This posting includes Chapters 26 and 27 of my ongoing action novel, The Day of the Gun.
Oh, great, he thought. Just great. This was a dramatic ending to an already overly dramatic Sunday afternoon.
“Put down the gun, Martin,” he said in his most soothing tone of voice. “Or whatever your name is.”
The fellow blinked at the mention of his alternate identity.
“Yeah, I thought so. Like I told you before, I know that was your current name before all this shooting started. But you’ve had other names, haven’t you?”
The man brandishing the gun said nothing.
“So how do we end this?” the chief asked with a shrug. “However it goes down, it won’t be pretty.”
“Don’t make me kill her,” Steve warned.
“From the looks of her, she’s already in bad shape. I wish you’d let our EMTs check her out.”
“She’s okay — unconscious, but okay.”
The policeman nodded nonchalantly. “Maybe so. Still, she needs to get to a hospital for treatment.”
“I said — don’t come closer. Do you want to get her killed?”
The chief wasn’t buying it. “Huh-uh. Now, see here, friend. I know you’re not a killer — at least not unless you’re provoked.”
“Then don’t provoke me. Oh, and I’m not your friend.”
Hewson nodded. “Fair enough. But that doesn’t mean we have to be enemies. Just put down the gun and everything will be all right.”
“Just like it was all right the last time you said that?”
The chief winced at the mention of the earlier fiasco. “That’s a fair point, but it was different. We didn’t have the situation in hand.”
“But you have it in hand now.” He sounded dubious.
“Look around you. See all the police? We’re here to help you.”
Steve closed his eyes. “Where’d you get that psychobabble from — the police academy? If you want to help me so much, why are all the guns aimed in my direction?”
Hewson threw up his hands. “Okay, Martin, you win. What would you have me do?”
“Get me outta here.”
“Where are you gonna go?” Hewson asked at he swept his arm in a large circle. “The cemetery is crawling with police.” Spotting Dana Dotson and her cameraman several yards away, he pointed. “The media’s here, too. You’re a celebrity now. Look — your face is already all over the news. Anywhere you go, you’ll be recognized.”
“Maybe, but I wanna get outta here.”
“Understood. But let’s be realistic. You know we can’t just let you waltz out of here.”
“Then you better come up with a suitable alternative.”
Hewson stepped closer, but this fellow Martin would not be bullied. “Don’t come any closer.” He pressed the gun harder into his hostage’s head. “You know I’m capable of pulling the trigger.”
Hewson showed his palms. “Just relax. No more killing needs to take place here today.”
“That’s what you said before.”
The police chief sighed. He had seen Martin’s work up close and personal, but he didn’t think the man was a cold-blooded killer. Changing the subject, he swept his hand, palm down, at the Taurus. “It doesn’t look drivable — your car, I mean. And look at yourself.”
Steve glanced down at his clothes. The policeman was right. He was drenched in blood. His face was plastered all the over the news. The Taurus was totaled and useless. He had nowhere to go.
“I’m not hit,” he said. “I’ve got a sore back, but that’s all.”
The policeman winced as he rubbed a spot just above his kidney. “You and me both, friend.”
“I said — ”
“I know, I know. We’re not friends. So what are our options now?”
Hewson nodded. “You want to leave this cemetery with a hostage, and I can’t let that happen. So what are our options — yours and mine? How do we get out of this predicament?”
So what were the options? Steve had acted in self-defense; that much would be clear when he told his story. He had not shot anyone who did not need shooting. Even his decision to take a hostage could be explained; he had been desperate not to be gunned down by trigger-happy police before he could offer up his tale.
Agent McLean had been in the cemetery earlier. He was sure of it now. Why was he there? Had he come to help Steve get off the street before Tony the Knife’s men finished the job, or was McLean involved in a more sinister way? If he were involved in the shooting, had he enlisted the local police to help? If so, why hadn’t this police captain finished Steve off when the chance arose? Where was McLean now? It was all too much to contemplate.
Hewson sensed Steve’s conflict. “Look, I know you don’t want to do this. It doesn’t have to go down this way.”
“What’s your name?” Steve asked.
“My name? I’m Paul Hewson — didn’t I tell you that? I’m chief of police here in Lakeland.”
“Okay, Chief of Police Paul Hewson—Paul. Can I call you Paul?”
“If I can call you — Kurt? Is your name Kurt?”
“That’ll do for now.”
“Fair enough, Kurt.”
“Tell me, Paul, do you know a guy named Mac McLean? He’s a big guy, a former football player, prob’ly.”
Hewson frowned. “Mac McLean — can’t say as I… wait.” He paused, rubbing his chin. “Wait. Maybe I do. That name sounds familiar.” He inched closer to Steve as he spoke.
“He in charge of the U.S. Witness Protection Program. They call it WITSEC.”
The captain snapped his fingers. “Yes, that’s right. WITSEC. I spoke to him on the phone. I thought you might be an alumnus of the program.”
“Is he here today? In the cemetery, I mean.”
Hewson was genuinely surprised. “McLean — the witness protection guy? Here — in Parkwood?” He glanced around at the crowd of onlookers.
“You mean you don’t know? I thought you had the situation in hand.”
The chief held up a finger indicating that Steve should hold on for a minute. Leaning to his left, Hewson whispered something in a policeman’s ear.
Hewson nodded at his subordinate and turned back to the gunman. “Sorry. We’re checking into it.”
“You do that, Paul. Just don’t tell me you got the situation in hand if you don’t.”
Hewson ignored the barb. He would not be goaded into displaying his well-known temper. “Why’d you want to know about this gentleman — McLean?”
Looking around at the growing crowd of gawkers, Steve marveled at how many people were milling about. Don’t any of these people have other places to be? How did so many men and women come to be in the cemetery? He could not imagine escaping now.
“First off,” he said, pointing, “could you get her out of here?”
Hewson looked over and Dana Dotson and frowned. “You heard the man, Dana. Turn that thing off.”
Dana looked at her cameraman and shook her head, no. “Hold it a second, Bob.”
“Dana, let’s not get ugly here. You know I could have you arrested.”
She had heard this threat so many times that it had lost whatever shock value it might once have had. “Oh, please,” she said with the wave of her hand.
“I’m serious. I don’t want things to get ugly.”
“No ugliness, chief,” she assured him. To Steve she said, “do you mind if I talk with the police chief for a moment?”
He waved her over with his gun. The intrepid reporter scurried over to Hewson and the two leaned in close for a conference.
“Chief Hewson,” she said in a low, conspiratorial tone. “I don’t have to tell you that this is a career-making story.”
“And I don’t have to tell you that you’re interfering in an ongoing criminal investigation.”
Dana knew from past experience that Hewson was from the old school of police investigations. He might ride a computer more now than he did in his salad days, but the man harbored decidedly old-fashioned views about the media’s role in modern law enforcement. No amount of cajoling would move him off his position. It was time to take control of the situation.
“Mr. Martin” she called over to the blood-drenched man with the gun. “I have a proposition for you.”
“Dana, what are you doing?” Hewson grabbed her wrist. This unpredictable woman needed to be hustled away from the scene as soon as possible. “Ed,” he called out to his assistant, who stood five or six steps behind his boss. “I need you to escort Ms. Dotson here from the premises.”
Pulling her arm from his grasp, Dana overrode his voice. “Your hostage there” — she pointed at Mary Ellen — “looks badly injured, Mr. Martin. How about if you traded her for another hostage?”
Too late, Hewson saw her game plan. “That’s out of the question,” he said.
“Me for her,” the reporter continued as the chief and his assistant pawed at her arms.
“What?” Bob aimed his camera at the woman who was growing into a star reporter with every word she uttered. By God, this was news unlike anything he had seen in his decades-long career.
“Whattaya say? You can still get out of here with a hostage, and that lady gets the treatment she seems to need.”
“Dana, that’s utterly preposterous, and you know it.”
“Hold on,” Steve barked so that Hewson and his officers would unhand the reporter and allow him time to consider the proposal.
Hewson saw the look on Steve’s face. “No way, Martin. Don’t even think about it. It’s absolutely not gonna happen.”
It was the wrong thing to say. “It’ll happen if I say it’ll happen, chief. Get that straight here and now. I’m the one with the gun.”
Everyone fell silent as this last comment. Bob continued filming the scene for his viewing audience. In his ear, an excitable Channel 11 anchorman, Charles, spewed forth a torrent of narrative innuendo. He was obeying the primary rule of electronic journalism — never let dead air to gain an upper hand. Fill it with anything — or nothing at all. Inane drivel works as well as anything.
In her earpiece, the news director exploded. “Dana, what are you doing? Are you insane? No story is worth being a hostage. You could get killed.”
“Relax, Roge,” she muttered under her breath.
“Relax! Dana, I can’t let you get killed here.”
“It’s not up to you.”
“Jesus H. Christ, Dana.”
“It’s not up to me,” Hewson said softly. “And you know it. You know I can’t let this kind of trade occur.”
Steve ignored the chief's comment. Snapping his fingers, he pointed to Dana. “All right, then. You — come over here right now.”
“Martin — Kurt — I can’t let this happen.”
“You said so yourself, Paul. This lady needs treatment. Now, she can get it.”
“This is ridiculous.”
“Come on, sweetheart,” Steve said, gesturing with his .44.
She had been so brave moments before, but now that Dana was forced to walk toward a bloodied man waving a gun, her mouth went dry. She felt as though all the air had been squeezed from her lungs. Slowly, she forced herself to amble forward, all the time conscious that Bob was filming the scene at her back. God save her from panty lines.