Chapter 3 is just below- enjoy! Tomorrow is a packed day, so Chapter 4 will be up either very late tonight or very late tomorrow.
The Zion Towers was a fifteen-story office complex located just north of downtown Salt Lake. As they approached the building, Jon could see the crowd of people and the lights from the police cars from several blocks away. No one was just standing on the street or sidewalks; they were all huddled, crouching, hiding, or shielding themselves.
Kate was driving and she pulled right up to the front of the line of police cars and got out, not worried at all about being a possible target. She strode up to a small wiry man in a gray trenchcoat that was flapping from the slightly chilly south wind. “Stanley!” she greeted him. “What in hell are you doing here? Had to take our glory?” One bullet hit the street about half a block away.
Sergeant Earl Stanley turned towards Kate. He had a face like he had just sucked an entire lemon dry. His gray eyebrows were furrowed deeply, his lips were tightly pursed, and his eyes seemed to be twitching nervously. “Miss Thompson. Pleasure to see you here.” Jon could tell the words had no meaning behind them. “I just figured that I didn’t want this situation to spiral out of control the way that Colorado did. I stood back and watched as your team fucked up so entirely, they’re still pulling their heads out of their asses.”
Jon had only seen this man for less than fifteen seconds and he already had a severe dislike of him. He wiped away a smile when he thought about how severely the Sergeant would have had his grammar corrected by Mrs. Perry.
“What have we got?” Kate asked, purely business.
“About twenty minutes ago, two gunmen entered the M & T mortgage offices on the eighth floor and took everyone up to the roof. One employee was coming out of the restroom and saw the men with guns leading her officemates to the door to the stairs to the roof. The gunmen didn’t see her and she managed to escape. As the gunmen and the hostages got to the roof, one hostage looked over the side, saw the employee who had escaped and yelled down to them. One of the gunmen fired at shot at the escapee and missed, but the bullets sent the bystanders into a frenzy and now we think we have one guy holding the hostages and the other taking potshots at the street.” As if to emphasize his point, a hail of bullets rained down and put several sizeable holes in the flock of police cars and one straight down the middle of Kate’s car. Jon flinched and dove for cover. Kate and Bender were still standing straight up, not bending or hiding at all.
“What the hell-?” Bender muttered to thin air.
“Not by the police, but workers heard the shots and we couldn’t keep them off the streets or in the building. They came flooding out.”
“Who was the escapee?” Kate asked.
Stanley pointed to a small cowering sixty-year-old woman in the back of his patrol car. “Agnes Landingham. That’s her.”
Kate didn’t even acknowledge him. She opened the door and crouched down beside the woman who was in a fetal position in the back seat. “Hi, Agnes,” She started gently, “I’m Kate. I’m part of the hostage negotiation team and I need to ask you a few questions, okay?”
The woman didn’t make a move. Jon didn’t hear her say anything, but she must’ve given her approval because Kate kept on with the questions.
“We are going to do everything we can to get your friends out of there safely. We also want to bring these assholes to justice who are doing this to them, okay? So, I need you to tell me everything you can about the gunmen. What they were wearing, what they were carrying, holding, looked like, smelled like, anything. Can you do that?”
Agnes uncovered her head and looked at Kate with teary blue eyes. “Okay.”
“All right. Thank you. I heard there were two. Is that correct?”
“Can you describe them for me?”
“They were both about, I don’t know, five ten to six feet tall. They were both wearing tan windbreakers and jeans. One had darker hair, and the other lighter.”
“Okay. What else?”
“I don’t remember any more of their looks because I only saw their backs. I heard the commotion and peeked my head out of the bathroom door since I had just finished washing my hands. They were already in the office and firing a few bullets. Their backs were towards me so I just made a run for the flight of stairs. I didn’t really get a good look at them.”
“That’s okay, Agnes. That’ll help. You saw two of them, though?”
“Okay. What kinds of guns did they have? Do you know gun types at all?”
“That’s okay. Just do the best you can to describe them to me. Can you do that?”
Jon smiled to himself again as he crouched down and inched closer to the police car. Kate had seemed like such a hard ass, but here she was with a gentle and sweet side, too.
Another batch of bullet spray rained down from the rooftop. Bullets and ricochets were all over the street and it sounded to Jon as if a box full of ball bearings had gotten loose in the dryer. Bender was on his cell phone yelling at Jerry to stop the media from interfering, Kate had jumped into the patrol car to protect Mrs. Landingham, and Stanley was yelling at his officers to return fire. Jon slammed himself against the back tire of the police car and stayed still.
The volley lasted about fifteen seconds even though it felt like years to Jon. When the ringing in his ears subsided, Jon heard Agnes sobbing and Kate trying to console her.
“Tell me about the guns, please. What do you remember?”
“One was a machine gun, I could tell.”
“Tell us something we couldn’t figure out, you stupid bitch.” Sgt. Stanley muttered as he pulled out a cigarette.
Kate shot Stanley a death gaze for a split second and then turned her attention back to the hysterically sobbing woman. “I know this is hard, Agnes. I really do, but we’re going to send someone up there to help them and we have to know what they will be facing. I need to know what you can tell me. “
Agnes continued to cry. Kate glanced at Walter and threw up her eyebrows in a “What do I do now?” look. Walter’s hand patted the air like a construction worker telling you to slow down. “Be patient” was his silent reply.
“Agnes?” Kate ventured. The woman had retreated back into her fear. Kate looked around to be sure she could stand up safely. “Okay, Agnes. I’m going to be right against the building over there. If you think of anything else that might help us, let me know by coming over to me, knocking on the window, something, okay?” All Kate got back was sobs in reply.
Kate looked down at Jon, grabbed his shirt by the collar, and physically drug him back toward Bender. “We lost her, Bender. That last volley scared her back into her cocoon. She’s not coming back for a while. All we basically know is two hostage takers, one machine gun-“
Jon cut her off. “Maybe two.”
Kate glowered at him. “Doubtful, Jon. She doesn’t know guns, but she singled out one as a machine gun which means that she saw the second gun and it wasn’t a machine gun.”
“Maybe they have a backup machine gun,” Jon muttered.
“Quit it, you two!” Walter took command. “Jon, I appreciate the help, but you’re here as an observer. What the hell were you doing out there in the line of fire?”
“Don’t care. Now, word has it that Chad, one of our other agents,” Walter added for Jon’s sake, “ was in the area. He entered the building, but we have no idea where he is, we can’t get a hold of him. Kate, I want you to go up the stairs on the east side. Landingham came out the west side, so it’s possible the shooters don’t know about the east staircase. Be careful and don’t get anyone hurt. Take them out if you can, if not, get the hostages to safety.”
Kate pulled a gun from the back waistband of her pants. “Got it.” She pulled out an extra clip also and checked that it was full before retiring both items back into her pants. Kate also took off her trenchcoat and handed it to Bender.
Stanley was watching the exchange as he lit up. As he saw Kate check her gun, he walked over to the group. “You’ve got forty minutes young lady. Forty minutes. I know you have jurisdiction because you are federal, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let you get more people killed! My guys go up in forty minutes. If you know what’s best for you, You’d better be clear when they arrive.” Stanley threw his cigarette at Kate’s feet, turned on his heel and walked quickly to his patrol car to get on the radio.
“Asshole.” Kate stomped on the butt and started walking casually towards the Zion Towers.
Jon and Bender stood where they were. “Walter?” Jon asked.
“Sgt. Stanley said his guys go up in forty minutes. What does that mean?”
“Stanley has a tactical SWAT team. He calls them his guys. We call them his suicide squad. They’re trained to not take any prisoners. All they do is make sure that the public doesn’t have to keep the bad guys alive in prison and they don’t care if they take out members of the community while they do it. They’re good, but a little overkill.”
“Why don’t they get brought up on charges?”
“They’re cops. They tell the story they want to tell since there are no survivors to contradict them. Stanley usually puts their casualties along with the bad guys numbers to make the good guys squeaky clean and the bad guys even worse.” Bender spit on the sidewalk.
They stood and watched in silence as Kate slipped into the shadows and sidled up against the building. She pulled her gun as she pulled the stairway door open. She looked back at Bender and gave him thumbs up. Walter pulled a radio out of his coat pocket and turned it on. Kate’s voice came out.
“I’m in, Bender. I don’t know what’s up, but it looks like the main power is gone.” Kate disappeared through the door and out of sight. Her voice lowered to a whisper on the radio. “All I have are the annoying red emergency lights in here. I’m getting a goddamn headache already.”
“Be careful, Kate. Take your time especially with impaired vision.”
“Roger, Walter.” Kate’s voice opened to a smile for the slight joke.
Jon cleared his throat. “Is she going to be okay?”
“She’s the best we’ve got, Jon. She always comes through. That’s why we put her on you.”
There was radio silence for a long two minutes. Then, the radio crackled to life. “I’m on the fourth floor stairwell. Nothing yet. It’s deadly quiet. Too quiet almost.” Another minute or so of radio silence.
Jon watched Stanley radioing for his team. Stanley was yelling into his dispatch radio and making exaggerated motions with his arms.
“I’m on seven,” came Kate’s voice. “Almost up to the floor where it all happened.”
“Take your time. Be safe. Don’t worry about Stanley’s squad.”
“I’m okay.” Again radio silence.
Even the street had gone strangely quiet. It was almost as if the crowd of bystanders knew something important was happening. Jon could feel his hands start to shake ever so slightly.
“She’s okay, kid.”
A long silence. Jon caught himself not breathing a time or two. He tried to force himself to breathe which made him too concentrated on it so he ended up almost feeling light headed.
It seemed as if Walter could read his mind. “I don’t talk to her. I don’t want to break her concentration. I let her talk to me whenever she needs to.”
Another long silence. Jon could hear cars pulling up on a few side streets. He noticed men dressed in black walking behind him and going over to Stanley. The first few members of the squad must have just shown up, Jon thought.
With no warning, a loud round of gunfire was heard from inside the building. It came in stereo when Bender’s came to life. “Shit!” Kate swore as a loud clanging of metal interfered with the radio reception slightly.
Bender’s knuckles were going white as he gripped the radio. “Come on, Kate. What’s going on?”
Jon had stopped breathing again.
“Bender! You there?”
“I’m here, Kate!”
“I’m on the twelfth. It seems like they just shot blindly down the stairwell. I’ve been quiet. I think they each had a machine gun based on the amount of bullets and just fired them both blindly and shot. I heard the door open and then some footsteps onto the metal entryway and then the shots. I never heard footsteps coming down the stairs, but maybe I missed them because my ears are ringing so much but I didn’t hear them. They shot blindly went back outside on the roof I think but got me.”
Jon’s eyes widened along with Bender’s. “Got you?” Bender repeated. “Please confirm!”
“That’s affirmative, Sarge. Not bad, but I’m still hit.”
Jon put his hand over Bender’s and pressed the Talk button. “You’re on the twelfth?”
“Jon? Is that you?”
Bender took control of the radio again. “Yes, Kate, that was Jon, but,” he glared at Jon, “he’s just an observer. He’s not to get involved! Where are you hit, Kate?”
“In the side of the leg just above the ankle. I think it’s a through and through. It hurts like hell, but I’m okay.”
“Are you safe to talk this much, Katie?”
“I dove through the door into the main part of the building. I’m up against the door so I can hear anyone coming down. I’ve already used up one magazine. I have two backups so I’ll be okay as far as ammo goes.” She took several deep labored breaths. “I’m going to continue up.”
“Have you seen anything?”
“I stopped on the eighth for a quick look, but didn’t see much. A few holes in family pictures and walls, but they didn’t do much damage to that floor. I think they just fired to get everyone good and scared and took them up to the roof. I did find a size 12 Reebok. It looked like Chad’s but I can’t be sure.”
Walter closed his eyes. “Be careful, Kate. Chad is probably up there with the rest of them. They may try to use him as a bargaining chip. Just be prepared for anything. Hell, if you want to, you can even wait for backup. I’ll get some more of our agents down here, and-“
“They’ll never make it before Stanley sends his guys up here. I’m going.”
“Be careful,” Bender repeated.
The sound of the door to the stairwell could be heard opening as the radio went silent again.
“Dammit, Chad! What the hell happened?” Bender made a motion as if he was going to throw the radio against the wall in anger but kept a tight hold on it.
Walter spun and put a warning finger in Jon’s face. “Not now, Jon. Not now.”
“I’m on thirteen,” came Kate’s voice, “and something seems wrong.”
Walter pushed the talk button, but released his thumb without saying a word.
“It’s too quiet. I don’t like it. I can’t hear anything.”
Just then, another loud round of gunfire came through the radio and through the air. The crowd flinched visibly and several people started crying. Agnes scrambled to get out of the police car but fell out instead, hitting her head on the pavement
Jon grabbed the radio out of Bender’s hands. “Kate! Kate! Are you okay? What’s up?
“Jon, I think we’re in serious shit up here!” More gunfire. “There’s more than two, there has to be. They’re firing and there are ricochets and bullets all around! Get Bender!”
Walter grabbed the radio out of Jon’s hands. “Kate! Get to safety! Abort! I repeat, abort! Go into the building, take the other stairs, take the elevators, just get your ass back down here and we will regroup! If we have to, we can let Stanley’s guys take them, just get out now!”
More gunfire was the reply from the radio.
“No, Bender, Chad’s up there! I’m going! Shit!”
Jon grabbed the radio. “Kate! Are you still on thirteen?”
“Yes, Jon! I am!”
“I’m coming!” Jon went to put the radio in his pocket. He was grabbed roughly by the collar for the third time that day.
“You are staying right here!” Bender yelled.
Kate’s muffled voice came from underneath Jon’s palm. “Bender! Send backup! Send the squad, send more agents, just get me backup up here now!” Single shots could be heard as Kate was trying to kill something, anything. Bender ripped the radio out of Jon’s hand again and let go of Mills.
“We already have two agents up there, Kate! You and Chad! I can’t risk any other agents right now!”
“No way! No how! No backup! Especially not Jon!”
“Then kiss my ass goodbye!” Several more single shots could be heard through the torrents of machine gun fire and then the radio went dead.
“Dammit!” This time Bender did throw the radio against the wall where it shattered in minute pieces.
“Jon, you have to understand-“ As Walter turned around, Jon was nowhere to be found. Bender saw the east side door on the Zion Towers thrown open and watched as Jon disappeared into the red-tinted darkness.
“Good luck,” Walter sighed as he looked at his watch. “You’ve got just under twenty minutes.”