best shot. But remember, I do this for a living and I don't care about you or that tramp," and with that, he pulled a second pistol from his coat.

"You think I care. You think it makes any difference now. You're so beyond hope. What did you think you'd gain from this meeting? Bonner your pawn? Think again."

Cheryl Schyler Lascelles has been writing since second grade and has been published once -- a letter in The Times' sports section.

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