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copyright 2014 Julie Coulter Bellon All rights reserved
Sarah froze. The scene in front of her was straight out of a nightmare. The tip of the gun brushed Ron’s top shirt button and the man who held it was the most hardened-looking man she’d ever seen. His black hair curled under his ears, highlighting a flame tattoo that feathered on the side of his neck with every movement. Clean-shaven, he had a scar on his jaw, testifying that he’d been burned at some point in his life. He was overly muscular, like he’d spent too much time in the gym and didn’t know when to stop. And he had a gun on Ron. The room spun and she put a hand to her temple. Think Sarah. Think. What can I do?
We’re across the street from the police station, she reminded herself. Help is probably on the way right now. Relieved at the thought, she kept her eyes on the gunman in front of her, as if watching would make him less likely to shoot. Did he care about having a witness? What was he going to do when every officer from across the street descended on the diner?
She turned to the door, crouching, and with only one of her high-heeled shoes still on her foot. She tested her rubbery legs to see if they could hold her weight, and it was tough with only one shoe, but doable. Starting to stand, she immediately crouched back down when automatic gunfire echoed all around her. Two men dressed in full combat gear from helmet to boots stood at the front door of the diner firing their weapons toward the parking lot.
Where their rescuers would be coming from.
The thought of all those police officers coming to help and being gunned down tore a scream of terror from her throat. It was quickly lost in the noise around her. Please don’t let them die. She tried to focus on the men and wrap her brain around what was happening. No. They were pointing their guns higher in the air. Like they wanted to scare the police from approaching them. Why?
She grabbed her throat and sat down hard, the images in front of her harder and harder to process. Ron being held at gunpoint. Bullet casings hitting the floor, the diner smoldering around her. Sarah could feel panic rising in her. She closed her eyes and tried to take a deep breath, but that made it worse instead of better. She just had to get out of here.
Sarah opened her eyes. Everything was moving in slow motion, but happening so fast. She was breathing fast and shallow, which made her even more dizzy. It was all Sarah could do to stay sitting upright and not curl up in a fetal position and scream until help came or she was killed. This was going from bad to worse in the space of a millisecond.
The shooting finally stopped and she got on her hands and knees to crawl around an overturned table blocking her way to the door. I need air. The gunmen turned to her simultaneously, blocking her way out. She was forced to stop mid-crawl. A whimper rose in her throat as she looked up at them. Their faces were blank, as if this was routine, something they practiced every day. She swallowed and sat back, waiting for them to kill her. “Please, don’t,” she said, hoping they would hear her plea. They didn’t even blink. Did have earplugs in? Nothing fazed them, not even the noise of the alarms or the guns.
The two men didn’t acknowledge her, instead watched somewhere behind her position, as if waiting for a command of some sort. Sarah pressed her hands into her face, making it hurt like a thousand needles were being stabbed into it. Sarah knew she was bruised and burned, but at the moment, it was fear, not fire, burning the back of her throat.
“What’s going on?” she managed to ask, loudly, before the man standing in front of her took his helmet off and revealed a completely bald head. He glanced at the tattooed guy still holding Ron at gunpoint. Tattoo Guy nodded and the bald man grabbed her arm, forcing her to her feet. The room spun and tilted at the sudden movement, her balance off with only one heel on. She held her stomach. “I think I’m going to throw up. Please. Let me get my purse. I need my purse.”
She started to search for it, spying it on the other side of the broken booth. Why didn’t I pick it up before? That purse had a first aid kit in it, her phone, and a set of keys she could maybe use as a weapon if push came to shove.
Baldy’s grip tightened, but he didn’t let her go, merely gave her another blank look.
“Please, can I just get my purse?” She pulled on his grip a bit, trying to free her arm. “It’s right there.”
“Shut up,” he said, shoving her away from it and toward Ron.
“Stand up, Captain,” Tattooed Guy shouted in Ron’s face. “Now.” He lifted his gun to press against Ron’s chest and Sarah’s heart hitched. No matter what had passed between them, she didn’t want him dead. Penniless, miserable, and alone, maybe, but not dead.
Ron stared at her as he got slowly to his feet, regret in his eyes. She flashed back to the last day they’d had together. That same look had been on his face when he’d come home to find his bags packed. She’d wanted a reaction, some attention, maybe a promise to try again, but he’d just picked up the bag. He hadn’t fought for her. He’d let her go.
She knew deep down he regretted how things turned out, but that day he’d offered no explanation or even much of an apology. He’d been stone-faced with no emotion allowed to show through the cracks. Always the police officer, first and foremost.
But now, as he stood in front of a gunman, she saw fear flicker over his face. That was something she’d never seen before. It just wasn’t in him. She looked between Ron and the gunman. If Ron was scared, with his training and everything he dealt with in his profession, then she should be terrified.
Ron stood in front of the man, his features smoothing. “What’s your name?” His calm tone gave her some courage. He was going to sort this out. She took another breath. Everything will be okay.
The gunman sneered. “How quickly you forget.” He turned to the bald man holding her. “What are you staring at? Get everyone to the back room. We’re on a schedule. And shut off those alarms.”
The gunmen around her jumped into action, the bald one hauling her toward the back, his grip tight enough to snap her arm in two. She walked like a drunken sailor on her one heel. Up, down, up, down. Her guard seemed annoyed by it, but she didn’t dare take off the one shoe she had left with all the glass and debris on the floor. She glanced back at Ron, but smoke obscured her view of him. This is not okay. His calm tone hadn’t helped like she’d hoped.
Sarah quickly faced front and looked down as she tripped over something large and soft. It was a woman’s body. The waitress. Judging from the angle of her neck, she was dead. Sarah let out a yelp of fear, her insides churning. Stay calm. She looked away and saw two of the other guards attaching clay-like squares the size of a laptop screen to various locations on the walls and doorway of the diner. The last gunman was struggling to keep his assault rifle at the ready while he pulled Ron’s co-worker, Claire, away from a man on the floor.
“What is this all about?” Sarah asked, walking on tiptoe to minimize injury to her bare foot.
“Shut up,” Baldy told her. He pulled her through the plastic sheeting covering the back of the diner, revealing a work area whose floor was covered in dust and tools. He led her to a door that looked oddly small because the walls around the frame had been overlaid with a thick fiberglass-looking material. Like it was fortified.
The reality of her situation sank deep into her bones. They weren’t going to kill anyone right now. They were all hostages and this attack had been pre-planned. She tried to turn around, but Baldy gripped her arm so hard she groaned at the pressure adding to her aches and bruises. “You’re going to break my arm,” she told him, then regretted her words. She didn’t want to give him any ideas. “Please. Let me go.”
“Okay.” He let go, but shoved her through the fortified door. Sarah stood inside the room, rubbing her arm and getting her bearings. It was a back office. It was a fairly large rectangle, with a little alcove that had a flat screen TV. There were four chairs arranged in a semi-circle on the perimeter of the room with a larger captain’s chair in the middle. The desk was in the corner and it had a laptop and a small TV on it. The only window was small and placed high above the desk.
“Sit down,” Baldy commanded.
He turned around to leave the way they’d come, and she followed him out the door, until he stopped and pushed his finger into her chest. “Sit down,” he said again. His eyes narrowed to mere slits, his other hand on his assault rifle. She stepped back, the vehemence in his voice echoing in her ears. Maybe I’ll wait for Ron and decide what to do from there.
She hobbled back into the room. It had been protected from the blast and the floor was thankfully clear, so she took off her one remaining shoe. Looking down at the wedge heel, she wished she’d worn stilettos. They would have made a makeshift weapon at least. Her low heel looked pretty harmless against someone like Baldy.
Before she could think more on it, Baldy pushed into the room again. She moved to the side as another guard escorted everyone else in. Claire came first, limping. Sarah flattened herself against the wall, unable to stifle a gasp when she saw Claire’s pant legs shredded and an open gash bleeding down her calf. Colby was next, and there was blood all over his front, but she couldn’t tell if it was his or not. He held a bloody and barely conscious Bart around the waist, but struggled to hold him up. She quickly covered her mouth with her hand. The sight of blood had always made her feel sick.
She needed to take her mind off of it. Lightly skimming the bruise on her face, she felt for the small burn near the top of it, assessing her own wounds. The burn almost hurt worse than the large bruise. She really couldn’t complain, though, comparing her injuries to the ones on the people in front of her. It was a miracle she wasn’t hurt worse. Everything had flown through the room during the explosion. When she’d finally opened her eyes, she was on the floor with the hostess podium and a fallen booth piled protectively around her. That stroke of luck had shielded her from the impact and she was grateful to be alive.
Her eyes searched the people being herded in. “Where’s Ron?” she asked when Claire and Colby got close.
“I’m not sure,” Colby told her as he laid Bart on the floor and slumped beside him. He turned to Baldy, his jaw set. “No matter what this is about, we need a doctor in here.” He motioned to Bart, before clenching his fists. “If he dies, I’ll make it my personal mission in life to make you suffer. Believe me, you don’t want his death on your hands.”
Baldy stared Colby down and patted his rifle. With barely a blink, he went over to stand next to the door. He did keep a wary eye on Colby as he opened it and glanced out, obviously waiting for someone else to come.
He’s waiting for Ron to come, the voice in her head said. They wouldn’t take everyone else hostage and kill him, right? That wouldn’t make sense. Nothing makes sense. Her eyes stayed glued to the door.
Claire maneuvered her way to the floor, pulling Sarah’s attention to her, in obvious pain from her leg wound. She knelt next to Bart. “How bad?” Claire said to Colby.
He studied Bart, not looking up. “Bad. He’s going to go into shock if we don’t do something.” Colby grimaced as he held his side. “I’ve got some shrapnel that needs to come out.”
Claire leaned over and pulled what was left of his shirt back. She hissed out a breath when she saw his side. “Cole, it’s full of glass.”
“Feels like it, too.” He took a look at her leg. “We’ve got to get your bleeding controlled. Fast.”
Listening to them talk about the blood made Sarah feel light-headed again. She’d never been good in a crisis, especially one that involved wounds. She bent over, trying to take deep breaths, but the rusty scent of blood was everywhere. She gagged and put her nose inside her shirt. Don’t throw up, don’t throw up, she chanted in her head. It was no use. She ran for the door in the corner, praying there was a bathroom or at least a closet of some sort where she could be sick in private.
She burst through the door, her hand over her mouth. Knowing she had mere seconds before she lost it completely, she nearly cried in relief when she saw the toilet. She managed to get the lid open seconds before she promptly lost her lunch. Tears streamed down her face as she struggled to get control of herself.
When she was finally done, she flushed the toilet and went to the sink. The cold water felt so good on her face. She splashed it over and over on her cheek that had now started to throb with pain. Daring to look in the mirror, she stared at her reflection. Her injuries looked as bad as they felt. Half her cheek and over to her ear was purpling with a bruise. Part of her hairline and forehead were singed. Her cheek was swelling, the burn pulling at the skin. She would definitely have some scars to remember this day by, both emotionally and physically.