Paula saw a change in Ray’s face as he looked out the window. She was relieved he was looking elsewhere, anywhere, except at her. He frowned deeply and stepped back from the window a bit. She read his body language and prepared for the worst.
“I think someone may be coming over to visit,” Ray observed dryly. Then he looked around the room to see if there was a better place to greet his upcoming guests. He pulled Paula off the couch and walked backwards, drawing her along with her back to him, the gun between them. He reached the stairs which went up to the bedrooms. Paula stumbled as she blindly followed, walking backwards and nearly being dragged up the stairs with Ray. Halfway up the stairs he stopped and sat Paula down on the stairs below him. He decided that when his new friends came through the front door, they would only see her sitting in front of the guy they really wanted.
Greg Jones was sprinting to the front door of the Parker house, with Smitty behind him calling out for him to slow down and wait for backup. But Smitty knew Jones would not stop, even to have the front door covered before he stormed in. Smitty waved for some officers to enter in the back.
Greg grabbed the door handle and then thought better of it. Smitty’s shouted warnings had finally reached his logical brain, and he stood sideways against the door frame and told Smitty to cover him. They both were astride the door frame, and since Smitty knew he wouldn’t be able to stop him, he nodded his head and prepared to take fire.
Greg popped the door open and curled around the side of the door, waving his gun in front of him. He immediately saw Paula sitting on the stairs, halfway up, with Johnson mostly hidden behind her. He froze as the standoff began, and almost didn’t notice Smitty rushing in the door to see the same situation.
“Don’t get excited,” Raymond Johnson said firmly, holding the gun just below the base of Paula’s skull. “I’ve got a gun pointed right at you, but it’ll have to go through her first.”
Greg had assumed as much, and as the two officer stood like statues, a thousand possibilities began to flood his mind. He tried to clear them away by speaking calmly, too. “There’s no way out of here, Johnson. We’ve got this place wrapped up tight, and you’re not going anywhere.”
“Maybe,” said Ray slowly. “Or maybe you’ll just back out of here and get me some transportation. I wouldn’t want to have to shoot this beautiful hostage I found. And I don’t think you want me to either. So I may not be leaving here alone, but I think I will be leaving.”
The chance to shoot Johnson in the head flashed through Greg’s mind. He was an excellent shot, and this was close range, but the years of training began to kick in, and he realized he was putting Paula a greater risk by showing force, and forcing the hand of the gunman. “All right, we’re going to back out slowly, and see what we can do about getting a car. Just don’t do anything to her, and I’ll guarantee your safety.”
Paula was afraid the negotiations would go this way. Usually police tried to save lives of the innocent, and sometimes that meant giving in to requests from the guilty. She knew she only had one chance to get this right, and she had been planning it ever since she had been dragged up the stairs. She seemed to remember vaguely a part in a play, which involved a gun and a set of stairs. But she had to wait for the right moment.
Then it came. The door to the back swung open and heavy feet crossed the kitchen, momentarily distracting Ray as he looked back to see if there were other stairs going up from the back. There weren’t, but this was all that Paula Rogers needed, and she decided to stop being a hostage and start helping, one of the worst things a hostage can do.
But this time it worked. As she shouted out “Greg, now!!” she pulled her head forward and tucked into a ball, beginning a somersault down the stairs. Raymond Johnson had the opportunity to follow, but he let go of her blouse as she fell heavily down the stairs. Struggling to keep his balance, he drew the gun up at the two officers, who had already fired a shot apiece. Smitty’s bullet missed and nicked up the carpet, but Jones’s bullet sped to Johnson’s left shoulder and pushed him back up the stairs by its force. Ray did likewise, and scrambled up the stairs before either officer could get another shot off.
Paula fell in a heap at the bottom of the stairs, and as he watched Johnson scurry away, Greg Jones fell to her side and looked for injuries. She grabbed his face and gave him a big kiss, but he pulled her up and out the front door before either could speak.
Smitty was calling for all officers to fall back. Since the hostage was free, this was now a different type of situation, which called for patience instead of force. The suspect was bleeding, and waiting would be easier than getting another officer shot.
Greg was still inspecting Paula for a broken bone or two, but she kissed him again and said, “What is the matter with you? I’m fine.”
“But how,” he stuttered, “you fell down eight or nine steps. And you’re not hurt?”
“Just my pride,” she said, rubbing her backside. “No, really, I’m fine. I didn’t think I could do it just like back in college, but I guess once you learn to ride a bicycle…”
“What are you talking about?” Greg stopped her in mid-sentence.
Paula took a step back and let him examine her from top to bottom. “Do I look injured?”
Greg shook his head “No.”
“It’s like a part I played in college. I had to fall down a set of stairs headfirst, and the correct way to do that is to let your backside be the cushion. I must have fallen down those wooden stairs twenty times in that play, and I never got more than a bruise.” She paused and then looked him in the eye again. “By the way, nice shooting. We make a nice team, Officer Jones.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him long and hard.
The usually quiet suburban road was full of official machinery, from ambulances to police cars. Undercover cars were parked next to patrol cars, and the officers worked quickly to evacuate the neighborhood. They didn’t want any more hostage situations. Smitty was confident this would all be over soon. He called Skinner over.
“How long before the secret weapon arrives?” he asked.
Skinner checked his watch. “Estimated time of arrival is less than ten minutes. Think he’ll bleed to death before we get him out of there?”
Smitty snorted. “If we’re lucky. Do you have that bullet proof vest?”
“Right here.” Skinner held up a very heavy black Kevlar vest.
Ray grabbed part of the bed sheet from upstairs and pulled it off the bed. He wasn’t badly wounded, but didn’t want to bleed more than necessary. He wrapped the sheet around his arm and under his armpit several time, using enough pressure to stop the bleeding. This would have to do until he could think of something else. At least the cops had pulled back, and now that he had a little time, he breathed in deeply and tried to fight off the pain of the gunshot wound. He had to be thinking clearly.
The money was still downstairs on the couch, but Ray didn’t feel safe enough to go downstairs and get it. It would still be down there when he went down, and right now he needed to get these clowns to give him transportation. Then once he was out of here, he could think of what to do next.
Cody Merring crouched and walked at the same time next to the gurney which was taking Mr. Graham to the ambulance. The police did their best to shelter everyone from possible stray gun fire, and keeping the back door of the ambulance between the Graham house and the Parker house, they loaded John Graham into the back. Reba stood shell-shocked next to Cody, who wrapped his arm around her and tried to comfort her as best he could. “It’s all right, Mrs. Graham. You did a good job. He’s going to be fine. It doesn’t look like any major arteries were hit.”
Reba Graham looked up into the eyes of the youngster. “Thank you. You did a very good job, too.” Then she was walking to the front of the ambulance, and it pulled down the street.
Cody Merring went over to Officer Jones and checked to see if there were any other injuries. Jones told him to stand by, since the gunman had been wounded. “He’ll probably need to be bandaged up, too.”
Jones took Paula over to confer with Smitty. Cody Merring stood thinking for a moment. He had never really thought about the fact he might be called to help bad people recover from their injuries. During his training he’d thought about drunk drivers, and how they never seemed to have the worst injuries at the scene, and had wondered at the time how he would feel to have to help the drunken person responsible for the carnage. He now understood, and shaking his head, he only wanted to go home and let this jerk who had held him at gunpoint bleed away. But he knew he couldn’t. So he sat down and waited for his next job.
Raymond Johnson waited patiently by the phone. His shoulder was throbbing, but the blood had stopped flowing. He knew the cops would be calling. The phone rang, and Smitty spoke on the other end. “Johnson, this is Harold Smith. I’m with the state police. You need paramedics in there?”
Skinner smiled as he heard Smitty say this, knowing no paramedics were going up there. Smitty knew he only needed a few more minutes and the secret weapon would take care of the rest. He hoped.
“Yeah. Send up cops dressed like paramedics.” Ray said. “I want a car with a tank full of gas and clear passage out of town.” Ray heard himself saying this, and half-realized there would be no car waiting for him downstairs. The best he could probably hope for was not to get shot again.
“A car could be a problem, but are you sure you can drive?”
Smitty was trying to get a sense of the injuries Johnson had suffered, but Johnson wasn’t biting. “What do you mean? I feel fine.”
Smitty now grinned at Skinner. He had seen the hit, and if Johnson didn’t need major surgery on his shoulder, Smitty would be surprised. “Okay, I’ll check on the car and call back in five minutes.”
He hung up and Ray was left listening to the dial tone. “It was always good to leave them hanging on the line,” Smitty thought to himself. That way Ray would begin to see this lifeline as the only way of that house alive.
The vest was small, and they had to arrange delivery behind the garage of the Parker house. Surprise would be the biggest element, and Smitty didn’t want to ruin the shock value. Clear instructions were a problem, and checking the details several times indicated the mission was not clearly understood, but Smitty was patient and knew they had plenty of time to get this right.
It was probably not following procedure exactly, but it was a way to limit the danger to his troops. There would probably never be an official protest about the special circumstances, and Smitty doubted the participants would complain at all. His superiors might give him that one look, like they didn’t really believe what he had just said. But Skinner had come up with the plan, and he had to admit it was the best option they had at the moment.
The secret weapon walked up the stairs of the house, trying to be quiet as instructed. Ray could hear a noise downstairs and decided to turn his gun from the window, where he kept imagining how many cops he could shoot with his remaining bullets, to the top of the stairs. Whoever it was didn’t speak. Ray shouted down the stairs.
“Who is that down there? I have a gun,” he threatened. “Don’t come up the stairs.” Ray thought he heard a snort, a chuckle? Maybe just the shuffling of feet. “You better not come up here if you know what’s good for you.”
There was a noise of heavy footfalls on the stairs, coming up very slowly now. Ray had never encountered this kind of direct assault in his dealings with the police, nor had he ever heard anyone describe this kind of suicide approach. He raised the gun and decided whoever it was must have a death wish.
As the daylight had just begun to break over the city, and the lights to this vacant house were not turned on, Ray peered through the early dawn light to see a massive head and upper body appear in the stairwell. At first he thought it was John Graham, back to get his money, but this was a bigger man, who continued to grow as he rose up the stairs.
“Raymond!” Tommy recognized Ray first, and couldn’t maintain his vow of silence any longer. He walked toward Ray with outstretched arms ready to give him a big bear hug, which was normally painful. Ray could only imagine the pain he would feel if Tommy squeezed his shattered shoulder. Ray raised the gun and began to shoot into the giant’s body. Three shots in row.
Followed by three others, and then the gun clicked. He was out of bullets.
Tommy didn’t even stop. Though the bullets pushed dents into the fabric and would probably leave bruises on Tommy, the big man didn’t notice the short punches to his chest, and wanted more than anything to give his friend Ray a big hug.
And so that is what he did. Squeezing with all his might the friend he hadn’t seen since the train, Ray let out a yell that let Smitty and the others know it was time to go rescue Ray from Tommy. They had already heard Ray run out of ammo, and now the situation was clearly non-lethal. But they followed procedure anyway and went up the stairs by the book.
Tommy let go of Ray and watched the small man collapse in a pile of pain and misery. Tommy couldn’t understand why Ray wasn’t happy to see him, too. It had been such long time since they had been on the train together, and the nice man from the police station had insisted that Tommy give Ray an extra big hug when he saw him. Tommy had even been promised that if he was extra quiet before he saw Ray that there might be extra candy involved when they all returned to the station house together.
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