|Jump Street Archive|
"You want to tell me, again, why we're doing this?" Tom Hanson muttered.
He was sitting on the floor outside the Teachers' Lounge, huddled in an overcoat that did nothing to keep out the frigid air, blowing on his numb fingers. Beside him, Harry Ioki crouched, with his gun in his hand, peering into the room through a narrow crack between the door and jamb. Hanson's gun lay in his lap, forgotten in his need to restore circulation to his extremities.
Harry eased back from the door and propped his shoulders against the wall. "He's in there."
"I can't see from here, but..."
"Iokage, if you've dragged me back into this icebox in the middle of a blizzard, for anything less than a kid with a howitzer, you're gonna be one sorry man."
Harry grinned, completely unfazed by his colleague's lack of enthusiasm. "I told you, I saw the gun. He pulled an AK-47 out of his trunk and stuck it under his coat."
"And came back in here to shoot up the Teachers' Lounge. Right."
"Or the teachers."
"The teachers left with the students an hour ago."
"Not all of them. Listen."
Hanson obediently listened, and sure enough, he could hear two distinct voices coming from inside the room. One of them sounded like Mrs. Lunt, the English teacher, and the other was definitely the Principal. He couldn't hear their words through the heavy door, but he could tell that they were both upset.
After a moment of straining to hear, Hanson whispered, "Where'd Fowler go?"
"He's standing right there, but I can't see what he's doing."
Ioki chewed on his lip nervously, trying to think of some option that didn't involve barging into that room, but he came up dry. Quentin Fowler, a high school senior with a bad drug habit and a worse temper, had gone in there with an AK-47. He had at least two faculty members in there with him. That left the Jump Street cops with only one course of action - to get into the room and disarm the kid, before he hurt someone. The fact that he would probably hurt them in the process didn't come into the equation. They had a job to do.
Harry was used to doing this job. He usually didn't mind that it was dangerous, sometimes violent. But he hated assault weapons, especially in the hands of drugged-out adolescents. And he hated knowing that he would probably have to shoot someone - a kid, no less - to get out of this one alive. If there weren't innocent people involved... if they weren't the only cops around for miles and cut off from the outside world by downed phone lines and a worsening storm... if he weren't so damned dedicated to his stupid job... Basically, if he were a different person living in an alternate universe, he would walk away from this mess and let someone else clean it up. But he was still H.T. Ioki, and a cop, and constitutionally incapable of walking away. Even from this.
So, instead of suggesting that they high-tail it out of there and get themselves a cup of coffee, he shot Hanson a "guess-what-we-have-to-do" look and lifted his gun.
Hanson nodded acceptance. Swiftly and silently, he rose to his feet, crouched in readiness to burst through the door, and leveled his gun. The two officers exchanged a nervouse glance.
Before they could move, they heard the vicious chatter of an automatic weapon firing. A woman screamed, something hit the floor with a thud, and Hanson's foot lashed out to strike the door. Ioki lunged through the opening. He felt, more than heard, the click of the machine gun bolt drawing back, and he instinctively hit the floor, rolling. When he came to his feet again, Hanson was inside the door, sweeping the room with his weapon. Ioki shifted to put a wall at his back and did a quick scan of the room, himself. What he saw brought his stomach up into his throat.
Mr. Patterson, the Principal, lay sprawled on the floor in a spreading crimson pool. His white shirt was a hideous mess of ragged holes and blood. Fowler - a gaunt figure in high-top sneakers and a huge overcoat - stood facing them, holding his AK-47 in one hand and a trembling Mrs. Lunt in the other. He had his forearm locked across the woman's throat and his gun barrel screwed into her temple. The eyes that glared over her head at the cops were a mad, blazing blue.
"Who the hell are you?!" he howled. "What are you doing here?!"
"We're police officers," Ioki answered.
Hanson said, "Let Mrs. Lunt go and put your gun down."
Fowler glared at them for a moment, enraged and confused, obviously struggling to make a decision. Then he jerked his head to the left, indicating that he wanted them to move, and said, "Get away from the door."
After exchanging a tense look, both Hanson and Ioki obeyed, keeping their eyes and their guns on Fowler, while he twisted around to keep his hostage between his body and their weapons. They came to an abrupt halt, when Hanson's foot landed in a puddle of blood. Fowler hesitated, as though he couldn't quite figure out what to do next, then he began dragging Mrs. Lunt backward, toward the door.
"Stay the hell away from me! You follow me, and I'll kill 'er!"
Mrs. Lunt uttered another piercing scream, as Fowler hauled her out of the room. Then the door slammed shut.
Ioki ran to the door and bent close to listen. Hanson knelt to examine the body at his feet.
"Yuck. His chest looks like ground beef."
Harry shot one glance at the dead man and shuddered. "We can't do anything for him. Let's go find Fowler, before he hurts that teacher."
Something about the look on his face startled Tom. He crossed to the door and asked, frowning, "You okay?"
Harry nodded shortly, but the way his lips had thinned and his face had tightened warned Tom that he was lying. Or at least stretching the truth. He opened his mouth to demand an explanation, but Harry didn't give him a chance.
Pulling open the door, Ioki slipped into the dim hallway. Hanson surrendered to the inevitable, swallowed his doubts, and followed on his partner's heels. The only sound they heard, as they faded into the shadows, was the howl of the storm outside.
* * *
The two officers crept down one hallway after another, past countless empty classrooms, tracking their quarry. Twice, they heard shrieks and shouted curses, but when they headed in the direction of the noise, they found Fowler gone. They felt their frustration rise and their nerves fray, but the cries told them that the hostage was still alive and gave them renewed determination.
As they passed a pair of exterior doors, Hanson paused to look out the window. He saw nothing but a thick, swirling, white mass.
From behind him, Ioki said, "I guess Fuller isn't coming."
"Not in this mess."
Both men turned away from the depressing sight. They had known that the weather was bad when Principal Patterson ordered the school evacuated in the middle of the day. And by the time they'd headed back into the building on Fowler's heels, the snow had been falling thickly enough that they couldn't see the street from the front steps. Hoffs had gone in search of a working phone, to notify the captain of the situation with Fowler, and had not come back. Hanson and Ioki could only assume that she had not been able to reach the school again, through the driving snow - which meant that Fuller couldn't get to them either.
They had known this, intellectually, but the sight of all that snow brought it home to them in a visceral way. They were on their own. Just them, a crazed teenaged gunman, a hostage and a dead man.
* * *
Tom was on point, leading the way down yet another featureless hallway toward the cafeteria at the far end. He reached an intersection in the corridor and paused to do a quick visual check of the side hall. Nothing. With an all-clear gesture to Ioki, he stepped away from the wall.
The woman's cry came half a second before the first shot, giving Tom enough time to fling himself toward the far wall and cover. Then the automatic cut loose. Tom felt a blaze of white-hot pain across his forehead, as he hit the floor. Shells gouged holes in the tile and slammed into the lockers behind him. Screams and shouts echoed all around him. He was still rolling with his initial impact, when another body collided with his and shoved him roughly forward.
He came to a stop, fetched up against a row of lockers on the far side of the wide opening from where he'd started, with Ioki half on top of him. Harry twisted around and scrambled to his feet.
"Fowler! Hold your fire!" he shouted.
"Get away from me!!" Fowler howled. "I told you to stay away!!"
"Put down your gun, now, before it's too late! Don't make me shoot you!"
The boy laughed - a desperate, tearing sound. "You stupid cops never listen!" A final burst of bullets punctuated his words, then he backed down the hallway away from Ioki's raised gun, dragging the weeping Mrs. Lunt along with him. "Don't follow me, cop! Don't come after me, or she's dead!"
Harry watched, helplessly, as Mrs. Lunt's flailing arms disappeared around yet another corner, then he holstered his weapon and dropped to knees beside his friend.
"Hanson?" Tom dragged his eyes open to see Harry leaning over him. "Talk to me!"
Tom tried to lift his head away from the cold, hard steel of the locker and winced when a fresh pain ignited behind his eyes. "Okay..." he muttered, thickly, "I'm okay..."
"No, you're not."
With a heartfelt groan, Tom rolled partially onto his side, struggling to get an arm under himself for leverage. Harry caught his shoulders and tried to lift him, forcing another grunt of pain from him.
"Go on," Hanson gasped. "I'm okay. Go get the son of a bitch, before he kills her..."
"I can't leave you here!"
"He's got a hostage, Ioki!"
"He's already gone!"
Hanson deflated, the fight suddenly draining out of him. "Oh, man, it hurts."
His mouth tight with strain, and his eyes grim, Ioki once again grasped Hanson's shoulders and pulled him upright. Hanson collapsed back against the lockers, taking shuddering, grateful breaths to steady his writhing stomach. When he tried to open his eyes, the world spun around him and pain blazed in his head.
"What happened?" he choked out.
"He creased you pretty bad."
Tom fingered the oozing, three-inch gash along his hairline, just above his right eye. He found it hard to believe that such a small, shallow wound could be the sole culprit, since he felt as though he'd been kicked in the face by an elephant - then stepped on, for good measure. So this is what a bullet from an automatic weapon felt like...
"You have to keep your eyes open, Tom. You have to stay awake."
Responding to the anxiety in Harry's voice, he cracked his eyelids open. "Ungh...bad idea."
"Open your eyes!"
"Why don't you go away...go catch the bad guy. You're giving me a headache."
"I can't. If you fall asleep, you might..."
As Ioki broke off, shying away from dangerous ground, Hanson finally collected his scattered, aching thoughts and turned an understanding gaze on his friend. "Sorry. I won't fall asleep, I promise." A pause, then he asked, "Now what do we do?"
Ioki sat down heavily on the floor and propped his head in his hands. "I don't know. I can't leave you here alone, but I can't..."
"Fowler's outta control. You have to get that hostage away from him."
"I can't leave you alone," he insisted, stubbornly.
"Then I'll come with you."
"It's okay, Harry. I'll be fine."
Ioki hesitated, then gave a weary nod and pushed himself to his feet.
* * *
Once again, the two men prowled the halls. They moved more slowly than before, with Hanson leaning heavily on Ioki's shoulder or stumbling along behind him, and they stopped frequently to rest. At each stop, Ioki did a quick circuit of the nearby rooms. He wouldn't let Hanson out of his sight, but he left him propped against a handy wall while he scouted for any sign of Fowler. Tom moved in a fog of pain and nausea, unable to function on his own but equally unable to let his partner face Fowler alone. So he clung doggedly to consciousness, told himself repeatedly that he had to stay awake and moving, and followed where Harry led him.
They had been searching for nearly an hour, without hearing or seeing anything, when their steps took them back toward the cafeteria. Hanson was looking extremely green around the gills, and Ioki decided that they needed to sit down for awhile. He was just guiding Tom into the protected alcove of a doorway, when they both heard it and froze in shock - a distant, eerie scream.
Tom's hand tightened on Harry's arm. "The cafeteria," he mouthed silently.
Harry nodded and started forward, but Tom had a firm grip on him and wouldn't let him go. "Stay here. I'll be right back," Harry whispered.
"Not a chance. You're not going in there without backup."
Ioki gave a resigned shrug and offered Hanson a supporting arm. Together, they moved up to the nearest door and paused to listen. Nothing. Not even the whistle of the wind. Ioki eased the door open and peered inside.
The cafeteria looked deserted, but Ioki could feel that they weren't alone. The awareness of danger crawled like electricity over his skin. After a long, tense moment, he stepped into the room and motioned for Hanson to follow him. When Tom materialized at his elbow, he pointed to the wall and whispered, "Stay there."
Hanson moved to the indicated spot and put his back to the wall. With his gun held tightly in both hands, he nodded to Ioki that he was ready.
Ioki moved cautiously forward, his eyes quartering the dimly lit space. Both his sense of direction and his gut instinct told him that the cry they had heard had come from here, but he could see nothing in the room besides bare tables and benches. Very slowly, with every nerve straining for some hint of trouble, he crept toward the end of the room and the two doors that opened into the kitchen.
One door was in the corner closest to them, only twenty feet away. The other was at the far end of the wall. Harry hesitated for a moment, thinking hard, then he moved back over to Tom.
Nodding toward the far door, he whispered soundlessly, "I'll go in that way. Come up behind him."
"And I'll make some noise to draw his attention this way."
"He might come out shooting."
"I can handle anything Fowler pulls. Just be careful, Iok."
Harry nodded again and flashed his partner a slight smile. "See ya." Then he moved silently away.
Harry approached the kitchen door cautiously. When he reached it, he paused to listen for a full minute. He heard nothing, but he had no doubt that Fowler and Mrs. Lunt were somewhere in the kitchen, waiting for him to make a move. He waved a signal to Hanson, who waved back. A handful of seconds later, Ioki heard the soft clunk of a foot striking the cafeteria door, exactly as if someone had accidentally kicked it on the way in. Not waiting to find out what else Hanson had planned, he took advantage of the distraction to slip through the kitchen door.
It opened smoothly, silently, and fell closed behind him with barely a whisper. Ioki found himself in a space even darker and more threatening than the outer room, with counters, fixtures, piles of boxes and hanging utensils everywhere. He moved a step or two away from the door, his feet soundless on the rubber mats that covered the tile, and peered around the center counter.
There they were - standing in a wide, clear space just inside the other door, with their backs to him. Fowler still held Mrs. Lunt's body tightly to his, but his gun was raised to point at the ceiling and his attention was riveted on what was happening outside the door. Ioki took a firm grip on his gun and started down the length of the room. He was within arm's reach of the other man, when some premonition of danger prompted Fowler to turn his head.
The boy gave a strangled cry of rage.
With a final lunge, Ioki closed the distance between them. He slammed into Fowler, making him stumble, and knocked his gun hand wide with a blow from his pistol. Before the boy could recover, Ioki grabbed him from behind and dug his gun barrel into the base of his skull.
"Run!" he shouted to Mrs. Lunt. "Now!"
She gave a frightened gasp and tore herself out of Fowler's grasp. Her captor made a desperate attempt to hold onto her, and when she pulled away, she half dragged Fowler with her. Ioki shifted his grip to Fowler's gun hand, keeping the AK-47 pointed at the ceiling instead of at the struggling woman, and he delivered a kick to Fowler's ribs.
The boy gave a gasp of pain and let go of the woman. She staggered through the door to the accompaniment of Ioki yelling, "Run, Mrs. Lunt!"
Ioki had just enough time to see her disappear into the safety of the next room, then he felt Fowler heave on his arm with insane strength. He flew backward and crashed into a stack of huge ovens. The impact knocked the wind out of him and forced him to let go of Fowler's gun hand. In some corner of his brain, even as his nerveless fingers opened, he knew that he'd just made a fatal mistake.
Gunfire exploded around him, earsplitting and terrifying in the confined space. A familiar, white-hot pain burned through his body, and as he tumbled to the floor, one lone thought cried out in his head. 'Not again. Please, God, not again.' But God wasn't listening. The darkness closed over him, silencing the gun and his own panic. Familiar darkness.
But, to his surprise, the darkness did not claim him. Pain overwhelmed him, seeming to fill every corner of his mind and body, but he was still breathing. Thinking. Not dead.
Not dead. How had that happened? And where was all the blood coming from? It was oozing in a spreading puddle across the tiles, warming his chilled hands as it collected around his fingers. He lifted one hand to look at the stains. Hot, bright, arterial blood.
Great. Just great. Harry let his hand drop back into the congealing puddle and closed his eyes. He was going to bleed to death on the floor of a deserted high school kitchen. What a way to go. At least it would be fairly quick...
A hand touched his shoulder, then his forehead. It was warm and somehow reassuring. From above his head, he could a voice speaking in low, urgent tones. He should know the voice... he should answer it... tell it he wasn't dead, before it went away and left him alone, in the cold.
"Fowler..." Harry mumbled, saying the first word that came into his head.
"Fowler's gone," the voice said. "He took off."
Harry opened his eyes and tilted his head back to see Hanson's face above him, set in hard, grim lines, and filled with his own pain. As their eyes met, Tom pulled a grimace that was supposed to be a smile.
"Geez, Iokage. I can't leave you alone for two minutes."
"What happened? Where's Mrs. Lunt?"
"I told her to hide until the storm broke, then to get out of the building. I don't know where she went."
"We should...find her. Make sure she's okay..."
"It's not her I'm worried about."
Ioki seemed to turn over the implications of Hanson's words for a moment, as though they applied to someone else entirely, then he said, "Hanson..."
"Where was I hit?"
Ioki let his eyes drift closed. "I've never been shot in the leg, before," he mused, dreamily. "Everywhere else, pretty much, but not the leg."
Hanson cast a grim look at the blood pooling around them on the tile and snapped, "Don't go to sleep, Harry! Open your eyes and talk to me!"
"No you're not; you're bleeding to death!"
"It is not cool!" Tom jumped to his feet, and Harry's head slid off his leg to hit the floor with a clunk.
"Serves you right. Stay awake, you hear me?"
"Where've I heard that before?" Harry obediently opened his eyes and watched Tom move around the kitchen. He walked with a peculiar, staggering gait, and he kept one hand pressed to the right side of his head like he was trying to hold it on.
"You okay, Tom?"
"No, I'm not okay. I've got a chunk missing from my skull, and it feels like my brains are leaking out. My partner is full of holes. My shoes are covered with blood. I'm freezing to death... Any more questions?"
"Are we gonna die in here?"
Hanson turned back to him, now holding a large serving spoon in one hand and his wool scarf in the other. As he dropped heavily to his knees beside his friend, he muttered, "Not if I can help it. Hold still, Iok. I'm gonna try to stop the bleeding, and it's gonna hurt."
Two minutes later, Hanson sat back on his heels and surveyed his handiwork. Not bad, considering the circumstances. There were a total of five bullet holes across Ioki's thighs, as if the gunman had tried to cut his legs off eight inches above the knees, but only one of them had hit a major blood vessel. Tom had bandaged the really nasty one with his scarf and used the spoon, twisted in the knot, for added leverage. They couldn't keep such a tight bandage on it for long - not without doing permanent damage to the leg - but it would keep all Harry's blood from running out on the floor. The other wounds would have to wait.
Ioki lay very still, breathing hard, with his right arm thrown over his eyes. Hanson put a hand on his rigid arm and said, quietly, "I'm done."
Ioki lowered his arm and turned strangely bright eyes on his friend. It took him a moment to get his voice under control, then he asked, "What do we do now?"
Hanson had been thinking about this, while he worked. He had no brilliant solutions to their dilemma, but he had arrived at one very important conclusion. Catching Quentin Fowler just wasn't a priority anymore. True, if he got out of this school ahead of them, he might disappear forever. But they knew his name, his home address, and enough about him to give them a fighting chance at finding him. And that would have to be enough, because Tom wasn't going to play the martyr.
"We need to find someplace to wait out the storm. Someplace with only one entrance, that we can cover easily."
"We're going to hide?"
"What else can we do, Harry?"
Ioki digested this for a moment, then murmured, "He'll get away. He killed a man, and he'll get away with it."
"No, he won't. He might get out of this school, but he'll have every cop in the country looking for him if he does. Think about it, Iokage. What can we do to stop him? In our condition?"
Ioki gazed up at his friend without answering. He absorbed the wicked, bloody gash in Hanson's forehead, the deep bruise forming around his right eye and dripping inexorably down his face, the grayish cast to his skin, and the sheen of sweat that covered it in spite of the brutal cold. One good look was enough to tell him that Tom was in no better shape to go chasing after maniacs with machine guns than he was.
With a small sigh, he said, "Okay. We hide."
Hanson looked around the dim, cluttered space. Then he crossed to the door and looked out into the cafeteria. More doors...tables...blank gray-white rectangles that used to be windows...it was a dreadful place to be cornered and impossible to defend against a mobile enemy. Letting the door fall shut again, he returned to Ioki's side. "Not here. Fowler could come at us from a dozen directions. We'll find a safer place."
"Uhm, Tom? I hate to bring this up, but..."
"I'm not walking anywhere."
Hanson grinned humorlessly. "I figured as much. Can you sit up?"
Ioki made an effort to push himself up onto his elbows, and with a little help from Hanson, finally managed to sit upright. "I guess so..." Then the blood drained from his face, and he swayed dangerously. "Oh, man!"
Hanson caught him before he fell, then crouched behind him to support his weight. "Take it easy. Just lean back and relax." Locking his arms around Ioki's waist, Hanson tried to straighten his legs.
"You can't lift me, Tom. I'm too...Ungh!"
As Hanson staggered to his feet, Ioki let out a cry of pain and went limp in his arms. Hanson gritted his teeth and began dragging their combined weight toward the nearest door, with agonizing slowness. His head spun sickeningly, his eyes fogged with dancing purple blotches, his entire body trembled with the strain. But he was moving. He was out of the cafeteria, in the hallway, leaving a bloody swathe behind them, but making progress.
It seemed to take an eternity to reach an unlocked door. When he did finally push his way into a small office, his legs collapsed underneath him, and he landed heavily on the floor. After a moment to catch his breath, he crawled back to the door and flipped the lock shut. Then he grabbed Ioki's collar and dragged him around the desk that filled the back end of the room. Exhausted, shaking, fighting to keep himself conscious, he sat down with his back to the wall and closed his eyes. The world continued to spin sickeningly, making his stomach churn.
"You have to stay awake."
Tom opened his eyes and looked down at the man lying beside him. "I am. I will." He swallowed his unruly stomach and choked out, "It's just... everything's...moving..."
"Concussion," Harry said. "Keep your eyes open and talk to me."
"It's the 'eyes open' part I'm having trouble with."
"Where are we?" Harry asked.
"Counselor's office, I think. Door should've been locked... confidential files..."
"Cool. Let's snoop."
Tom chuckled softly, as he propped his spinning head against the wall and gazed at the door through slitted eyes. They both fell quiet for a few minutes, absorbed in their private pain. But slowly, Hanson began to feel a bit better, as the trembling and nausea eased and the world steadied. He began to worry about something besides keeping his lunch down - like what might come blasting through that door at any moment, or just how much blood Ioki had leaked onto the floor by now.
"How're you doing, Iok?" he asked.
"Great. How about you?"
"Well, I'm not gonna throw up, anyway."
With an effort that made Tom ache in sympathy, Harry pushed himself up on his hands and sat up to look around the room. He grimaced at the gory blood trail on the pale tiles. "It won't take Fowler very long to find us, will it?"
"Don't worry. I locked the door, so we'll hear him coming in plenty of time."
Ioki turned shadowed, troubled eyes on him and whispered, "Time to kill him?"
"Have you got a better idea?" Ioki shook his head glumly. "Lie down, man, before you fall down."
"No." He reached for his shoulder holster and the automatic he carried there. "I'll help you guard the door."
Hanson didn't argue. He could use the help, and he knew that Ioki's pride, his total focus on the job, demanded that he do his share to get them out of this alive. So Hanson grabbed his jacket in both fists and pulled until he'd slid Harry over next to him. Harry leaned gratefully against the wall, his head propped on Tom's convenient shoulder, and rested his gun on one blood-soaked thigh.
A companionable silence fell, broken when Hanson murmured, half-seriously, "What is it with you and bullets, Iokage?"
"Have you got some kind of karmic target painted on your back?"
"I've been wondering about that. Maybe I was a real jerk, in my past life." He hesitated, then said, "I should've walked away, when I saw Fowler's gun. I should've known what would happen, if I went into the same building with one of those things."
"An AK-47? The other one was an AK, too, wasn't it?"
"So they tell me."
"And you recognized Fowler's gun when you saw it? You knew what he was carrying, before you came in here after him?"
Hanson sat pondering this piece of synchronicity for a moment, then mused, "You're either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid."
"Don't tell me which. I really don't want to know." A long pause, then, "Do you think anyone's looking for us? Besides Fowler, I mean?"
"I hope so, man. I'm counting on the Captain to get us outta this."
Ioki shifted uncomfortably and whispered, "He'd better hurry."
"You're gonna be okay. We both are." Tom slipped his left arm behind Harry's back and resettled him so that his head rested in the hollow of Tom's shoulder. "Is it bad?"
Instead of answering his question, Harry posed one of his own. "How many times have you been shot, Tom?"
"This is number three...if you count the bullet Penhall put in my butt cheek."
"Ouch." Ioki tried to laugh, but it came out wrong. "Remember when I said I'd been shot everywhere? Well, I was wrong."
"You've never been shot by your own partner, either."
"Why feel sorry for him? I'm the one who couldn't sit down for a month."
"Yeah, but his permanent record says that he shot his partner in the...backside."
"It's his record, but it was my ass," Hanson said, tartly. "Trust me, the bullet is worse."
"Y'know, I've been shot three times, too, so I guess we're even."
Hanson thought, briefly, about those hideous days after the drive-by shooting, when they had waited for Harry to decide if he was going to live or die, and shuddered. "Why are we talking about this?"
"What else is there? The weather?"
Now it was Hanson's turn to laugh. "Good one."
"Before, what I said about being even, I just meant... If it's happened to you, too, then it isn't just me. I'm not some kind of born victim."
"You're not a victim, Harry. Neither am I. We just take our lives, and our jobs, a little too seriously, and it gets us into trouble. You get shot full of holes, and I..."
"...let things get to you."
"Can I tell you something, Tom? Since I'm probably gonna die before anyone finds us, and I won't have another chance to say it?"
"If you're gonna get morbid on me..."
Hanson took a steadying breath and murmured, "Okay."
"Do you remember Bobbi? That really smart girl I was dating last year, the one you guys were all drooling over? I was really crazy about her. I thought we had found something special. And then we just...broke up. I never told you why, did I?" Tom shook his head, wordlessly. "It was because of you."
"After she met you at the Chapel, she... I guess she had a serious thing for you, and she told me that it wasn't fair to keep going out with me, when she was thinking about you all the time. So, she broke up with me."
"I don't believe a word of it," Tom declared, flatly.
"It's the truth. I always meant to tell you; I just never got around to it."
"Why? To make me feel guilty?"
"About what? It wasn't your fault, and I never was mad at you. I wasn't mad at her, either, after I thought about it. I mean, it was cool of her to be straight with me."
"So, why are you telling me?"
"Because I still have her phone number, if you want it."
Tom hesitated for a moment, caught completely off-guard, then broke out laughing. "Is that your big death-bed confession?"
"Nope. I just remembered that I needed to tell you."
Tom sobered instantly. "You didn't need to tell me that. You don't need to tell me anything, Iokage, because we're both walk...uh, getting out of here alive."
For a long minute, Harry said nothing, staring blankly at the door, his face drawn and sad. Then, just when Tom was trying to come up with a snide crack to break the mood, he started talking again. "You and I have been through a lot together. Some of the worst times of my life. But you've always been there when I needed you, and you've always been someone I could depend on. Look up to. I wouldn't have made it through the last four years, without you around, Tom, and I wouldn't be as good a cop as I am. So, I just wanted to say, thank you."
It took Tom a moment to force his voice into a dry, bantering tone, then he said, "Do bullet holes always make you sentimental?"
"No, usually they make me comatose."
"That's not funny."
"Then stop laughing at me. I meant what I said."
"I'm sorry. I know you did, and I... I appreciate it. I'm just not very good at talking about this stuff."
"I know." Harry grinned with a flash of mischief in his eyes. "That's why I made it a deathbed confession - so you'd have to listen."
"You're a devious and dangerous man, Harry Ioki."
Harry chuckled softly.
A sudden noise from the hallway broke off their conversation and riveted their attention on the door. Something thunked into the solid wood, then the knob rattled violently. Harry flinched, when they heard a machine gun bolt sliding back.
Tom felt him stiffen and murmured, "If he tries to get in, I'll nail him."
Harry nodded understanding, but in the next second, he recoiled sharply from the shattering report of an automatic weapon firing. A spray of bullets slammed into the door. Tom leveled his gun at the door and bit down hard on his lower lip to control his own, instinctive fear reaction. His vision was sliding dangerously out of focus, and he could see no less than three doors dancing drunkenly around the wall surface, but he kept that little tidbit of information to himself. What Harry didn't know couldn't make him nervous - or so Hanson reasoned in his semi-panicked state.
Another burst of gunfire told them that Fowler was trying to shoot out the lock. When the noise stopped, Hanson sucked in a deep breath and bellowed, "Come through that door, and you're a dead man, Fowler!"
After a startled silence, Fowler shouted back, his voice ragged and edged with hysteria, "I'm comin' in there! You can't stop me!"
"I can shoot you!" Hanson yelled back. "Don't make me do that, man!"
The stock of Fowler's gun smashed the tiny, rectangular window in the upper part of the door. "I don't wanna do this," he called through the broken glass, "but you guys made me."
His last word was drowned out by a fresh hail of gunfire. Bullets sprayed through the room, smashing the light fixture and punching holes in the rear wall. None of them came close to the two officers huddled on the floor, but both men were shaking violently by the time the barrage stopped. In the sudden quiet, they could hear Fowler sobbing.
"Why'd you do this to me?" he wailed. "Why'd you make me?"
"We didn't make you do anything!" Hanson retorted. "You killed a man, Fowler. You did, not us."
"I never would've hurt that lady... I never would've... All I wanted was to get out! You could've let me out, you bastards, instead of making me kill you!"
"Killing us isn't going to help you!"
"I have to! I have to!!" They heard a rhythmic banging on the door, as though he were slamming his fist or his head into it. "All I wanted...all I wanted...was to shoot that fat fuck, Patterson, and go home! But you had to screw that up! Now I have to kill you, or they'll know what I did... know it was me... Oh god, oh god, oh god..."
Ioki found his voice, and to his own surprise, it was completely steady. "Put the gun down, Fowler. It's too late to fix anything by killing more people, but if you stop now, they'll believe you didn't want to do it."
"The hell they will!"
"We'll make them believe it. We'll tell them you could have killed us but you didn't. We're cops. They'll listen to us." Fowler gave no answer, so Harry urged, "Don't make yourself a cop-killer!"
"Son of a bitch!" Fowler gasped. Metal hammered against wood, then the doorknob rattled.
Hanson tightened his grip on his gun and called, "Come on, Fowler! We're trying to help you!"
"You did this to me!" the boy screamed, as he shook the door with all his strength. "Patterson had it coming! He deserved to die! But you made me a killer! You did!"
"No! Fowler, please..."
Gunfire overwhelmed Tom's words and made Harry stiffen as though the bullets had slammed into his body, instead of the door. Hanson put his left arm around his friend to reassure him, but his own pulse was racing so frantically that he knew Ioki could feel it.
"It's okay," he whispered, unsteadily, "I'll get him."
Another handful of rounds hit the door, and Ioki uttered something between a sob and a gasp. He lifted his gun, clutched in both hands, but when he tried to pull back the hammer, his blood-slicked thumb slipped on the metal. Hanson pointed his own gun at the door and sent up a silent prayer that he was aiming for the right one - the real one.
"I'll get him, Harry," he repeated.
One more burst of gunfire splintered the door and snapped the lock. As the latch gave, and the door moved, Hanson lurched to his feet in a valiant attempt to draw Fowler's attention and fire away from his friend. But before he had even straightened his shoulders, a sickening, black pain exploded in his head, wrenching a cry from him. His gun slipped from numb fingers, he dropped heavily to his knees, and then he slumped to the floor. Motionless.
Ioki turned his appalled gaze from Hanson's limp body to the door. It flew open, and he got his first good look at Fowler's haunted, tear-streaked face. The boy stepped into the room, his gaze locking instantly on the two police officers. His face twisted with fresh pain, as he lowered his gun to point at Ioki.
"I didn't wanna kill you," he gasped, "but you made me d..."
Harry fired. Once, twice, three times. In the deafening silence that followed his final shot, he pitched forward to land half across Tom, his face buried in the other man's shirt and his gun lying, forgotten, on the floor. He was shaking so badly that he could hardly breathe, but whether from fear, anger, cold or horror, he did not know. He only knew that he couldn't lift his head and look at what he'd done. Not if his life depended on it.
"I didn't want to shoot him," he whispered into Tom's shirt, a macabre echo of the dead boy's words. "Why did he make me do it?"
Then Harry felt a hand rest on his back, and heard Tom's voice - thick and slurred with pain - speaking the most beautiful words ever uttered. "Sirens. I hear sirens, Iokage. They're coming for us."