by C. Michael Chase
God how I hated this place. Hospitals. With their over-sterilization and too-sweet receptionists, like they can even begin to imagine the pain and fear that you have to live with. The high-brow doctors with their canned phrases. ‘I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do.’ I had come to hate this place. More than any scumbag drug dealer that I had to chase down. More than any sociopathic murderer on a rampage. Because here, I was powerless.
I shouldered the double glass doors open roughly, bringing my gun up to its standard position as I cleared the door, my right shoulder back, arm fully extended, my left arm bent at the elbow, cupping the bottom of the gun in my hand. I swept the barrel across the room. The plain blue and maroon couches and chairs lined the walls, with their potted plant companions and boring wooden coffee tables littered with miscellaneous magazines. The pervasive smell of disinfectant and sanitizer assaulted my nostrils as I started down one of the hallways, holding the gun at level, my eyes constantly searching for an enemy.
“Jason,” my partner began behind me, his voice hushed and nervous. “I know you think you’re some kind of Rambo, but it’s not just you on the line here. There are hostages in there. You can’t just go kicking-”
“One of those hostages is my daughter,” I spat with fury, peering through the small glass square at eye level. Clear. I pushed the door open quietly and scanned the hallway on the other side.
“That’s why you gotta let us handle this. You aren’t in your right mind. S.W.A.T. will be here soon and they’ll take care of it.”
“I can’t.” I couldn’t say anything else. There was nothing else to say. I couldn’t remain powerless. Six long years in my six-year-old daughter’s short life of being powerless. Of not being able to stop her suffering. Of hoping, waiting, for anything that could make it better. And now this. But I could do something about this. I could save her this time. I would save her this time.
I whirled on him, sending the gun he held in his hand skittering across the ground. He ducked the following punch, and lunged forward into my gut.
I stumbled back, and before I could return fire, he pushed me away from him, clearing my reach. “Jason, you need to calm down. This is exactly why you need to let S.W.A.T. handle this.”
“And what if they can’t!? What if they can’t… and I didn’t do anything?” I gave form to the fear that I had been fighting. It reared its ugly head like some dark dragon from a fairy tale, and I some helpless villager at its mercy. I fought back the tears of terror and rage, a painful lump swelling in my throat.
He stood there in front of me, his stance relaxed, but ready. I could tell that he didn’t have an answer. He couldn’t have. There wasn’t one.
I took a deep breath and then steeled myself. “So are you going to help me? Or continue being a pain in the ass?”
He sighed and retrieved his gun. “What kind of partner do you think I am? Without me, you’d be dead in no time.”
We moved through the white hallways silently, past patient rooms and operating rooms. I had entered through the opposite wing of the hospital to keep from being detected. I wanted to get as close as possible before they realized I was coming for them.
Of course, that didn’t matter if one of them was smart enough to be checking the security cameras. I just had to hope they weren’t that smart.
“Do we know what these guys are after?” Kevin asked me.
“Why take hostages in a hospital?”
“Nobody said criminals were smart.”
“What? You think they’re after drugs?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said after a few moments, and it didn’t. They were threatening my daughter and that’s all that I needed to know.
“You realize you’re going to lose your job right?” he said after another few moments. He never could keep his mouth shut. Even when it could get us killed, like right now. “And I’m at least going to get suspended if I’m not thrown out right behind you.”
“You can always go back,” I said through gritted teeth. I would deal with the consequences later. But no price was too high right now.
After a few moments of silence, I looked back to make sure that he was still there. He was, but I could tell that he wasn’t really happy about it either. He had never been one to go against protocol. He smiled weakly at me. I nodded back at him.
We neared the children’s ward where they had holed up. Scum of the earth. Men who would use children as hostages. Who would put a child through that trauma to protect themselves? They deserved what was coming to them.
I took position to the side of the double doors marking the entrance. Kevin took the other side. I took a few steadying breaths, made eye contact. He nodded. I nodded back once. Twice. Three times.
I kicked the door opened and swept in. Empty in this room. Move to the next. Empty. Next. Empty.
We continued like this methodically. Most of the patients and staff that hadn’t been taken as hostages had already been evacuated from the building, and this area was deserted. Things had been hastily left behind. We passed an overturned gurney in an automatic doorway. Every few moments the doors attempted to close only to be stopped and forced to reopen. Further on a mop bucket had been knocked over, spilling sud-brown water over the white-tiled floors, soaking the papers that had fallen from the nearby nurses’ station.
What would they be after in a hospital? Drugs? There are a lot easier ways to get drugs. They had to be after something else. I pushed those thoughts away. It didn’t matter what they were after. They had my daughter. I could figure out why they were here later.
I breezed through the next door. The dark-clothed man on the other side of the door started to turn. His green eyes were wide with shock behind the dark green stocking cap pulled over his face. It was one of those that had the eyes and mouth holes.
The many years of martial arts training took over, and before I had even fully registered that he was there, one hand shot out, seizing the gun he held in one hand, the butt of my gun slamming forward into those wide eyes, sending him down to the ground in sweet oblivion. I was past him before he hit the ground.
Kevin stopped to bind the guy with a zip-tie and remove the stocking cap while I moved to the next door, peering through the small square of glass with its cross-hatched steel wires. I couldn’t see anyone in the hallway on the other side, but I thought I saw movement further down, in one of the rooms.
I looked back to see how Kevin was doing. The man he knelt over was young, no more than twenty. Too young. His dirty-blonde hair and green eyes didn’t belong here. A cut on the bridge of his nose where I had hit him welled up with blood, and his eyes were already darkening. He would have one hell of a headache when he woke up, not to mention a broken nose and the accompanying black eyes.
Kevin joined me at the door. I nodded to the window and he looked in. After a few moments he nodded. Another slow count to three, and we blazed through the door, belting out our battlecry.
“NYPD! Put your weapons down and get your hands where I can see ‘em!”
Through the door and look to the left. Kevin looks to the right. One guy. He raises his gun, a submachine gun. I squeeze the trigger. Pop. Again. Pop. He jerks. Falls to the ground. No shots from behind me.
I turn towards the little voice as two more come out of a room. Kevin turns with me. We squeeze off a few shots, and then dive for cover, me to the corner, and Kevin back through the door. Bullets blast through the door, tearing it to pieces in moments.
As soon as the bullets stop, I peek around the corner. I recognize the hallway. She’s here, down where I had seen movement. Two more shots, and one of them goes down, a bullet in his knee. The other grabs him and starts to drag him back in the room. Bullets from Kevin and he goes down with a shoulder wound.
I race down the corridor, my gun trained on the two downed men, kicking their guns away from them.
I stop. Slowly turn into the room. One last man. Dark clothing and a green stocking cap, like the rest. His cap is pushed up over his black hair, revealing deeply tanned skin and a lined face. Hard, black eyes and day-old stubble. One arm extended towards me with a pistol. The other wrapped around the slender body of my daughter, a shield to protect him.
Her plain hospital gown draped over her small body. The red marks of the needles that had been in her arms until she had been rudely ripped from her safe haven. Her dark red hair, so much like her mother’s, fell past her shoulders in a wavy cascade. Wide, pale green eyes and cheeks flushed with fear.
I raise my hands, pointing the gun upward. “Please.” I can’t help the terror in my voice.
“Daddy!” she yells weakly.
“Quiet, princess,” the man sneers, jerking her around. He looks at me. “Drop it.”
I do. I try not to glance at Kevin, behind me down the hallway. He can’t do anything.
“This your daddy?” he cooes to my little girl. She’s crying. “How sweet.”
“Please,” I say again. “Just let her go.”
“And then what?”
“Please. She’s sick.”
“She ain’t the only one.”
Just then I notice the other person in the room. The little boy that had shared a room with my daughter for three weeks. His dark skin and black hair. Those eyes. I looked back. The soft planes of that face that would one day harden into the man that held my daughter.
I recognized him now. The last time that I had seen him, he had been in an orange jumpsuit, chains on his wrists and ankles, flanked by two prison-transport guards as they led him through the hospital hallways. I spoke with the guards while the man sat with his son. He faced execution, and had been granted dispensation to see his son before he died. Almost fifty counts of first-degree murder. Guilty plea on the condition that he be allowed to see his son before he was killed. A real psychopath.
“I just wanted to see my son again,” he said quietly. “One last time.”
“No one else has to get hurt. Please. Just let her go.”
Unshed tears brim up behind his eyes. “No one else?” he said weakly. “I don’t care about anyone else.” He looked to the side, at his son. “I can’t take him with me. He can’t live on the run, sick as he is. This is goodbye.” A tear left his eyes and slowly drifted down the hard planes of his face.
Even as this man held my own sick and terrified daughter, tears streaming down her face, I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for him. Forced to abandon his sick son. To abandon the one thing he cared about. The one thing he could care about. And I thought about the one thing I cared about, since her mother had passed and left me with a sick daughter to care for. My whole world.
“Please,” I say. “You’ve seen him. You can go now. I won’t follow. You can get out of here.”
The gun in his hand quivers. “With the building surrounded? S.W.A.T. here at any moment and all alone? No. There’s nothing left for me.”
I jump forward. He squeezes the trigger. A hammer of force pounds against my vest once, twice, but I spur the last two feet with desperation. One fist from the shoulder over his, connecting with his face, my other arm scooping my daughter away from him. I swing her behind me and to the ground and safety and turn back.
He snarls in rage and brings the gun up. I knock it aside, a shot rings through the room, and glass and sparks shower over the room as one of the lights go out. My other hand comes up, snapping the gun out of his hand. One fist. He drops to the ground. I follow him down in a vicious rage. Two fists. Three. Four. Five. I keep hitting him until my knuckles come away bloody. The boy watches me, unmoving, emotionless. My daughter watches me, crying weakly and gasping for air, her little body spasming as she succumbs to the fear.
I fall to the side, sitting next to the unconscious man. Kevin stands in the doorway. After a few moments, “Call it in,” I say quietly. “She needs a doctor.”
I pick her up and place her in the bed. She’s still crying. Her breath is labored. “It’s going to be okay, babe. I got you.”
She tries to cling to me, but she’s too weak. She needs a doctor. She continues to jerk against my chest, her little muscles shaking her body. Tears well up in my eyes. “Daddy,” she pleads, struggling for air.
The tears fall from my eyes, staining her gown. “I don’t know what to do, babe. I don’t know how to help you. The doctors are coming. They’ll make it better. Just hold on, babe.”
She looks into my eyes, pain and fear that should never be in a child’s eyes looking up at me. “Daddy,” she forces out.
I hug her tight. No. No. No no no no no… “It’s going to be okay. Please. Just… please.”
Her grip weakens even more on my collar, her hand falling away, her terrified eyes struggling to stay open.
“M-mommy…” she whispers.
“No. Allison. No… Baby, stay with me. Please. Don’t.”
“Mommy’s… ,” she says again into my ear. “…gonna t-take… care of me…”
A wretched sob escapes my throat, shuddering through my body as I hold her limp body to my chest.