Officer Jim McCall is pushed to his limits — for June 2017 Quotation Inspiration
|Originally written for June 2017 Quotation Inspiration contest, but it didn't place.|
Officer Jim McCall adjusted his cap in the rear view mirror while his partner collected donuts from the deli. Had twenty years on the force put those gray streaks into his hair, or was it the loss of his wife and baby daughter twelve months ago? Either way, his life hadn't panned out how he'd expected, and the last year had proved a living hell.
The radio crackled. “10-35 on the corner of Fifth and Main. Possible hostage situation. Available units, respond.”
Jim grabbed the mike. “Unit 34 on the corner of Fifth and Hudson.”
“Unit 34, attend, 10-18. Use extreme caution. Report of multiple gunshots and hostages at Al-Madinah Academy.”
He gripped the steering wheel tight. “The Muslim school?”
Jim turned the key in the ignition and hit the lights.
Sarah sprinted out the deli clutching a box, her ginger pony tail bobbing. Jim was glad his young partner had gotten those donuts. He hadn't attended many hostage situations over his career, but every one had dragged on for hours.
“Whazhappenin?” wheezed Sarah. She threw her bulky form into the seat.
“Hostage situation at the raghead school.”
The tantalizing aroma of donuts filled the car, and his mouth watered as he pulled into traffic. “Believe me, hostage situations aren't exciting. Most likely we'll be managing crowd control all day and into the night while detectives trained in negotiation deal with the situation.”
Sarah straightened her jacket. “Do you think there will be TV cameras?”
He squeezed his eyes shut for a split second, mentally pushing away the pain. After what happened last year, he and Lauren had spent enough time in the spotlight. His older daughter was so traumatized, she dropped out of college.
“Sorry,” said Sarah, her cheeks flushing. “I wasn't thinking.”
He glanced out the window. “Forget it.” Jim never would, but he hated reminders.
At the intersection, he checked for oncoming traffic, then drove through the red. He glanced over and noticed the pink pattern covering the donut box. “What's with the hearts?”
“Valentine's Day special. Couples get an extra free donut.”
“Does this mean you love me?”
She hugged the box. “Not as much as I love donuts.”
The radio crackled. “10-33. Multiple 10-35s. Fifth and Foster, Fourth and Grant, Fourth and Dixon.”
“What the…?” said Sarah.
“That's where the mosque, the Halal Butchers, and the Islamic Community Center are located.”
As they approached the Hudson Street intersection, a crowd came into view. All had dark skin, and the women wore headscarves. There were far too many ragheads in his city. This rabble gathered near the railings that protected the small playground fronting the three-story Muslim school.
Jim pulled into the nearest available parking space and rolled down his window. A faint coriander aroma hung in the air; many Indian restaurants were dotted among the shops along this street.
He grabbed the mike. “Dispatch, Unit 34. 10-23.”
“Unit 34, situation?”
“There's a crowd of civilians. No sign of the perps."
“Unit 34, be advised we have no ETA on your backup.”
“What about SWAT?”
“Already deployed elsewhere. But the JTTF are formulating a response along with other agencies. Proceed with your best judgment until backup arrives.”
Someone approached their patrol car—a middle-aged man wearing a skullcap and clothes like pajamas. Jim climbed out to speak with him.
“I'm the school principal, Daud Khan.” He pointed at the glass and concrete structure. “Thugs wearing masks forced their way into the fourth and fifth grade classrooms.” He mopped his forehead with a handkerchief. “There were gunshots. I-I think the teachers are dead.”
Jim took a deep breath. “And the kids?”
“There are twenty-four in the fourth grade and twenty-seven in the fifth.”
“Any idea how many gunmen we're dealing with?”
Khan shook his head and glanced toward an approaching ambulance. “Where's the rest of the police?”
“Still en route.”
A masked figure appeared in a second floor window, using a little boy as a human shield, pressing a gun to his head.
Raghead or not, no kid deserved to be treated so rough. Jim drew his service weapon and crouched beside the vehicle. Sarah clambered out and and took position on the other side. People screamed and ran in different directions, then sheltered in shop doorways or behind vehicles.
One woman wearing a headscarf sprinted toward the school gates, apparently oblivious to danger, weeping and screeching strange words that Jim needed no interpreter to comprehend. He made to follow, but another dark-skinned woman and a man grabbed her then pulled her back into the relative safety of a doorway.
From the window, a male voice called down, “Who's in charge?”
Jim holstered his gun and stood. “I guess that would be me.”
“You're just a cop. Where's the FBI?”
“Elsewhere. What do you want?”
The terrorist grabbed the boy's hair, and Jim clenched his fists.
“This is Imran,” said the terrorist, shaking the crying boy. “In five minutes, I'm going to shoot him. Five minutes after that, I'm going to kill one of his little friends. I'm going to kill one kid every five minutes until either I run out or the radio station confirms Malcolm Holmes has been released from prison.”
Jim had heard of this Holmes guy, an extreme right wing supremacist who led a group called The White Crusade. He spread his hands to either side. “I don't have that kind of authority.”
“Well, Imran is going to be sorry about that in exactly five minutes.” He disappeared from view.
Sarah scuttled over, and Khan joined them, crouched behind the car.
“Whatdaya think?” asked Sarah.
“He's bluffing,” said Jim. “He knows I'm low on the pecking order. He'll wait for someone important.”
“And if he doesn't?” asked Khan.
Jim sighed. “The truth is, sir, we have no way of knowing how many gunmen are in there. Even if I had the authority to act, me and my partner aren't adequately trained or equipped to storm a building. We'll have to wait and hope backup arrives soon.”
In Jim's opinion, Allah caused this mess, but no point bringing that up now. His job was to contain the situation.
“Mr. Khan, could you please ask those people to move further away from the school building?”
“They are worried parents, Officer. I've already begged them to stay away, but they refuse.”
Jim nodded his head absently. He understood all too well. He'd felt the same when the Second Street Mall was cordoned off after the terrorist bomb blast. He'd known his wife, Jenny, and baby, Alice, were inside, but the FBI wouldn't let him through. As memories of that day flooded into his mind, he reflected on how, over the past year, he'd been unfair to his other daughter. He should have made more time for Lauren, been there for her through this tough time. Instead, he'd been distant, and she'd found solace elsewhere in some Christian movement he'd never heard of.
Over the next few minutes, Jim questioned Khan about the building layout. When either a SWAT team or the FBI arrived, this information could be invaluable.
A gunshot echoed across the street. The woman in the headscarf screamed and began hitting the two people holding her in the doorway.
Khan gripped Jim's wrist. “Officer, you must do something.”
Jim agreed. He reached through the patrol car's open window and grabbed the mike. “Dispatch, this is Unit 34. Situation escalated. 10-78, urgent.”
“Unit 34, be advised FBI are en route.”
“Christ, it's about time. ETA?”
“Estimate ten minutes.”
“Ten minutes!” Another two kids would die while they waited—another two fathers would lose a child. He'd lost Alice to terrorists. Ragheads or not, he didn't want another father to lose a daughter like he'd lost Alice.
He scuttled over to Sarah. “Wanna die a hero?”
Her eyes widened, but then her jaw firmed, and she nodded.
He opened the trunk then pulled out their bulletproof vests. “Here, put this on. We have no idea how many there are, how well trained, or what equipment they have. If we're to have any chance of pulling this off, we shoot to kill. No hesitation. Understand?”
“It was an honor working with you.”
He pulled Sarah into a hug.
“Be careful, Jim. Remember Lauren. She's already lost her mom and baby sister. Don't let her lose her dad, too.”
“Thank God she's at that Church camp this week and not in town for this circus.” He checked the safety on his sidearm. “All right. Let's go save some Arabs.”
He sprinted through the gateway, across the playground, and into the school. No gunmen guarded the entrance hallway.
Sarah arrived beside him, breathing hard. He pointed at his chest and then the stairs. She nodded. He scurried over, head low.
A gunshot rang out, and a huge chunk disappeared from the bottom step in a spray of sawdust.
Jim raised his weapon. A gunman peeped over the railing on the landing above. Jim squeezed his trigger. The gun kicked in his hand. The terrorist staggered backward then collapsed.
Sarah arrived. “D'ya get one?”
He nodded. He pointed to his chest and then upstairs. She gave a thumbs up.
Moving slowly with his weapon at the ready, Jim climbed, keeping the landing in sight. At the top, he paused to take in his surroundings and check the fallen terrorist, who had no pulse. No more gunmen appeared, and only two doors led off the landing.
When Sarah arrived, he pointed at her chest and to one door, then himself and the other. She nodded.
He crept slowly toward his door, which opened into a corridor. As he tiptoed along the tiled floor, Jenny's face appeared in his mind, then Alice's, then Lauren's. At least if something happened to him today, Lauren had her new found faith to fall back on.
Only one door along the corridor stood open. The plaintive sound of weeping kids drifted out. He snuck over and peeped inside.
A masked figure spotted him, grabbed a little girl, and pulled her close while taking a shot.
The doorjamb splintered beside him. He flinched but didn't panic. His training kicked in, and he took aim.
The terrorist turned the gun to the girl's head and removed the mask to reveal the pale face and long, black hair of a young woman. Her features were as familiar to him as his own.
He gasped. “Lauren?”
“Wh-What are you doing?”
A tear ran down her cheek. “Getting revenge.”
“These are just kids.”
“No, Daddy. This school is a jihadi training camp. It's our duty as white, Anglo-Saxon Christians to rid our beautiful nation of Islamic scum.”
“You don't understand what you're saying.”
"You've said the same yourself. Right after Mom and Alice were murdered, you said Muslims had infested our whole country. The White Crusade will cleanse America."
"Honey, put the gun down. I was angry when I said those things. Now I've had time to calm down, I can see that Muslims are just regular folks like you and me.”
“No. They're people, and these children are innocents. Just like Alice."
Lauren's nostrils flared. “Don't compare my sister to these monsters.”
A cellphone alarm bleeped.
“Time's up.” Lauren gripped the girl's hair and pulled her head against the gun nozzle. “Someone has to die. Will it be me or this demon spawn?”
Jim aimed at his daughter's chest. “Please, God, no!”
He pictured Lauren's first steps… her first bicycle ride… her first school day… her high school graduation. Today Jim must do something he never thought possible. He squeezed his trigger. The gunshot deafened. The recoil reverberated down into the very core of his being.
WORD COUNT: 2000
Plugged in: "Short Stories Newsletter (August 2, 2017)"