Mystery and Crime Fiction posted November 15, 2020 Chapters:  ...6 7 -8- 9... 

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The pizzas arrive.

A chapter in the book The Teacher

The Teacher - 8

by teols2016

A hostage situation at an elementary school.
Previously in "The Teacher":

A gunman invades the Ellison Elementary School and takes a classroom hostage. While the teacher, Andi Defesne, attempts to talk to the assailant, Kevin Greer attempts to negociate on behalf of the police department, all while learning about underlying political implications.

Kevin was relieved when no stalling tactics were required. Twenty-five minutes after his last conversation with John, a Suffolk County Sherriff's Department cruiser arrived outside the Mobile Command Center. Technicians hurried to secure tiny listening devices in the four large pizza boxes and the smaller box which accompanied the order.

"We'll get about six hours of audio before the batteries die," a technician said, closing the final box.

Kevin nodded. He'd overseen operations like this in the past. Finally, they'd have ears in that room. Hopefully, they wouldn't need the full six hours.

Kevin climbed back onto the bus with Nance following him. He picked up the phone.

"Yeah," John said by way of answering the call.

"How is everyone?" Kevin asked, introductions no longer necessary.

"Fine. Where are the pizzas?"

"They're here. I can have an officer bring them in to you ..."

"No way," John interrupted. "No cop sets foot in here."

"Would you like to come out and get them?" Kevin asked, wondering if he could be that lucky.

"You think I'm a moron?"

So much for luck, Kevin thought. He was sure a response wasn't expected.

"No," John continued, "set the pizzas down at the door near the classroom and then keep away from them. The teacher will come out to get them. You've got two minutes."

The subsequent click started the clock. Kevin looked at Nance.

"You want to grab her when she comes out?" he asked. "Would make things easier from the political angle."

Nance shook his head.

"That woman is probably the only source of comfort those kids have," he said. "She's gotta stay, no matter what Washington has to say about it."

Kevin nodded. He had another idea and grabbed a piece of paper.

* * *

"Time's up," John said, checking the clock on the wall. "Go get the pizzas. You've got thirty seconds. And take them."

He pointed at Stacey and Rahat. They were standing by the first row of desks, waiting. Stacey looked pale.

"Come on, girls," Andi encouraged as John unlocked and opened the classroom door.

Without a word, the two girls followed Stacey out of the room. Andi turned to look at the remaining students.

"I'll be right ..." was all she got out before John slammed the door in her face.

Knowing she had to move, Andi led Stacey and Rahat down the hallway. They reached the exit door and she could see cops waiting outside, standing a few yards from the steps. She turned to the girls.

"When we get out there, you go straight to the police," she said and turned to Rahat. "You know what to say?"

Rahat nodded, grabbing Stacey's hand. They both looked nervous, staring at Andi for guidance.

"It's going to be okay," Andi told them. "Let's go."

She opened the door.

"Go," she commanded. "Go and don't look back."

As the girls hurried away towards the waiting cops, Andi saw the pizza boxes sitting just outside the door. Four large, flat squares with one smaller box on top. Wedged underneath this smaller box was a piece of paper. It couldn't be the receipt from the pizzeria, could it? Andi pulled it out to see it was a note.

Nod your head if no one inside is hurt, then discard this paper.

Sgt. K. Greer

Andi looked out at the scene of cops, some of whom had collected Stacey and Rahat, wondering if the Sargent from the phone was there somewhere. She knew she couldn't wait and couldn't elaborate.

Taking a deep breath, Andi crumpled up the note, tossed it aside, and nodded. She then scooped up the pizzas and headed back inside.

* * *

"Well, that's a small favor," Nance remarked.

Through the bus's external cameras, he, Kevin, and Lieutenant Cruz had watched Andi Defesne bring the girls out, signal them as Kevin had instructed, and take the pizzas back inside.

"I'll go see what those girls might be able to tell us," Lieutenant Cruz said and left the bus.

Kevin kept staring at the monitor, now showing an officer retrieving the discarded note. He thought about that look on Andi Defesne's face. She was trapped ... helpless. And he'd just allowed her to return to this situation.

He remembered his days as a patrol officer. Every so often, he'd responded to calls where domestic violence was at least suspected. Too often, he and his partner would be told everything was fine, but he could recall some of the wives. They too looked trapped ... helpless. Having no evidence to oppose the claims of peace and tranquility, He hadn't been able to help them either and two later wound up dead.

He also thought of Annette Tate, the college sophomore he failed to save the previous year. He'd never seen her face, but he was sure it had been the same look of quiet desperation.

Kevin turned to Nance.

"What do you think our chances are?" he queried.

Nance shrugged his shoulders.

"At this point, it depends on how hungry Kirkland is," he remarked.

* * *

John gave Andi just enough time to reenter the room before slamming the door shut. He watched her set the boxes down on her desk, not moving to help.

"What's that?" he asked, pointing at the smaller box on top. "It's got my name on it."

"I don't know," Andi said, now noticing "John" scrawled across the small box in black marker.

John grabbed the box and set it aside.

"Give them their pizza," he instructed. "Then, everybody stays quiet."

Within a few minutes, the kids were eating. Andi, still refusing anything, was sitting at her desk, watching John. He was sitting nearby, opening the small box on his lap. He paused, staring into it. Andi didn't dare to move in order to improve her angle to catch a glimpse of the contents.

She didn't need to move. John soon lifted what looked like a calzone out of the box, still staring at it. His examination suggested either unfamiliarity or surprise. Andi couldn't help thinking of Marshall, who often indulged in the calzones at their local pizzeria. She shuddered, not wanting to associate her husband with all this.

John finished marveling at the calzone and took a bite. He now seemed to be considering the taste. He soon swallowed and took another bite, seeming to enjoy it.

Andi realized what was going on. The police somehow learned this was a favorite of John's. The calzone was a way for them to get to him ... to strike at his emotions and make him more relaxed for negotiations towards a resolution.

Andi then wondered if the pizza boxes had little listening devices in them. She'd seen Inside Man and recalled the scene where someone advised Denzel Washington's character how pizza was the best food to send in for the hostages and their hostage takers because everyone would have to stay near the pizza boxes, where the listening devices would pick up any conversations.

"You like calzones?" Andi asked, hoping movies were somewhat right.

"Yeah," John replied, his indifferent tone a far cry from his earlier surprised and interested expressions.

"You have those a lot where you were living?"

* * *

"Audio's clear," a technician on the bus reported, though they could all hear it. "How'd she know to initiate a chat with him?"

Kevin figured he'd dwell on that later as he listened.

"Got them from time to time," Kirkland replied. "Mostly after pulling a double at the hospital. Quick to get."

Kevin knew Kirkland got these from JoJo's, a pizzeria half a block from his apartment in Boston, at least once a week. The calzone, filled with extra cheese, pepperoni, broccoli, peppers, and onions was his regular order. It'd taken some cajoling, and Nance offering to come make it himself, but Nito's, a pizzeria a mile and a half from the school, agreed to fulfill the special order as fast as they could. A Suffolk County Deputy waited by the cashier, ready to rush everything back to the school. No one could recall a pizza order ever being delivered with lights and sirens.

Kevin hoped this string of good luck meant further positive outcomes, perhaps leading to a final resolution. He kept listening.

"so," Kirkland said, "what's the 'A' on your desk stand for anyway?"

Kevin supposed he was referring to some sort of nameplate.

"My name's Andi," the teacher replied.

Kevin wondered how many hostage takers and hostages never learned one another's names. Granted, most incidents he handled spawned from domestic disputes. But, setting those aside, hostages and hostage takers didn't learn more about one another until the trial, provided the situation didn't end in violence.

The numerous factors and possible outcomes still made Kevin's head ache. He refocused as Kirkland spoke.

"I guess you know who I am," he was saying.

"I saw the news," Andi replied.

Kevin wondered how anyone could miss it. Starting with the shooting at the courthouse in Boston, it seemed every channel was supplying constant updates. Within hours, NBC and ABC were both conducting live interviews with the widows of Lucius Oakes and Matthew Vinyard, the prosecutor and court officer killed in the incident. Now, Ellison Elementary School was at the center of the spectacle, and Kevin was expected to provide a happy ending. He took a deep breath, steadying his nerves.

"What do you think should happen to me?" Kirkland asked.

"I don't know," Andi replied.

"Bet people would be glad if the cops out there burst in and brought me down ... that or I get a needle in my arm."

Kevin tried to recall if Massachusetts had the death penalty. The only person he could think of who got it up there was Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but that had been a federal case. He supposed, under the general principles that seemed to warrant capital punishment in most states, six murders would make Kirkland a prime candidate, especially given two of his victims were law enforcement personnel.

Thankfully, no one else was in immediate danger of dying. The Suffolk County Sheriff's Deputy whom Kirkland had shot was already out of the hospital, his vest leaving him with a bruised clavicle and probable desk duty for a week while he recovered. The teacher Kirkland assaulted was still hospitalized for observation but was expected to leave soon. The School Resource Officer was out of surgery and his condition was lowered from "critical" to "serious", with doctors expecting him to recover as well. As for the Shaws in Connecticut, they were still listed as being in critical condition and under close observation, but there too were new signs of optimism from their doctors. Kevin was glad not to have to think about the possibility of more dead cops.

"You think anyone can forgive me?" Kirkland asked, bringing Kevin's attention back to the audio surveillance.

"I don't know," Andi replied. "I can't speak for anyone else."

"What about you? Can you forgive me?"

There was a long pause.

"Why did you choose us?" Andi asked. "Why are we in here with you?"

Kevin could hear Kirkland sigh.

"I didn't mean it," he said. "This wasn't the plan."

"Then, what was the plan?" Andi asked.

Kevin was wondering the same thing.

"I just wanted to get away," Kirkland explained. "I took the ferry over from Connecticut. I figured the Stateys would be watching the highways. There were cops at the ferry dock and I almost turned away, but I made it past them and onto the boat. I thought I was in the clear."

Kevin made a mental note to see that an investigation was launched to review the ferry's security procedures. He also considered Kirkland's choice of phrase. "Statey" was a nickname for state troopers, though it wasn't well-known outside of Massachusetts. Kirkland didn't have a Boston accent, even though he'd grown up there.

"I got here and began seeing cops everywhere," Kirkland continued. "I knew the ride I had was hot by then, so I needed to get a new one. I pulled into the first lot I came across and grabbed the first empty spot there."

Kevin tried to visualize the school's two parking lots. The one in front, separated from the building by the bus drop-off lane, was meant for parents and visitors. The one on the side was designated for the faculty and staff. Patrick Fahey's car was found in the faculty lot, almost out of sight from the main road in front of the school's property. If Kevin recalled correctly, there was an entrance from a side street that was near this lot, so it seemed feasible for this fugitive to end up there, especially if he didn't want to be seen.

"What then?" Andi asked.

"I figured some teacher would have left their keys in their room while they went off for more coffee or something," Kirkland explained. "I got in and was going to look around when your rent-a-cop found me. Then, it all went wrong and I bolted for the first open door I saw."

Kevin hoped Andi Defesne would never blame herself for having left her classroom door open. This was not her fault. Kirkland was able to pick the lock on the exterior door, so he'd have sought refuge in any room by some means. Had he not been spotted by the School Resource Officer, he might have found some keys and gotten away before anyone could object to his presence. Now, it was hard to predict what might have happened.

"I just want to get out of here," Kirkland continued. "I don't want to spend the rest of my life in prison."

Kevin's listening was interrupted by the return of Nance and Lieutenant Cruz. He turned to see their grim faces.

"What now?" he asked.

"Justice Fischer," Nance said. "A local affiliate in D.C. just announced a live interview with him. It's supposed to happen within the next hour or so and the national outlets are ready to air it as well."

Kevin withheld a groan. There was a chance, albeit remote, Kirkland might see the interview and he'd know Andi Defesne was a more valuable hostage then he'd anticipated. Any progress they might have made with the calzone would be decimated.

"Can we stop it?" Kevin asked.

"I've got guys trying," Nance said. "The station isn't keen to listen. This is big for them. A sitting Supreme Court Justice is weighing on this mess and I presume they don't yet know why."

"What about Justice Fischer?" Lieutenant Cruz asked. "He wouldn't knowingly put his granddaughter in harm's way, especially given what they've already faced."

"He's not taking our calls. And the Director won't make that call for us. He just wants us to fix this."

Fabulous, Kevin thought. He could see the brass in Suffolk County doing the same thing.

* * *

When they were done eating, John gathered the pizza boxes and chucked them into the hallway. Andi wondered if he knew, or at least suspected, that there were listening devices in the boxes.

"I suppose more of you want to use the bathroom," John said as he locked the door again.

Checking her watch, Andi calculated they'd been in this situation for almost eight hours. She'd noticed some students squirming in their seats, though no one responded to John's query.

Glancing towards the windows, Andi could see a sliver of the outside world, thanks to a gap in the blinds John had closed so long ago. She could tell it was getting dark. For the first time she could remember, it struck her as to how early the sun set this time of year.

Normally, her students were home by now. Instead, they were here, at the mercy of a gunman who'd come without a plan and a temper that would erupt at random. Meanwhile, their families had to be somewhere nearby, racked with worry as they surely weren't receiving detailed updates.

Andi was sometimes still at the school at this hour, grading homework assignments before she'd head home to Marshall. She thought about their apartment. She wanted to be there so much. Maybe she and Marshall would finally adopt that dog they'd always talked about getting. No matter what happened next, Andi wanted to get out of this classroom. She looked at John.

"Will you let them go to the bathroom?" She asked.

John shrugged.

"Maybe," he said. "I wanna know what the cops have to say about it first. No more surprises."

He raised his gun for emphasis. Andi was grateful he wasn't aiming it at anyone. She'd take such small favors as they came.

* * *

Marshall watched more cops enter the Scraggy Hill School's auditorium. They murmured quietly with a few parents until they seemed to find who they were looking for. A couple and a third woman were led out of the auditorium, the cops guiding them without another word.

Marshall remembered this same scenario happening a few hours earlier in the wake of two boys getting out of Andi's classroom. Their parents were quietly escorted out of the auditorium, presumably to reunite with their children, wherever they were.

Soon, some police official would come with an update that no one left in this place wanted to hear. They'd won another small victory. Yes, more young lives were safe, but what about all those still at this gunman's mercy? Marshall wasn't looking forward to more promises and assurances.

* * *

"Hello," Kevin said, answering the ringing phone.

"Got some more kids who need to use the restroom," Kirkland said by way of greeting. "Can I count on your people not to interfere."

Kevin immediately realized a few things. There were probably several students who needed to go. He was surprised it had taken this long for the issue to arise in this quantity. Kirkland didn't want to lose his leverage.

But there was something else. Kirkland was sounding worn down. Kevin could hear that in his voice. The stress of being a hostage taker was getting to him. While he did not have a way out, he didn't want to be arrested and he did not want things to continue. Kevin had to seize the opportunity.

"We can work with you," he said, "but we need another sign of good faith. We're doing good here, John. Let's keep that going."

He heard a long sigh.

"You can have two more of these kids," Kirkland said.

Kevin knew he had to push back now. He could not look compliant or complacent.

"How many kids want to use the bathroom?" he asked. Glancing over, he could see Nance giving an approving nod, his radio in his hand.

"About half, I think," Kirkland replied. "Probably more."

"Two won't be enough this time," Kevin said. "We want to end this peacefully, John, but you need to accept a reality. You are surrounded by armed officers. We can snatch up every kid on their way to the bathroom and simultaneously come at you with everything we've got. We want to negotiate, but you need to understand we are not pushovers."

He waited, hoping his words were resonating.

"You get one kid for every four who leave and come back," Kirkland said after a pause.

Kevin paused, working to suppress his glee.

"That will work, John," he said in his most professional tone.

"Same rules as last time," Kirkland said, "and the teacher picks them again."

"Okay," Kevin said and heard a click. He looked over at Nance again.

"We won't interfere for the time being," the federal agent said, smiling.

After a few moments, Vince Dodson affirmed the plan over the radio.

Kevin hoped having to supervise the students departing and returning might distract Kirkland from the live interview they had yet to prevent.

* * *

Like before, John instructed Andi to choose who would go free. Andi still refused to allow the task to inflict emotional distress as he might have wanted.

There were no more medical emergencies to be concerned about, so Andi studied the students, selecting those who looked the most nervous.

"I want to go, too," one girl, Dina, complained as her neighbor, Sara, was selected.

"Too bad," John said. "Not my call."

Ignoring John's comment, Andi selected Dina next, walking her to the exterior door like all the others. The police waited just a few yards away, collecting each child as they exited. Sirens were heard in the background, presumably indicating the youngsters being whisked away to a safer place.

"What about you, Mrs. Defesne?" Dina asked as Andi pushed the door open. "Why don't you go, too?"

Andi smiled at her.

"I have to stay a little while longer," she said. "But I'll come out soon. We all will."

She knelt down and hugged the girl.

"It'll be okay," she added. "Get going."

John was standing just inside the classroom door, grumbling something. Andi glared at him but didn't speak as he returned. Some other students returned from the bathroom at the same time. John waved them all in with his gun-wielding hand.

"By my count, you get to send out one more," he said, looking at Andi.

Andi wouldn't argue with his math, especially if it meant getting someone else out.

"Christophe," she said, pointing at a boy seated on the far left. "Come with me."

Christophe looked at her.

"No, Mrs. Defesne," he said. "I want to stay. Pick someone else."

Andi was shocked. John chuckled. His amusement or enjoyment sickened her, but she focused on Christophe.

"Are you sure?" she asked. She'd never heard him sound so confident.

Christophe looked at the other students and then back at Andi.

"I want to stay," he repeated. "Pick someone else."

Holding back her tears, Andi didn't know whether to hug or berate him. She'd never imagined an eight-year-old facing such a choice, let alone their making it. She shook her head, knowing she needed to focus. The rules could change at any moment, so she had to move.

"Zach," she said, pointing at the dark-haired boy two seats closer than Christophe. "Come with me."

Zach didn't speak as he rose from his seat. He didn't move to take Andi's hand as she led him out of the classroom. As Andi pushed open the exterior door, he looked up at her.

"Say 'thank you' to Christophe, please," he implored.

"I will," Andi promised, "but you'll be able to say it yourself later."

Zach nodded and left the building.

John was still inside the classroom as Andi returned. He was studying Christophe as he shut and locked the door.

"Nice work, Hero Boy," he said. "Don't know if it will have been worth it."

"Don't say that," Andi insisted.

"Sit down," John instructed, whirling to face her. "I want to see what comes next."

Considering he didn't have a plan, Andi didn't know what he was expecting.

While Port Jefferson, NY, is a real town, the Ellison Elementary School is fictional.

Cast of characters:

Andi Defesne: 2nd grade teacher at the Ellison Elementary School in Port Jefferson, NY. Taken hostage alongside her students.

John Kirkland: wanted for a violent courtroom shooting and escape in Boston, Massachusetts, and related murders.

Sargent Kevin Greer: hostage negociator for the Suffolk County Police Department. In charge of negociating with hostagetaker John Kirkland at the Ellison Elementary School.

Supervisory Special Agent Seth Nance: representative from the FBI's Boston field office. Assigned to the Kirkland case following the courthouse shooting.

Lieutenant Aldo Cruz: Suffolk County Police official in charge at the scene of the hostage crisis at the Ellison Elementary School. Kevin's superior officer.

Supervisory Special Agent Vince Dodson: commander of the FBIâ??s Divisional SWAT Team from Manhattan.

Marshall Shaffer: Andi's husband.

Feedback, especially recommendations for revisions, additions, and subtractions, are always welcome. Enjoy.
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