"Only one -- in the back, around the corner. To the right."
"Hey," she called to Ausonio as she started sprinting. "Watch this door!"
"Got it," the blonde officer called and blew another breath into the victim's pale lips.
More thuds from inside as the killer beefed up his barricade; Franciscovich sprinted around the corner, toward the door the guard had told them about, calling for backup on her Motorola. As she looked ahead she saw someone standing at the end of the corridor. Franciscovich stopped fast, drew a target on the man's chest and shone the brilliant beam from her halogen flashlight on him.
"Lord," croaked the elderly janitor, dropping the broom he held.
Franciscovich thanked God she'd kept her finger outside the trigger guard of the Glock. "You see somebody come out of that door?"
"What's going on?"
"You see anybody?" Franciscovich shouted.
"How long you been here?"
"I don't know. Ten minutes, I'd guess."
There was another thud of furniture from inside as the killer continued to blockade the door. Franciscovich sent the janitor into the main corridor with the security guard then eased up to the side door. Gun held high, eye level, she tested the knob gently. It was unlocked. She stepped to the side so she wouldn't be in the line of fire if the perp shot through the wood. A trick she remembered from NYPD Blue, though an instructor might've mentioned it at the Academy too.
Another thump from inside.
"Nancy, you there?" Franciscovich whispered into her handy-talkie.
Ausonio's voice, shaky, said, "She's dead, Diane. I tried. But she's dead."
"He didn't get out this way. He's still inside. I can hear him." Silence.
"I tried, Diane. I tried."
"Forget it. Come on. You on this? You on it?"
"Yeah, I'm cool. Really." The officer's voice hardened. "Let's go get him."
"No," Franciscovich said, "we'll keep him contained till ESU gets here. That's all we've got to do. Sit tight. Stay clear of the door. And sit tight."
Which is when she heard the man shout from inside, "I've got a hostage. I've got a girl in here. Try to get in and I'll kill her!"
"You, inside!" Franciscovich shouted. "Nobody's going to do anything. Don't worry. Just don't hurt anybody else." Was this procedure? she wondered. Neither prime-time television nor her Academy training was any help here. She heard Ausonio call Central and report that the situation was now a barricade and hostage-taking.
Franciscovich called to the killer, "Just take it easy! You can -- "
A huge gunshot from inside. Franciscovich jumped like a fish. "What happened? Was that you?" she shouted into her radio.
"No," her partner replied, "I thought it was you."
"No. It was him. You okay?"
"Yeah. He said he's got a hostage. You think he shot her?"
"I don't know. How do I know?" Franciscovich, thinking: Where the hell is the backup?
"Diane," Ausonio whispered after a moment. "We've gotta go in. Maybe she's hurt. Maybe she's wounded." Then, shouting: "You, inside!" No answer. "You!"
"Maybe he killed himself," Franciscovich offered.
Or maybe he fired the shot to make us think he'd killed himself and he's waiting inside, drawing a target gut high on the doorway.
Then that terrible image returned to her: the seedy door to the recital lobby opening, casting the pale light on the victim, her face blue and cold as winter dusk. Stopping people from doing things like this was why she'd become a cop in the first place.
"We have to go in, Diane," Ausonio whispered.
"That's what I'm thinking. Okay. We'll go in." Speaking a bit manically as she thought of both her family and how to curl her left hand over her right when firing an automatic pistol in a combat shooting situation. "Tell the guard we'll need lights inside the hall."
From The Vanished Man by Jeffery Deaver. Copyright Jeffery Deaver 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher, Simon & Schuster
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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