The door closed behind Jon and he was left in what reminded him of a dark submarine deep in the watery depths. Or, that’s how the movies always portrayed submarines with engine problems. Red lights, shadowing the faces of the crew. Sounds from somewhere else that may or may not be as close as they seemed.
It took Jon’s eyes several moments to get used to the dark red hues that would guide his way. As he had run by Kate’s car, he had noticed another radio and had grabbed it and shoved it in his pocket. The weight of it made him feel better since it was all he really had with him as far as any sort of weapon went. He had a set of house keys, so he could poke the sniper’s eyes out, but chances were they would finish him off by the time he got that close. He also had his wallet that had just enough money for lunch, which, it seemed, was such a different world, away. Had he ever eaten? It seemed like the answer was no. Jon promised himself then and there that he would take the money from his dad’s dresser drawer and treat himself to a great meal tonight. Not great, maybe, but at least a lot of food. A Wendy’s triple cheeseburger biggie sized and at least a spicy chicken could be a good start.
Jon was proud of himself. By thinking about what he would do if he got out of this mess, he had made it up to the third floor already. This isn’t too bad, Jon thought. Of course, the shit will really hit the fan twelve floors from now, but at this moment, not too shabby. Jon wasn’t trembling anywhere near as much as he had thought he might.
Where was Kate? Was she still up on the thirteenth? Was she even still alive? Had they taken her? Would she be in the stairwell or had she ducked back into the building? The smell of gunpowder pricked Jon’s nose. It seemed like the fourth of July. Just a few months ago, he had gone with his parents to the local fireworks show at the University of Utah. They had been in the football stadium, seen several musical acts, watched several of the local schools perform dances, and then there had been the fireworks. The sounds of the fireworks whizzing out of the stadium to explode high in the night sky and the, at that time, sweet smell of lingering gunpowder in the air. But this gunpowder smell had none of that kind of fun attached to it.
Here was the 7th and still counting. Jon felt a small trickle of cold sweat descend down his back as he realized that he had been thinking about unimportant things too much and hadn’t been paying attention to what he was here to do. Had he been making too much noise? Had he whispered or stumbled or anything? He didn’t know. What he did know was he was now at the eighth floor. He decided to duck inside and take a small breather.
Very cautiously, he opened the heavy metal door and slipped through the crack. As he closed the door, he made sure that the door didn’t click into place. One less noise that he would have to worry about. He took a deep breath and slid down into a corner and let it out.
There was no going back at this point. That much was sure. What training and skills did he have once he got up to the top? None. What weapons did he have? Keys, wallet, and a radio. The men were probably older than his seventeen years, so he had that going against him, too. Walter had said that Kate was one of his best agents, yet she was in a tremendous amount of hurt. What possibility did he have? He closed his eyes and let his body relax for a moment.
As he opened his eyes, he had three thoughts simultaneously. The first was that he saw a cigarette butt fall past one of the office windows from outside. So, he had one more piece of information. He was dealing with smokers.
Second thought was that his hand was in a warm liquid. His mind had time to process what it was most certainly going to be so he didn’t need to be too overcome by fear or anything by the time his eyes actually rested on the small pool of blood. He decided not to even look down.
The third thought was a slight burning sensation in his left temple. A heavy, hot metal feeling. Even though he had never felt it before, he had seen enough movies to assume it was the muzzle of a gun. As luck would have it, all three of his reactions were correct. He slowly raised his hands.
He had expected to maybe hear the shot of the gun or maybe even an instant of pain, but not hear his name. It could only have been one person.
The hot gun muzzle was lowered and he watched as Kate fell to her knees and hugged him lightly. Since he had never had much close contact with women, he couldn’t tell if it was because they barely knew each other or if she was protecting injuries. “I’m so sorry. I’m so very, very sorry. It was never meant to be like this.”
Jon grabbed her daintily by the shoulders and slowly pushed her away from him so that he could see her eyes. “What are you talking about?”
“This. It was a training test. Bender wanted you to see action to help make up your mind. Chad Peterson was supposed to fake a hostage taking and we would see how you would react. There would be blanks, we would set up a situation, and we could see if you actually had what it took. It just so happened the real thing took place, Chad was two blocks away, so he came over, and now he’s missing, too, probably part of the hostages, and Stanley’s squad is coming, and-“ she stopped speaking but a tear rolled down her cheek turning from clear to gray to black as it streaked away all of the dirt in its path.
Jon felt a hot surge of anger boil up inside of him. A test? They had planned a test, and they weren’t going to tell him, and see what he did? He thought about Bender picking up the phone near the end of the office discussion, and Jerry running down the hall just a few moments later. That had probably all been planned. Agnes was the only person who had been hurt when they had arrived, so the stats and information that Jerry had given Walter were wrong. They had walked into a real situation. That explained Bender’s anger and anxiety. That explained why they hadn’t wanted Sgt. Stanley at first, and now, because the squad, it really added a new twist. And here he was with nothing to protect himself with.
“Kate! What is real? Tell me!”
“Ever since we got here, it’s been real. We think there are only two of them, but there had to be at least four guns shooting blindly at me! There may be up to four, maybe more. We don’t know.”
“Is Stanley’s squad really that bad, Kate? What are we looking at if they make it up to the roof?”
“They’ll take out everybody and everything. They don’t care. They kill indiscriminately.”
“Okay. Have you spoken to Walter lately?”
“My radio was hit.”
“How much ammo do you have left?”
“I don’t know. A few shots, maybe. Four or five?”
“Hand me your gun.” She did. “Here’s what’s going to happen. You get back down to the ground. Take the elevator if it’s still working otherwise go down the opposite stairwell. Just get back and tell Walter that I am going to at least try and get the hostages away from the roof or something. Stall Stanley’s men, if you can. But, I can’t overtake them by force, so I’m going to try to find another way.”
“What other way?”
Jon didn’t answer the question. He was too busy looking at the leg wound on Kate. She had been hit and she was doing a good job of bleeding. He reached in his back pocket and took out a handkerchief and tied it just above her wound. “Get down to safety, Kate. I’ll make sure I’m not in the way when the squad comes up. I’ll try to get Peterson to safety, too, along with as many hostages as I can.” As he finished tying the knot, Jon stopped and a smile slowly crept across his face. Jon removed his shoe and took off one sock then put his shoe back on. The sock was shoved into his right front pocket. “Go,” he told her as he stood up
Kate sat there looking at him with a quizzical expression, almost like their exchange wasn’t completed yet. There was, for Jon at least, a very uncomfortable pause. What did all the movie heroes do in a time like this? He leaned down and quickly kissed her on the forehead. ”Go,” he repeated as he snuck through the door and back into the stairwell.
The smell of gunpowder was still strong. Jon was hurrying a little more. He knew there couldn’t be much time left before Stanley sent in his goons. “Hello?” Jon whispered to the pinkish darkness. No response. Still being cautious and listening for any movement from above him, he started to take two steps at a time.
By now, on the ground, there had to be a pretty good group. Hopefully, the gunmen were paying more attention to that than to the stairwell. In no time at all, Jon found himself on the roof access floor. He pulled out his sock, replaced it with Kate’s gun, and slowly opened the door to the roof.
The sock was in his hand and was the first thing out in the open air. “Hello?” Jon ventured again.
The door was ripped out of his hands and he was staring down the barrel of a machine gun.
“What do you want, mate?” asked the gruff man with a fake Australian accent as he grabbed Jon’s arm and threw him onto the rooftop.
“Doesn’t white mean anything to you?” Jon asked as he rolled onto his back and put his arm over his eyes to shield them from the glaring sun, a distinct change from the dark stairwell.
“It means you took off your bloody sock. Now what the hell do you want?”
Jon took a quick moment to survey the scene. The roof was blindingly white due to the small white rocks covering the surface. A small gathering of about 25 people were huddled in a tight group almost dead center between the stairway access and the edge of the roof. The man who had attacked Jon was obviously the slightly bigger one of the two menacing guys on the rooftop. The other was holding a machine gun in each hand and kept glancing down at the street and over at Jon and his partner.
Fake Aussie was holding a machine gun and had another placed near his feet. In Aussie’s waistband was another gun. It almost looked like a 9 millimeter, but something didn’t seem quite right about it. There was a large stack of empty gun belts thrown to one side of the roof and all of the magazines in the firearms now had a blue piece of tape around the bottom except for the one that was still pointed at Jon’s face.
A tall, gangly-looking guy who short permed brown hair had made his way to the front of the hostage group. He was missing a shoe and had blood matted in his hair. He must have been coldcocked upside the head. Jon guessed this was Chad Peterson.
“Hey! You! What are ya? Deaf? What the hell do you want and who are you?” Aussie asked again.
“I’m Jon mills. I, uh, work down on 7.”
“For the law firm? You look all of what, 15?”
“17, actually. My dad runs the place and I make good money making copies, taking books to lawyers, and being a gopher. You should try it sometime.” While he was talking, Jon calculated the amount of time before he could grab the machine gun on the rooftop. He probably wasn’t faster than a bullet. “Anyways, I heard the commotion and wanted to come up, in peace, and let you know that I’m sure I could talk my dad into representing you for free because, damn, you’re gonna be in a serious pile of hurt when this finally comes down. There are cops down there ready to blow you to bits, and I’d like to try to help if I could.”
“It ain’t going to come to that. Kent & I will never even see the inside of a police car.”
Jon couldn’t believe the James Bond method seemed to actually be working. Keep the crook talking and he will tell you his plan. “Why not?”
“Our wives left us, we have both been out of work for over a year, we’re broke and have declared bankruptcy, we just want to end our lives.”
“So why the whole hostage mess? Just kill yourselves and be done with it.”
The man by the edge of the building, Kent Jon assumed, strode over to his partner. “Roger & I, we both have kids for Christ’s sake! We don’t want them thinking that their dads killed themselves because of them! That can scar a kid for life! But, if your fathers are killed by cops…” he trailed off.
Jon couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “There’s something to be proud of.”
“Shut up!” Roger yelled as he leveled the gun at Jon again.
“Okay, okay. You’re the one with the gun, you can go ahead and have any fantasy life you want, but that still doesn’t change the fact that cops don’t like it when their perps try to do suicide by cop.”
“They may not like it, but what other choice will they have if I am threatening my hostages?” Kent asked as he leveled his guns at the huddled mass.
“Don’t do that! Don’t do that!” Jon said quickly. “Look, I know we can work it out.”
“What do you know about it, mate? You’re only seventeen years old!”
“I know about life taking some pretty weird ass turns when you aren’t expecting it. I know that sometimes things may happen for a reason, but that’s no reason why you can’t just wait until tomorrow. I mean, the sun will rise and things will be better!”
“Bet your bottom dollar, huh, man?” Kent spit. “It ain’t like that. Life is a big steaming pile of shit sometimes, and it isn’t worth another sleepless night worrying about the bills to believe in some Broadway musical number.”
“So, what’s your plan then, huh? Wait for the news helicopters to arrive? When they’re broadcasting fire into the group of hostages, then wait for the police to come up and kill you?”
Kent & roger exchanged looks. “Damn! You’re good, kid!”
“What a pair of dumbasses,” Jon muttered under his breath. “But what do these nice people have to do with your deaths? Why should they die? You think you’re in a world of hurt? Think about their families! You kill them and then all of their families are left motherless, fatherless, and brotherless. How does that affect them and their loved ones? Maybe in your sick mind you will be heroes to your families, but what about their families? Will they be heroes? Or will they just be the victims of some self-centered, egotistical whack jobs who decided that their lives sucked so-“ Jon turned his voice whiny, “ they had to take the next train out of Dodge? Whining maggots!”
Kent and Roger had both let down their guard a bit watching Jon make sense. He knew this was the chance. Jon bent and put his shoulder out as a human ram and went toward the pair with all his might. As they all went falling toward the rooftop, Jon angled his body and rolled next to the gun on the ground. As he rolled, he picked it up off the roof and, hoping it was firing ready aimed it at the two men on the ground.
“Now, stand up, and let’s all go down to the street peacefully!” Jon said forcefully.
Kent and Roger looked at each other again and did the last thing Jon expected. They laughed.
“You stupid git! We already used our ammunition! To shoot at you down the stairwell!” Roger laughed. Even in his astonishment, Jon mentally breathed a sigh of relief. They had no clue about Kate. “ I have the only live ammo left. The rest of it is just blanks so that hopefully we won’t have to hurt anyone. We wanted to make an impression with live ammo. Trust me, we’re both dead eyes on target practice. If we wanted to hit anything, it would be dead or exploded by now. We missed on purpose!”
Jon was taken aback. “You’re just as sane as could be, other than the fact that you’re both mental!” Jon looked at Roger’s waistband. “What about that?”
Roger looked down. This? Why this-“ In the blink of an eye it was drawn and had been fired at Jon. Jon felt a stinging in his neck. “This is a tranquilizer gun. This is so if we had any heroes, they could be put down quite easily.” Kent and Roger shared a laugh.
Almost immediately, Jon could feel his world dim. He knew there wasn’t much time if he was going to get himself or anyone else off this rooftop alive, he couldn’t drop. Not yet.
Keeping the machine gun in his left hand, Jon pulled Kate’s gun out of his pocket. “Now, it’s time for group therapy where the sickos listen to the sane one for a minute! This is a real goddamn gun! I can get at least one of you before the other can kill me!”
Roger and Kent laughed again. “So?” Kent asked. “That’s what we want anyway!”
Jon started to feel woozy almost like his legs weren’t working. His brain was slipping quickly. If these guys wanted to die, what could be his bargaining chip?
He stuck his left arm straight out and started firing the blanks into the air and held the trigger down. He could almost hear the doors being opened down on the street and Stanley’s squad come roaring into the building. The plan had been set into motion.
With his right hand, Jon lowered Kate’s gun and fired two shots into Kent’s knee. Kent screamed in pain and leveled the real bullet loaded machine gun at Jon. Roger dropped one of his guns and put both of his hands on the butt of the remaining gun. Using all of his strength, he smacked Jon under the chin. Jon flew backwards and dropped the machine gun, but fired the remaining two shots of Kate’s gun in the air. Both rounds caught Chad Peterson, who was tackling Kent and separating him from his gun, in the stomach. Chad hit Kent with full force and sent him sprawling on the rooftop, both screaming in pain.
Roger was now on Jon and pummeling Jon’s stomach. Jon could feel his world almost turning black. Maybe it was just his imagination, but he could hear the squad thundering through the stairwell. If he didn’t stay conscious another few seconds, Jon feared he’d never wake up again. He reached in his left pocket and brought out the radio he had taken from Kate’s car. With all the force he could muster, Jon slammed the chunk of metal into the side of Roger’s face. He crumpled onto the rooftop as if hit by a bulldozer.
Jon struggled to his feet and picked up the machine gun that still had bullets. He aimed and fired directly into the roof access doorway. Jon imagined he looked like Rambo with one hand firing a machine gun and the other holding a radio. In actuality, though, he told himself, he probably looked more like Weird Al Yankovic.
As round after round shredded the door to bits, Jon could see SWAT team members hugging the ground reaching for their weapons. The door’s hinges dropped off and the door fell away from its frame. Jon stopped firing and flung his arms straight out from his sides and flung down both objects that he was holding as he yelled. “Hold your fire!”
“I am Jon Mills! I am a good guy! I am with Walter Bender! The injured man with the Michael Landon ‘do is Chad Peterson. He is also a good guy with Bender who needs immediate medical attention! I accidentally shot him. The other two slimeballs sprawled on the roof are the bad guys! The group behind me is the hostages! Make sure they are taken care of. I am going to need actual medical attention very soon. And as for the door-“ John paused and took a deep breath as he lost his grip with the real world, “bill me.” His legs crumpled and Jon fell asleep on the rooftop.