This posting features Chapter 60 of my ongoing action novel, The Day of the Gun.
Steve Harris’s news conference had gone well. Displaying thespian skills he had not known he possessed, he pretended to be weaker than he actually felt so he would not have to answer all the questions fired at him by the ravenous, impatient press corps. Whenever he needed to stall, he simply groped for words, spoke in a hush, and feigned fatigue. As an added benefit, he felt confident that Dave Tremblor, assuming he was watching, would recognize an easy mark and act accordingly.
Now that the lights had been extinguished and the news crews had again taken up residency in the parking lot — farther away from the building thanks to the efforts of the FBI, state police, and the anguished hospital administrator — the hallways were eerily quiet.
The trick, of course, was to set a trap without it appearing to be a trap. The police had to be on duty, but no one wanted to lose another officer to unnecessary violence. Captain Marsh, a crafty fellow when he allowed himself to step outside official protocol, devised an ingenious plan. He arranged for an officer to be on duty, but he had the man standing a few feet away from Steve’s door while he chatted with a pretty nurse. The nurse was a policewoman, but her white uniform made her appear to be part of the hospital staff.
The captain was still uncomfortable handling the operation without alerting the Feds, but in the end, he acquiesced. The arguments against involving the FBI outweighed the arguments in favor. It was a risky plan, but it was a risky situation calling for innovative solutions.
The Feds, of course, wanted to spend all night interrogating Steve but he protested, again pretending to be too weak. The treating physician promised that the patient would be up to answering more questions in the morning; in the meantime, the state police assured the out-manned FBI agents that they had posted a guard all night. By midnight the brouhaha had not ended, but it was more or less suspended. The media was camped out in a ring around the building with police from all jurisdictions practicing crowd control. Security was tight, as visitors soon learned, much to their consternation.
All was quiet as midnight came and went. The lights were low, the hallways empty, the scene reminiscent of Steve Harris’s previous hospital visit in Georgia before assassins came calling.
Sometime after 2:00 a.m., a large man stepped from the stairwell. He wore blue scrubs topped by a white lab coat with a stethoscope looped around his neck. It was important to look nondescript, to blend in with the scenery, which he did. It was a small hospital where almost everyone knew everyone else on staff; his ploy would not withstand scrutiny. Nonetheless, he counted on minimal scrutiny at this late hour. He needed only to slip in, accomplish his mission, and slip away into the night and a new life far away from Alabama.
Quickly scanning the hallways, he saw no one who seemed out of place. The lone guard, a state trooper, leaned across the desk talking with a pretty young nurse. They were so engrossed and animated he doubted they would have noticed a parade of men wearing military uniforms.
He meandered down the hallways gazing intently at a clipboard as though he needed to glean vital patient information from a chart. He must not appear too purposeful in his movements. He was just another faceless medical orderly or lab technician among a sea of such personalities in the health care profession.
In this unhurried, seemingly nonchalant manner, he arrived at Room 336. He was surprised that the room number had been reported on the news. These little towns were unaccustomed to the security requirements and precautions necessary in larger cities. They did all but draw a map to Harris’s room.
Slipping inside the building had been surprisingly easy. He had posed as a visitor arriving to see his ailing mother, one Velma Hudson, who had been admitted earlier complaining of chest pains. When the state patrolman on duty at the front door had checked his file he found that Velma Hudson had indeed been admitted a few hours earlier. He allowed her son, Virgil, to pass unimpeded.
He had engineered this feat by calling the hospital from a pay phone and telling the operator that his neighbor, a little old lady he occasionally waved at in the driveway, had been stricken with something requiring her to be transported in an ambulance. Now, he wanted to visit but he needed to know if she was still at the hospital. He had gambled on the possibility that some little old lady somewhere in the vicinity had been taken by ambulance to the emergency room, and he had been right.
“Oh, you mean Velma Hudson,” the operator had seen, apparently oblivious to the privacy laws that protected patient confidentiality.
“She’s been admitted to the ICU.”
“I see. Do you know if her son has been to see her? I can’t remember his name.”
“Virgil Hudson. It says here that he lives in New York, so I don’t imagine he’s had time to get here yet.”
“Okay. Thank you. You’ve been a peach. I’ll try to get up there and see her in the morning.”
Posing as the beloved son, Virgil, he had entered the hospital. Finding an unlocked supply closet, he had slipped on a uniform that would allow him to finish his task.
Reaching for the handle of Room 336, the door swung open. There, lying in the dark, motionless, was a lump beneath the bed covers. The target was fast asleep.
It was important to act with dispatch. “In and out” was the motto. He aimed his pistol and, using a homemade silencer, he fired six shots in rapid succession. They barely made a sound, a brief pop, pop, pop similar to small firecrackers exploding. It was over in a matter of seconds.
Leaning forward, he pulled the covers from the body to confirm once and for all that Steve Harris, aka Kurt Martin, was dead and gone.
Dave Tremblor gasped. He had fired six shots into a first aid mannequin. It stared up at him blankly in the dim light of Room 336.
From the corner of his eye, he saw movement. He turned to face the threat, but he was a second too late. His kneecap exploded in pain, by far the worst pain he had ever felt.
“Ah!” he screamed as he crumbled to the floor, dropping his gun and cradling his bloody knee.
“I told you I should have taken out your kneecap when I had the chance,” a voice said.