Mission Critical

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Chapter 22 - Disaster Management

Outside of the Vanguard Bank. Ho-lee-shit! Look at this place! There are bullet holes everywhere! The front windows of the bank are all shot out! There’s one of our patrol cars in front of the bank that’s got a bunch of bullet holes in it, and the RSS armored car over there looks like it got hit at least fifteen times! It doesn’t look like any of the rounds even made a dent in it, though. Strong armor, huh? What in the name of the good Lord happened here? Did they try to hit the truck instead of the bank? How? By shooting at it? Like any bullet was going to pierce the hide of that thing! And if they hit the truck, then how did all of the bank windows get shot out? I see four RSS guys off to the side and they’ve got enough firepower to take on a commando team! We’ve got four units here already and I can hear sirens coming from just about every direction! Where the hell are the assbags? I don’t see any dead bodies. Is anybody dead? Is anybody wounded? And who the hell is running the show? Who called this in?

There’s Lonnie Arista and Thad Boswell; his partner today. They look massively pissed off! Thad looks like he’s about to kill somebody with his bare hands! I just wish I knew who!

“Lonnie! Lonnie, are you guys all right?”

“Yeah! No thanks to those fucking assholes! They damn near killed us both!”

He seems to be referring to the RSS guards. They look pretty pissed off, too.

“What happened? Did the assbags try to take down the armored car?”

“Fuck, no! The truck made the delivery, right on schedule. Only after they drove down the block, one of the RSS guys decided he needed to take a piss. That’s when they turned around and came back here to use the bathroom. They pulled up right as the assholes were headed into the bank! One of them saw the RSS guards get out of the truck and threw a few rounds their way. That’s when those fucking idiots opened fire with everything they’ve got! Instant O.K. Corral! Fuck!

That part, I can see for myself! Here are shell casings all over the pavement! This must’ve been one hell of a gun battle!

“Was anybody hit?”

“We don’t know. We’re still picking up the pieces over here. None of the RSS guys got hit. One of their fucking idiots opened up on our car as soon as we pulled up near the bank! A fucking police car! A goddamned security guard opened fire on a marked police car! Stupid motherfuckers! They put a round through the windshield that almost took off Thad’s face! Do we look like the fucking bad guys? Look at that shit! Those stupid motherfuckers were shooting at anything that moved! There were people out here! We’re lucky they didn’t kill anybody!”

I hate to say it, but that sounds like standard procedure for RSS guards. I told you they were trigger-happy. Here’s the proof.

“What about our suspects?”

“They’re in the bank! That’s about the only thing we know for certain. They fired about twenty rounds at us and the RSS guys once we got here. Be advised, Allison: they’ve got at least two rifles with them this time. Mini-14s. And plenty of ammo! One guy had a tactical vest with at least six magazines stuffed in it! They’re not fucking around this time!”

Mini-14s. They fire the same round as the M-16. Just fucking wonderful! They’ve really stepped up their game, haven’t they?

“Do we have confirmation on the number of suspects?”

“Not really. We saw three guys. Two of them looked pretty big and the third one looked like a scrawny little shit. RSS says at least one of them got hit, but they couldn’t tell us which one.”

“Did they tell you anything we can use? Like how many people are in the bank besides the assbags?”

“Negative! Not a word! The driver – I guess he’s the crew boss – said they couldn’t talk to us until they get one of their supervisors out here. You know how that’s going to go!”

Of course I do. So does every cop on the force. Their supervisor is going to say he can’t talk to us until he clears it with the shift captain, and the shift captain is going to say he can’t talk to us until he talks to Randall Schoen. We’re not going to get jack shit from those guys. Not for several hours, anyway. We need to know how many people are in that bank! Good Lord! Look at that thing! There’s got to be at least fifty yards of open ground all around it! Zero cover anywhere! No way are we going to sneak up on it unless we dig a tunnel!

“All right, the rest of SRT should be here any minute, now. I need you and Thad to corral those RSS goons somewhere out of the line of fire. Don’t let them leave! And if at all possible, don’t let them start yakking on their phones! Lieutenant Shears is going to want to talk to them. We’re also going to have to find a way to get close to that place without the assbags seeing us.”

“Forget it, Allison. We’ve already sent guys all around the building. There are windows on every side. Those fucking douchebags can see out and we can’t see in. They drew the blinds after RSS shot out the front windows. There could be twenty people in there with gunshot wounds for all we know. This is all one great big shit sandwich!”

Thanks for the blinding flash of the obvious, Lonnie. Of course it’s a shit sandwich! And right now, we’ve got three dickheads in there and they hold all the cards! That’s because they hold God only knows how many hostages! And some of those assbags might even be wounded! Shit sandwich is right!

Lieutenant Shears is setting up his command post at the armored SRT vehicle. At least our dickheads won’t be able to shoot through that thing – though that doesn’t mean they won’t try. God damn it! Where am I supposed to set up on this place? There isn’t one single place that offers a good field of fire without me being out in the open! I’m probably going to have to set up behind a ballistic shield somewhere. I’ll let the Sarge decide where that should be. We’re going to need a hostage negotiator here, too. Somebody is going to have to talk to these guys. Who knows what they’re going to ask for? I don’t see a good way for them to get out of here, but maybe they do?

“Lonnie, put those RSS guys over behind the SRT vehicle. And make sure they put their guns in somebody’s trunk! I don’t want them shooting at the suspects. They’ve done enough of that already.”

“Will do. Be advised, the crew chief already called their shift supervisor, so he’s probably headed down here right now. If he’s anything like most of them, he’s going to be trouble.”

I don’t doubt it for a second. Honestly, I don’t know why he’d even care. His crew dropped off the cash as scheduled and the bank manager signed for it. RSS is off the hook for it. They might not be off the hook for the shootout; especially if these yahoos accidentally shot anybody inside the bank. Well, that’s going to be somebody else’s headache. I just have to worry about what are we going to do? We’ve got to get whoever is still in the bank out of there safe and sound. I have a feeling we’re going to have a hard time doing that. RSS just ruined their big score. They’re not going to be in a very good mood right now. Hell, they might even be bleeding to death. Time to make myself useful. We need the phone number to the bank, so I might as well Google it. Of course, there’s no guarantee they’ll even pick up the phone once we call.

“Lieutenant, I’ve got the phone number for the bank. I don’t know if it’ll ring on everybody’s phone or just their equivalent of a front desk, though.”

“There’s one way to find out. Use the SRT tactical phone and call it. Make sure you hit the ‘record’ button first. We want to record every word they say. I’ll get on the P.A. and tell them to pick up the phone.”

Time for another blinding flash of the obvious, I think.

“And if they tell you to shove it up your ass, sir?”

“A distinct possibility. Welcome to SRT, Allison.”

I was kind of afraid he’d say something like that. I’m about to get an education on how things can get out of control in a hurry. All right, let’s see if they’re in a mood to talk. I wonder which one of them is going to pick up the phone? I hope it’s not Maritza. He’s a fucking rapist and a total dickface. I don’t want to talk to him. I don’t even know what I’d say to him.

“Attention, you in the bank! This is Lieutenant Shears of the Police Special Response Team! The phone should be ringing inside the bank right now! Please answer it! We want to talk to you! We don’t want anyone to get hurt! Please answer the phone so we can establish communications with you!”

It’s ringing, but nobody’s answering. I think they’re telling the Lieutenant to shove it up his ass. That’s not a good thing. Wait! Somebody picked up!

“Is this the cops?”

No, it’s a goddamned stripper from the Prancing Pony! Who the hell do you think it is, genius? Son of a bitch! What the hell am I supposed to do? I’m not trained to talk to a hostage-taker!

“Yes, this is the police. I’m Sergeant Allison Rane. Who are you?”

“Who the hell do you think I am, lady?”

Clearly, he’s not an employee of the bank. I think we just made contact. Now what?

“I don’t know. Are you the one running the show in there?”

“I’m one of them.”

There’s something about his voice. He doesn’t sound like a total piece of shit. Maritza and the other one are real hardcases. This guy isn’t, or at least he doesn’t sound like one. My guess? It’s Eugene DeWitt.

“Are you hurt? Is anyone in there hurt? We know you guys got into a shootout with the RSS guards. Did anyone get hit?”

“What’s it to you?”

I don’t like the way he said that. He didn’t say it like a total assbag would. He said it like a guy who doesn’t believe anyone would care whether he got hurt or not. That’s not what you want to hear from a guy you’re going to have to build a level of trust with. I know that much about hostage negotiation: you’ve got to build a level of trust or you’re sunk.

“Look, I’m not going to pretend like we’re old friends or anything. We’re not and we’re not going to be. I’m a cop and you’re…you. But I want to know if anybody got shot. Including you. Did anybody get hit? Come on, you can tell me that much, can’t you?”

He’s not talking, so I guess he’s thinking about it.

“Some of us got hit. Most aren’t too bad, but we’ve got two…we’ve got a couple of people in here who won’t make it unless you do exactly what we say. Got it?”

“I got it.”

He said “some of us.” If it were just the people in the bank who got hit, then he’d say “some of these people got hit.” But he didn’t. I’m guessing at least one of our bank robbery crew took a hit. Maybe more than just one of them?

“Look, how about you send the wounded out of there so we can get them to a hospital? They’re just going to weigh you down and you don’t want anybody dying on you, right?”

“Lady, nobody’s coming out of here until we get what we want.”

It seems Mister DeWitt isn’t the total Melvin he was made out to be. That’s not good.

“Fair enough. What do you want?”

“I’ll get back to you.”

“Just tell me how many people are in there with you. We need to know how…”

He hung up. That little conversation didn’t exactly sound encouraging. He doesn’t know what he wants except for a way out of there and he’s got no idea of how to get it. And the strain in his voice was over the top! Yes, I don’t wonder!

“Allison, was that one of the suspects?”

“Yes, sir. I think it was DeWitt, but he didn’t say. It’s bad in there, sir. Some people got hit by gunfire, and I think it includes the suspects. He said a couple of them are in very serious condition, but again, he didn’t say if he was talking about the hostages or the suspects or both. He wouldn’t tell me how many hostages they’ve got in there, either. I really didn’t like the way his voice sounded. I can’t exactly describe it…it was just bad, sir. I don’t think they’re about to walk out of there and give up. This might not end well.”

“It’s not exactly off to a rip-roaring start. Did it sound as though he was hit?”

“No, sir. I don’t think so, but I can’t be sure. He was pretty upset.”

“Of course he was. He didn’t expect a bunch of security guards to ruin their plan. So we’ve got a hostage situation, definitely people wounded; possibly one or more of the suspects included. We’ve got no way to approach the building without them seeing us, and if they see us…”

“They’ll start shooting the hostages. I know. Lonnie…Officer Arista says they’ve already had units scope out the perimeter of the building. There’s no blind spot. No cover. Those dickheads have three hundred sixty degree visibility from in there.”

“And they can’t sprout wings and fly away. They’re trapped and the only things keeping us from smashing through the door with an armored ram are the hostages. And some of them are wounded. We don’t know how many or how badly they’re hurt. This is a hell of an introduction to SRT for you. I hope you know I didn’t plan it that way.”

“Nobody would’ve planned this, sir. Not even those assbags. So what do we do now?”

“We get those hostages out of there safely. Everything else can wait. We’ve got an unknown number of innocent civilians in immediate danger. That’s our only priority. This is mission critical, Allison: we’ve got to get those people out of there safely. We can’t afford to lose even one of them. Understood?”

Like he actually had to tell me that?

“Understood, sir. Just tell me where you want me.”

Mission critical is right: we could be talking about a matter of minutes before one or more of those people in there dies of their wounds. And what about the suspects? They could be dying, too. We can’t let them get away with a hostage. Every cop in the world knows that. The bad guys never get away with a hostage. Not under any circumstances. You’ll never see that person again if they do. So how do we convince three assbags – one or more of them probably with a bullet lodged in their asses – to let everyone go? They’ve got to know they’re already facing capital murder charges. Not to mention multiple counts of armed robbery, bank robbery, ADW, attempted murder, attempted murder of law enforcement officers, and now multiple counts of kidnapping. What are we supposed to do? We can’t just let them go. Even if we agreed to do it, they’d never believe us. They can’t tunnel their way out of there and like the Lieutenant said, they can’t sprout wings and fly out of there. They don’t know what they’re going to do any more than we know what we’re going to do. How the hell do we resolve this without killing everyone in there? Is it even possible? What if it isn’t? What do we do then?


Mobile One Alpha. That’s our official designation for our command post here at the bank. It’s basically a converted Winnebago with a couple of big generators in a trailer attached to the back that we use for emergency situations and major outdoor events. The crime scene? I mean, can we even call it that anymore? It’s a zoo. We blocked off the vicinity for four blocks in every direction and it’s raising holy hell with traffic and a bunch of other stuff, but that’s the least of our worries. There are people walking around all over the place. We catch them and throw them out and they come right back in with their cellphones hoping to get a picture of something horrible or exciting or whatever. I think we’ve got one-third of the police force here. All of SRT is here, two full stations’ worth of officers are here, and a whole bunch of detectives are here. And that doesn’t include all the firemen, EMTs, guys from the power company and the telephone company, and some guys in suits that I don’t know who the hell they are. The FBI might be here, too. I don’t know. This is the place to be right now; that’s for sure. The media is all over the place. There are three news helicopters overhead and a few others way off in the distance. I think they’re from other cities. Hell, they might be all the way from Phoenix or Tucson or who the hell knows where. I think the eyes of the whole state are on this poor little bank right now. I’m sure it’s not the kind of attention they crave.

Guess who else showed up about ten minutes ago? Old Randall Schoen himself. He looks exactly like his picture in the newspaper. I don’t know why he’s here. I’m sure he wants his armored car back, but that thing is stopped between us and the bank so it’s not going anywhere until this is over. I’ll say this for it: that thing looks ridiculously expensive. Not like your standard armored car. It’s obviously brand-new and it looks like some kind of next-generation thing. None of the bullets even dented the side of the truck. And look at the size of the tires on it! They’re almost like monster truck tires! They must’ve spent some serious bucks on that thing. Hey, nothing but the best for Randall Schoen, right? Well, I don’t know what he’s so worried about. There’s no money in the truck anymore. He brought a team of about ten guys to transfer what was left into another truck and they took off with it. Lieutenant Shears didn’t want to let them anywhere near that thing, but you don’t say “no” to Randall Schoen in this town, right? So what the hell is he doing here? The Sarge said he thinks he’s here to try to drum up new business for his firm. He might be right. Lieutenant Jutras said he heard Schoen talking to a bunch of reporters and he was saying how his guys were heroes for stopping the robbery dead in its tracks. He said they did in thirty seconds what the police couldn’t do for weeks and wasn’t that just the sort of thing you could expect from his highly professional private security firm. That’s not exactly how it went down, but Randall Schoen never let a little thing like the truth get in the way of doing whatever he wants to do. I just wish he’d go away. The guy is major trouble and everyone knows it. As long as he’s here, he’s a loose cannon. We don’t need any loose cannons right now.

Since at least two of those assbags have rifles, we’re a lot further away from the bank than we’d like to be. That’s a real problem. We’re out of range for our tear gas grenade launchers. We’d have to move forward to use them and the bad guys would see us way before we got within range. They’d start shooting before we even got set up. Nobody seems to know how the hell we’re going to resolve this mess. I certainly don’t. Until somebody comes up with some kind of plan, I’m kind of standing around with nothing to do. I can make a shot from behind the SRT armored vehicle easy at this range, but our spotters haven’t seen anyone so much as peek out through the blinds. We don’t need my sniper skills right now. We need a miracle. I don’t imagine we’re going to get one of those.

Some lawyers from the DA’s Office are here and they didn’t bring good news. Basically, they said there’s no deal to be made with these assbags. After the way they murdered that guy who was trying to help and then gunned a witness to their little conspiracy? They said there’s no way they’d agree to drop the death penalty. I think the DA believes he’d get voted out of office if he did. I wonder how well he’ll do if those dickheads start shooting the hostages? Something tells me no one is thinking that far ahead except for us. I wish someone would. Every minute that goes by makes me feel like this thing is going to end in a bloodbath. I just wish we at least knew how many hostages are in there. We don’t know shit. Thermal imagers? Forget it. The walls of that place are all completely exposed and it’s plenty warm out here. We wouldn’t be able to get any kind of a reading on the inside of the place until after the sun goes down, and that’s going to be hours from now. We don’t have that much time. And if those guys are talking to us right now, I don’t know about it. I can see the phone from here and nobody’s talking on it. What the hell is going on? Is anybody doing anything except sitting and waiting for somebody else to make a decision?

“Here you go, Rane: 7-Up. No caffeine. You don’t want to get all jittery in case we need you to make a precise shot.”

The Sarge, looking out for me as usual. In this tactical getup, I’m really roasting out here.

“I think I’m already jittery, but thanks. Is there any movement on a plan?”

“Not that I can see. Nobody wants to make a decision. Our hostage negotiator isn’t even here yet.”

That figures. Being a small department, we don’t have a full-time negotiator. We have to borrow one from one of the major departments and I heard they’re bringing in a guy from Phoenix for this one. You’d think they’d fly him here, but we’ve been here for at least two hours and Phoenix isn’t two hours away by plane. What the hell is he doing? Driving here? We’ll be lucky if he gets here by five in the evening!

“Is anyone talking to the suspects?”

“Lieutenant Shears has tried, but the son of a bitch in there keeps hanging up the phone on him.”

I’m not surprised. The way DeWitt sounded when I talked to him – if it was even DeWitt – gave me the impression he didn’t want to talk to anyone. I always got the feeling DeWitt is a smart guy. If he is, then he’s got to know it’s hopeless. When you’re in a hopeless situation, you don’t want to talk to anyone, do you? This whole thing is going from bad to worse. That’s my expert take on the tactical situation.

“What’s my best position, Sarge? By the edge of the Caiman?”

That’s our MRAP armored vehicle, by the way. Government surplus. We got it for free through some program where the military gives us cool stuff that they don’t use anymore. How else could we afford a monster like that?

“I don’t want to speculate right now. If we knew they were going to make their break through the front door, then that’s as good a spot as any. But who knows what they’ve got up their sleeve?”

“And we still have no idea how many people they’re holding in there?”

“Not a clue. We can’t get a thermal imaging scan. There’s too much heat and too much junk between the window and the rest of the room. Our spotters think they’ve got at least six hostages, but who the hell knows? No one who got out of the bank before the shit hit the fan could tell us how many people were still inside.”

I’m guessing we’re already getting concerned relatives who haven’t heard from their loved ones yet. “Wasn’t Mary supposed to go to the bank this afternoon? Why yes, I believe she was. And she hasn’t checked in yet? Oh, dear! Could it have been that bank they’re showing on TV?” Yes, that sort of thing. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it.

“Allison! Varanasi! Front and center!”

Lieutenant Jutras. What does he want with us? Isn’t Lieutenant Shears still running the show?

“What’s up, sir?”

“That guy in the bank is on the line. Allison, he wants to talk to you.”

To me? What for?

“Why?”

“Beats me. He just said put the girl I was talking to back on the phone. That’s you, isn’t it?”

I seem to be the only woman standing anywhere near it, so I guess that’s me.

“I spoke to him for less than a minute. What has he said so far?”

“The usual: we want all the cops out of here immediately. We told him that wasn’t going to happen. Allison, we need to know how many hostages are in there. We need to know how many of them are injured. We need to know if any of them are kids. What I need from you is to get them to release anyone who’s injured or a kid. I know you’re not trained for this, but we don’t expect the professional negotiator to show up any time soon. If he’s willing to talk to you, then you’re our best bet.”

That should tell you exactly how desperate we are right now.

“What if I say the wrong thing? When I talked to him, he seemed really on edge. I don’t want to push him over the edge, sir. I could really screw this up.”

“Just take it slow, think before you answer, and if you get stuck, we’ll do what we can to guide you. I can hear him, but he won’t be able to hear me. Don’t let on that there’s anybody else on the line, OK? Even if he says he knows there’s somebody else listening in, don’t confirm it. Just keep him talking, don’t piss him off, and get as much useable information from him as you can. Got it?”

Sure, I got it. Easier said than done, though. A lot easier. All right, let’s see what he’s got to say.

“Hello? This is Sergeant Rane again. Are you the same guy I was talking to before?”

“Yeah. You said your name was Allison Rane? Are you Allison Rane, the Sniper Girl?”

I see my fame precedes me. I’m not sure that’s a good thing right now.

“That’s me. I’m the one who took out the sniper last summer.”

“I heard you got shot for that. Is that true?”

“I’m afraid so. He shot me in the back. It was pretty horrible. It’s kind of hard to explain unless you’ve been through it yourself.”

“I know what it feels like.”

So I was right: he did get shot when that bank guard started trading rounds with them. He sounds pretty healed up to me, though.

“Look, I’m going to go out on a limb, here. I don’t much want to refer to you as ‘hey, you’ and I think we both know I’ve got a pretty good idea of who you are. You’re Eugene DeWitt, aren’t you?”

I know that was risky, but if I’m going to establish any kind of connection with this guy, then I have to be sure about who he is. And this way, it doesn’t look like I’m keeping secrets from him.

“So you know my name. I guess it doesn’t matter now.”

“I don’t want to insult you, so what do I call you? Mister DeWitt is kind of formal, don’t you think? Do you go by Gene or Eugene?”

“You can call me Eugene, seeing as you already know who I am. How’d you find out?”

I’m not about to lay out anyone who helped us. That would be a serious mistake.

“We’re the police. We find out things. It’s what we do. We also know about your friend Ted Maritza in there. He shot it out with one of our units the other night. I think he got shot in the process. Is that true?”

“What makes you think he got shot?”

This could be a test to see if I’m a liar or if I’m holding back anything. Until I know better, I think I have to go with the “honesty is the best policy” thing. I just hope I’m right about that.

“Because I’m pretty sure I’m the one who shot him.”

“You were the one at the motel? Yeah, you shot him. It’s not bad, though. It cut across the top of his arm. I got hit worse when that old geezer shot me in the arm. It went all the way through.”

And then Maritza or your other friend shot him. He got it a lot worse than you did, Eugene.

“So you’re John F. Kennedy, huh? How’d you come up with that one? He was kind of before your time, right?”

“I was watching a documentary the night before. I had to tell that bullshit doctor something. It was all I could think of.”

“Well, for what it’s worth? It worked. We weren’t able to track you down after that. How’s the arm? I’m kind of surprised you’re able to do anything with it.”

“I’ll live. It’s not too bad. They gave me pills for it. It helps.”

Those must’ve been some serious pain pills. A through-and-through gunshot wound from a nine millimeter? That’s not your Tylenol-3 kind of pain. That’s your basic Demerol kind of pain. Oh, Lord! What if he’s taking those pills now? The last thing we need is for any of these assbags to get high while we’re trying to resolve this crap!

“Eugene, I’m really worried about the people in there. You said some of them got hit. We’ve got EMTs out here and they’re willing to take anyone who got hurt out of there and transport them to the hospital. That includes your guys. What do you say? Can’t you at least let the people who got shot come out of there? Come on, you got shot! You know what it feels like! Those people are probably scared to death and they’re in all kinds of pain. Can’t you just let them go? They’re no good to you like that. They’re no good to anyone like that.”

“How do I know this isn’t a trick? You dress up some cops as EMTs and they come in here and whip out their guns.”

That’s exactly what I was thinking. We never do that – the EMTs would never allow it – but you see it all the time on TV cop shows. It’s probably gotten some EMT killed over the years.

“I can see how you’d be afraid of that, but the truth is we never do that. The EMTs won’t allow it. They say if they did, then no one would ever trust them again. We can’t give those guys orders. They don’t work for us.”

“They can still scope the place out and report back to you.”

Good call. That’s exactly what they’d do if they got in there. So what do I tell him so he’ll let us get them out of there?

“If nobody’s too badly hurt, you can move them to the front door and the EMTs can take them out without ever getting a good look inside. How about that? You could do that, right?”

No answer. He’s thinking about it. But is he even calling the shots? It looks like Maritza and his friend took over control of the operation a while back. Frankly, I’m surprised they’ve got this guy on the phone with me. I’d have expected it to be one of them.

“I’ll talk it over with the other guys. What do I get if I say yes?”

I was afraid of this. What am I supposed to say to him? You get my undying gratitude? I doubt that’s going to matter much to him. I’m looking at Lieutenant Jutras and he’s got nothing for me! Fuck! What am I supposed to do? Wing it? This is life and death stuff we’re talking about!

“I can get you something to eat. It’s the middle of the afternoon and you guys have been at this all day. I’m guessing you’re hungry, right?”

“Sure! And you guys lace it with a bunch of sleeping pills and we all pass out!”

“We don’t do that. Come on, Eugene! You’re smarter than that! That stuff’s too dangerous. You know that. We could accidentally kill someone like that. Besides, what’s to stop you from feeding it to the hostages to see if that’s what we did? You tell me what you guys want and we’ll get it for you. No alcohol or drugs, though. We can’t give you any of that. I think you all understand why.”

The Lieutenant’s nodding. I guess I said the right thing. Yeah, a little help would’ve been appreciated, sir!

“We’ll think about it. I’ll call you back. And I’m only going to talk to you. You got that? If anyone else answers this phone, I’m hanging up and I can’t promise you’ll like what happens next!”

“I understand. I’ll be right here. Don’t take too long, though.”

He hung up. He’s smarter than I thought. That’s not good.

“Why do you think he only wants to talk to you, Allison? Do you think he just likes talking to pretty girls?”

“He’s not looking for a date. He’s a lot smarter than that, sir. He knows that if I’m here talking on the phone with him, then I’m not out there aiming a rifle at his head. He’s taking me out of the equation. That’s one sniper he doesn’t have to worry about.”

“I hadn’t thought of that. You’re right: he’s pretty smart. He’s also pretty paranoid.”

You know, there’s a time when paranoia ceases to be paranoia and becomes common sense. For some reason, a lot of people don’t realize that.

“Sir, he’s trapped in a bank with an SRT team surrounding him. He’s facing death penalty charges. He just got into a shootout and some of the people in there got shot. I don’t think he’s being paranoid. He’s got good reason to be afraid of us.”

“I see your point. You did a good job. Just keep doing it.”

“Sir, I’m no expert in this. I’m scared to death I’m going to say the wrong thing and somebody’s going to get killed because of it.”

“I understand, but you’re all we’ve got. He doesn’t want to talk to anybody else. You have to keep him on the line and keep him talking. As long as they’re talking to us, they’re not harming the hostages.”

Not yet, anyway. That could change in a split-second. Especially if I say the wrong thing. And what are Maritza and his assbag friend doing during all of this? Are they hit? Are they bleeding out? Are they planning to start shooting those hostages? We don’t know a damned thing!

Here comes Lieutenant Shears for a sit-rep. I wish I had more to give him.

“Allison, what’s the situation in there?”

“Tense and getting a lot tenser, sir. We were right: the caller is Eugene DeWitt and we’ve confirmed Ted Maritza is in there with him. We still don’t know who the other guy is. I tried to get DeWitt to release the wounded hostages in exchange for some food. He said he’d talk about it with his buddies.”

“Is he going to let the EMTs into the bank?”

“I don’t think so. He was pretty adamant that they don’t come in. I told him to move them to the front door if they’re not hurt too much and let the EMTs take them away like that.”

“We need eyes in there. We need to know where they are, where the hostages are, and what the situation is in there.”

“It’s not going to happen, sir. He already told me he was afraid the EMTs would report right back to you about what they saw inside the bank. This guy knows his best bet is to keep us in the dark as much as possible, sir. He’s doing a pretty good job of it, too.”

“And he won’t say how many are injured or how bad their injuries are?”

“Not so far. Not to state the obvious, but he’s under a lot of stress right now. If I push him, I think something bad’s going to happen.”

“Something bad already happened, Allison. This is exactly the scenario we were trying to avoid.”

Like I didn’t know that already!

“Yes, sir. Oh, and he says he’ll only talk to me. I think he wants to keep me here on the phone instead of out there aiming a rifle at him. He knows I’m the sniper who took out Corey Faisse last summer. He also knows I’m the one who shot Maritza the other night.”

“Do we know how bad Maritza is right now?”

“He said it was a minor wound across the top of his arm and he’s OK. But he might’ve been hit in the shootout with RSS and who knows how bad he got it then? DeWitt’s not about to let on concerning their weak points. He’s smarter than that.”

“He’s your bookworm, isn’t he? He made good use of that book. I take it there’s no chapter about hostage situations?”

“No, sir. The whole point of the book is how to avoid resorting to violence. They should’ve stuck with the original plan. They wouldn’t be in this mess if they had.”

“Do you think this guy’s back to calling the shots?”

Honestly? I have no idea. How could I? This is all new to me. I’ve never been a hostage negotiator before. I don’t think I ever want to be one again, either.

“I don’t know. Maybe he got all ticked off at his friends and demanded to be the one on the phone? Or maybe the other two assbags just let him do it so he’d stay out of their hair? I honestly don’t know. I just know there’s a lot of tension in his voice. I think he’s barely keeping it together. We need to find a way to defuse the situation or he’s likely to do something…rash.”

I would’ve said crazy or psychotic or something along those lines, but I don’t want to alarm everyone any more than we’re already alarmed. That’s a good thing, right?

“Let me know what he decides. We’re still trying to figure out the best way to deal with this situation. Now that we’re here, I could kick myself for not realizing this was the better location for them in the event anything went wrong! I mean, look at that building! It was staring us in the face the whole time!”

No doubt about that. Remind me to find the person who decided to put a bank on such a big patch of ground all by itself and punch him right where it counts!

“Sir, what if he comes back with a counter-offer? What can I give him and what can’t I give him?”

Hey, I don’t know the drill! I know some of it is common sense, but the rest? I want the answers before DeWitt puts me on the spot!

“You can’t give him anything they could use to harm anyone. No guns or other weapons. No ammunition. No drugs. No alcohol.”

“What if they ask for a police radio and three bulletproof vests that’ll stop an AP round from a rifle?”

“Let’s hope they don’t ask for that.”

This isn’t exactly filling me with confidence. I need solid answers.

“Say they do. What do I tell him?”

“If they hold firm, then we’ll have to give them the stuff. Try not to go anywhere near anything that could be used against us. I’m talking about things like police scanners, police radios, anything that could tip our hand. Most of these guys don’t ask for things like that, but…”

“These guys aren’t ‘most guys.’ Sir, we’re not going to try to trick them, are we? DeWitt already said something about us doping the food. I told him we wouldn’t do that.”

“You’re right. We wouldn’t. They’d just test it on one of the hostages anyway.”

“Exactly what I thought. But it’s pretty clear to me that at least DeWitt is thinking ahead. I wouldn’t want to do anything that’s going to blow up in our faces.”

“Good, because we don’t do that. Guys like this tend to react badly to tricks. They could end up shooting a hostage as payback. We’re not going to risk something like that happening.”

“Good to know. So how are they going to get out of there? You’ve dealt with these situations before. What’s their game plan?”

“I wish I knew. I don’t think they’re going to surrender, so they’re going to have to think of something. If this guy gives you any hints, you let me know right away.”

If I had to guess, I’d say the only way DeWitt is going to tip his hand is if he figures out a foolproof way to get out of there. He was smart enough to find that book. He was smart enough to steal almost half a million bucks without firing a shot. I’ve got a terrible feeling he’s smart enough to figure a way out of there. He’s smarter than me. That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? He’s smarter than me. He’s got what it takes to think of something that I’ll miss. So what do I do? You heard the Lieutenant: this one is mission critical. People are relying on me, and not just on my ability to shoot a rifle. How do I get ahead of a guy who can probably think rings around me? I tried that with Corey Faisse, remember? I got a bullet in my back for it. I don’t want to make that mistake again. I might not live through it this time. Or somebody else won’t.

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