Captain Holden was conferring with the three police lieutenants who made up his command team.
“We know this guy is armed, dangerous, and has killed multiple people, including at least two police officers and three security guards. He is now cornered and unable to escape. Most of the time, as you know, these situations end up with the perp committing suicide.
But there are a lot of loose ends here, and I would like to get him out alive if possible so that he can be questioned. I am going to try to get him to come out and surrender. If he does, we are going to need to be careful, because he clearly can’t be trusted to do the right thing.
“So, this is the plan. I want each of you to position yourselves in one of three hallways that converge on the fountain at the front of the store, along with a team of ten of your best men, including two sharpshooters outfitted with high quality scopes and audio comms patched directly into my headphones. One sharpshooter on each team will be designated to be the ‘eyes’, and will report anything and everything they see directly to me in real time. I am most interested in the suspect’s hands and eyes. The second sharpshooter is there to take a kill shot, but only on my command, which will be the word “fire”. Once I give that command, all your men can fire at will. So we will have three sets of eyes and three sets of kill shots, all from different directions. The current squad covering the rear entrance of the store should stay in position as is.”
“What if he refuses to surrender?”
“Then we may have to resort to using overwhelming force, which will likely get very messy for all concerned. So let’s hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”
Ninety minutes later, the mall lights came back on.
“This is Captain Holden of the New Jersey police. I am the senior officer in charge. I want to communicate with the gentleman inside Neiman Marcus.”
The word ‘gentleman’ was a nice touch.
“We know that several people tried to kill you earlier today. We saw clear video evidence of that from the mall security cameras. We want to help you, but to do that you need to surrender now before anyone else gets hurt. If you do surrender, I promise you will be treated properly and will get a fair trial. We are asking you to put down your weapons and come out now with your hands up so we can see them.”
The Captain’s baritone voice bellowed through the electric bullhorn, and reverberated off the walls.in a gradual decrescendo. There was a long silence.
“How do I know you won’t just shoot me as soon as I come out?”
“You don’t. But you have my word. There’s been enough shooting today.”
Billy Joe had no intention of surrendering quietly.
It was time for the end game to begin. It had been fun, but play time was over.
He stood up and removed the bloody shirtsleeve from the wound on his upper left arm. The bleeding had ceased.
First, he rechecked that the Glock had a full clip, and holstered it. He took the last grenade out of the tennis bag, placed it upside down in his left hand with his thumb held tight over the lever, and pulled the pin with his right. He draped the blood-stained shirtsleeve over his left hand and around the grenade, effectively concealing it from view.
With his right hand, he unholstered the Glock and placed his gun hand on his head, palm down. Using a mirror that was conveniently located on top of an adjacent cabinet, he positioned the gun behind his head, barrel pointing down at the floor, such that the gun could not be seen from the front. Once satisfied, he carefully put his swathed left hand and its enclosed grenade on top of his gun hand. He checked the mirror again. It looked good. Just an old injured guy with both hands on his head. Nothing to see here.
Time to go.
“Okay. I am coming out.”
“Good. Step out of the store slowly with your hands up where we can see them.”
“I have been shot in my left hand and it has a bandage on it.”
There were a few minutes of hesitation while Captain Holden conferred with his command team and the six snipers through his headphones.
“I need a read on his hands. Stat. If you see anything weird, anything at all, I will give the command to fire. Get ready.”
The Captain turned the bullhorn on again.
“Okay. As long as we can see both your hands and you don’t have any weapons in them, that should be fine. Now come out slowly and don’t do anything stupid.”
Billy Joe started walking out of the store heading for the fountain. He assumed his most convincing little old wounded man shuffle. As he exited, he could see what appeared to be about a dozen heavily armed men lining the walls of each of the three hallways leading to the fountain, one set to his left, one to his right, and one directly in front.
Keep them all in front of you.
“I need to know about his hands. Now!”
“I can’t be sure because of the bandage, but there may be something under his left hand.”
“Same for me.”
“Halt!” Captain Holden’s voice exploded out of the bullhorn.
Billy Joe stood still.
“Very slowly, raise your left hand up away from your head and show it to us. Don’t be stupid. There are literally dozens of guns trained on you.”
“Okay. Please don’t shoot.”
“Hold your fire men, but be ready.”
Slowly but steadily, Billy Joe raised his left hand, making sure that the bloody bandage slipped off as he did so.
“This is a live grenade. The pin is already pulled out, and the only thing preventing it from exploding is my left thumb holding the lever.”
His left hand was now fully extended. Slowly, he rotated it so that they could all see he wasn’t kidding.
“If you shoot me, it goes off. I’m pretty sure there are multiple body cams on me right now, along with a least several mall security cameras. So, you have to ask yourself this question. On tomorrow’s 6 o’clock news, do you want to see an old man get blown to bits by a grenade because he was shot by the police?”
Captain Holden had begun pondering the question as soon as he had seen the grenade. He was vacillating between Scylla and Charybdis.
Billy Joe had no interest in conundrums. All he was waiting for was the hesitation. And he got it.
He had already zeroed in on a group of three policemen directly in front of him, He jerked the Glock out from behind his head, and began running, firing at the men as he ran. He saw two go down.
Nice shot old man.
He was still smiling as his body hit the floor and his fingers released their grip on the grenade.
“Jesus Christ, Noble. What were you thinking? This wasn’t an assassination – it was a fucking massacre. Let’s see here…”
James Noble was again sitting in Carl Spowicz’s corner office at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade. Sipowicz was scanning a file on the table in front of him.
“So, it looks like, in addition to General Lanh and his three bodyguards, we have three dead mall security guards, four dead civilians plus one on life support, and three dead New Jersey police officers plus five seriously wounded. Then of course there is the pesky matter of two of our best agents being shot dead. And, for the pièce de résistance, our lead psycho killer decides to blow himself to smithereens with a grenade, on camera no less. Like I said, what the fuck were you thinking?”
James Noble sat still and said nothing while he waited for Sipowicz’ volcanic eruption to subside.
Once he was reasonably confident that the man had regained his composure, he responded.
“Actually, it’s better than it looks at first glance.”
“Really? What makes you say that? You sound as crazy as this Rodriguez nut.”
“Well, the fact that he killed so many people apparently indiscriminately strongly supports the premise that he was a crazy old Vietnam vet who just lost it and went postal in a shopping mall. It makes it look like the General and his crew were just one of many poor schmucks who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. More specifically, the possibility of any link to us has just gone from slim to none.”
Sipowicz furrowed his brow in contemplation.
“And what about our two agents, Merton and Shriver?”
“Unfortunate casualties of war. It’s a risk we all take in the field.”
“You really are a cold sonofabitch, aren’t you?”
Sipowicz turned to the window and continued to ruminate.
“And what about Captain Holden? I heard the man was starting to make some serious inquiries about both our guys and the General.”
“I believe Captain Holden received a direct call from Jeanette Norden, the governor of the fine state of New Jersey. She told him to cease and desist all investigations into this matter because of top-secret national security concerns that are beyond his pay grade. I’m told that the Captain wasn’t happy, but he is a good soldier, and he will do what he’s ordered to do.”
“And how did we get Governor Norden to do that?”
“Let’s just say that we have some information at our disposal that she would dearly not like to have revealed to the public, particularly with the gubernatorial election coming up next year.”
“You’re a scary guy Noble.”
Yes, and one day soon, I’ll be sitting on your side of the desk.
“So, do I have your approval to continue?”
“Continue recruiting people who have nothing more to lose.”
Sipowicz considered the question very carefully.
“Yes, but no more massacres, Noble. You are going to have to keep things neat and tidy from now on. One more strike and you’re out. I know you want my job, but I ain’t going anywhere. Your name is all over this file, and I can easily make it seem like you just went rogue.”
Sipowicz got up from behind his desk, and stared down at Noble with stony eyes.
“Remember, I can be a scary guy too.”
James Noble knew enough to look away and say nothing.
“You’re on a very short leash now Noble. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”
About the Author
Dr. Gregory Steinberg was born in Paris, France in 1956, grew up in Geneva, Switzerland, and graduated from the Welsh National School of Medicine in Cardiff, Wales in 1978.
He was a hospital-based Junior Medical House Officer in England and Wales until 1981 when he moved to New York City following the untimely death of his father.
Between 1982 and 2000, he was affiliated with St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, a major teaching affiliate of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. For the last eight years there, he was Associate Director of Medicine and Director of Medical Education. He is board certified in internal medicine and cardiology.
Between 2000 and 2011, he was Chief Medical Officer and then Chief Executive Officer of ActiveHealth Management, a ‘start-up’ population health management and clinical decision support company that was acquired by Aetna in 2005.
Between 2011 and 2016, he was Head of Clinical Innovation at Aetna.
He retired in 2016, and lives in rural northeast Pennsylvania with his wife, three adult children, and a dog.
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