: A Loaded God Complex (1/3)Author
: RAuthor’s Notes
: Thanks to erinrua
for the gun-fu advice and general beta of awesome, as well as my regular beta who is made of win, but whose name will give away my identity. Crenshaw Middle School is fictional; loosely based on Willis Jr. High School. Title is from Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar We’re Goin’ Down” – yeah, yeah, I know. But I’m familiar with the a capella version.Characters
: Dean, Sam, John, Lee Scanlon (Medium), multiple OC’sWord Count
: Soooo not mine. Dammit.Summary
: The demon-worshipping cult that John has been tracking chooses Sam’s Middle School as their target. But John doesn’t know that there’s already another investigator on the case. Medium
crossover (but pre-series, so not necessary to know anything about Medium
Detective Lee Scanlon. Had a good ring to it. Rolled off the tongue, in fact. Detective
Too bad it was never gonna happen. He’d screwed the pooch on his very first break. Which meant it was sure to be his last.
One-handed, he pushed himself up against the desk leg where he’d been leaning his head. Gentle as he tried to be, the motion made him wince in pain. He turned his head to the other conscious person in the lab where they were holed up, a gangling youth in jeans and a black tee shirt, military haircut, but too young for the service. “Hey, kid,” he said, breath coming shorter than it should. “Uh…Dean.”
“Gotta hold still, man,” the teen told him, cool as any Navy corpsman he’d ever met. Calmer than most, even. “Keep that shoulder as immobile as you can.”
“Not moving the shoulder,” Lee told him impatiently. “Just…you got any Vicodin in that duffel?”
Dean shook his head in a way that told Lee that whether he did or not, he wasn’t going to give it up. “No drugs yet. It’ll dull the pain, you’ll move, and you’ll fuck it up worse. I think the bullet’s stuck in your shoulder. There’s no exit wound.”
To demonstrate, Dean eased him to lean forward and checked the bandages before tying a makeshift sling around his neck. His field dressing was professional, tight and from what Lee could see, not a lot of blood soaked through the pad, but Dean’s handling was a little rough.
“Easy, easy,” Lee gasped. “It’s gotta come out.”
Dean twisted his mouth as if considering his own ability to perform the surgery. “Yeah, but not here. It’s gonna have to wait.”
“Okay…how about some water?”
“That I’ve got,” Dean said. He held out a canteen. Lee tipped it gently against his lips and swallowed several times. At his nod of thanks, Dean went to refill it from the sink.
“You look a little young for this kind of thing,” Lee said when Dean returned. Dean moved like an experienced soldier, who knew that he lived in war zone. Cat-light, graceful but dangerous, observing every detail with regard for how it could affect his situation. Someone had been training this kid for a long time.
Dean flushed. “I’m almost eighteen.”
“This look like a game of horseshoes to you?” Lee snorted. “So why aren’t you over at the high school? What are you doing here?”
Dean just shrugged.
“Dropped out?” Lee surmised.
“I wish,” the kid said darkly. “You’re really an undercover cop?”
Lee recognized that the young man was turning the tables on him, but he needed the conversation and the distraction more than the truth about Dean. Besides, he already suspected that he knew a fair amount regarding Dean’s involvement with the vigilante who’d identified himself merely as “John.”
“I’m really undercover,” he confirmed. “Or I was, until I blew it back there.”
“That guy was gonna kill us,” Dean assured him hotly. “Then he was probably gonna go back in that room and kill some of those hostages. I mean, yeah, you got made, but you couldn’t let those kids get ganked.”
Privately, Lee wondered if his action had done anything to prevent any sort of murder, but he let the teen console him. He noticed that Dean didn’t say anything else about his own life being saved.
“How about John?” Lee asked into Dean’s reverie. “How did you two meet?”
The hesitation told Lee all he needed to know—more than he wanted. But the mention of Dean’s mentor—more?—snapped the youngster’s attention to the little window in the classroom door. He sidled up to it. “He should be in there by now.” Dean pulled a sidearm out of his waistband and checked the clip. Lee raised his eyebrows reflexively at the sight of Dean’s Colt 1991 A1. He wondered where the boy had got the cash it took for that kind of iron.
Dean tapped the clip against the grip, slid it back into the pommel, and chambered a round. “You gonna be okay alone for a few minutes? I just want to see if I can check out the situation.”
“What was that…you said…about…not letting kids get killed?” Lee asked. Damn, it hurt. “You’re a kid, and I’m not letting you get killed.”
Dean smirked. “Hey, it’s cool. Like I said, I may be young, but I’m a professional. I’m just gonna check it out, see if there’s any more of them out there. Get our weapons back, if they’re there. I’ll come right back.”
“Gimme the Vicodin, then, first,” Lee insisted. Surely he’d meant to ask for the sawed-off Dean had threaded through the crook of his elbow?
“Weren’t you in the Corps?” Dean asked, pointing at Lee’s eagle. “Man up, dude. My dad once took a hit in the leg and kept right on running. Didn’t realize he was bleeding until he got back to base camp.”
“Your dad…he in ‘Nam?”
“Yeah, well. Battle adrenaline’s a funny thing. But afterward, I bet he made fast friends with morphine.”
Dean set his jaw as if to deny it, but a moment later he dug into the pocket of the supply bag he’d stashed in the empty science lab. He brought out two tablets encased in plastic and paper and flicked them at Lee.
“Codeine,” he explained. “Don’t spend it all in one place. I’ll be right back.” He opened the door and slipped out, leaving Lee with half a clip in his Glock and his backup .38.
“Well, at least I don’t have to worry about walking beat the rest of my life,” Lee told himself, swallowing down one of the pills. “We’re all gonna die.”
Four Hours Earlier
Sam had known it was going to be an awful day. He just didn’t realize how bad it was going to get. First, he had a math test 1st
period, and even though Dean had sat up with him past midnight, trying to explain the different between sine and cosine for about the ninth time, Sam was sure he was going to crash and burn. He hadn’t had time to proofread his history paper because he and Dean had been cramming for the math test, but he had study hall to try to recopy it, at least. That was if Nate Delancy had left him alone for once. But the worst part by far was getting a glimpse of the substitute Biology teacher.
That’s when he’d realized he would be lucky to get through the school day alive.
He held up his hand.
“Yes, Mr…Winchester?” Mr. Fornham smiled sickly.
“May I have a bathroom pass, sir?” Sam asked.
“Sure.” Mr. Fornham wrote it out, and if his smile was fixed, no one else noticed.
Sam took it and walked down the hall with measured steps. He turned right at the open gap between buildings and instead of going to the boys’ room, he dashed down the corridor toward the library. There was a payphone just between the library and the administration building. Sam fumbled in his pocket for his calling card and dialed with shaking fingers. The phone rang twice, then connected.
“Who is this?” a gruff voice demanded.
“Sammy?” The voice went from groggy to concerned mixed with annoyance.
“Dad, they’re here. It’s this school. Today.”
“Are you sure?”
“My science teacher’s a substitute. And it’s him. The guy you’ve been tracking. He’s got to have access to the whole school. Dad, what do I do? I can’t get everyone—”
“Calm down, Sam. Your brother and I are on the way.”
“I could pull down the fire alarm—”
“No. That’ll just tip them off. You just get away, calm as you can.”
“Sam, longer we talk, longer it takes me to get there with your brother. Now don’t do anything stupid. If you can get out, get out. If they see you or try to stop you, just cooperate. We’ve got some time. They won’t start anything until dark.”
“Okay.” He started to hang up, but then brought the handset back to his face. “Dad?”
“Shake a leg, okay?”
His father chuckled once. “We’re coming for you, Sammy. Promise.”
Sam heard the phone disconnect. He set down the receiver and headed back toward his locker. He tried to walk as if nothing were out of sorts. Two of the covered walkways met at a corner, with an open space on the other side, and the row of lockers beyond and under the balconies. He checked both ways before crabbing across the open space to his assigned spot.
“Winchester!” His hands fumbled on the combination dial and he whipped around.
Vice Principal Snyder came over to him. “Do you have a pass?”
“Yes, sir,” Sam told him. “I was just in the men’s room, but then I remembered I left a textbook—”
“Get your book and go back to class, Winchester,” Snyder ordered. Sam’s record and the fact that he’d arrived halfway through the semester but still made the debate and soccer teams clearly meant nothing to Snyder. In his estimation, all thirteen-year-olds were nothing but hormonal hellions looking for the chance to turn on their instructors like a pack of wolves.
Sam grabbed the first book that came to his hands. He wanted to get his knife, but he didn’t dare pull it out with Snyder watching, even hiding it behind the thick, wide cover.
Snyder crossed his arms. “Is that the right one?”
“Then come on. Back to class. You’ve already missed about half the period.” Snyder practically frog-marched him back to the science lab.
When they got there, Mr. Fornham looked up sharply. “Ah. There you are.” He smiled in so predatory a fashion that Sam shivered. “Now we can start.”
He pulled out a walkie-talkie and a gun. “Quiet, please,” he said over the screams and gasps of the class. He aimed the gun at Snyder. “As for you, you’d best think about the safety of these children and help conduct them to room 142.”
“You’re crazy,” Snyder said.
Sam’s knees started shaking. Snyder was going to antagonize the fanatic in defiance of every single hostage situation, in any movie ever. Christ, he wasn’t Clint Eastwood, he didn’t have the stones to strong-arm a terrorist. Especially one who wasn’t interested in keeping his hostages alive.
Fornham merely chuckled, low in his throat, and Sam abruptly stopped his knees from knocking. He looked into Fornham’s eyes and saw the impulse before the man’s finger squeezed. Sam ducked. The shot was twice as loud as normal in the confined classroom, sound bouncing off stainless steel and epoxy countertops. Sam heard a soft thump behind him. He didn’t have to look; he’d felt the warm splatter land on his back, the back of his neck, his hair. He closed his eyes and swallowed down bile.
His classmates were freaking out, screaming, some of them diving under the tables. Sam couldn’t blame them. Vice Principal Snyder had been an asshole, but that didn’t mean anyone really wanted him dead. Well, maybe Nate Delancy.
Sam had to suppress a totally inappropriate giggle. It wasn’t funny.
“Quiet!” Fornham said again, louder.
Sam’s eyes snapped open, assessing the situation. About half the class had pulled it together. Most of the girls were crying, and a few of the boys too, but the screaming subsided. Many of them were pointing at Sam, not surprisingly, but for once it wasn’t because he was the new guy. Snyder’s blood was warm and sticky through the back of his shirt. He resisted the urge to peel the cloth away from his shoulder blades.
Fornham leveled the gun at Sam. Sam took an involuntary step back before choosing to hold his ground.
“You,” Fornham said. “Head of the line, please. The rest of you, form a line behind your classmate. Single file, please. And no talking.”
The gunshot must have been some kind of a signal, because as Sam turned around, men came running down the hallway. Sam couldn’t figure how they’d shown up faster than the teachers—but then, they’d been prepared, and maybe, he realized with a sickening jolt, the other classes had already been subdued. Then he realized that the walkie-talkie must have transmitted the shot.
“Ignore the body; it’s not like any of you liked him,” Fornham pointed out callously. “Room 142, if you please, Mr.…Winchester, was it?”
Sam had no choice but to follow the two men who’d shown up to aid Fornham. He went, hoping that Dad and Dean would arrive soon. And that they didn’t get themselves caught while attempting the rescue.
John called the high school office to save time. He told them that Dean’s grandfather had died and he was coming to pick him up so they could reunite the family. “I’m just packing a bag now,” John told the secretary, stuffing a duffel full of ordinance, “so I should be by to get him in about twenty minutes.”
“Yes, of course, Mr. Winchester,” she replied sympathetically. “We’re so sorr—”
He hung up, already moving to the next task.
He threw the weapons in the trunk and made it to the high school within a minute of his estimate. Dean saw the car from the main entrance where he’d been waiting in the shade, and he crossed the yard to close the distance. He folded himself into the passenger seat with coiled grace. Noting the duffel in the foot well, Dean started picking through and strapping on the weapons inside.
“Got a lead?” he asked through a grin.
“They showed up,” John said grimly. “At Crenshaw.”
That wiped the smile off his boy’s puss damn quick, as intended. “That’s Sammy’s—”
“Damn right,” John snapped. “This is no game, and it’s no drill, boy. We’re not going up against a disembodied spirit or a dumb creature operating on instinct. This is a highly-motivated, organized, deadly group of humans. They think, they have a plan, they can adapt quicker than a ghost. And there’s a possibility they’ve got your brother. Even if they don’t, they’ve got a couple hundred kids his age. So you need to focus. You gonna be able to do this?”
Dean nodded. John watched him register the full force of his lecture in stunned silence. “Yeah, Dad. I’m okay. We’ll get’em out. We’ll stop these guys.”
John clenched and unclenched a muscle in his jaw. “We better. These guys mean business.”
“So…” Dean hesitated. John flicked his gaze across the seat, offering permission to speak. “So, did Sammy call you? Was it on the news? How’d—”
“Sam recognized Fornham. I told him to just get out, but I dunno if he made it. I told him,” John continued, aware he was babbling a bit, but he forced himself to channel it into intel. It would calm him down, and might help Dean prepare, too. “I told him not to do anything stupid or heroic. If they stopped him trying to leave, he was to cooperate.”
“But he might have made it out, right?” Dean asked. His voice was tight, eyes wide, and his hand clenched his knee, which he was jouncing rapidly. Damn, the kid was already stressed.
“He might. But my bet is they’re already moving to secure the school.” It sounded cold to say it like that, John knew, but it was best to be clinical. If he—or Dean—thought too hard about Sam’s safety, they’d fuck it up for everyone. “Dean, listen to me. This is a job. It’s a harder job than you’ve worked before, but it’s still a job. You do your job, you do it right, we can get through this. Got that?”
“Yessir,” Dean bit out. His nostrils flared as he forced himself to breathe with his mouth clamped shut.
“Okay. Now, first pass is recon. We figure out how much of the school they’ve secured. What’s next?”
Dean nodded, chewed the inside of his lip, gathering his answer. “Infiltration. We find an opening and get inside.”
“Right. Go over the layout for me. Most likely point of entry to Sam’s school is?”
“Uh…not through the lot, or the back loading dock,” Dean answered. John nodded at him to continue. “Okay, the campus is laid out like the spokes of a wheel, sorta, with a central building and five or six others around it…balconies and covered walkways, open space in between.” By the end of his recitation, Dean’s breathing was calmer, his knee had stopped bouncing, and his gaze was focused on the picture of the school in his mind.
“Probably have to come at it through one of the lower classrooms,” he concluded with a definitive nod.
“Good man,” John told him. He needed Dean thinking about the immediate tasks, the overall plan, not fixating on Sam’s potential predicament. “We’re in; what’s next?”
“We…split up. Look for Sam. Play sapper.”
“Meaning?” John insisted, so that he’d know for sure Dean knew what he wanted.
“Meaning, as we infiltrate, if there’s the right opportunity, we take out the perimeter sentries, one at a time. Quiet.”
“That’s good, Dean. Focus on the job.” Even as he told Dean to focus, though, the contrast between his boys struck him clearly. Sam would have rolled his eyes and protested that John had taught them was a sapper was, so he shouldn’t need exposition; Dean simply repeated back the role and didn’t worry about John’s reasons for asking for clarification.
He turned right and pulled into the center lane. “What’s in your arsenal?”
Dean tapped the duffel, then each spot where he’d stowed a weapon on his person. “Sawed-off. Colt A1 with an extra clip, iron rounds in the Sig Sauer, silver in the Browning Hi-Power. Knife in my back pocket, butterfly in the ankle-strap. Weapons of opportunity in the school. And hand to hand,” Dean recited.
“And?” John prompted when Dean fell silent. “Most important one.”
“My head,” Dean remembered. “Win with your head, not your hands.”
“That’s it.” John nodded solemnly. “No substitute for fighting smart, son.” He checked his watch: just about noon. If he had read the lore correctly, they’d take the hostages now, keep them for twelve hours and then, at midnight…they’d conclude the ritual.
Which gave him about six hours to prevent the first sacrifices.
“Remember, if either of us is caught—”
“We’re alone. We’re not together,” Dean said.
“Don’t call me Dad in there, either.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m okay D—I’m okay,” Dean repeated with a half-hearted smile.
“John,” John permitted, returning the grim look. “It’s harder than you think. Practice. If they figure out they’ve got a family—”
“Yeah, I know. Ten times as much control. Got it, Johnny.”
John squinted disapprovingly. “Don’t get carried away with it, either.”
Two months ago, Patrolman Leland Scanlon had perpetrated a carriage of justice. He had framed a guilty man for a crime he didn’t commit, in exchange for an even worse crime that Lee couldn’t prove he’d done. Lee was feeling pretty good about it, too, all things considered, especially because it had led to being offered a chance to work undercover. And that might well put him in plainclothes within a year.
The job was to join a paramilitary group with suspected cult leanings. The leader, William Fornham, was some sort of religious terrorist. Phoenix PD suspected he was planning a hijacking of some kind and wanted an insider. Lee fit Fornham’s profile—young, single, male, no drug habit, didn’t smoke, no criminal record to speak of. In fact, Fornham’s recruits were so clean that they would be at home at Brigham Young University. Made the fact that Fornham was nine kinds of crazy almost funny.
Except that no one at the precinct was laughing.
So one month ago, Lee had shed his uniform, left his badge and gun at home, and walked wide-eyed into Fornham’s storefront church of God…only to discover that Fornham didn’t worship that kind of god at all.
“Valac uses physical pain as a conduit for his power” went a typical sermon. “You have all toed the line your whole lives; what has it got you? You must take what is yours. Use their pain and fear to attract his notice.”
The others took Lee’s arrival as an act of divine intervention. “Our 38th has arrived!” a young acolyte named Blake declared triumphantly the evening he came back again. “Just as Dr. Fornham said.”
“Thirty-eight?” Lee asked.
“The number of Valac’s legions,” Blake explained, “and the number Dr. Fornham needs. Just in time, too. Valac’s sacred festival day is very near.”
“Festival…like a ritual?”
“Yes, a ritual. A really important ritual.”
“Excellent. Does it involve vestal virgins?”
“I see we have a skeptic,” William Fornham appeared at the edge of the little group surrounding Lee. “Many come here and are shocked by what they hear. Others come to scoff and deride us for following Valac. Which are you?”
“Uh, neither,” Lee said respectfully. “I guess I’m…looking for something.”
“And will you know when you’ve found it?” Fornham asked intensely.
“I’d like to think so,” Lee said. He met Fornham’s eye, but man, it was uncomfortable. Much more difficult than he’d expected.
“Hm. You are wise, young man, not to be so certain. Our way is not for everyone. Most men out there are led by their appetites; we are men of discipline. Most would rather face an easy road; we would walk a path much more treacherous, but more rewarding in the end.” He cocked his head. “You’ll forgive me, but I don’t believe you mentioned your name last night.”
“Rick Posner,” Lee said.
“Are you recently moved to Phoenix?”
“No, I’ve lived here about five years,” Lee supplied out of his false background file.
“And what do you do?”
“Right now, I’m a security guard at the museum of natural history.”
Fornham was unfailingly polite and quaintly old-fashioned in his speech. He was clearly interested, and by the time he’d finished talking to Lee, he’d probed fairly deep into Lee’s cover story. Though it felt more like a conversation, Lee recognized it for a screening interrogation.
Two days later, his contact at the precinct confirmed that Lee’s profile had been thoroughly checked. He went back again, this time welcomed as one of the family, and within a couple weeks, he was in.
The problem was that being in, he couldn’t get out. He hadn’t been left alone, hadn’t had a single chance to make contact about any of his intelligence, couldn’t even claim that he had to go to work—because Fornham called his “employer” to tell him that Rick was ill and unable to report.
So when Lee rode along with five of his new friends, two hours behind Fornham’s advance crew, he’d had no way to tell his captain that they were heading for Crenshaw Middle School. He’d had no way to report that Fornham had 37 men to help control what they estimated would be a hundred and fifty of the school’s students and roughly twenty teachers. He’d had no way to inform the squad that Fornham had amassed assault rifles and backup hand weapons for each of his men, that each was trained to use them, and that none of them would hesitate to kill, even if their victims could be as young as nine years old.
His hope was that he could at least find a phone once at the school and get away long enough to call in the hostage situation, make sure that the police understood what they were up against. Fornham and his men weren’t doing it for ransom, weren’t planning to make demands or offer terms for surrender. It wasn’t a cry to be heard. Fornham wanted blood. He wanted carnage.Jesus, I’m so screwed,
, Lee thought as they pulled into the school lot.
They made the students sit on the floor. Sam was with the rest of his science class along the front wall with the blackboard; other classes sat on in each corner, and two groups from fifth and sixth grade had been positioned in the middle. They told them to be thankful; the kids in the gym were far less comfortable.
Not that being held at gunpoint qualified as comfortable. He wished he could shower, too—Mr. Snyder’s blood and all had dried on the back of his shirt and matted in his hair. He kept wanting to comb his fingers through it, but feared finding any bits of brain or viscera on his hands afterward. He also didn’t want to freak out the littler kids (or for that matter, any of the older ones) by scrubbing off Snyder spooge in front of them. At least Mrs. Shawn’s band room didn’t smell like gym socks. Sam was afraid he was stinking the place up pretty powerfully, but he couldn’t tell anymore. It was like walking into a fish market: at first it smelled awful, but after a while, the strength of the odor faded and became hardly noticeable. Until someone lit it on fire, or something.
They weren’t allowed to talk, but that was nothing new in the eighth grade. There were a couple notebooks going around with stories and rumors. Mr. Snyder hadn’t been the only teacher killed, according to the notes. A couple teachers reportedly had refused to be detained in the teachers’ lounge, insisting that they should remain with the children in their charge. One account claimed the kidnappers had shot a PE coach in the heart for arguing; however, Sam knew he was universally hated by the students and no one had seen him die that he could figure out. Until there was a body, Sam wasn’t about to believe the rumor.
He pulled his pen out of his pocket slowly. There were only two guards watching them all, so it was relatively simple to avoid notice. He wrote in careful block lettering on the pad:Everyone just stay calm. HELP ON WAY! Don’t do anything stupid.
Then he thought that was dumb. There were far more kids than kidnappers, even if they had guns. Surely if he could get everyone acting together, they could overpower the two attackers and reclaim the classroom.
Dad would do it.
But Dad had told him to lay low and wait for rescue. Did that mean Dad really feared these guys, or was it Dad’s backhanded way of commenting on his lack of confidence in Sam’s skills?
Okay, maybe that wasn’t totally fair. These guys were pretty hard core. Whether or not they’d actually killed any of the other teachers, they had
killed Snyder, with Sam standing right there, and in front of a whole class of kids. And if Sam tried something, even if he didn’t screw up (which he wouldn’t!), one of the other kids could screw up bigtime, and then they’d all be screwed. If any civilian kids died on Sam’s watch, Dad’d be furious.
Sam didn’t think he’d feel too good about it himself, either.
So he let the note stand, and passed the book on to the next person when he was sure no one was looking.
Lots of kids had been crying or freaking out when they arrived, but after the kidnappers got everyone seated, imposed quiet, and let the initial adrenaline rush die down, so had most of the crying. Sam scanned the room; he could still see a few blotchy faces and hear a few sniffles, but mostly everyone seemed to be in control of themselves.
Suddenly a small pocket of giggles erupted from the far side of the classroom. Instantly one of the guards went over, brandishing his rifle.
“Told you all to shut up,” he snapped. “What’s that?” he reached out and snatched away another notebook. Reading it, he shook his head. “Man, you chum are unbelievable. You got no clue, do you?” He flipped through a few pages. “Arright. Matt Brandtly. Where are you, boy?”
The students looked left and right nervously. Next to Sam, Chris Fisher started muttering, “Oh God, oh God, oh shit, oh God,” over and over.
“Chris, it’s okay, calm down,” Sam said to him quietly.
“They’re gonna kill Matt, Sam,” Chris said. “I know it.”
“I don’t think so,” Sam said with more confidence than he felt. “Just keep it together, dude. We’ll get through this, okay?”
Chris took a couple deep breaths. To Sam’s intense surprise, Chris grabbed his hand tight. He was sweating a lot and he gripped Sam’s palm hard enough to crush the bones together. “Okay,” he breathed. “Okay. I’m okay.”
Sam tried to smile, but couldn’t quite manage it. “Good, Chris. Um… Could I have my hand back?”
Chris looked down. He let go of Sam’s hand as if it burned. “Sorry,” he whispered, flushing red.
“It’s cool,” Sam muttered. He wiped his palm on his shorts to get rid of the sweat.
Meanwhile, the guards had pulled Matt from his class group and they were holding up the notebook. “Shut up, all of you!” one of them yelled. He leveled a handgun at Matt’s head. The room went silent. “Did you start passing this around?” the guard—sergeant, Sam decided—asked.
“N-no,” Matt stammered.
Sarge brandished the notebook. “But it has your name on it, Matt,” he said very reasonably. The calm of his tone was more chilling than his earlier yelling.
“Someone took it? Started passing notes?” Sarge suggested.
“Don’t,” Sam said under his breath.
“Don’t what?” Chris asked.
“He’s baiting him. Leading him. It’s a trap.”
Matt was nodding. “Y-yeah. That’s it. That’s…that’s what happened.”
The guard nodded too, like he’d known that’s what Matt would say. “Whose idea was it, Matt? Your little uprising? Huh?” He pointed to a page and waved it under Matt’s nose. “Whose writing is this?”
“I dunno,” Matt swore. “I really dunno.”
“Somebody thinks he’s a hero,” the sergeant continued, turning slowly to address the whole room. “Somebody thinks he’s fucking Chuck Norris.”
There was a little chorus of gasps when he dropped the f-bomb, hastily shushed by others. Ignoring this, “Sarge” read aloud from the notebook.
“We should all rush them. If we take them all at once, we can get their guns.
” He paused and studied the faces in Matt’s group. “We’ve got a tough guy somewhere. Well, now’s your chance, tough guy. You wanna play hero? You want to save lives? Step up, man. Show yourself, and your buddy Matt lives.”
He pulled back the slide, and in the silent classroom, they all heard the snick-CLACK as the slide popped back and he prepared to fire.
“C’mon!” Sarge shouted at the rest of the room. “C’mon, tough guy. Wanna be a fucking hero? Or is Matt here gonna get his brains blown out?”
“Stop it!” someone shrieked, a girl from the sound of it. “Why are you doing this to us?”
The guard smiled. “That’s for us to know and you to find out,” he taunted. “Still no takers? No one wants to man up?”
Matt’s knees went limp. His eyes rolled back in his head, which cracked against the floor as he fainted.
The sergeant rolled his eyes and sighed. “You, and you,” he said, pointing the barrel of his gun at two other eighth-graders. Sam knew one’s name was Ken, but he didn’t know the other boy. He was wearing denim Bermuda shorts and a tank with a backward ballcap. Ken and Bermuda stood up uncertainly. “Get him out of the middle of the floor,” the guard ordered. They tugged Matt out of the way. One of the girls started fanning him with her Trapper binder.
“As for the rest of you, anyone gets the idea to play Chuck fucking Norris—we’ve got the guns. You don’t. Don’t try it. You’ll only get yourselves killed.” He was smiling cruelly. Sam swallowed hard against bile that suddenly rose in the back of his throat again. This asshole was enjoying himself, giving them all false hope that they’d escape if they cooperated.
Well, not false. Dad and Dean were on their way.
“Sam?” Chris whispered.
“It’s gonna be all right? We’ll make it out of this?”
Sam smiled kindly. “You bet, Chris. Just hang tight. You’ll be fine. Promise.”
God, he hoped he wasn’t lying.
They parked the car down the road and approached the school from behind. They quickly discovered Dean had been right: two men guarded the loading dock. There was adequate cover for a sniper on the roof, too. On the west side, they decided they had a shot at the playground. Fornham didn’t have enough men to cover every entrance, and the few guards he’d been smart enough to station on the roof had set up to face the parking lots and main approaches—not the back access from the fifth-grade building. John covered Dean while the teen darted between outposts, first the jungle-gym, then the slide, finally a support column outside the door, where a small patio fed onto the school’s nearest building.
Once in position, Dean waved John on. John cast a nervous glance up; no guard in sight. He ran in a crouch for the door, didn’t bother stopping.
Using the wall for cover, they divided up the ordinance and John handed Dean a copy of the exorcism. He didn’t have to tell Dean why he might need it.
“Stick to the perimeter and stay out of sight,” he reminded Dean.
“Yeah, I know D—John,” Dean self-corrected.
“If you find Sam and you’ve got the opportunity—”
“Get him out, I got it,” Dean assured him.
“Be careful.” John put one hand on Dean’s shoulder to brace himself to stand. That’s all it was—bracing to stand up, because his knees weren’t what they used to be. He’d squeezed Dean’s shoulder only as a coincidence of catching his balance. And the way he’d cupped the back of Dean’s head lightly with his hand before releasing it, that was just to make sure Dean was looking at him. If anyone asked, that’s what he’d swear. On a stack of Bibles.
“You, too,” Dean said simply. He tapped his father’s arm and winked. “Let’s go stop these crazy fuckers.” With a (cursory, to John’s mind) glance at the hallway, Dean took off to the right.
John watched him go, then shook himself into moving left. “He’ll be fine, Winchester,” he told himself firmly.
He headed down the corridor to cut through the building toward the cafeteria. He’d only been to Sam’s school twice—once when he enrolled the thirteen-year-old three weeks ago, and again four days later when he met with the teachers to go over Sam’s transcripts—but his memory of the layout didn’t fail him. Unfortunately, the terrorists hadn’t corralled anyone there. He observed only one guard. To John’s grim satisfaction, they guy was reading at one of the tables. John chose shock to get the bastard off-balance.
“What the fuck are you doing?” he demanded, bursting through the double-doors as if he’d come to check on or relieve the guy. “Fornham catches you, he’ll make you part of the sacrifice.”
The sentry jumped up, dropping his book and overturning his chair. The metal folded on its hingepins and clattered to the floor. The hapless moron stammered an attempted excuse, but by that time John had closed the distance between them. He elbowed the asshole viciously in the face, knocking him out in one blow.
He hoisted the fanatic over his shoulder and edged to the kitchen doors for a place to stick him. He ducked back; looked like a few of the men were inside. Making lunch. The kitchen noises had covered his exchange, luckily, but it meant they might be checking things out here, too. He backtracked to the nearest girls’ bathroom and tied up the dude in the farthest stall.
The next target on his list was the gym, but as it meant cutting across not one but two courtyards, he aimed to check the main building’s classrooms and the teachers’ lounge on the way. He didn’t think they’d keep everyone in individual classrooms, but it wouldn’t be impossible.
He made it two corridors over before encountering (and sapping off) his next guard. John cursed—he’d underestimated how easy it would be for Fornham to secure the school. He hoped it meant a number of classes had escaped, though cops around made the operation a little trickier. But the lack of men was encouraging. Fornham either had way too few for his operation, or he believed his cause so blessed that he didn’t need sufficient manpower. John hoped both. He was counting on Fornham being a cocky sumbitch, but an understaffed cocky sumbitch was even better. Regardless, he dumped the unconscious guard in a classroom and moved on.
At the top of a stairwell, he paused to peer up through the railing. Seeing no one, he ascended as quietly as possible. His footsteps still made more noise on the metal steps than he liked, but lightening his tread and slowing down didn’t help much. He reached the top and pressed himself against the wall, as far under the overhang as he could get, to scope the walkway. It was clear.
He ducked his head into the open to scan the other direction quickly, dropped back when he saw another sentry (facing away, thank fuck), and hefted the Browning Hi-Power in his palm as a good luck charm. If he remembered right, the teachers’ lounge was just beyond that guard—which would explain what he was doing on an interior side of the building. If so, that meant likely they’d put the adults in there and were holding the kids somewhere separate.
John hovered by the stairwell, debating. Should he drop the guard and let the hostages out, or skip past him into the hallway beyond, to get to the main show? He could take the middle road, test this guy, maybe get some information. If the fucker made him, he could drop him then.
Decision made, he slipped his pistol into the waistband of his jeans and instead pulled the rifle off his shoulder. He held it in a familiar grip: right hand on the stock, left on the barrel. Just like countless patrols back in the day. Then he sauntered around the corner with an attitude between purposeful and bored.
“Hey,” he said to the guard’s back. The guy whipped around. “Whoa! Easy, Tex. Fornham sent me up to check on things here—all clear?”
The guard squinted at John. His rifle trembled a little with nervous energy.
“John, remember?” John said pleasantly. “It’s cool, don’t shoot me. Is everything clear up here?”
The assurance and the repetition seemed to put the guard at ease, but he still frowned at John. “Yea, everything’s fine. Sorry. I just… there’s a lot of us. I guess I don’t remember.”
John nodded. “Yeah, I hear that. So,” he continued, walking over to the balcony railing and making no attempt to shoulder his gun, “big night tonight, huh?”
“Yeah,” squinty-eyes said. “Think it’ll really work?”
John shrugged. “Fornham says it will. That’s good enough for me. You nervous?” he poked at the man’s obvious insecurity, figuring to make him even more scared if possible.
“N-no,” he lied. “Like I said, everything’s cool up here. You can tell Fornham…I can handle these bottom-feeders.”
“Good to know,” John forced out. “Say, is Jones up on this level, too?”
“Uh…” he looked around. “I’m not sure. I know Dennis is around the corner,” he pointed to the perimeter, “and the new guy’s over by the math building. Posner.”
“Any idea when you’re relieved for chow?”
Squinty blinked. John held his breath. “Sixteen-hundred,” the guy said. “Surprised you didn’t know—hey—”
John tapped him in the face with his rifle butt. Twice. Too late, he saw someone peering through the door of the teachers’ lounge.
“Are you a cop?” the man whispered dramatically. He was thin and tall, but looked solid enough. He wore his blond hair in a short ponytail.
“No,” John growled back. “Help me get this asshole in there with you before his nose bleeds all over the damn place.”
They dragged the unconscious guard inside. John paused to wipe the sweat off, enjoying the way the air conditioning sent instant shivers down his back as the moisture in his shirt grew cold. It was what Dean would call “Arizona hot” outside, meaning dry but not “Death Valley” dry, and the sweat mostly just got sucked into the air right away. But stepping indoors just after the exertion of the fight, his perspiration hadn’t evaporated yet.
Something like thirty teachers all started asking questions at once.
“Do you know how many people made it out?”
“Are the police on their way?”
“Is it over?”
“Where are they keeping the children?”
“We can get out—”
“Shuddup!” John demanded, as loud as he dared without yelling. “Now listen. You’re all supposed to be locked up here under guard, so don’t blow this. Anyone here ever use a gun?”
A couple teachers raised their hands, including, John noticed, the young man who’d assisted him. “How about hand-to-hand? Self-defense?”
A few more people nodded. Several women put their hands in the air.
“Good. Look, Fornham has men all over this compound. Campus,” he amended at the sight of a few puzzled faces. “It’s risky to try to get out. You’re better off if one of you changes into this shithead’s clothes and keeps an eye on the door. One of you stay inside and keep your weapon trained on that walkway. It opens and it’s not your man here, or me, or a cop, shoot first, ask questions later.”
An older guy stepped forward. “What about you?”
“Don’t worry about me—just keep your asses alive.” John turned to his ersatz assistant. “Lose the tie, genius. Take his Kevlar.” The teacher fumbled at his Windsor knot.
“No, I mean—what are you going to do?” the old teacher asked.
John squinted at him. “Said don’t worry about it.”
“Like hell. You’re not a cop—we have a responsibility to those kids—”
“Which you’ll just fuck up if you try to move around and rescue them,” John countered. “Look, this isn’t all of you, right?”
“So either there’s another bunch of you holed up somewhere under watch, or a bunch of you made it out of the school. If they’re away, then it’s a safe bet the cops are already closing in. If they’re under guard, then any of you gets caught and not only are the kids in jeopardy, but your coworkers, too. So keep an eye on that door,” he jabbed his finger toward it, “and don’t come out until this is over.”
He jerked his head at Ponytail, who had switched coats. “Tuck your hair into your collar,” John advised.
“Excuse me, but….” Ponytail said, following him outside, “aren’t you Sam Winchester’s father?”
John rolled his eyes. “So the fuck what?”
Ponytail—John finally placed him vaguely from the tour he and Sam had been given—jiggled his head a little in surprise. “Well…nothing, I guess. Except—” he reached out for John’s sleeve to stop him moving away—“you’re not a cop or anything. I mean…I thought Sam said you were a long-haul trucker.”
John held the man’s gaze but said nothing, daring him to ask the question he’d been pussy-footing around. When Ponytail dropped his eyes, John spoke. “That reminds me. You see a young kid, about 17-18, jeans, black t-shirt, short hair, tell him you’re one of the Beach Boys.”
“Just tell him if you don’t want to get knocked out.” John turned and went down the walkway before he had to answer any more inane questions.
When he came to the end of the building, he saw another guard stationed between the library building and the math classrooms. He figured this had to be the “new guy” Squinty had mentioned. Banking on “new” meaning unfamiliar with everyone in the cult, John decided on a repeat bluff.
“Hey,” he said casually.
Posner turned in a fluid motion, weapon out. He didn’t jump at all, didn’t spook, and he looked every inch like a man unaccustomed to being sneaked up on. In fact, John thought Military
almost immediately. His hair was high and tight over a face younger than the dark grey eyes that met his without any hint of warmth. Posner may have been new, but he knew he didn’t recognize John. Shit
, John thought.
“Identify yourself,” Posner said crisply.
“Yeah, I don’t think we’d had a chance yet,” John replied evenly. “Name’s John, Posner. Stand easy, soldier.”
Posner relaxed his stance, but not his grip on the firearm.
“I’d appreciate it if you’d point that elsewhere,” John said, as close to a request as he was willing to get. “Fornham sent me around to check on everyone; thinks the cops may be on the walkie-talkie frequency. You have anything to report?”
“No,” Posner said, head shaking slowly. “Any activity on the perimeter? Have we attracted police attention yet?”
John shrugged. “Seems pretty quiet.” He moved a step closer. Was it his imagination or did Posner seem a little disappointed that the boys in blue hadn’t arrived? “Hey, have you heard whether we got the whole student body secured, or did any of them make it out?”
“Last I heard, we’d sequestered fourteen groups,” Posner reported. “But that’s more than enough, right? So…the others that got away, apart from calling the cops, no big deal, right?”
“You call bringing in the cops not a big deal?” John wanted to know.
“No, I just mean…for the plan. It doesn’t affect the plan.”
John grunted. Posner was too well-trained and too concerned for the hostages for Fornham’s typical recruit. But that worked in John’s favor. He had been gradually moving in, while Posner’s weapon had gradually dipped toward the ground. So if Posner did try anything, John was well-positioned to stop him.
“Anyway, I’m making the rounds,” he said to end the conversation. “You off for chow at sixteen-hundred?” he asked as he passed Posner.
“Yep.” Posner kept his eye on John. John noticed that Posner also kept his weapon ready, though lowered, and tracked John idly with the barrel.
“Good enough. See you then,” John offered with half a wave. He could pretty much bet that Posner still didn’t believe him, but he hadn’t moved to call him a liar, either. If he moved quickly enough, he might at least get to the next post before Posner put it together.
He got three steps away and heard the click of the chamber of Posner’s gun. John whipped back to him, rifle up. Neither moved; each stared into the other’s eyes, gun barrels aimed at each other’s hearts.
“You’re not one of them,” Posner announced.