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By Dee Henderson
Thorndike PressCopyright © 2004 Dee Henderson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneKate O'Malley had been in the dungeon since dawn. The members of the emergency response group comprising the SWAT and hostage-rescue teams had been relegated to the basement of the county building during the last department reorganization. The metal desks were crammed together; the concrete walls needed repainting; the old case files made the room smell musty; and the hot and cold water pipes coming from the boiler room rumbled overhead.
The team was proud of its little hovel even if the plants did die within days. The location allowed for relaxed rules. The only evidence of bureaucracy was a time clock by the steel door so those not on salary could get paid for all their overtime.
Despite the dirt on her tennis shoes, Kate had her feet propped up on the corner of her desk, her fingers steepled, her eyes half closed, as she listened to the sound of her own voice over the headphones, careful not to let the turmoil of her thoughts reflect in her expression. She was reviewing the last of four negotiation tapes. Case 2214 from last week haunted her. A domestic violence call with shots fired. It had taken six hours to negotiate a peaceful conclusion. Six agonizing hours for the mother and two children held in the house. Had there been any way to end it earlier?
As Kate listened to thehusband's drunken threats and her own calm replies, she automatically slowed her breathing to suppress her rising emotions. She hated domestic violence cases. They revived unwanted memories ... memories Kate had buried away from the light of day.
The cassette tape reversed sides. She sipped her hot coffee and grimaced. Graham must have made this pot. She didn't mind strong coffee, but this was Navy coffee. Kate tugged open her middle desk drawer and pushed aside chocolate bars and two heavy silver medals for bravery to find sugar packets.
She found it odd to be considered something of a legend on the force at the age of thirty-six, but she understood it. She was a negotiator known for one thing-being willing to walk into any situation. Domestic violence, botched robberies, kidnappings, even airline hijackings-she had worked them all.
Kate let people see what she wanted them to see. She could sit in the middle of a crisis for hours or days if that's what it took to negotiate a peace. She could do it with a relaxed demeanor. Detached. Most often, apparently bored.
It worked. Her apparent boredom in a crisis kept people alive. She dealt with the emotions later, after the situation was over-and far away from work. She played a lot of basketball, using the game to cultivate her focus, let go of the tension.
This was her fourth review of the tapes. Her case notes appeared complete. Kate didn't hear anything she could have done differently. She stopped the tape playback, relieved to have the review done. She pushed back the headphones and ran her hand through her ruffled hair.
She turned to see Graham holding up his phone.
"Line three. Your brother."
She punched the blinking light. "Hi, Stephen."
"Let me guess; you're screening your calls."
She was, but it was an amusing first observation. "I'm ducking the media for a few days. Are you off duty?"
"Just wrapping up. Had breakfast yet?"
Kate picked up the tension in his voice. "I could go for some good coffee and a stack of pancakes."
"I'll meet you across the street at Quinn's."
Kate glanced at her pager, confirming she was on group call. She slid her cellular phone into her shirt pocket as she stood. "I'm heading to breakfast. Anyone want a Danish brought back?" Quinn's was a popular stopping point for all of them.
Requests came in from all over the room. Her tally ended with three raspberry, four cherry, and two apple Danishes. "Page me if you need me."
The stairs out of the dungeon were concrete and hand railed so they could be traversed with speed. Security doors were located at both ends. The stairway opened into the secure access portion of the parking garage. The team's specially equipped communications vans gleamed. They'd just been polished yesterday.
Kate slid on her sunglasses. June had begun as a month of glaring sun and little rain. It parched even the downtown Chicago concrete, coating the ground with crumbling dust. Traffic was heavy in this tight narrow corridor. She crossed against the traffic light.
Quinn's was a mix of new interior and old building, the restaurant able to comfortably seat seventy. Kate waved to the owner, took two menus, and headed to her usual table at the back of the restaurant, choosing the chair that put her back to the wall. It was always an amusing dance when there were two or more cops coming to Quinn's. No cop liked to sit with his back to an open room.
She accepted a cup of coffee, skimming the menu though she knew it by heart. Blueberry pancakes. She was a lady of habit. That decision made, she relaxed back in her seat to enjoy the coffee and tune into the conversations going on around her. The ladies by the window were talking about a baby shower. The businessmen to her left were discussing a fishing trip. Two teenagers were debating where to begin their shopping excursion.
Kate stirred two sugar packets into her coffee. Normal life. After ten years as a negotiator, there wasn't much normalcy left in her own life. The mundane details that most people cared about had ceased to cause the slightest blip on her radar screen. Normal people cared about clothes, vacations, holidays. Kate cared about staying alive. If it weren't such a stark dichotomy, it would be amusing.
Stephen arrived as she was nursing her second cup of coffee. Kate smiled when she saw the interest he attracted as he came to join her. She couldn't blame the ladies. His sports jacket and blue jeans didn't hide his muscles. He could walk off the cover of nearly any men's fashion magazine. Not bad for someone who spent his days dealing with car accidents, fire victims, gang shootings, and drug overdoses.
He wouldn't stay in this city forever-he talked occasionally about moving northwest to some small town with a lake, good fishing, and a job where he would finally get to treat more heart attacks than gunshot victims-but for now he stayed. Kate knew it was primarily because of her. Stephen had designated himself her watchdog. He had never asked; he'd just taken the role. She loved him for it, even if she did tease him on occasion about it.
He pulled out the chair across from her. "Thanks for making time, Kate."
"Mention food and you've got my attention." She pushed over the second cup of coffee the waitress had filled, not commenting on the strain in his eyes despite his smile. That look hadn't been there yesterday when he'd joined her for a one-on-one basketball game. She hoped it was only the aftereffects of a hard shift. He would tell her if he needed to. Within the O'Malley family, secrets were rare.
At the orphanage-Trevor House-where family was nonexistent, the seven of them had chosen to become their own family, had chosen the last name O'Malley. Stephen was one of the three special ones in the family: a true orphan, not one of the abandoned or abused.
They might not share a blood connection, but that didn't matter; what they did share was far stronger. They were loyal, faithful, and committed to each other. Some twenty-two years after their decision, the group was as unified and strong as ever.
They had, in a sense, adopted each other.
"Did you see the news?" Stephen asked once the waitress had taken their orders.
Kate shook her head. She had left early for the gym and then gone straight to the office.
"There was a five-car pileup on the tollway. A three-year-old was in the front seat of a sedan. He died en route to County General Hospital."
Kids. The toughest victims for any O'Malley to deal with. "I'm sorry, Stephen." He decompressed like she did. Slowly. After he left work.
"So am I." He set aside his coffee cup. "But that's not why I called you. Jennifer's coming to town."
Jennifer O'Malley was the youngest in the family, everyone's favorite. She was a pediatrician in Dallas. "Oh?"
"I got a call from her this morning. She's got a Sunday flight into O'Hare." Kate frowned. It wasn't easy for any doctor to leave her practice on such short notice. "Did she say what it was about?"
"No. Just asked which day I was off. She was trying to set up a family gathering. There's probably a message on your answering machine."
Kate didn't wait to find out. She picked up her cellular phone and called her home number, listening to the ring; then the answering machine kicked on. She punched a button to override, added her code, and listened as the messages began to play.
Their breakfasts arrived.
Jennifer had left a message. It didn't say much. Dinner Sunday evening at Lisa's. Kate closed her phone. "I don't like this."
"It gets worse. Marcus is flying back from Washington for the gathering."
Kate let that information sink in as she started on her hot blueberry pancakes. Their oldest brother, a U.S. Marshal, was interrupting his schedule to fly back to Chicago. "Jennifer is one step away from saying it's a family emergency." Let any member of the family say those words and the others dropped everything and came.
Stephen reached for his orange juice. "That's how I would read it."
"None. I talked to Jennifer last Friday. She didn't say anything."
"Did she sound tense?"
"Tired maybe; unusual for her, but given the schedule she keeps, not unexpected."
Kate's pager went off. She glanced at the return number and grimaced. One of these days she was actually going to get to finish a meal. She set down her linen napkin as she got to her feet. "Work is calling. Can you join me for dinner? I'm off at six. I was planning to grill steaks."
"Glad to. Stay safe, Kate."
She grinned. "Always, Stephen. Put breakfast on my tab."
"I've got it covered."
She didn't have time to protest. It was an old debate. She smiled and let him win this round. "See you at six."
* * *
FBI special agent Dave Richman dealt with crises every day of his life. However, being a customer when a bank holdup went down was not one he would recommend.
His heart pounding, he rested his back against the reception desk and prayed the gunman stayed on the other side of the room.
The man had come in through the front door, shot four holes in the ceiling with a handgun, and ordered some of the customers and staff to leave, specific others to stay.
Dave had nearly shot him in the first few seconds of the assault, but the dynamite around the man's chest had halted that idea. The FBI playbook was simple: When facing dynamite, a loaded gun, and a lot of frightened people-don't get anyone killed.
In the initial commotion, Dave had managed to drop to the floor and get out of sight. He had about six feet of customer counter space that ended in an L that made up the reception desk he was hiding behind. So far, it was sufficient. The gunman had the hostages clustered together on the other side of the open room. He hadn't bothered to search the offices or the rest of the room. That most likely meant he was proceeding on emotion -and that, Dave knew, made him more dangerous than ever.
Dave would give anything to have his FBI team on-site. When the local cops surrounding the building ran the license plates for the cars in the parking lot, the trace on his own blue sedan would raise a flag at the FBI office. His team would be deployed because he was present. He had trusted his life to their actions in the past; it looked like he would be doing so again. The sound of sirens and the commotion outside had died down; by now he was sure they had the perimeter formed.
He leaned his head back. This was not exactly how he had planned to spend his birthday. His sister, Sara, was expecting him for lunch. When he didn't show up, she was going to start to worry.
There would be no simple solution to this crisis.
He was grateful God was sovereign.
From the tirade going on behind him, it was obvious this man had not come to rob the bank.
* * *
They had a bank robber that had not bothered to get any money. Kate was already assuming the worst.
The security camera video feeds had just been tapped and routed to the communications van. Four different camera angles. Two were static pictures of empty areas, the front glass doors, and the teller area for the drive up. One was focused high, covering the front windows, but it did show the hostages: five men and four women seated against the wall.
The fourth camera held Kate's attention. The man paced the center of the room. He was big and burly, his stride impatient.
The dynamite trigger held in his right hand worried her. It looked like a compression switch. Let go, and the bomb went off. There was no audio, but he was clearly in a tirade about something. His focus seemed to be on one of the nine hostages in particular, the third man from the end.
This man had come with a purpose. Since it apparently wasn't to rob the bank, that left more ugly possibilities.
He wasn't answering the phone.
Kate looked over at her boss, Jim Walker. She had worked for him for eight years. He trusted her judgment; she trusted him to keep her alive if things went south. "Jim, we've got to calm this situation down quickly. If he won't answer the phone, then we'll have to talk the old-fashioned way."
He studied the monitors. "Agreed."
Kate looked at the building blueprints. The entrance was a double set of glass doors with about six feet in between them. They were designed to be energy efficient in both winter and summer. Kate wished the architects had thought about security first. She had already marked those double doors and those six feet of open space as her worst headache. A no-man'sland. Six feet without cover.
"Graham, if I stay here-" she pointed-"just inside the double glass doors, can you keep me in line of sight?" He was one of the few people she would trust to take a shot over her shoulder if it were required.
He studied the blueprint. "Yes."
"Have Olsen and Franklin set up to cover here and here." She marked two sweeps of the interior. It would be enough. If they had to take the gunman down, there would be limited ways to do it without blowing up a city block in the process.
Kate turned up the sleeves of her flannel shirt. Her working wardrobe at a scene was casual. She did not wear a bulletproof vest; she didn't even carry a gun. The last thing she wanted was to look or sound like a cop. Her gender, size, and clothing were designed to keep her from being perceived as one more threat.
Excerpted from El Negociator by Dee Henderson Copyright © 2004 by Dee Henderson. Excerpted by permission.
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