CHAPTER ONE - THE WAREHOUSE
"This is one major mega-catastrophe." A baritone voice.
"I'll get the Oldsmobile." Almost a falsetto.
"You'll get the what?" boomed the baritone. "There's armed cops outside this goddamn warehouse. You ain't heard the sirens, the megaphone." Once again the megaphone demanded they walk out, hands held high above their heads.
"We gotta get outta here," the falsetto came back, now in a whimper.
"You open that door one inch and they gun you down in one nano-second," boomed the baritone, " and then they storm in here and they take us out." He was fingering his handgun dangerously. A huge man, beefy foreams bowed, a sailor ready to brawl
"Lighten up guys." A melodious voice, a tenor. The tenor jumped lightly off a forklift truck he had been exploring. He moved some packing cases together to improvise seats. "OK, guys. As long as that megaphone keeps it up, we got time to plan. Sit down." The three of them sat on the packing cases and faced one another.
"This is one major screw-up," repeated the baritone.
"You've already said that," responded the tenor. "Anyone worked out what's in here."
"Mostly newsprint," said the falsetto. "I know this place."
"And what are these buildings outside?" asked the tenor.
"Road in, road out, front and back. Left is commercial. Right is residential," the falsetto answered. The megaphone continued with its demands from outside.
"So this is gonna burn well," said the tenor.
"You what?" yelled the baritone. "You crazy? We smoke ourselves out of here? Save them the trouble?"
"OK, guys. Now listen up. This is the plan. We start the fire by one of those vents up there. Smoke will billow out like the whole building's going up. They got no choice. They gotta get the fire department before we roast those turkeys in the neighbouring buildings."
"So what about us?" The falsetto's voice was not that of a man convinced by this logic.
"How many are we?" asked the tenor.
"You know how many we are," roared the baritone. "Three."
"But that's not what they're gonna think with the firepower we packed in the bank and the police cars we shot up in the chase. We had two automobiles. We could be as many as ten. Not for one second do they think we are three guys." The tenor spoke evenly.
"So what the hell kind of difference does that make?" countered the baritone.
"This is what we're gonna do. You two guys are gonna put on those warehouse coats hanging over there. I'm taking you hostage. As soon as we know a fire truck is outside, I'm gonna act like we're smoked out, and come out with guns at your heads, screaming that I'm gonna negotiate for all of us. They're gonna think the rest of us are still in the warehouse, covering me and the hostages."
"So what the fuck good does that do for us?" the baritone protested.
"This is what the fuck good it does for us," said the tenor. "We walk past the fire truck. If there's a guy in it, we take him hostage. If there isn't we take the truck. If we can't get the truck started, we grab ourselves our personal fire-fighter. Either way we bang straight through the cops blasting at everything that moves or doesn't move, heads, chests and police cars."
"That is one plan!" The baritone was so taken with it, particularly the blasting at the cops bit, that he even omitted his habitual expletives.
"But where do we go?" asked the falsetto. "Fire trucks don't outrun police cars."
"They're gonna be affected by two things: shock when we storm the fire truck; and lead, as in bullets, when we blast them as three, when they think it's only one of us and two hostages. Also they're gonna be concerned about the guys still in the warehouse, as they wrongly think, packing mighty firepower. They'll probably think the bullets are coming from there. The one thing we did right on this job was to pack the firepower. They'll lose valuable seconds, deciding what to do. Nobody is gonna act without orders in this situation. You got that?"
"I got that," said the falsetto.
"So," the tenor continues, " we strap ourselves in the truck, real tight, like good boys, and head for the shopping mall three blocks down. But we don't want to draw attention to ourselves, so we go in the back way. And when I say the back way, I mean straight through the wall at the back. There's gonna be mayhem when our truck ploughs through the mall: merchandise strewn all over the place; shoppers screaming and running for their vehicles in the parking lot. So we are just three ordinary guys, and like everybody else, we just get the hell outta there. Anyone see any weaknesses?"
Outside Captain Kinley was on the radio updating the situation.
"We got the rear covered. I'm at the front. We got men moving into all the adjoining buildings and on the roofs. No contact yet. Any news on how many they are? What? Someone must have seen something. Dead? Six at the bank. What about our guys? Six cops down! Jesus. Just tell me and we'll storm these bastards right now. No, I don't know if there are any workers inside. Yeah, we're still clearing civilians from the adjoining buildings. Give it ten minutes and everyone will be in position."
He turned to Lieutenant Ralphs.
"This is one bloodbath," said Ralphs.
"Yeah, but I think we've got these guys now, as long as we stay cool," the captain responded. "Jesus, there's smoke coming out of there!"
The captain was straight back on the radio. The deliberation was brief. The adjoining buildings were not yet evacuated. The warehouse was a high fire risk. They had to call in the fire trucks. How the hell was he going to keep the trucks covered? He dare not let the fire take, even to smoke out the occupants of the warehouse.
"Ralphs, we'll need to have the trucks right up by the building, but we've got to cover them. How the hell do we do this? We've got to concentrate our firepower on the door. It cracks open and we have it marked from three angles. We see any guys with guns, we shoot first. No one is going to step out of that door with a gun, unless he plans to use it. Our responsibility is to the fire-fighters."
The dispositions were made and orders given. Captain Kinley was tense, but confident that the men inside the warehouse were under control, trapped with but the front and rear exits for escape, and escape they would have to at some point. He heard the wailing sirens drawing closer, and by now black smoke was billowing out of the building. He could not position police cars between the fire truck and the warehouse, for fear of losing the cars to the fire or blocking the freedom of movement of the fire-fighters. He had to leave the fire truck access, free and clear. It was awkward but manageable, he thought. His men were well positioned, with both cover and a clear shot. One man was in the open to direct the first fire truck into position, another truck would come to the rear of the warehouse and two more served as back up.
As the first truck was moving into position the warehouse pedestrian entry door creaked open a couple of inches. The officers took aim. A grey glad arm snaked out, dangling a white cloth. Then the door swung fully open to reveal a warehouseman clad in a grey coat, arms at his sides.
"Hold your fire," screamed Kinley. "Hands above your head."
The warehouseman raised his arms and a second warehouseman stepped forward beside him. And it was then that Kinley saw a third man behind them, a gun to the head of each.
"I'm covered from inside, so hold your fucking bullets," shouted the tenor. "We want to negotiate. One false move and the first of these two workers gets his brains blown out. If I go down they both go down." The warehouse door gaped open behind him to reveal an emplacement of packing cases with gun barrels poking out.
Kinley was experienced and knew he must take the tension out of the standoff, lure them into negotiations and keep them sweet. With civilians still in the surrounding buildings, there was too much at stake, particularly after the mayhem that had taken place in the bank and during the chase. It will be even better if they come right out into the open, he thought, and sure enough they were moving towards him. Apart from one man in the cab, the fire-fighters had jumped out to start work. They now ran to take cover as beckoned by the police on their side of the truck.
From the cover of his position behind a police car, Kinley started to speak through the megaphone. And this was enough to give the tenor direction. Kinley, commander of his troops, took the very first shot through the head. In less than two seconds the trio, with a barrage of gunfire in all directions, were up in the cab of the fire truck, lying on the floor with a gun to the stomach of the driver, and clear instructions in his ear. In the hail of bullets no one appreciated what was happening or where the gunfire came from until the truck roared off. After fifty yards the driver rolled out with a bullet in the stomach.
"Cover the building," Ralphs screamed, as he looked around for a team to chase the fire truck. At least only one of the bad guys was getting away. "Get HQ on the radio. Get the ambulances. He had to establish who had gone down apart from Kinley. He had to keep the building covered. And the fire! Despite total confusion, the second fire truck moved up into position, and the fire-fighters set their operation in motion. Ralphs screamed to his men to get the wounded clear and pulled in the three men closest to him.
"We've gotta go in there," he yelled to the two officers next to him. "Come on." They ran to the corner of the warehouse and then along to where the door was set in the wall.
"OK, you guys," Ralphs whispered. "You poke your guns round the door and blast away at them, but keep it high. I'm gonna roll in underneath their return fire. I've got ten feet to the packing cases, and then I don't know what, but I've gotta do it. Wish me luck." They reached round the doorway firing rapidly and Ralphs dived for the cases, rolling beneath the gun barrels. He grabbed the first barrel, yanked and the gun came free. He grabbed the second, and then realised there was no return fire.
"Hold your fire," he screamed. He lay there in silence, as in no gunfire. Gingerly he pushed a packing case aside. No one was there. Keeping behind the cases he looked around the warehouse. There was no movement.
"Come on out," he shouted. He saw that the fire had taken hold only on the far left corner of the warehouse at the top, and it dawned on him that they had been tricked. He stood up and ran to the back of the warehouse. No one. Behind the rolls of newsprint. No one.
"It's all clear," he shouted back to his two men. "Get the fire truck in here. They'll have this blaze under control in minutes."
Relieved at gaining control of the warehouse, devastated by the loss of Captain Kinley, Ralphs began to radio in his report, still in possession of himself, adrenalin still flowing. Even as he spoke the emergency call came through from the police cars that had given chase to the fire truck. They were at the shopping mall, and needed back up right now. Giving swift instructions to secure the warehouse, he took off himself and reached the mall in less than a minute.
Those seconds of confusion at the warehouse had given the stolen fire truck a lead. The tenor had decided that they would manoeuvre the truck backwards into the mall to limit injury to themselves. The body of the truck had smashed through the wall into rows of shelves in the store, but the lower speed in reverse gear resulted in the cab being stuck outside. The three simply jumped out of the cab and walked around the corner, where they boarded a municipal bus that had just pulled up at the stop. The bus driver pulled away unaware of the chaos that the fire truck had caused in the mall, fortunately limited only to physical damage. As soon as he arrived, Ralphs sealed off the area, but they quickly ascertained that there were no warehousemen, no hostages and no one resembling the occupants of the fire truck. It was a dead end.
John Ralphs, thirty-three year old police lieutenant, personal friend of Captain Kinley, pushed open the door of his apartment three hours later. His wife, Jennifer, rushed forward and threw her arms around him, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"I saw it on the news, John. I can't believe it." The words came through her sobs.
"I was there, Jenny," he said. " I was there. It only hits me now. We lost eight men today and four are in hospital. They're all my friends, were all my friends. There was nothing we could do. We chased these guys and they just blasted the hell out of us and everything else. They rammed a fire truck right into a crowded shopping mall. They set off a fire that could have burnt down a whole apartment block. They gunned down four people in the bank."
"Who are they?" She shuddered.
"So far all I've got is the sight of three of them in those few seconds when they left the warehouse, and the sound of that one guy's voice."