Mission Critical

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Chapter 24 - It's a Beast

All right, we got them their gasoline. It’s sitting in six big plastic cans over by the great departmental Winnebago; also known as our Emergency Command Center. I still don’t know what the hell those guys plan to do with it, but they asked for it and as long as they’ve got hostages in there, they get it if they’re willing to trade those people for it. We managed to get Eugene and Maritza to allow us to send two officers over to the door of the bank to remove the body of that woman who got shot and killed. I got a look at her when they put her on the gurney. She couldn’t have been more than twenty-five years old; probably not even that old. Some girl working in a bank and maybe trying to find a job that would pay her a better wage; something like that. Now she’s dead. She came to work today with no idea that it would be the last day of her life. When you’re a cop, you run into situations like that. It makes you think. It makes you think about things you don’t want to think about.

Our SRT officer who got shot is Richard Hall. He’ll be OK, or so the EMTs told me. They said the wounds weren’t serious. Bullshit. I’ve been shot. I know from experience that there’s no such thing as a non-serious gunshot wound. It makes me wonder how Maritza is still on his feet in there. Eugene said his wounds weren’t too bad, but that he was bleeding all over the place. That sounds plenty bad to me. Maybe he’s on drugs? We’ll find out when we catch him – or kill him. It’ll be one or the other. I’m thinking it’ll be the other. Those two fools are going to die in there. They can’t get away. They’re surrounded. There’s no way out. How can they not know that? Maybe they do and they’re just deluding themselves? Whatever they’re going to do, I wish they’d get it over with. This crap is really killing me. I’m beginning to think I made a big mistake going out for SRT. Is it always like this?

We got a pretty chilling piece of information just before they hauled Richard off to the hospital: those guys heard a lot of screaming from inside the bank shortly before that girl was murdered. They said it sounded like a woman and that it sounded like it was coming from one person. We have no idea what happened or who it was. I’m guessing it was that girl who got killed; she just couldn’t take it anymore or something like that, so she snapped and made a break for it. The way Maritza was going off during the few seconds I could see him? He’s probably been terrorizing everyone in there. It must be so horrible for those people in there right now. They’re wondering when we’re going to get in there and get them out. I wish I could answer that one. And that poor girl? She was young and maybe not too strong and she couldn’t keep it together, I suppose. Now she’s dead. How the hell did we ever let this shit get to this point? Why couldn’t we catch them before this? What could we have done to have kept this from happening? I don’t have any answers for those questions, but you’d better believe we’re going to be asking them for a long time when this is over.

There’s the phone ringing. Eugene wants to talk again. Probably instructions on what to do with that gas. As long as it’s not for a firebomb; that’s all I care about right now.

“Hey, Eugene. We’ve got your gas. I’m sure you can see it from in there.”

They’ve got those binoculars. Maybe that’s why they wanted them: to see every detail of how we carried out their instructions? Probably that and probably something else, too. I’ll say this for Eugene: he’s playing it close to the vest. He’s not letting on what he’s thinking. He’s a strategizer. That’s the word for it, right? He’s got a plan. I wish I knew what it is.

“I saw it. Now send two officers and only two to pour it into the gas tank of that armored car.”

Is he talking about the SRT’s Caiman? Why would he want us to gas up our own armored vehicle? I hope he doesn’t think we’re going to give it to him, because we’re not.

“You want us to gas up a police vehicle? I think the tank’s already full.”

“Not that one! The one they brought the money in! Gas it up! I want the tanks full!”

The RSS armored car? Is that their plan? They’re going to make their escape in an armored car? Why? That thing’s not exactly a sports car. It’s so heavy, it’s got to be a turtle on the road! We could box it in easy! And it’ll stand out like a sore thumb! Is that their plan?

“OK, we can do that. I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me why?”

“I’ll get to that. Just do it! Call me when it’s done. And no tricks! You people fuck with that truck; somebody’s going to get hurt! You know exactly what I mean!”

“I know what you mean. Just…try to take it easy in there, OK?”

Easier said than done, I know. I can hear Maritza shouting in the background and he’s practically incoherent! He sounds like he’s about to have a total mental breakdown! That dickhead is too dangerous! As long as he’s a part of this, those people in there aren’t going to be safe. We’ve got to do something about it. I don’t know what, but we’ve got to do something.

“Don’t tell me to take it easy! In fact, don’t tell me what to do! I’m sick of that shit! You know what? Fuck you! Just do what I tell you to do! You got it?”

He’s starting to crack. Between the pressure and the fear and Maritza probably ragging on him left and right, he’s starting to crack. Not good! Not good at all!

“All right, I won’t tell you what to do. But you know the drill: I don’t give anything unless I get something. You send those two wounded hostages out of there now. And I mean you, Eugene. I don’t want Maritza anywhere near them. He’s a little too quick on the trigger, if you know what I mean.”

“One of them’s in no condition to walk.”

“Then drag him to the door and we’ll put him on a gurney. That’s the deal, Eugene: the wounded hostages for the gas. It’s a good deal: you get what you want and we get those people to a hospital. Do we have a deal?”

I hope I’m not pushing him too much. As much as we have to get those people out of there and get them to a hospital, I can’t afford to push him too far. If I do, he’ll shut down communications and Maritza will take over. Those people will be dead if that happens.

“It’s a deal. But no cops! You send those paramedics alone! Just two of them! And make sure they’re not wearing jackets and their shirts are tucked in! No vests, either! Nothing where they could hide a gun! If we see them with a gun…”

“No guns. Paramedics don’t carry guns. You have my word. What about you and Maritza? Do you want them to check you guys out while they’re in there?”

“No! They don’t set foot in here! You got that? No one comes in here! We’ll meet them at the door! That’s the fucking deal! Is that clear?”

“Crystal clear. We’ll send them over right now. Once we’ve got them out, our guys will gas up the armored car. No tricks. No bullshit. Fair enough?”

“Yeah! Fair enough! Let me know when they’re finished!”

He really slammed the phone down that time. He’s losing it. He’s not built for this kind of pressure. God, what am I saying? Who the hell is? I hope Lieutenant Shears is, because he’s the one running the show. He’s been listening in on every conversation. He’s going to have to evaluate the situation and decide on the next move. I don’t envy him.

“What do you think, sir? I think the pressure’s getting to him. He’s going to crack if this goes on much longer, and I mean massively crack.”

“I got the same impression. He’s hanging on by a thread. I don’t like the idea of the paramedics going anywhere near that door, but those hostages are going to bleed to death if we don’t get them out of there fast. I want you in position when they move in. Make sure you’ve got a clear shot at that door; no deflection. If you see Maritza at that door, you’re ordered to take him out. No hesitation. As soon as you’ve got the shot, I want you to switch him off like a light. Understood?”

“Roger that, sir. I’ll need the Sarge to spot for me.”

“He’ll be ready. Make sure you’re ready, too. I know this is risky as hell, but it’s just too dangerous with that guy in there. Our best bet is to take him out of the picture and hope we can reason with the remaining guy.”

“I agree. Sir, what are they thinking? Who makes a getaway in an armored car? I mean yeah, we can’t shoot through it, but what does it get them? It’s a total turd-mobile. It’s slow, it drinks gas…they can’t really expect to make a getaway in that thing, can they?”

“I was wondering the same thing. You know, I was thinking when we first got here: it doesn’t look like a typical armored car, does it?”

“No, sir. I thought it looked kind of tricked-out. I don’t know why, though. I mean, who tricks out an armored car?”

“I don’t know, but we’re going to find out. I want that RSS crew chief over here right now. He’s going to tell us everything there is to know about that truck. I don’t want any surprises.”

That’s what it comes down to, doesn’t it? Surprises. Cops hate surprises. If you know a cop, never try to throw them a surprise party. You might trigger a bad response.

“Sir, those people have been in there bleeding for a couple of hours. It might be too late, right?”

“We can’t think about that. We have to do what we can do for them right now. Remember Allison: SRT is all about the art and science of the possible. We don’t deal with the probable or the improbable.”

I know, but it’s kind of hard to focus on the possible when the “Oh, shit! What happens if…” is screaming at you right in your face. I’ve got a lot to learn about being on this team. A hell of a lot to learn.

I’m back at my regular position: sniper. I’m trained on the front door with a good field of fire and if Maritza gives me a clear shot at him, I’m going to empty out his head. After what I saw him do, I’ve got no problems with sending his ass straight to hell. I just wonder if he’s going to show himself. I told Eugene not to let him near that door. Now I regret having said that. I should’ve thought ahead. Like I said, I’ve got a lot to learn about being a part of SRT. But the main thing is to get those wounded hostages out of there safely. The EMTs are moving in with a gurney. I hope they don’t need a second one for that woman who got shot in the shoulder. That would be a problem, and we’ve got enough of those already, thank you very much.

“Sarge, give me a wind reading.”

“Out of the southwest, two miles per hour. You’re golden, Rane. This is a chip shot for you.”

“As long as I don’t have to shoot through that glass again. That stuff’s got to be at least an inch thick. It’s probably safety glass, too. That last shot I fired didn’t even take out the window.”

“I know. That stuff’s as strong as hell. Just focus on the door. If he stands in it, you won’t have to shoot through anything but his skull.”

Which is probably just as thick as that glass. Well, these are fragmentation rounds I’ve got in here now. They’ll blow his head apart like a pumpkin. Just give me one clear shot to the forehead or behind his ear and he’s fucking history. I’ll take his whole damned head clean off.

“They’re almost there, Rane. Stand by.”

“They know not to try to go inside the bank, right?”

“They know. Don’t worry. These guys are professionals. They know what’s at stake.”

If they knew that, they probably wouldn’t be doing this at all. I know cops get called brave all the time, but firemen and EMTs are at least as brave. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Look at those guys: no weapons and no vests and they’re still going in to save those people. Tell me that’s not the definition of brave.

There goes the door! This is it! Come on, Eugene! Don’t screw this up! Just let those people go! There’s the woman! Good Lord! Her blouse is practically soaked through with blood! She’s barely able to stand! Damn it! They were in there too long! She’s lost way too much blood! I’ll bet the guy has, too! It might be too late to save them!

“She’s in bad shape, Sarge.”

“I see her. Stay focused on the mission. It looks like the male is on the ground. He’s barely moving. I don’t see either of our x-rays.”

Seeing as I blasted Maritza the last time, they probably don’t trust us. They’re staying out of sight. Maritza’s too stupid to make that call. It’s got to have been Eugene’s idea. I’m beginning to wonder which of them is really the most dangerous.

God almighty! Look at that guy! His trousers are completely soaked with blood! And he looks as pale as a ghost!

“Sarge, that guy looks really bad!”

“I see it. Stay focused on the mission. They’ve almost got him on the gurney.”

He looks like he’s having trouble breathing. I’d say he’s in his late fifties. He could be having a heart attack! All that blood loss? He might not make it! Fucking RSS! That’ll be two people they managed to kill with their goddamned firefight! Maybe even three!

“Stand fast, Rane. Our x-rays are staying clear of the door. Smart. You were right about Maritza: he’s not going to make a mistake like he did last time. He’s keeping out of sight.”

“No sign of Eugene?”

“I don’t think so. I don’t see him. He probably figures we’ve got a dozen rifles aimed at that door right now. He’s smart. Too smart!”

And the truth is, we’ve only got one rifle aimed at it. We can’t deploy another sniper on it without them seeing us for sure. Lieutenant Shears was right: this bank was the better target. We totally fucked up when we deployed on the other one. All right, they’ve got the guy buckled down on the gurney. Get the hell out of there, guys! Move it! Our rescue team is about twenty yards away. Get over there! They can carry that woman if they have to. She’s really staggering. She should be on a gurney, but there was no way for two guys to take two gurneys without making our assbags suspicious. They’d think the EMTs had a gun hidden in one of them somewhere. Keep moving! Get out of the line of fire! I don’t see anyone near that door. It looks like they just locked it again. They wouldn’t try to shoot them through the broken window, would they? No, that would be a real bitch of a shot. They’re clear. They’re safe. As long as they haven’t bled to death, that is.

They’re with the rescue team. Get them the hell out of there, guys! Fast! Those EMTs don’t look to happy. I’m guessing those two hostages are a lot worse off than I thought!

“Echo One to Lima Three, what’s the status of those two?”

“Bad! They’ve lost a lot of blood. One of them looks like he’s about to go into shock. We may be too late for him. The woman’s doing better, but not by much. I think they were in there too long.”

I hate it when I’m right sometimes. Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now. It’s up to the EMTs and the doctors and nurses now.

The phone’s ringing. I guess Eugene wants us to gas up that damned truck. What the hell is he thinking? If they want to make a getaway in a vehicle, why wouldn’t they choose a Corvette or a Dodge Hellcat? Something fast and nimble? Why would they make a break for it in that behemoth? Get the hell over there and find out, right?

“This is Allison Rane. Eugene?”

“You got your two hostages. Gas up the armored car. And no tricks! We can see everything you do from here. If we see the slightest thing out of the ordinary, we’re going to shoot one of these people. Don’t fuck around. Call me back when it’s done.”

Short and sweet. He sounds…I don’t know…stronger. More determined. That’s the best way I can put it. I’ve got a horrible feeling that he knows something we don’t. Something that’s going to come back and bite the crap out of us. God, I wish I were better at this! I’ve got nothing for the Lieutenant and he’s counting on me to give him something we can use to our advantage!

“Sir! They want us to gas up the armored car now. They’re watching us. They said if we try anything, they’re going to shoot one of the hostages. There’s at least three people left in there. And Eugene’s voice sounds different this time. I think he means it, sir. If we try to mess with that truck in any way, they’re going to shoot someone. And I don’t mean just Maritza. I think Eugene’s ready to do it, too. What’s so damned special about that truck? It doesn’t have any more money in it.”

“That’s what we’re about to find out. The RSS crew chief is headed over here right now. We’re going to ask him why they’d want that thing.”

Given your typical RSS guy, he’ll be lucky if he can tell us where to put the ignition key. Those guys aren’t hired for their intelligence, if you know what I mean. There he is, but he’s not the guy who was here earlier. Maybe that’s a good thing? The one who made the drop-off was a real knuckle-dragger. I think they recruited him from the zoo. Doug Surma’s leading him in.

“Sir, this is Mister Nielsen. He’s the supervising RSS crew chief.”

At least this one looks like he can tie his own shoes without an instruction manual. That’s an improvement.

“Mister Nielsen, I’m Lieutenant Shears. It looks like our suspects intend to use that armored car of yours as a getaway vehicle. Now, we’re not quite sure why they’d go for that one when they could ask for just about any vehicle in the city. We’re hoping you know why. What can you tell us about it?”

“Lieutenant, you’re not going to let them take it, are you? That vehicle is RSS property. I’m not authorized to let you have it.”

Is he for real? There’s a goddamned hostage situation going on here and he’s worried about a truck? That’s his take on this? Give me a break!

“Mister Nielsen, I’m not really interested in anyone’s authorization right now. We’ve got people being held hostage in there and we’re going to do whatever we can to get them out in one piece. Now, what can you tell me about that truck?”

“I’m not sure what you mean, Lieutenant. It’s a truck. What more is there to say about it?”

He’s lying! I can hear the hesitation in his voice! He’s holding something back! Screw that! He’s going to tell us everything or I’m going to kick the shit out of him right here!

“Listen up, dickhead! I’ve got a finely-tuned bullshit detector! I know when a guy is lying his ass off! Right now, my bullshit detector is going off on you! So you’re going to talk to us and you’re going to answer the Lieutenant’s questions or I’m going to start kicking you in the goddamned nuts until there’s nothing left! Have you got that?”

He didn’t expect that from the only woman in the group. Well, screw his ass! He is not going to dick us around when lives are at stake! No way, no day!

“Lieutenant, are you going to let her talk to me like that? I’m a crew chief!”

“And I trust her woman’s intuition more than I trust you right now, Mister Nielsen. I think she’s right: you’re hiding something. You’d better start telling us the truth or I’m going to turn her loose on you. I don’t think you’d enjoy that.”

No, he totally wouldn’t enjoy it! Not unless he’d enjoy getting a forty-five caliber sex change right here in this goddamned parking lot!

“Spit it out, dickface! What’s so special about the truck that they want it so bad?”

He’s really scared! I don’t believe this! What’s he hiding?

“I could lose my job for this!”

“Would you rather lose your dick? Because that’s the first thing I’m going to shoot off! And then I’m going for the nuts! Do you want to go from a ‘he’ to a ‘she?’ Start talking!”

Good Lord! What’s the big deal? It’s a goddamned armored car! It’s not some top secret stealth bomber, is it? What’s the big secret?

“All right! It’s been modified! Stronger armor, bigger engine, extra fuel tanks, puncture-proof tires, the works! You could drive the President around in that thing! It’s part of the company’s new executive protection services division. Those guys weren’t even supposed to be using it, but Mister Schoen wanted to put some miles on it before they put it through the testing phase. It’s not even supposed to be here.”

That’s the big secret? It’s tricked out? Big fucking deal! What’s so mysterious about that? This is Arizona! Half the trucks in the state are tricked out!

“So it’s an expensive armored car. What’s so secret about that?”

It looks like Lieutenant Shears isn’t as happy with that information as I am. Oh, that’s not a good sign!

“Mister Nielsen, what would it take to stop that truck once it got going?”

“I don’t know. You got an Abrams tank on you?”

“Let’s keep it serious, shall we?”

“Lieutenant, I am being serious. That thing’s got major armor, an engine that could tow a diesel truck, a communications setup like you wouldn’t believe…it’s got everything. You try to block the road with a couple of police cars? That thing can smash right through them and you’d barely scratch up the paint. Shoot out the engine? You couldn’t shoot through that engine armor with a fifty caliber rifle. You use those spike strips on it? You could drill a three-inch hole in those tires and they won’t deflate. That truck can cruise at a hundred miles an hour on an open road. We’ve had it up to fifty off-road. Modified suspension, all-wheel drive. It’s a beast.”

“Why the hell would you put all that into an armored car that just hauls money around town? I’m guessing none of your other trucks are like that.”

“I told you: it’s part of a new division at RSS. They’re planning a whole series of executive protection cars and trucks. Mister Schoen plans to turn it into a side business: modifying vehicles for that sort of thing. We had to start somewhere, so we modified one of the armored cars because that’s what we had. Are you telling me those boys in there knew about it already? How is that even possible?”

Easy! The stupid shithead who was selling the information probably sold the word on their new security division, too! I’ll bet he sweetened the deal by warning them that the delivery would be made in their fancy new truck! That way, they wouldn’t try to hit it! God damn it! Somebody needs to drop Randall Schoen into the fucking ocean and drown his ass! He just fucked us over good!

“Hey, dickface! Tell me something: that thing probably burns gas like a bitch, right?”

“You know it. It practically burns a whole gallon just starting it up. The engine’s a real monster.”

“So with those extra fuel tanks, how far will it go on a full load? Would it make it from here to the Mexican border?”

“Yeah, sure. As long as you weren’t going balls to the wall. There wouldn’t be much left by then, but you could make it to Mexico on a full load. Why? You think those boys are going to Mexico?”

Where else? And with almost two million in cash, they could bribe their way into the country and disappear for good! Son of a bitch! I told you Eugene was smart! He and Maritza are going to use that goddamned tank to barrel their way straight to the Mexican border! And if it’ll do fifty miles per hour off-road, then there’s all sorts of ways they could get down there! They won’t even have to stick to the highways!

“Is there any way to track that thing when it’s moving?”

“Sure. It’s got a GPS tracker. All of our vehicles have them. But it’s just a little plastic module under the steering column. You can just yank it out if you don’t want to be tracked.”

Oh, wonderful! More good news! Let’s hope those assbags didn’t bring a toolbox with them!

“How hard is it to remove it?”

He’s looking at me like I’m a total idiot. That’s not good.

“Lady, you pinch your two fingers together like this and pull. Bang! It’s out! Simple as that.”

I told you it wasn’t good. I hope Lieutenant Shears has a brilliant idea, because I sure as hell don’t!

“Sir, what do we do? We can’t let them have that truck. Not until we can get some serious cooperation from the Highway Patrol, the State Police, the Border Patrol…”

“I know. And since we just topped off the gas tanks for them, I’m guessing they’re ready to move out now. We don’t have time to put together a complex plan to stop them. We may have just run out of time.”

And they’ve still got at least three hostages. Shit! Our only hope is to take them while they’re transferring to the truck. And I’ll bet they’ve got a plan for that! Hell, they could just demand that we drive the thing right up to the front door for them and leave a few of our ballistic shields!

“Hey, crew chief! Is there any way to disable that thing without an Abrams tank?”

“An A-10 Warthog, maybe?”

Very funny! This totally fucking sucks! What are we going to do? Oh, hell! There goes the phone again! No doubt Eugene saw our guys finish gassing up their brilliant escape plan! I can’t believe we didn’t know about that thing and they did! I hate this shit! We’re always two steps behind these dickheads!

“Hello, Eugene?”

“Listen up and listen carefully! You will notify your department’s aviation unit to ground your helicopters right now! You’ll also call the news outlets and tell them to ground theirs! If we see anything in the air that isn’t a pigeon, we start shooting hostages! You got that?”

“I don’t know. I can tell the department’s ATC to ground our birds, but the news media…we don’t control them.”

“Then you’re about to hear some shooting!”

He means it. I can hear it in his voice. He’s at the end of his rope. He’ll do it.

“Come on, Eugene! You’re asking for the impossible! The media doesn’t take orders from us! A lot of them don’t even like us! You know that!”

“I know you’re almost out of time, Sergeant! Ground those birds now! Right now! You’ve got five minutes!”

He’s not screwing around. I can tell from his voice. What the hell am I supposed to do?

“Five minutes? Come on, Eugene! I’m trying to work with you! I’ll be lucky to get through to someone high enough up at the TV stations if you gave me half an hour!”

“Four minutes, fifty-nine seconds!”

“Eugene! You’ve got to be reasonable!”

“Four minutes, fifty-eight seconds!”

So much for stalling! This isn’t going to work! I feel like I’m about to start screaming!

“All right! All right! We’ll clear the skies! Just don’t do anything crazy!”

“Four minutes, fifty-seven seconds!”

Just hang up! Fuck! How the hell are we going to pull this off? Those news helicopters aren’t going to want to leave! They’re all afraid one of their competitors will stay and get the big story and scoop the rest of them! God damn it!

“Lieutenant! He says we’ve got less than five minutes to clear the skies! No helicopters anywhere! The news choppers, too!”

“Less than five minutes? Did you tell him…”

“He doesn’t care! He’s counting down now! He says if the skies aren’t cleared in less than five minutes, they’re going to shoot a hostage! He’s serious! I can tell by his voice! He’s not fucking around!”

“All right! I’ll call the ATC and have them order our birds out of the area!”

“He said ground them! If they look off in the distance and see one, they’re going to kill somebody!”

“All right! God damn it! All right! Wait here!”

What about the news choppers? I can see at least four of them! What the hell are we going to do? We’ve got less than four minutes!

“Sarge, what do we do? We’re running out of time and those news choppers aren’t going to leave! We don’t even have time to call the stations and tell them to get them out of here!”

“Then we’ve got to send the message ourselves! Over to the Caiman! Let’s go! Move it, Rane! Triple time!”

What the hell has he got in mind? How is he going to get those helicopters to leave? What’s he doing?

“Rane, crank the P.A. on this thing as loud as it’ll go! Do it!”

He’s going to try to warn them off with the P.A.? I’m not even sure they can hear him! And what’s he going to say? They won’t take orders from us!

“You’re good! Go for it, Sarge!”

“Attention all aircraft over the Vanguard Bank! This is Sergeant Varanasi! This is a police tactical emergency! All aircraft will leave the area and return to base immediately! If you do not comply, we will be forced to shoot you down! I say again: we will be forced to shoot you down! Leave immediately! This is your only warning!”

Oh, my God! Did he actually just say that? Did he actually tell them we’d shoot them down? I don’t believe it! But it looks like it’s working! They’re clearing out! The news choppers are clearing out!

“They’re leaving! I can’t believe you did that!”

“Those media assbags know I don’t fuck around, Rane!”

Not all of them! There’s one left! Good Lord! He’s moving in closer! Is he out of his mind? What the hell is he doing?

“Sarge! That one! He’s closing in!”

“What the fuck is his problem?”

“He probably thinks he’s going to get a scoop!”

“I’ll give him a goddamned scoop! Rane! McTavitsch! Surma! Lock and load! Aim right at that stupid son of a bitch! Surma! Switch on your laser and make sure that fucking idiot sees it!”

Good idea! You want a story, dickface? How about ‘The day I almost died for being a total dickface!’ Aim! Right at the pilot! I can see Surma’s laser in my scope! Right on the pilot’s chest! Take the hint, dickface! Get the hell out of here before you get somebody killed! We’ll blow you out of the sky if you don’t!

“This is Sergeant Varanasi! Leave at once or I’ll give these officers the order to commence firing! This is your only warning! Leave at once and return to base or be shot down! We will shoot to kill! Leave at once!”

And there he goes! He turned tail and ran fast! They’re all still headed away! None of them is staying! Perfect! It actually worked! Absolutely brilliant! You did it, Sarge! I never would’ve thought of that! Oh, I am so fucking your brains out when this is over! I’ll handcuff you if I have to, but you’re getting the bang of your life and I’m going to give it to you! I fucking love you right now, old man! You totally saved the day! Absolutely brilliant!

“I can’t believe you did that, Sarge! That took some major balls!”

“Sometimes you’ve got to throw away the rule book and do what it takes to accomplish the mission, Rane. Remember that.”

Do you honestly think I’ll ever forget this one? Not a fucking chance! Time to get on the phone and tell Eugene that he got his wish. I really thought we were going to lose another hostage over that one!

“Sarge, get on the extension and listen in. Hello? Eugene? It’s Allison Rane. We cleared out the helicopters for you.”

“I heard. Were you really going to shoot those guys down?”

“Sergeant Varanasi doesn’t kid around about that stuff. Yes, we’d have done it. Look, we did something for you, so it’s your turn to do something for us. I want you to let those people go. You don’t need them anymore. We’ll park the truck right near the door so you can get in without exposing yourselves. We both know that thing’s practically indestructible. That’s why you wanted it, isn’t it?”

“Good call. We figure it’s the one thing you people can’t stop.”

I’m going to try to reach him again. He sounds a lot calmer. Maybe I can connect with him now?

“Eugene, what’s with all this ‘we’ bullshit? Everybody knows you’re the brains in that outfit. You’re the one who thought of using the armored car, aren’t you?”

“What difference does it make?”

“I believe in giving credit where credit is due. Don’t you? You’re the brains in that team. I just want you to know I recognize that.”

Maybe if he thinks I actually give a shit, he’ll think twice about taking the hostages with him? I’m not saying I don’t give a shit. I don’t want anybody getting killed. Not even those two. As much as I hate Maritza, I’d rather let the courts and the prisons deal with them. I don’t have any illusions about what’s going to happen to them if they go to trial, but at least they won’t make us do the dirty work.

“Fine. I’m the brains. Big fucking deal. Brains aren’t going to get us out of this.”

“Neither is hurting any of those people in there. One of them’s the mother of that little boy you let go. He’s scared to death that he’s never going to see his mom again. You could let her go. You don’t need her. Just let her go. Let her see her little boy again. You could do that. What do you say? She’s got to be a total basket case right now. She’ll just slow you guys down. Let her go. What do you say?”

I don’t know if I’m getting through to him. I keep trying to think of what must be going through his mind right now and I keep drawing a blank. I’ve got nothing to compare it to. I’ve never been in a situation like he’s in right now. How am I supposed to get inside his head? God, remember when I thought I needed to get into the sniper’s head? Look how that one turned out! I’ve still got the scar on my back! Do I even want to risk it again?

“She stays. I can’t…I’m not going to let her go yet. Maybe…maybe someone else.”

“Come on, Eugene! She’s got a little kid, for Christ’s sake!”

“I said no! I don’t…I don’t want to talk about it anymore! Don’t ask me about it again, you hear? Just…just leave it the fuck alone! I’ll think about letting one of the others go! Don’t fuck with me! Don’t fuck with me and don’t push me, Allison! I’m doing...I’m doing the best I can right now, all right? Just…fuck off!”

Something’s wrong! Did they kill that woman? Why wouldn’t he want to let her go? What’s so special about her? Is she already dead? The kid didn’t say she was wounded. Did they kill her? I didn’t hear any gunshots from inside the bank. I’ve got a really sick feeling about this!

“All right, so send someone else out. How about you give me half the people you’ve got left in there? Fair enough?”

“I’ll think about it! Don’t push it! For now, clear out those cops from the back of the building. Don’t tell me they’re not there! We saw them! We want everyone out front where we can see them!”

He’s not going to be able to see them for much longer. We’re losing daylight. In another hour or so, it’s going to be dark. We’re going to have to light the place up with floodlights. That’ll create all kinds of shadows that’ll really mess with my sight picture if I have to take a shot. I may even have to switch to a thermal imaging scope, which I don’t want to do. Not after what happened at the RV Park during the biker war. I want a clear image through regular glass if I have to shoot.

“We’ll tell them to withdraw. But I want you to release some of those hostages. I mean it, Eugene. You don’t need them. Get in that truck and you’re home free. You don’t need anyone slowing you down.”

“I said I’d think about it. Call me back when you’ve got those cops out of the back of the building.”

I’m not sure why he wants our guys out from the back of the bank. They’re not going out that way. The armored car is out front. I don’t know. I need to stop all this over-thinking. I’m just making myself crazy. I do that enough on my own without any help from those two assbags.

“What do you think, Sarge? Why does he want everyone out front?”

“Who knows? He may be trying to distract us. He might be thinking if he has us get the units out from the back, that we’ll expect something to happen back there and we’ll divide our forces. We’ll tell Lieutenant Shears and he’ll make the call. I don’t like the idea of leaving any inch of that bank uncovered.”

Neither do I. I know they’re going to make their move through the front, but it still makes me uncomfortable to pull those units out from back there. If Eugene is trying to throw me off of my game, then he’s doing a very good job of it.

“Why wouldn’t he send that woman out? Sarge, you don’t think they killed her, do you?”

He’s not answering. I don’t like that look on his face! I don’t like it at all!


“I didn’t hear any shots. I don’t think she’s dead. But she might be worse than dead right now.”

“What do you mean, ‘worse than dead?’ Sarge? What are you talking about?”

“Rane, you’ve seen Maritza’s record. You know what he’s like. That kid’s mother is probably what? The same age as you? A young, attractive woman?”

Oh, God! You’re saying he raped her! He fucking raped her!

“I don’t want to think about it!”

“That’s exactly what this Eugene guy said, isn’t it? He’s probably as torn up about it as you are. He lets her go; we confirm it. He probably doesn’t want us to know he stood by and let something like that happen.”

“How could he just…how could he not do anything?”

“You saw Maritza when he shot that teller, Rane. He was practically foaming at the mouth. Eugene’s probably terrified of him right now. He’s not the only one. That teller probably saw what he did to that woman and thought she was next, so she bolted the first chance she got. It got her killed.”

I think I’m going to be sick! I think I’m going to throw up! Why? It’s not fair! Haven’t they been through enough already? How could we just stand by while that rotten piece of fucking shit…I’m going to be sick!

“I can’t…I need to…”

“Go! I’ll wait for you.”

I’m going to kill him! I swear to God, I’m going to fucking kill him! I’m going to blow his fucking brains out and when he gets to hell, I’ll pay the devil to fuck him in the ass every day for fucking eternity! I swear I’ll do it! It’s not right! It’s not fair! It’s not fucking fair! Why? Why would you let that happen, God? It’s not fair! I’m going to be sick! I’m going to…

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