Mystery and Crime Fiction posted November 14, 2020 Chapters:  ...4 5 -6- 7... 

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Both Andi and the police change the dynamic.

A chapter in the book The Teacher

The Teacher - 6

by teols2016

A hostage situation at an elementary school.
Previously in "The Teacher":

A gunman invades the Ellison Elementary School and takes a classroom hostage. While the teacher, Andi Defesne, attempts to talk to the assailant, Kevin Greer attempts to negociate on behalf of the police department, all while learning about underlying political implications.

"We need to get them," Nance insisted. "As soon as they come out of the bathroom, someone gets them out of the building."

He'd agreed to ensure that the Divisional SWAT Team members in the classrooms adjacent to Andi Defesne's remained hidden so the two boys wouldn't see them during their trek to the bathroom. He'd made these instructions explicit when Vince Dodson objected over the radio. But that was as far as he was prepared to go.

Kevin thought he wasn't wrong. Problem was, he wasn't right either.

"If those boys don't come back, Kirkland starts shooting," he rebutted. "We all know he's capable of killing. We've got six bodies to prove that."

The two of them, along with Lieutenant Cruz, were in the Mobile Command Center, still trying to agree on their next move.

"We cannot put those boys back in that room," Nance insisted. "I'm not even worried how that looks from a PR perspective. We just ... can't do it."

He paused.

"We can save at least two of them," he added.

Kevin did not want to hear this.

"This cannot become a minimal loss scenario," he said. "No one in that room is expendable."

"Then SWAT goes in before the clock runs out," Nance proposed. "Kirkland might have left the door unlocked for the boys to come back."

Kevin shook his head.

"I had a situation once," he said. "Guy held his ex-girlfriend hostage in her apartment. Our guys decide to go in. You know what happened? As we were breaching the front door, he shot her and injured the first two guys going in before we could take him out."

He took a deep breath.

"I remember that girl," he said. "She was twenty years old ... a college sophomore. I knew the risks going in and I still let it happen. I cannot put these kids in the same situation."

"You said it yourself," Nance reminded him. "We can't keep going like this. We need to make a move. Show Kirkland we're serious."

"Assuming our guys or yours could breach the classroom before Kirkland harms anyone, we do not have enough time to prepare," Lieutenant Cruz pointed out. "We're already three minutes in on the five-minute window Kirkland gave us."

"So, what do we do?" Nance asked. "Let these boys go back in there and start over?"

Both Kevin and Lieutenant Cruz noticed he was starting to crack. His voice was wavering.

"They're kids," Nance said. "This isn't supposed to happen to them. We have a chance to act."

Kevin nodded.

"How old are your kids?" he asked.

Nance's eyes narrowed.

"Seven," he said. "Twin girls. They are not part of this. I can remain professional. But we've all seen too many dead kids. I was studying at Yale when Sandy Hook happened. I won't forget those news reports anytime soon."

"We're getting nowhere like this," Lieutenant Cruz said. "We need to come up with a strategy now. And it has to be one we can all stand behind."

* * *

"You ready?" Travis asked as Michael finished drying his hands and threw out the soaked paper towel. Mrs. Defesne always insisted they wash their hands when they went to the bathroom. She always seemed to know if they hadn't and would send them back to do this. No one could ever figure out how she knew.

The redheaded Michael stared at the sandy-haired Travis without moving. His eyes then shifted towards the door, the only way in or out of this bathroom. Then, he nodded.

The boys exited the bathroom and paused. They stared down towards the door of their classroom. They could see it's broken window.

"Do we have to go back?" Michael asked in a small voice.

"He told us to come back," Travis pointed out, his volume not much higher.

"Do we still have to?"

"Are you scared?"

Michael didn't answer, instead staring down at his green sneakers. Travis opened his mouth, intending to illustrate how scared he looked, but no words came. His eyes darted between the door to their classroom and the empty hallway leading away from it. They could turn right instead of left.

"What are you doing?" Michael asked, looking at Travis again.

Travis shook his head. He wouldn't answer. He wouldn't admit he was scared.

Then, a figure appeared in the hallway between them and the door to their classroom. The figure was coming towards them. The boys froze, thinking the large man had come out to find them.

"Hey," the figure said.

The boys' eyes widened. This didn't sound like the large man. This sounded like a woman.

"Hi there," the figure said, stopping and flipping up the mask she had over her face. "My name's Rakhee. Are you guys okay?"

The boys studied her. She was smiling, but she was still a stranger.

"I'm with the FBI," Rakhee said, pulling something out of the pocket of her weird uniform. It looked very bulky.

"We're a special kind of police," she explained, showing them her gold badge. "You can trust me."

Both boys stared at the badge until she put it away again.

"Come with me," she said. She was keeping her voice down to a whisper.

The boys looked at one another.

"We're supposed to go back," Travis replied. "He said ..."

"It's okay," Rakhee said. "I'm going to take you out of here."

"What about our friends?" Michael asked, glancing past her towards the door of their classroom.

"My friends will help your friends."

Rakhee pushed back the sleeve of her bulky uniform and checked her watch.

"Come on," she insisted. "We need to go."

The boys glanced at one another again and followed her in the opposite direction from their classroom.

* * *

Vince Dodson was a good marine. He'd served tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq, being awarded a Silver Star for heroism after he and a hastily-assembled team ambushed a group of insurgents who'd captured two other marines.

But there was the one incident which nearly got him kicked out of the Corps. Still a private then, he'd gotten into a serious brawl with another Marine ... over a girl of all things. Dodson now laughed over this cliché.

But, it hadn't been funny then. The other Marine, also a Private, was the son of a Brigadier general who liked to throw his weight around. If the General had gotten his way, Dodson would have received a Bad Conduct Discharge. But a Sergeant Major stood up for him, citing his year of exemplary service, and Dodson instead got sixty days of cleaning the head outside the mess at Camp Lejeune. He never did anything to warrant a superior's ire again.

There was an upside to the whole episode. He met the girl again and married her six years later. After all, the other Marine had been making alcohol-induced, borderline sexist remarks in a misguided attempt to impress her.

When he first heard about the two boys who were being allowed to leave the classroom to use the bathroom, Dodson had volunteered one of his people to intercept them before they went back. But his boss for the time being, Seth Nance from Boston, had vetoed the idea. Dodson had objected, citing the lunacy of allowing those boys back into the clutches of John Kirkland. His objections were noted, but the decision was final.

Dodson kept himself, Rakhee Spencer, and Craig Dennis out of sight when the two boys passed the classroom they were stationed in. He'd caught a glimpse of the tiny figures from behind and froze, just staring. He couldn't visualize them coming back the other way. It just wasn't right.

"This stinks," Dennis remarked, echoing Dodson's thoughts. "All due respect, Sir."

Dodson only nodded, already considering to step out of bounds for the second time in his life. All things considered, it had worked out for the best the first time, but the stakes were much higher now. If those boys didn't return, their classmates and their teacher might never make it out. That was over twenty lives, all but one far under the age of twenty. Still, who could let two boys go back towards the danger when there was a chance to steer them away altogether.

He'd just about made up his mind when Seth Nance hailed him again on the radio. The order was quick and clear.

"Get those boys out."

There was no elaboration.

Relieved, Dodson ordered Rakhee Spencer out into the hallway to carry out this new assignment. She didn't hesitate.

Now, watching her return after she'd delivered the boys to the authorities outside, Dodson thought about everyone still in that classroom. For the first time, his mind could process the dangerous situation they might have now been left in.

"Get ready to move," he ordered.

* * *

John stood in the middle of the room, watching the clock. Still seated at her desk, Andi wished she could see it. It felt as though hours had passed since Travis and Michael had left.

"Time's up," John said, causing Andi to jump.

He stomped to the classroom door, unlocked and opened it, and stuck his head out for just a second. He soon drew it back in. He slammed the door shut and locked it again, muttering under his breath. Andi couldn't understand much, but he was angry.

"I told them," he was saying. "I told them. I warned them. Little, arrogant ..."

He looked at Andi.

"Either they're in the bathroom or they're gone," he said. "Either way, time's up ... for them and you."

The phone rang. John turned on the speakerphone.

"What?!" he barked.

"John," the Sergeant, Kevin, said. "We need to talk."

"Do you have them?!" John raged. "Did you let them disobey me and run?"

There was a pause.

"Yes," Kevin said. "We have both boys. They wanted to go back, but my officer insisted they accompany him outside. So, they went with him.

"That was a dumb move," John said, raising his gun.

Andi was certain they were all about to die. She would haunt that cop for every remaining day of his life and thereafter.

"You shoot anyone, it's over," Kevin said. "Your bargaining position is as precarious as ours ... maybe even more. You start shooting, we come in hot. You know what'll happen."

"Maybe I'm ready for it," John hissed.

"That's how you want to go out?" Kevin asked. "Come on. You know that'll never work."

If the cop were desperate, Andi couldn't tell. She didn't know whether to hug or hit him.

"We'll see," John snarled and hung up.

Andi's heart froze as he whirled to face her students.

* * *

In the Mobile Command Center, Kevin stared at the silent phone. Behind him, Nance and Lieutenant Cruz had their radios out, ready to tell the SWAT Teams to move.

John Kirkland's reaction had been like Kevin feared. Though no one was hearing any gunfire yet, that didn't mean it couldn't begin at any second. He wasn't prepared to let the tactical units go in to end this. He was instead hoping his point had resonated. If the man harmed the teacher or any of those kids, he would have nothing left.

The two boys, Travis and Michael, were hustled into a police cruiser and driven to Mather hospital, where they'd be checked out. their parents were being collected at the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School to be taken to the hospital for the reunion. Detectives would also speak to the boys to try to learn more about the situation inside the classroom. Kevin hoped there would be time for their information to be useful.

* * *

In the classroom, John raised his gun.

"No!" Andi cried. "You can't!"

"Watch me," John growled.

He aimed at the kids, moving the muzzle from one tiny head to the next. Some of them began whimpering while others cried.

"I warned you," John muttered. "I warned everyone."

"Then shoot me," Andi said. "Shoot me if you have to. Please don't hurt them."

She wasn't thinking anymore. She was just acting. The police would probably barge in if they heard gunfire. If it came to that, she'd take the bullets.

John turned and moved towards her. The gun was soon six inches from her head. Andi's heart raced. She wanted to shut her eyes, but she knew she shouldn't. She had to be brave for the kids.

She thought of him. So many years later, she thought of him. He hadn't seen her back then, but his gun had been almost as close, even if it wasn't aimed at her. Again, Andi was sure she was about to die. Again, she fought the urge to cry. Then and now, she understood tears and sobs wouldn't help.

* * *

Vince Dodson led the way out of the classroom, Rakhee Spencer and Craig Dennis close behind him. Further down the hallway, the other three members of the FBI's Divisional SWAT Team emerged and moved forward. No words would be exchanged out here ... just hand signals, nods, and headshakes. Everyone had their Springfield or SIG Sauer pistols raised. The space was too enclosed for rifles.

The two groups approached either side of the classroom door between them. They waited. The door was partially soundproof, so any sound they would hear could only indicate distress. They were ready to react. They'd save who they could.

* * *

In the Mobile Command Center, Kevin picked up the phone.

"What are you doing?" Nance asked, startled.

"He might pick up," Kevin justified. "I'm going to talk to him."

"Are you crazy? You call him now, he'll know we're desperate to get a beat on what is going on in that room. We cannot lose ground now."

Again, Kevin knew the agent wasn't wrong. Problem was, was he right? Scratching his head, he took a deep breath.

* * *

Sitting at her desk, Andi was sure she was about to have a heart attack. But she was determined to stare John down for as long as possible, especially if he kept pointing that gun at her face.

The phone rang again. Keeping his gun pointed at Andi, John glanced at it.

"They want to talk to you," Andi tried. She hoped the sergeant could calm John down and avert bloodshed.

"I don't wanna talk to them," John grumbled. "I don't want to talk anymore. Not to them. Not to you. Not to anyone anymore."

Andi heard a metallic click. Several students gasped. She gritted her teeth, bracing for the shot.

The phone kept ringing in her ears as she thought about Marshall. She'd wanted to kick back with pizza and a movie that evening. Just that morning, she was sure she could talk him into watching The Vow again. Her husband kind of liked Rachael McAdams. They needed to spend more time together.

Suddenly, a new sound penetrated Andi's ears. It took a second before she realized someone was wheezing.

Stacey, a girl with black hair running past her shoulders which somehow always looked too neat for an eight-year-old, had asthma. It seemed the stress of the situation had finally gotten to her.

"What are you doing?" John asked.

He'd turned away from Andi and was looking at the class as the phone kept ringing.

"Stop that," he demanded.

With the gun no longer pointed at her head, Andi could think. She had an inhaler in her desk drawer. She reached for the handle.

"Hey!" John barked, making her jump. "What are you doing?!"

Andi looked up at him. He was pointing his gun at her again. The phone kept ringing.

"She's having an asthma attack," Andi said. "She needs her inhaler."

She remembered him talking about working at a hospital. He had to understand what she was telling him.

"I've been tricked enough today," John said.

"It's not a trick," Andi said, glancing at the drawer again. "I swear, it's not."

"Come on, Man," a boy said. "Let Stacey have her inhaler."

"Shut up!" John barked.

Stacey continued wheezing as tears sprang up in her eyes. Her distress became more and more palpable. Andi tried to think of something she could say to persuade this man to let her help the child. She looked at John again. Maybe she could get him to answer the phone and that would distract him. But he already made it clear he didn't want to talk.

"You have to let me help her," Andi said. "I have to give her the inhaler."

John just stood there, his gun at his side. Stacey's wheezing was now accompanied by random gasps. She was having trouble breathing. And the phone kept ringing.

Andi's heart pounded in her chest, even more than when she thought she was about to die. She glanced at the drawer again. Could she just ignore all the previous warnings and open it to grab the inhaler? She considered if John would shoot her for that. While she'd be willing to take a bullet for her students, she couldn't do so now. If she were dying or dead, who would help Stacey?

Stacey's gasps were becoming more frequent now. Another girl was crying. The ringing phone was becoming more agitating.

"Let her have the inhaler!" a boy demanded.

"Shut up!" John repeated.

He was still just standing there while the phone kept ringing and Stacey kept wheezing and gasping. The whole classroom seemed to become a frozen tableau.

"John!" Andi shouted.

The room grew quiet except for Stacey's gasps and wheezes ... and the ringing phone. Andi had surprised even herself. But she knew she had to keep going.

"She needs her inhaler," she said. "She could suffocate without it."

She was taking deep breaths, trying to remain calm and as clear-headed as possible.

"She could die without it," she said. "Please ... please don't let that happen."

She thought about pointing out that, if Stacey suffocated and died, it would put John in an even more precarious position with the police. It had to be in his best interest to let her help this child. Andi stared at him, willing herself to not blink or cry.

"I need to help her," she said. "Please, let me help her."

John stared back at her. Andi wished she could see his face clearly. Were her words penetrating?

Then, John grumbled something.

"What?" Andi asked.

"Do what you need to do," John said.

Andi needed a second to let these words register. She then considered if this was a trick or a test or something. Then, she kicked herself for succumbing to these distractions. She needed to move.

Andi yanked open the drawer. She took out her glasses case and opened it. She whipped on her spare glasses and pulled out the inhaler.

The room became clear again. Andi could see her students' scared and confused faces. And, she had a clear view of John and his gun. The sight was startling and she paused, absorbing the scene.

"What are you waiting for?" John asked. "What are you trying to pull?"

"No ... nothing," Andi said. She did consider if this were all a trick and that he'd shoot her as soon as she stood up, but she wasn't prepared to wait and figure out if this was the case.

Clutching the inhaler, she sprang to her feet and moved around her desk as fast as she dared. Stacey sat in the second row, third desk in from the window.

"It's okay," Andi said as she approached. "I'm here. You'll be okay."

She crouched down next to the desk and removed the cap from the inhaler's mouthpiece. Confirming it was clear of blockages, she then shook the apparatus vigorously.

"Sit up straight," she told Stacey. "Breathe in and out as best you can. Deep breaths ... in and out."

She watched Stacey's back straighten as she took weak, shaky breaths. They'd been through this before. Andi considered that, if the inhaler didn't work, Stacey would need more medical attention than she could provide. How would she get John to agree to that?

"Just like that," she encouraged, focusing again. "Now, open up."

She guided the inhaler's mouthpiece into Stacey's mouth. When it was in place, she pressed the button to release a dose of Albuterol. Her heart pounded as she worked, but she found herself able to focus.

"Keep breathing," she coached. "As deep as possible."

She waited a few seconds and removed the inhaler.

"Okay," she said. "Hold your breath."

She knew Stacey understood the procedure as well as she did. The child wouldn't question or deviate from her instructions. She waited another few seconds, watching Stacey's face.

"Now," she said, "breathe out slowly."

She watched and listened. Stacey's exhalation still sounded wheezy, but that was normal. Albuterol was fast-acting, not instantaneous.

"Take deep breaths," Andi said. "In and out."

Relief washed over her as the wheezing went away. Stacey would need to be checked out, the school nurse having done this in the aftermath of previous attacks. But, for now, the little girl would be all right.

"You done?" John asked.

The question brought reality back into focus for Andi. She also realized the phone was still ringing.

While Port Jefferson, NY, is a real town, the Ellison Elementary School is fictional.

Cast of characters:

Andi Defesne: 2nd grade teacher at the Ellison Elementary School in Port Jefferson, NY. Taken hostage alongside her students.

John Kirkland: wanted for a violent courtroom shooting and escape in Boston, Massachusetts, and related murders.

Sargent Kevin Greer: hostage negociator for the Suffolk County Police Department. In charge of negociating with hostagetaker John Kirkland at the Ellison Elementary School.

Supervisory Special Agent Seth Nance: representative from the FBI's Boston field office. Assigned to the Kirkland case following the courthouse shooting.

Lieutenant Aldo Cruz: Suffolk County Police official in charge at the scene of the hostage crisis at the Ellison Elementary School. Kevin's superior officer.

Supervisory Special Agent Vince Dodson: commander of the FBIâ??s Divisional SWAT Team from Manhattan.

Marshall Shaffer: Andi's husband.

Feedback, especially recommendations for revisions, additions, and subtractions, are always welcome. Enjoy.
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