Mission Critical

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Chapter 23 - I Feel Like I'm Drowning

I’m still waiting for DeWitt to call me back. What the hell is taking so long? I asked him if he wanted some food. How long does it take to get an order from three guys? This isn’t good. I’ve got a feeling DeWitt’s going to come back with a list of demands that I can’t meet. Where the hell is that hostage negotiator? Is he headed here on a goddamned bicycle? I’m about ready to beat the living shit out of him when he shows up! And that’s if he shows up! He’d better not turn out to be one of those suck-butt beta male touchy-feely assbags. I’ll strangle him on the spot if he is. We need a real, experienced hostage negotiator for this one. Two of these dickheads are stone-cold killers. They’re not going to respond to the soft touch. Not even DeWitt. And Maritza and his friend will kill DeWitt if they think he’s gone off the reservation. They’re probably watching him like a hawk. And we still don’t know a fucking thing about the situation in there! This whole rotten deal totally sucks! I’m almost ready to start wishing those dickheads had gotten away with the money!

What the hell am I doing here? I’m supposed to be a sniper, for God’s sake! And here I am playing camp counselor with a goddamned bank robber! What have I gotten myself into? I’m totally out of my league! How the hell did I get stuck doing this crap? I’m definitely going to have a word with someone once this nightmare is over. You don’t stick someone in a critical position like this and expect her to handle it like an old pro! I shouldn’t have to tell anyone that, but apparently I do! And is anybody standing here and giving me any guidance? Hell, no! They’re just standing around listening and probably wondering if I’ll sink or swim! And I’m sitting here with my thumb up my ass and wondering how bad it’s going to be when I make a mistake! Don’t kid yourself: I’ll make one soon enough! I’m sure of it! I hate this shit!

There’s the phone ringing! Time to talk to DeWitt again and pray to God I don’t screw up and get someone killed!

“Lieutenant Shears! It’s ringing!”

Yes! Get your tactical ass over here and listen in on the conversation, thank you very much!

“Hello? Eugene?”

“I’m here. Listen up and listen good: you will deliver two pairs of 10x50 binoculars to the front door. They must be undamaged and in full working order. Do that and I’ll let a hostage go. A little kid. He’s like…eight years old, I think. You’ve got five minutes. You don’t come through? You know what happens. Call me when you’ve got them.”

He hung up. Shit! So much for trading food for hostages! And now we know they’ve got at least one little kid in there!


“They want to watch us just like we’re watching them. It’s not exactly a positive development.”

“Who the hell cares? They’ve got a kid in there. They’re willing to let him go if we give them a couple of pairs of binoculars. The clock’s ticking.”

“Do you really think this DeWitt guy would shoot a kid in cold blood?”

Is he for real? Has he not been paying attention?

“Do you really think Maritza or his dickhead friend won’t? I don’t want to take that chance, sir. Any minute now, they’re going to start dividing those hostages into two groups: the ones they want to keep and the excess baggage. The baggage is going to get shot if we don’t do what they say.”

“You know they’re going to use those binoculars to spot our snipers, right? That means you, Allison.”

“Lieutenant, they’re sixty yards away. They’ve got rifles. They could make the shot with open sights if they wanted. They want to see details? Let them! We’re talking about a kid, here! We’ve got to get him out of there!”

He knows I’m right. You don’t have to be a tactical cop to know that.

“All right, we’ll deliver the optics. I’ll send two officers with ballistic shields. Maybe the kid can tell us what’s going on in there.”

Assuming he’s not so scared that he’s catatonic, that is. Little kids aren’t exactly trained observers. He might not be able to tell us much even under the best of circumstances. Scared out of his mind? We’ll be lucky to get his name out of him.

“What do you suppose they’ll ask for next?”

“I don’t know. As long as it isn’t a billion dollars and a plane to Algeria.”

Yes, I suppose that’ll come later. What if they do ask for something crazy like that? They’re not going to get it, so the question is: what will they do about it when they don’t get it? DeWitt? Who knows? Even under the strain, he seems pretty rational. Maritza and our unidentified assbag? They’ll shoot someone. They weren’t the rational types even before this whole thing started. We can’t let it get that far. So how do we stop it from getting that far? How the hell should I know? Prentiss didn’t write a chapter about it in his book. I should have a talk with him about that. Maybe he could write a book for us? If anyone already did, I haven’t heard of it.

There goes the delivery team. This is where DeWitt finds out how cheap our department is. If he was expecting some thousand-dollar pair of Steiners, he’s in for a shock. Those are hundred and twenty dollar Bushnells, and we got them on sale. Now we see if DeWitt is calling the shots. Will they release the kid? Probably. Kids are trouble in a situation like that, which is probably why he wants to get rid of him. It’ll be one less headache for him to deal with. Like I said: he’s smart. I have to make sure I remember that no matter what. The last thing I want to do is underestimate him.

They’re putting the binoculars down at the front door. Here’s where we see if we got played. They’re backing away…there goes the door…it’s a woman. Probably one of the hostages. She’s got the binoculars. She’s back inside. All right, dickhead! Time to live up to your end of the bargain! There goes the door! It’s a kid! Grab him, guys! Yes! Get him the hell out of there! He looked all right. No wounds or anything. None that I could see, at any rate. I wonder who was with him in there? His mother? His father? He sure as hell wasn’t in there by himself.

“Echo One, get that kid over to the CP right away. We’ve got some questions for him. Is he injured?”

“Four Henry Lima, negative. He’s good. He’s pretty shaken up, though. His mom’s still in there.”

That answers my question.

“Was she one of the ones who got hit?”

“Negative. Hang on. The kid says there’s three or four people who got hit. One of them’s pretty bad off. And one of the suspects is hit. It sounds like he took a serious wound. He’s definitely down.”

“Echo One, roger. Get him over here.”

I don’t know if that’s a bad thing or not. Is having one of their own seriously wounded going to help us or hurt us? It’s certainly going to hinder their attempt to get out of there if the guy’s so badly injured that he can’t walk.


“I heard. That many people got hit? This situation may have just gone from bad to worse.”

“It sounds like the suspect’s only hope is we take him out of there and get him to a hospital.”

“So he can face multiple armed robbery charges along with capital murder and kidnapping? He may not think that’s an option.”

“If he’s hit so bad that he’s down…”

“Allison, that won’t stop him from shooting a couple of those hostages just to spite us. He might decide it’s better to die in there and take a few of them with him just for the hell of it. I’ve seen it happen before.”

Way to buck up my morale, sir! Here comes the kid. Let’s see what he has to say. I wish I had that whole motherly quality so I could talk to him, but I don’t. Too bad he’s not a teenager. I could unbutton my shirt and let him stare at my cleavage to put him at ease. A little kid? I’m not good with little kids.

“Hey, I’m Sergeant Rane. You can call me Allison. What’s your name?”

“Jason. Is my mom going to be all right?”

I wish I could answer that one.

“We’re going to do everything we can to get her out of there. We’ve got a lot of help with this one. How many people are in there?”

“I don’t know. I think…eight. I don’t know.”

“Does that include the bad guys?”

“No, there’s three of them. One of them got shot. Right here. There’s a lot of blood. He can’t stand up anymore. His friend tried to make him, but he can’t do it. He was screaming really loud ”

So he got hit high in the abdomen and he’s bleeding out. A rifle shot? That’s probably a fatal wound. He’s been in there bleeding for a couple of hours. If he’s not dead already, he’s going to be in a few minutes. Let’s see if we can narrow it down. Where’s that file with Maritza’s picture? Right here.

“Is it this man?”

“No, it’s not him. He’s not shot. He’s the one who threw everyone down on the floor and shot his gun out the window. He’s really mad. He was yelling worse than the playground lady at school. I thought he was going to shoot me when I started crying when he hit my mom.”

So Maritza’s alive and well and coming unhinged fast. DeWitt’s on the phone, so the wounded one has to be our unidentified assbag.

“How many people besides the bad guy got shot?”

“I don’t know. I saw three people bleeding. The Oriental lady? The one with the white shirt? She got shot right here. She fell down…she didn’t get up. She never got up. I saw it when the shots started. Before the bad guys came in the room.”

RSS really nailed those bank customers, didn’t they? Shot right at the base of the neck with an AR-15? It’s got to be a fatality. Just wonderful! Another murder charge for our assbags! These guys just keep digging themselves deeper and deeper in the hole!

“Did the bad guys shoot anyone in the bank?”

“No, they shot out the windows. Somebody was shooting at them in the parking lot. A lot. There were bullets everywhere!”

Remind me to kill those RSS idiots when this is over!

“All right, we’re going to have some police officers take you to the station where you’ll be safe, OK?”

“Is my mom going to be OK?”

I’m not going to lie to this kid. It’ll just make it worse if we don’t get her out of there.

“We’re going to do everything we can.”

And I still feel like I lied to him. There’s damned little we can do for anyone in there and all of us know it. I’m not sure we’re going to get everyone out of there alive. There’s one victim dead already. By the time this is over, she might have company.

The standoff continues. The kid drew a sketch of the inside of the bank as best he could. They’ve got the hostages sitting on the floor along the customer counter where the tellers work. There are some big tables between them and the window, so we can’t see them even if the assbags draw back the blinds. The kid said DeWitt is behind the teller’s counter, so he’s got some damned good cover even from our rifles. Assbag number two is flat on his back in front of the hostages, and Maritza is moving all over the place. The kid said he’s really agitated. That’s not good. He’s the one who shoots people at the slightest provocation. If I could get a clear shot, I could take him out and maybe DeWitt would surrender. But with those blinds drawn and Maritza moving constantly, that’s not going to happen.

The kid wasn’t a trained observer as I feared, but we got enough out of him to know that the hostages are terrified and some of them are total basket cases. That’s going to piss off a dickface like Maritza to no end. That’s got us all worried. Any minute now, he’s going to demand that all of us take off and we can’t do that. And when we tell him that, he’s going to shoot somebody and tell us he’ll shoot another one if we don’t leave. Then we’re going to have to go in with guns blazing and a lot of people are going to get hurt. There was a hostage situation some years back – I don’t remember where – but it was at an electronics store and when the SWAT team went crashing in, one of the gunmen ran along a line shooting the hostages. They got him, but not before he shot all of them. I get the sense that Maritza’s like that: he’d kill everyone in there just to rub our faces in shit. How do we stop that from happening? I’m beginning to think that our plan has to be to kill Maritza. Not wound him; kill him. If we can put his lights out, we’ll be dealing with one bad guy and he’s probably the least likely to shoot anyone. So how the hell do I get a clear shot at Maritza?

The phone’s ringing again. Time to see what their next demand is.

“This is Allison Rane. Is this Eugene?”

“Yeah, I’m still here. Listen up and listen good: I want you to go to that gas station across the street and get thirty gallons of high-test and bring it to your little command center there. You got that?”

Thirty gallons of premium gas? What the hell for?

“Why do you want that?”

“What difference does it make? Just do it.”

“OK. What about your friend? The one who got shot? We hear he’s in really bad shape. Why don’t you send him out for the EMTs? We’ll take him and the wounded people to the hospital. No tricks. I promise.”

“Forget him. He’s dead. A lot of people are going to be dead if you don’t do what the hell I tell you to do, understand?”

Well, I didn’t expect him to survive. It looks like he didn’t. One down, two to go.

“I understand. You know we can’t let you take a bunch of gasoline inside that bank, right?”

“I never said I wanted it in here. Just take it to your little meeting place where you have the phone and keep it where I can see it from here. Don’t try to fuck with it, either. Then stand by for further instructions.”

And he hung up again. I don’t like the sound of his voice. He’s just as tense, but now he sounds angry. I mean like something’s got him so worked up that he’s about to start screaming. I don’t know if it’s because his crew buddy died. God, I don’t even know that guy’s name! They might’ve hated each other or they might’ve been best friends! I don’t know! How the hell am I supposed to make a connection with this dork if all I know about him is his name and the fact that he robs banks to finance his crypto-currency fantasy?

“Sir? Is he going to try to burn down the bank?”

“That wouldn’t make a lot of sense, would it? Why does he need thirty gallons of high-test gas?”

“Maybe their truck is out of fuel?”

I know: stupid. I just didn’t have anything else. I still don’t.

“Do we even know where their truck is?”

I was just wondering that myself. I don’t see it in the parking lot. There are a dozen cars in here. One of them is probably the one they came in. They sure don’t need premium gas for any of these. Even the three trucks in the lot look like they burn regular or diesel. I’m at a loss with this one.

“No, sir. Not unless they parked it a couple of blocks away, which doesn’t seem likely. Two of them were carrying rifles. You know, we never found out if the RSS guys saw them getting out of a car, did we?”

“No, and we’re not going to. Lieutenant Jutras said when Randall Schoen was here, he told his people not to talk to us. That was the end of that.”

I’m not surprised. He was probably worried about a lawsuit from the people in the bank. And now it turns out they accidentally killed someone. Those dorks are going to clam up for good as soon as they find out about it. Yeah, and Schoen’s connections will make sure they never have to answer for it. I totally dislike that old coot! If he’s so powerful, then why didn’t he offer to get those dickheads out of the bank? He could’ve said if they didn’t surrender, he’d see to it that they all had an unfortunate accident in prison. He could arrange it, too. He’s definitely got the shady connections for it. You’d think he’d use them for something good every now and then, wouldn’t you?

“So do we get him the gasoline?”

“I guess so. I’m sure he said to get it from the gas station across the street so he could see what we’re doing. Now we know why they wanted the binoculars.”

No doubt. With those things, he can see the pumps. He’ll know if we buy the cheap stuff. I sure wish I knew what this is all about. I feel like I’m the only one in the room who didn’t understand the joke, if you know what I mean. This crap really has me second-guessing myself and that’s not a good thing under the circumstances.

“Sarge! Send four uniforms over to that gas station and have them fill up some gas cans with thirty gallons of premium! And don’t ask me why because I don’t have a clue!”

He’s not waiting to find out. Good man. Time to call Eugene back and tell him he’s not getting a damned thing until he lets those hostages go.

“Hey, Eugene? We’re getting your fuel now. You can see the officers over there by the pumps. But you’re not getting anything until you give me those hostages. You know how it works: I don’t give anything unless I get something in return.”

“I’ll send out two people as soon as you get the gas over to your truck.”

“No deal. I want them out now. You asked for the binoculars and I gave you them. Now I’m getting you your gasoline. You know my word’s good. I always keep my promises. But I’m not a sucker and I’m not going to let you play me for one. You send them out now so I’ll know I can trust you. You send them out; my guys start pumping your gas. That’s the deal.”

I don’t know if he’s thinking about it or arguing with his dickhead friend Maritza. I just know he’s got me on hold. Come on, assbag! Don’t try to dick me around! I’m not in the mood for it!

“All right, it’s a deal. We’re sending two people out. Just two! Don’t try anything! If we see a cop anywhere near that door, someone’s getting shot!”

He hung up. All right, we’re getting two more. That’s something, isn’t it? I’m not stupid enough to demand they release everyone. They’d never go for it. With any luck, we can keep trading things for the hostages. I just wish I knew what the hell they’ve got planned. You don’t ask for thirty gallons of gas unless you’ve got a plan for it. I mean, it’s not like they’re going to drink the stuff, right?

“Sir, he’s sending two people out.”

“I heard. Four Henry Alpha to forward Lima team two, we’re getting two hostages out through the front door. Stay well clear of the door. Let them come to you.”

Now we see if DeWitt has enough control over Maritza to make things happen. I’m betting Maritza doesn’t like the idea of letting anyone go. Those hostages are the only things keeping him and DeWitt alive. I’m sure they both know it, too.

“Lima Two, the front door’s opening.”

That’s our forward observer. I don’t have binoculars, but I’ve got my rifle and it’s got a damned good scope on it. Let’s see what’s happening. It looks like they picked two guys to let go. Is that a coincidence, or are they deliberately keeping the women? There! That’s Maritza! I recognize him! Good Lord, he looks as angry as hell! He looks like he’s been bouncing off the walls in there! He’s not handling this situation well, that’s for sure. I see two huge magazines taped together in that rifle. He really came looking for a fight, didn’t he? I see two…no, three more magazines stuffed in his jacket. I wish I knew how much ammunition they’ve got left. Probably a lot. With assbag number two lying dead in there, that means both Eugene and Maritza are armed with those two rifles. Come on, you son of a bitch! Let them go! We have a deal! Let them go! I can see the faces of the two hostages and they look totally scared shitless! Maritza must be acting like a holy terror in there! I didn’t get the sense Eugene could scare people like that, so it’s got to be him.

“Lima Two, they’re coming out. We’re going to wave them over to us…hang on! We’ve got something…something’s happening in the bank!”

What the fuck? Someone’s running! Running for the door! It’s a woman! Is she crazy? No! Don’t do it! Don’t…oh, my God! He shot her! Maritza shot her! Right in the back! Oh, shit! The officers are going for the door! No! Stay where you are! Don’t…he sees you! Get out of there!

“Lima Two! Shots fired! We’ve got a hostage down! I say again: we’ve got a hostage down! Lima Two! We’re taking fire! We’re taking fire!”

He’s shooting at our observation team! Fuck this shit! Kill that son of a bitch! Jesus, I can barely see him in that doorway! I’ll have to shoot through the window glass! Take aim! He’s right about…there! Fire! Did I hit him? I don’t know! He was right by the edge of the door and that’s where I was aiming! I know it went through the glass! Is he hit? He’s not shooting anymore! I think I got him!

“Lima Two! Officer down! Officer down! My partner’s been hit! Multiple gunshot wounds! Officer down! We need cover for a withdrawal!”

God damn it! He got one of our guys! How bad? How bad did he get hit?

“Echo One! I have the door covered! Lima Team One, get that officer out of there! Team Three, cover that whole side of the bank! Anyone who moves in that window by the door is a hostile! Get that officer out of there now!”

If I see anybody move toward that window, they’re getting their head blown off! Son of a bitch! What was that woman thinking? She probably wasn’t thinking! She was too scared to think! She’s down in front of the door and she’s not moving! She got hit square in the back! I saw the shot! I think we’ve got a dead hostage!

“Lima Two, have EMS stand by for an officer with gunshot wounds to both legs! Conscious and breathing!”

I see Maritza made good use of his time in prison! He went for their legs! He knew he couldn’t shoot through a tactical vest or a Kevlar helmet, so he fired where it would do the most damage! Fucking dickface!

“Lieutenant! I think I might’ve hit him!”

“I think so, too! I can’t be sure, though! Unfortunately, we just lost our closest spotter team! Stay on it, Allison! Don’t let them regroup! Team One is getting our guys out of the line of fire!”

That assbag must’ve fired eight or ten rounds! He’s not exactly conserving his ammo! And that hostage is still down and she hasn’t moved an inch! She’s got to be dead!

“I think the hostage is KIA, sir!”

“I know. I saw the hit. The exit wound was right over the heart. She’s dead for sure. Fuck! This is exactly what we wanted to prevent! Why did she bolt like that?”

Probably because she was terrified, I’m guessing. People don’t think straight when they’re terrified.

“We can’t just leave her there, sir.”

“What would you have me do? I’m not sending another team out there to get shot. And those damned news people already got the thing on video! It’s going to be all over the six o’clock news!”

Six o’clock? What about live right now on every local station? This thing just became a page one story across the country! “Hostage gunned down in cold blood! Live on our cameras!” No way are they going to lead with anything else!

The phone’s ringing. I’m guessing it’s Eugene and he’s not too happy right now! Hey, join the club!

“This is Sergeant Rane. Eugene…”

“Listen up, you fucking cunt!”

Definitely not Eugene!

“Ted Maritza?”

“Good guess, cunt! What the fuck was that?”

“Why are you asking me? You opened fire on our guys. We didn’t shoot at you until you started it.”

He’s in pain! Big pain! I think I hit him! Maybe not seriously, but I think I hit him!

“I got a fucking bullet in my arm because of you cocksuckers! Maybe I should shoot another fucking hostage as payback! What do you think? Good idea?”

Time to explain the facts of life to this piece of shit!

“Mister Maritza, if you do that, then we’re going to have to come in there and gun you down. And I promise you: you won’t die. We’ll make sure to hit you in the back so you’re paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of your life. You’ll spend the next fifty years in a hospital bed in prison, watching the world from a mirror above your face until you die from something horrible. I guarantee it. If I have to, I’ll do it myself. Do we understand each other?”

My attempt at being a tough bitch. Don’t get me wrong: I’ll be happy to do it. But I need to make him understand we won’t tolerate any more shooting. If he shoots even one hostage, were driving the Caiman in there and shooting the living shit out of both of them. He needs to understand that.

“You ain’t got what it takes, you fucking cunt!”

“You think so? Who do you think shot you just now? I won’t hesitate to do it again. I know right where to put the bullet. I’ll turn you into a talking head and I’ll do the same thing to Eugene. You tell him I said that. He knows I always keep my promises. This is a promise to you.”

He doesn’t have a snappy comeback. I guess I convinced him. The question is, what will he do about it?

“Sergeant Rane? This is Eugene.”

Good! He got the message! He wouldn’t have given Eugene the phone if he thought I was bullshitting him.

“Eugene, what the hell happened in there? We had a deal. I lived up to my end of the bargain…”

“One of the tellers…she got spooked and made a run for the door. I didn’t…I didn’t see it coming. Ted shot her before I could even say anything. I didn’t want it! I didn’t…it wasn’t my fault! I just…fuck! You know what? Fuck all of you! Fuck everyone! Just fuck it all!”

What happened in there? He sounds crazy upset! I don’t think it was just because Maritza shot that girl. Something really got to him! I’m talking massively got to him! What happened? What the fuck is going on in there? Is Maritza threatening him? Is that assbag coming totally unglued and he’s taking it out on Eugene? Something’s seriously wrong in there! We’ve got to neutralize that dickhead before he kills someone else!

“Eugene? Calm down, all right. I know you didn’t shoot her. I know it wasn’t you. The girl? She’s dead, isn’t she? The girl he shot?”

“Yeah, she’s dead.”

“And the Asian girl in there with you?”

“How did you know about that one?”

He’s not thinking straight. As smart as he is, he should know the kid told us as soon as we got him back here. He’s slipping. The strain is messing with his thinking. I’m not going to tell him the kid told us. That kid’s mom is still in there. And Maritza might not let any more hostages go if he thinks they’ll be feeding us information about what’s going on in there. Just lie to him and make it convincing.

“Our spotters saw her in there when you guys opened the door. They saw she wasn’t moving. She’s dead too, right?”

“Yeah, she’s gone. But we didn’t kill her! That was those assholes from the truck! They pumped enough lead into this place to sink the fucking Bismarck! We weren’t even shooting at them at the time!”

“All right, you let us worry about those guys. They’re out of the picture now. What’s your situation in there? I know Maritza got hit. I shot him. What about you?”

“I’m good. For now.”

I don’t like the way he said that. He said it like he knows Maritza is going to whack him. If he’s expecting it from both sides, then he won’t be able to think things through. If that happens, then Maritza’s going to take charge. Neither of us wants that. I’ve got half a mind to try to convince Eugene to shoot Maritza as soon as the son of a bitch turns his back on him. I’m telling you, no jury in the world would convict him for it. I wouldn’t. Would you?

“How bad is Maritza hit? No bullshit, Eugene. How bad?”

“Hard to say. It looks like it went through his arm near the bicep and cut along the bottom of his chin. He’s bleeding all over the place, but he seems more pissed off than anything else.”

So we’ve got to figure he’s still mostly functional. Damn! I was praying that shot would at least put him out of action. No such luck. That’s what happens when you have to fire blind.

“Who else is wounded? Come on, Eugene! I know you didn’t want anyone to get killed! You’re not like that! We both know it! Help me out, here! Tell me who got hit and how bad! You can do that much for me, can’t you?”

He’s thinking about it. Yeah, his brain is so scrambled right now, he probably has to fight just to remember his own name!

“We’ve got a guy with a bullet in his ass and a woman who got shot in the hip. She’s not too bad; I don’t know about the guy. I think they’re both pretty fucked up. What about your cop? I saw one go down when Ted opened up on them.”

“He’s shot in both legs. He didn’t kill him.”

“Like that makes a fucking difference! He just killed a fucking hostage! You think I don’t know that?”

“Eugene, you didn’t kill anyone. Maritza did that. You didn’t even have a chance to stop him. We know that. We’re not going to lay that on you.”

“I’m not stupid! I know how it works! I go down for everything that’s happened just like he does! Everything! Fucking…everything! We’re in this together! If we’re going down, we’re going down together! Got it?”

He’s scared. He knows what he’s facing. He thinks his only hope is to be as tough as Maritza. That’s not good. That’s not good at all. And the way he kept screaming the word “everything?” What’s up with that? What am I missing? What’s happening in there?

“No one has to go down, Eugene. Leave your weapons on the floor and come out of there peacefully and I give you my word, no one will shoot. I promise you that. I always keep my promises. I told you that already.”

“Do you think I’m fucking stupid? What? Did you learn that line in hostage negotiator training?”

“No. I never went to negotiator training. I’ve never done this before. This whole deal? This is my first time out as a member of SRT. It’s literally my first day. I’m winging this, just like you are.”

“Is that true?”

“Cross my heart and hope to die. You come out here and I’ll show you my whole personnel record if you want. I’ve been a sergeant for a couple of weeks now. That’s all. I made the SRT unit the other day. This uniform I’m wearing? I didn’t even have a chance to wash it. It’s brand new.”

Tell him the truth: I’m not superwoman. I’m brand new at this. Establish a connection with him. Whatever works, right?

“So how come they picked you to handle the negotiations?”

“They didn’t. You did. You said you’d only talk to me, remember?”

“Yeah, but that’s because I spoke to you when you guys first told us to pick up the phone. So why did they have you make the first call?”

“I guess because I’m the only girl around here right now. A lot of people don’t exactly take me seriously sometimes. I get the feeling you know what that’s like.”

People say he’s a nerd. They say he’s a Melvin. I’m guessing he’s used to not being taken seriously. Maybe that’s something we have in common?

“Yeah, I know what it’s like. How come they don’t take you seriously?”

“The truth? Because I’ve got a nice pair of tits and a nice ass and a lot of people think that’s all there is to me. In this job, it can work against you sometimes.”

“But you’re the Sniper Girl. You’re practically famous around here.”

“Come on, Eugene. If you know that, then you’ve probably seen my picture. Do you think a lot of people really believe I’m a trained sniper? It’s pretty frustrating. I worked hard to get where I am, but some people still think I made it on my looks. I hate it, but there’s nothing I can do about it. You shouldn’t judge people on their looks, no matter what they look like.”

I’m hoping that sentiment will appeal to him. He probably doesn’t get a lot of attention from the ladies, if you know what I mean. But I believe it: you shouldn’t be judged by your looks. Eugene’s obviously got a strong mind. As you know, I happen to find that very attractive in a guy. If he weren’t a bank robber, who knows? I might’ve been attracted to him.

“Considering you nearly blew Maritza’s head off? Yeah, I believe it. You’re a trained sniper, girl.””

“Seeing is believing. Look, you strike me as a pretty good guy who got in over his head and made a bad choice. It happens. Believe me, I know. But you can stop this. End it now. Put your gun down and come out of there peacefully. Let those people go. You don’t want to hurt anybody. Look, I know about the book. The one on how to pull a bank job? It’s a how-to manual on how to do it without anybody getting hurt. I get it. You never would’ve done it that way if you didn’t care about people.”

“How do you know about the book?”

He sounds genuinely shocked by that. I’m not about to give up LC or Prentiss. Fortunately, I don’t think I have to.

“I’m a cop. We’re aware of things like that. We realized you were doing those jobs just like they’re described in that book. That’s how we were able to trace you. That’s how we got your name.”

He’s not responding. I think it freaked him out that we know so much. Hey, maybe it’ll make him realize this is hopeless?

“I told them if we’d just stick to the plan, no one would ever get hurt. But after I got shot, they wouldn’t listen.”

“And they decided to do things their way. I know. The wrong way. The violent way. You didn’t want any part of that. We know. Everything that happened after that was Maritza and his friend.”

“Chris. His name is…was…Chris Lindstrom. He and Ted did time in New Mexico together. Chris brought Ted in. I didn’t want him, but Chris said we needed him in case things went bad.”

Bringing in that nut job is why things went bad, pal! But I’m not going to tell him that.

“Let me ask you something. It’s kind of…off-topic, sort of. I know this is going to sound weird, but in the course of our investigation…were you doing this to buy a stake in some new kind of crypto-currency? Were you trying to corner the market or something?”

“How the hell did you know that?”

He sounds positively shocked. Confirmation of our theory, wouldn’t you say? Not that it does us any good now.

“I told you: we’re cops. We figure things out. I thought it was a crazy theory, but everything just kind of fit.”

“It was supposed to be easy. We dump a million into the most promising one and wait for it to take off. You know about Bitcoin?”

“I’ve heard of it. It went from less than worthless to some insane price. If you got in on the ground floor and held onto it, you’d be a billionaire right now.”

“That was the plan. With Bitcoin out of reach, I knew one of the others would have to take off next. Probably even faster than Bitcoin did. I guess I can scratch that plan, huh?”

“I’m afraid so. But you can still make it out of there in one piece. Nobody out here wants to hurt you. You wouldn’t believe how much these SRT guys go out of their way not to hurt people. I promise you, if you give up peacefully? I’ll personally guarantee your safety. I mean it, Eugene. I’ll personally make sure no one harms you.”

I won’t even have to do anything. No one will dare fire a shot without the Lieutenant’s direct order.

“And face the death penalty? No thanks. I appreciate what you’re saying, but…just stand by with the gas. I’ll tell you what to do with it when we’re ready.”

He hung up. Damn it! I thought I was getting through to him! What went wrong? It’s because he knows too much! That’s the problem! He knows there’s no way in hell he’s going to skate on a couple of capital murder charges and they just added another one to the list! No, he knows he’s got to go for the Hail Mary play. Maybe there is no reaching him under the circumstances?

“I’m sorry, sir. I thought I was getting through to him.”

“So did I. You’re doing fine, Allison. A lot better than I expected.”

“Where the hell is that hostage negotiator? He should’ve been here hours ago!”

“I don’t know. But I can tell you he wouldn’t have done a better job than you have. I think you managed to reach this guy.”

Big deal! He’s still in there and he sounds as determined as ever to take this thing the distance!

“Not enough, I think.”

“Allison, it’s like you said: he’s very smart. He knows what he’s facing. There’s nothing you or anyone can do about that.”

“Is there any point in asking the DA to take the death penalty off the table? I know they said no, but if these guys weren’t looking at that…”

“I doubt you could find anyone in that office would be willing to make that deal. Not after everything that’s happened. Maritza sealed their fate when he shot that girl in the back on live TV. This DeWitt character knows it.”

Then what the fuck am I doing here? What’s the point in talking to him? He’s not going to budge and we don’t know what he’s got up his sleeve. We don’t even know if he’s got anything up his sleeve!

“I feel like I’m wasting time, sir. Maybe I’m even making things worse?”

“Do you honestly think they could get much worse? You’re doing fine. We may have to make you our official department hostage negotiator.”

“You do that and I’ll quit! I never want to do this again as long as I live! I mean it!”

And that’s the God’s honest truth! Screw this shit! I don’t know how anybody could do this more than once and not end up drinking themselves into oblivion!

“I’ll take it under advisement. Our uniformed officers are headed back with the gasoline. For the life of me, I don’t know what they expect to do with it.”

Me, either. They’re not going to use it to burn down the bank. We wouldn’t let them get anywhere near the building with it and they know it. So why do they want it?

Here comes the Sarge. I think I’m going to ask him to stay with me for the rest of this thing. Every time I answer that phone, I can feel myself shaking. I can use some of his reassurance right now.

“How are you hanging in there, Rane?”

“Uh, by the skin of my teeth? I’m out of my league, Sarge. I’m terrified I’m going to make a mistake and get somebody killed.”

“Just remember: you didn’t get that woman killed. That was out of your hands. And that was a hell of a shot you made. If it weren’t for you, we’d have two officers shot right now. You’re doing fine. We just need you to hang in there. We’re not out of this yet.”

No kidding! I don’t see us wrapping this one up anytime soon. Not unless those two dickheads in there do something incredibly stupid and we can take advantage of it. What are the odds of that? No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.

“Sarge, I feel like I’m drowning here. I don’t know what I’m doing. I sure as hell didn’t sign up for this crap. Where’s the hostage negotiator?”

“I called the station. He wrecked on the way over here. He’s on the freeway with the State Troopers. He’s not injured, but there’s no telling when he’s going to get here. We called the Phoenix PD and asked them to fly another one out here by helicopter. I don’t know what came of that request.”

Somebody please tell me he’s making that up! Please!

“Are you telling me we’re on our own with this thing?”

“For the time being. You’ve got to find it in you, Rane. I know it’s a rotten thing to ask of you, but right now? You’re our best hope. I understand you’ve got some sort of connection going with this DeWitt guy. That negotiator may get here and tell us it would be dangerous to have someone take over for you. You’re our connection to those assbags in there. We need you to hang in there.”

“One of them is dead. The third guy. The one we never identified? His name was Chris Lindstrom. Apparently, he did time with Maritza in New Mexico. He was connected to DeWitt and he brought Maritza into the plan.”

“And I’ll bet DeWitt is regretting that move right about now.”

“Yes, a day late and a dollar short. Maritza’s hit, by the way. DeWitt says my shot cut through his arm and split his chin. He’s bleeding a lot, but he’s nowhere near out of action.”

“I figured you hit him by the way he jumped when the bullet hit the window. Just stay sharp. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to need your talents to shut that son of a bitch down for good.”

That much, I can handle. This negotiating crap? I just want to go home and hide underneath my bed! But the Sarge is right: I’ve got to hold it together. I can’t fall down on the job now; even if this isn’t my job. I’m going to have to see this thing through to the end. I just hope nobody ends up dying because of it. God, maybe I should say I hope nobody else ends up dying because of it?

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