THE HERALD AND COURIER
THE PEACE OF OUR TOWN SHATTERED
We are in mourning today for the tragic loss of thirteen of our citizens. Few of you will be unaware by now of the dreadful events that shook our town yesterday morning: eight police officers lost their lives in the line of duty; three bank staff were treacherously gunned down; and one innocent bystander died in the gun battle. Four police officers and one fire-fighter lie in hospital with serious wounds.
At eleven a.m. the first of the gang members, brandishing an automatic weapon, entered and sought to take control of the bank branch on Main Street. He was overpowered by the manager and two employees who pinned him to the ground face down. The alarms sounded and within three minutes the first police officers arrived outside the bank.
From this point events are unclear. It seems that another member of the gang, also in the crowded banking hall, went out to greet the officers and advise them that all was under control. As they entered the hall, he shot them in the back. At the same time another gang member, also in the hall, opened fire, killing the bank manager, his two staff pinning down the prisoner, and a customer. The freed gangster rose to his feet screaming to everyone in the hall to lie flat and close their eyes. No eyewitnesses were able to describe his appearance, but several recall his very high-pitched voice.
Outside the building the next police car arrived and both officers were gunned down in their vehicle by the gangster on the street.
At this point it appears the gang aborted their heist and decided to flee. A patrol vehicle arriving at the scene pursued a red Oldsmobile that pulled away from the bank. A Chevrolet swung out behind the patrol vehicle and in a hail of bullets both police officers died in their patrol vehicle.
Having lost six officers already, incredibly the police hemmed in the two escaping vehicles and forced the gang to take refuge in a warehouse on Gridle Street. As the police were securing the area, fire broke out in the warehouse, which adjoins both residential and commercial property. The Fire Department arrived in minutes, but another gun battle ensued. Captain Kinley who had heroically led his men against this brutal gang and trapped them was fatally shot. There was confusion about hostages being taken, and in this confusion three of the gang took off in a fire truck, inflicting a stomach wound on the driver. Mayhem was narrowly avoided when, minutes later, they rammed the truck through the rear wall of Madison's Shopping Mall, destroying much of the store. While the truck escaped the police stormed the empty warehouse. None of the gang, which may have numbered as many as ten, was apprehended.
Our sympathies go out to the families of those for whom we mourn.
While we are in mourning today, questions will be asked later. Why was no one apprehended? Why did the police not stop the escaping fire truck? Was there a catastrophic breakdown of control after Captain Kinley's fatal shooting?
Eyewitness interviews on centre pages.
Jenny looked down blankly at the front page of the newspaper lying on her kitchen table. It was so awful to see it in black and white. Like many businesses in town, hers had stayed closed today as a mark of respect. She looked up as the entry door opened.
"John!" He stood framed in the doorway. His normally erect posture was slumped. The gleam in his blue eyes had been replaced by dull sunken look. His usually fresh features were drawn and haggard.
"I've been suspended," he said.
"Why?" Jenny asked.
"Just when they need me to go after these bastards. We've lost eight men. And they want to investigate me, to investigate what happened."
"What do you mean, John?"
"They're saying they don't know if I did my job. They're saying the Fire Department think I risked their men. I let the runaway fire truck ram the mall, and god knows what else."
"But that's not what happened, John. You told me last night."
"I told you what I saw, Jenny. Others saw it differently. The people taking the decisions weren't even there."
"I don't understand, John."
"Neither do I, Jenny. I've been running it through my mind on the way back. I was in charge for no more that four minutes. Kinley went down in the firefight that lasted maybe three of four seconds. It's not like in the movies or in detective stories. In the real world, like yesterday, a firefight lasts seconds. I focused on the warehouse, where I could see the guns, and where we thought there were maybe as many as nine bad guys. The warehouse was on fire. I had to get in there. That was about thirty seconds. I spent no more than a minute in the warehouse, maybe fifteen seconds reporting back, and then within a minute we were at the mall. I secured the situation instantly there - everyone was co-operating and no one was panicking, despite what had happened. Four minutes, Jenny, just four minutes. After that it was just a question of checking everyone out and cleaning up."
"So why are you suspended?"
"Some of the guys say they could have stopped the truck. Ross thinks I stopped him shooting the guy with the hostages after Kinley was hit. The Fire Department say the police hindered them in tackling the blaze and risked the driver of the fire truck unnecessarily. It's a mess."
They looked at each other and realised that this was not there real concern. They were both thinking of the friends they had lost yesterday. In a lower voice John Ralphs continued. "Jenny, what happened yesterday was real. What is happening today is bureaucracy. From the moment I took charge yesterday not one life was lost. I risked everything going into that warehouse, to make sure of that. Whatever they may say now, I had to do that. I could not have saved Kinley or men who went before him, or the officer who went down with him. If I had stopped the fire truck, maybe the driver would be dead, rather than wounded, and probably more officers would be dead." She took his hand.
"I know, John," she said.
Ross came by that evening to fill John in on developments. They had trained together, worked together and if John was technically ranked higher, they both recognised this as being through chance and not ability. After the initial greeting Jenny left them to it, and John poured them both a Jack Daniels. Ross sat back and relaxed. Close to six feet tall, his stature was similar to John's. He too had blue eyes and boyish looks, though not today.
"Hey, John, you're not looking so good," Ross opened.
"And you look even worse, buddy. So what gives on the case?" John enquired.
"Nothing. We know nothing more than you already know. We don't even know what they planned in the bank," Ross responded.
"Do we know how many they were?" John asked.
"Apart from the three you and I saw, the rest just vanished," Ross replied.
"I need to work on this, Ross."
"I know you do. The bosses have to do their thing, I guess. This is the worst atrocity that has ever happened in this town. It's their job to hedge their bets right now," Ross explained.
"Why do they need to do that?" John asked.
"Well," Ross continued, "to contain any screw-ups, real or perceived. I didn't see the crime scene the way you did, John. My statement, it seems, was not in your favour."
"Well, what did you see then, Ross?"
"I smelt smoke from the warehouse. I saw three guys come out. I saw Kinley stand up where I was crouched beside him. I saw him lift the megaphone to his lips. Then a bang and he was down. I leapt up covered in Kinley's blood, wiped my eyes clear and saw weapons drawn out of the pockets of the pretend hostages. I drew my gun and got a clear line on them. You stopped me from shooting, John."
"You raised your right arm at waist height and turned the palm towards me, John. I had a clear sight. I saw the guys pull their guns, and I was going to shoot, until you stopped me."
"I don't recall doing that, Ross, and if I did, it wasn't to stop you."
"But you did stop me, John," Ross persisted.
" I was focused on the warehouse," John continued, "at stopping the nine remaining guys. Then when I saw a hostage climbing into the truck with a gun in his hand, I guessed he had overpowered the bad guy and was taking cover in the truck from the guys in the warehouse, who it seemed to me were blasting in every direction."
"But you see, John, that isn't what happened. They've been interviewing the officers who were present and getting all kinds of different stories. The main story that's coming out is that you heroically, single-handedly stormed an empty warehouse, while the only guys who could lead us to the gang drove off, god help us, in a fire truck."
"That's after the event, Ross. That's once we all know what happened. Back then I saw one bad guy, two hostages, and one warehouse full of bad guys with heavy weapons, a warehouse on fire, threatening neighbouring buildings."
Ross eyed John steadily. "Unfortunately, reality went on to undermine your position, John. Unfortunately, I saw it differently at the time and told them what I saw, before I had any idea there would be an investigation. What I saw is what actually happened. I saw one bad guy and two hostages turn into three very bad guys who had killed my captain. I saw those guys steal a fire truck that was supposed to be putting out a fire. I saw one warehouse totally under our control with all exits covered. No one else could get out. I saw the opportunity to shoot and apprehend, dead or alive, three bad guys, who are now free. When you stopped me, I had to assume you had a better plan, and followed orders."
"I get your point, Ross. But we didn't know. I had to do the best I could. Judge the best I could. I was in control for just four minutes. In a critical situation there were no further fatalities."
"A critical four minutes, John. Fact is the bad guys got away, bad guys who killed eight police officers and civilians. Fact is the Fire Department went apeshit."
John looked at Ross and for the first time reality began to dawn on him. This was a real investigation and his, Lieutenant John Ralph's, actions were being questioned. He began to have doubts about his own judgement at the scene. Ross saw these thoughts developing and stopped him stone dead.
"John," Ross said, "let me be clear about this. It just happens that what I saw proved to be true after the event. Luck was on my side. You knew there were hostages and you were looking at the warehouse for the source of gunfire, so you did not see what I saw. That's all. Your hand movement was probably an unconscious warning to me to get down that I misinterpreted. That's why you don't remember it."
"You know what I want more than anything, Ross. I want to get on this case and nail these bastards. And you know what? From what you've just said, I don't think that's going to happen." John leant back in his seat, deflated.
"I don't think we would be on this case anyway, John. It's too big for us."
It took Lieutenant John Ralphs less than a week to work out that the luxury of not having to get out of bed to go to work was no luxury, that the luxury of being paid to stay at home was no luxury, and that the freedom to do whatever he wanted was no freedom for him. What he wanted to do he could not do, so long as he was suspended. He went out: he came home. He tried to read: he couldn't concentrate. He watched TV: there was nothing to watch. He would see friends, but friends were at work. He worked out at the gym: the gym was empty. He went to the shopping mall, but there was nothing he needed to buy. He stuck his head in a bar - empty. On the fifth day he called Ross on the phone and learnt that there was no progress on any front, least of all on the investigation into him.
By the time Jenny came home in the evening of the fifth day, a course of action was beginning to form in his head. What the police had to go on was forensics: bullets, weapons and the abandoned stolen cars. Ross had given him one snippet of information. A very realistic false nose had been found on the floor of the bank, so the gang had been disguised. This meant that even the brief view of the three men coming out of the warehouse was unlikely to be of value. Meanwhile he was the police, but they were paying him to sit at home doing nothing.
Why should he not undertake some investigations on his own? There is nothing illegal in that, he had nothing to do and he knew as much as anyone else. He needed someone to talk this through with. He would talk it through with Jenny. Maybe he could also get Ross interested. When it came down to it, they all wanted to nail the bastards. Even though he was suspended, surely they would appreciate any valuable private assistance he could lend. Maybe he could even do things in an unofficial capacity that they would not want to do officially. The idea was beginning to excite him, and the boredom of the last five days was slipping away.
Jenny came in, bouncy as usual. The pall hanging over the beginning of the week was lifting. Her shoulder-length blonde hair bounced with her, like in the commercials, blending with her pale complexion and chestnut eyes. She was smiling, wanting her cheerfulness to spill over onto John. She was surprised by his good spirits and new enthusiasm. Over the course of the evening he went through his thoughts with her. Now they were sitting over a bourbon.
"What it comes down to Jenny, all I have, is that voice. The sound of those words is taped onto my consciousness: 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. Three full sentences Jenny. You know, it's like when you answer the phone: you don't have to ask your friends who it is, mostly they don't even say. I'll know that voice anywhere."
"But John, we don't know, where he comes from, if he's local or out of town. We don't even know what they planned."
"And you know the other thing I might recognise," John continued, "is the way he moves. I've got nothing to lose, Jenny. I have time on my hands. What we have to do is work out how to do the search."
Jenny thought about this. "You know, in the old days you could have been a telephone operator. I'm brainstorming, John."
With John it sparked: "That's fantastic, Jenny. What's the equivalent today? It's even better. It's telephone sales. I can call any godamm number I like. I don't even need them to listen to me. I can do such a pathetic screwed up sales pitch that they just tell me to go away, relieved to get me off the line and think no more of it. The only problem is the women answer the phones."
Jenny laughed. "John, the police are do not always lead the way in being politically correct, do they? Maybe he's not married."
"You know what I'm going to do. I'm going to meet Ross at lunch break tomorrow, and we're going to work out a system for generating numbers to call. We'll draw up a profile of who the guy might be and match it to telephone numbers. This is truly amazing. I've been thinking about this all afternoon and the best I could come up with was to be a taxi driver or a bartender, people who get to hear strangers speak."
John was sitting in Juanita's eyeing the menu, when Ross came in, and took a seat opposite. After the usual jokes about the menu, Ross turned to the subject.
"You know, since we talked last night I checked out a few things on the department's computer and did a couple of calculations," Ross said.
"And what did you come up with?" John asked.
"Well," a smile was playing on Ross's lips, "we reckon that if you keep it down to twenty seconds per call, you could poll the whole US in, say, about one hundred and fifty years. The problem is, the way we see it, that even if you get lucky, and get him half way through, you'd still be dead by then. This is real traditional gumshoe stuff, John."
"So this it a screwed up plan, is it?" John looked miserable.
"As luck would have it," Ross continued, "my brother, Chris, was round last night. He's in software development. He was excited. Said this could be a totally new idea worth looking at. He suggested you show up at his place at two today, after we've had lunch."
John pulled up outside a smoked glass building with parking spaces in front. He entered the foyer and a porter called up for Chris. They introduced themselves and Chris took John through to a meeting room on the ground level. Chris jumped straight in without any preliminaries.
"I'll tell you what I think, John. In my business we spend our time working out ways to shape reams of data into meaningful form. When we have a good system we sell it as often as we can. Now tell me. You know this guy's voice?"
"I'd recognise it anytime, Chris."
"Then forget this telephone sales crap. All you've got to do is have him answer the phone. When my wife says hello I know it's her. I don't ask her to speak three sentences, which is what I gather you are working off," Chris explained.
"You're right. I hadn't seen it like that, Chris."
"So we're going to do four things. One: do a profile of the guy. Two: use the profile to eliminate telephone numbers we don't need to call. Three: automate the calling process on a PC. Four: evaluate the results. We will eliminate most calls with an automatic process on the PC and what is left will be recorded for you to listen to."
"Jesus, Chris. Can we do that? You mean the PC makes all the calls, sifts through them and I just listen to the likely ones."
"You've got it, John. If we had the guy's voice taped, you wouldn't even have to do that. We'd just wait for an acoustic match. In this case we have to use you for that bit. Think you can do it?" Chris asked, grinning.
"You bet, Chris."
"OK, John. We want to do the tightest profile of the guy possible. It doesn't matter if we get it wrong, because we can always come back and change it, but with a tight profile, you'll find we have surprisingly few calls to make. Use your gut feel, John."
"So I draw up a profile?" John asked.
"Yeah, and get Ross to help. He was there too. Start with the easy bits. He wasn't a woman, right? Did he sound educated? Do bank robbers live in the country or towns? Would someone come in from New York to plan a raid in our little town? What's his likely age range? For example, we could eliminate all the phone numbers which have been in place for more than five years if he was, say, twenty-five. But you guys are policeman. You know all this better than me. You get the gist?"
"This is fantastic, Chris. And I thought we were brainstorming last night."
"Bring, me a profile tomorrow, John. But do one thing. Get hold of a keyboard. You know, one of those Jap things. Switch it to human voice and try and get me an acoustic range. Listen to some CD's with male singers, and try and get one in the same range. That way I'll write into the program that any voice outside that range is eliminated immediately. And, John, some of those guys who died were my friends. I'm gonna have a PC here in the office make the calls and bill it to software development." John left the building walking on air, suddenly glad that he was suspended. No way would they have followed up this lead back in the Police Department.