Mystery and Crime Fiction posted November 16, 2020 Chapters:  ...8 9 -10- 

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Andi reads to her class.

A chapter in the book The Teacher

The Teacher - 10

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.

Sitting in the auditorium, Marshall studied the many sets of parents facing the same predicament. Sometimes, they'd eye him with suspicion, not recognizing him or seeing a spouse they might know. But he didn't engage with them and they left him alone. Marshall felt no need to justify his presence.

He had considered the idea of going home. His and Andi's apartment was just a few minutes' drive from the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School, "Scraggy Hill", where all the hostages' families were corralled to wait with little information coming their way.

But he was always compelled to stay by some unseen force. It made him feel closer to his wife while in this school as she sat in another school at the mercy of a nutcase. It was somehow better than waiting for her at home. How twisted was that?

Like everyone else, he'd watched with hope and trepidation as more families were escorted out of the auditorium by police officers. Then, word trickled in that a few hostages were released. This happened again a little while ago, but everything was quiet since.

Marshall understood without needing to be told. Andi was still in that classroom. The police would have escorted him out otherwise. He felt some sense of relief at this as they'd be escorting him out as well if they were to tell him she was dead.

Marshall exhaled. Andi was alive. He'd get her back. This gave him comfort. He loved that woman. Despite her sickening love for romantic movies, her refusal to ever go hunting with him, justified, and many other quirks, he loved her. Even the quirks were often endearing, and he'd never hold her distaste for guns against her ... even more understandable now.

Relaxing just a bit, Marshall looked around and spotted a couple seated near the back of the auditorium. He'd noticed them before but hadn't paid them any mind. But now, he realized how separated they seemed to be from the other parents, who were huddled in small groups and sometimes moving around to talk and comfort one another. Yeah, he'd seen some parents going to talk to this couple, but Marshall now realized how brief those interactions had been ... just long enough to be polite. The only difference between this couple and him was no one was eyeing them with suspicion. They were, at least, being acknowledged as fellow parents.

Leaving his coat on his seat, Marshall rose and walked up the aisle. The couple took notice as he came closer, as did a police officer guarding the door.

"Hi there," he said, reaching their row. "I'm Marshall."

"Keith," the man said. "This is my wife, Lauryn."

He waved a hand towards the brunette woman, who just nodded.

"Nice to meet you," Marshall said, "despite the circumstances. You're new here?"

Yes, he didn't attend many school functions, but he knew a few things. These people didn't know the other parents well. Now, more than ever, people were gathering with those they were familiar with. These folks were definitely new.

"Yes," Keith confirmed. "We moved here from Lansing, Michigan, last summer ... right at the beginning of the school year."

He was studying Marshall, waiting for a point to this conversation. Like the others, the couple were sure to not understand why he was there, alone.

"How many kids do you have?" Marshall asked.

"Two," Keith replied. "Our daughter and ..."

Tears sprang up in his eyes and he gripped his wife's hand. She too was crying.

"I'm sorry," Marshall said, noticing some of the other parents glancing his way again. "I didn't mean to ..."

He ought to have realized the question would bring up negative emotions about one of their children being trapped and their feeling helpless. And he'd always considered himself a good judge of what to say and when to say it ... so much for that skill serving him well here.

"It's okay," Keith said. "I'm sorry. You're going through the same thing. Our son, Brad ... he's seven. We ... we just want him to be okay."

"He will be," Marshall said, a small part of him wondering if he ought to put such optimism out there. "His teacher is there with him and he couldn't do better than her."

Lauryn, the wife, looked up at him, wiping her eyes with a tissue.

"Thank you," she said. "Who's your child?"

Marshall shook his head.

"My wife's Mrs. Defesne," he explained. "Andi Defesne."

The couple blinked in unison.

"Oh," Lauryn said. "She's been wonderful. Brad loves her. He comes home every day with a big smile, telling us all about her."

Marshall couldn't help smiling himself.

"Excuse me," a woman said, coming up the aisle. "You know Mrs. Defesne?"

Marshall realized this woman, wearing a long purple coat, was one of the parents who'd often glanced his way, taking plenty of time to regard him with suspicion. She'd probably been on her way over to shoo him away as she'd perceived he was upsetting someone. She'd gotten plenty of crying done as well. The makeup which remained on her face was well-smeared.

"Yeah," Marshall replied. "Andi's my wife."

The woman's tear-stained face broke into a smile.

"My daughter's doing so much better in math because of Mrs. Defesne," she said. "It's nice to meet you."

Just like that, Marshall was accepted. More parents came over to share their adoration of Andi's teaching skills and offer the support they'd been sharing throughout this nightmare.

Despite everything, Marshall smiled. He'd built a career in construction because he'd always been good at putting things together. But he'd always dreamed of making a difference for other people. Now, he realized Andi had already done that. Once he had her back, everything would feel completely right again.

* * *

Kevin held the phone's receiver to his ear, listening to the repetitive long tones, Nance and Lieutenant Cruz listening nearby via headphones. The phone had been ringing for the last minute or so with no response.

Nance glanced over at Kevin, but neither man spoke. What was there to say? Once again, they were at the mercy of John Kirkland. Assuming Kirkland now knew Andi Defesne's heritage, it didn't seem to have affected him, at least not in their favor. Kevin feared that an armed assault might now be the only way to end it.

Suddenly, the ringing stopped. Then, there was a click and a long, continuous dial tone. Kevin set the receiver down in resignation. Kirkland didn't want to talk. What could he do now?

* * *

They'd been interrupted by the ringing phone. When it didn't stop after a minute, John went over, picked up the receiver, and set it down again. Andi wondered what would happen now if he wasn't talking to the police anymore. Her only source of solace was that he hadn't slammed the receiver down. He wasn't angry or agitated again ... not yet, anyway.

"Teach something," John repeated. This time, he stood by her desk instead of leaning against an empty student's desk.

Andi thought about what to do. It was getting late and she didn't want to teach anymore. She wanted to go home, and she wanted to tell John this. But, he had the gun and he'd decide when they left. No one else's desires were liable to change that.

Studying the room, Andi considered what to do. Her eyes fell on the bookshelf on the side wall. Reading might keep everyone relaxed.

Taking slow, deliberate steps, Andi moved towards the bookshelf. John wasn't stopping her and she soon reached it, feeling his eyes boring into the back of her head. Studying several spines, she selected a book and pulled it out from between a spare math textbook and a picture book about the solar system. She realized she needed to organize these books at some point.

Normally, she had a student read a portion of a book to the class. Now, Andi would not subject any of her remaining pupils to that, not with John and his gun in the audience.

She pulled her own chair out from behind her desk and sat down, facing the class.

"Anyone remember where we left off?" she asked, showing them the book. "The Flight Home" by Dorothy Kaiser. She noticed John raise an eyebrow as she recited the author's name.

"Mallick wanted to go home," a girl said. "He went to the airport by himself and his mom didn't know he did that."

Andi nodded and opened the book to the page marked by the bookmark. The plastic tab was decorated with pencils over a pale blue background. There was no writing on it. Andi couldn't recall where it came from. Maybe a teachers' conference she'd attended?

She slid the bookmark into her pocket, wondering if she'd have a chance to recall its origin. The thought upset her and she closed her eyes and bit her lower lip. She couldn't cry ... not here.

She'd cried that night when she was seven. After her father had left her bedroom and she heard him shoot himself in the head, she'd sat in her dark closet and cried. She'd cried as the sirens got louder. She'd cried when she heard the doorbell, followed by the front door being forced in, followed by people entering the house and shouting. Only when she heard someone come into her bedroom did she manage to stop, her fear of being discovered and killed overpowering her grief. But, when the closet doors opened and she saw it was a police officer, the tears came again. She cried in the back of the police car and at the hospital and in her grandparents' Lincoln town car. She couldn't remember when she'd stopped crying. Somehow, she wound up in the large bed in the guest room of the Washington townhouse, which later became her bedroom. There had been no tears left then.

"Are you all right, Mrs. Defesne?" someone asked.

Andi would not cry here in front of John and her students. And, after a few seconds, she managed to compose herself. Her eyes opened and her teeth relaxed around her lower lip. She felt thankful when she didn't taste blood.

"Yeah," she said in a soft voice, looking down at the book in her hands. "I'm fine."

Focusing on the words on the page, she began to read.

Mallick looked around the airport. Everything looked like all the times he and his mom had picked up his dad. There were the belts with suitcases and bags. Many people were there, talking and waiting and looking for their stuff.

"Mallick?" John asked. "Let me guess. He's a little black kid, right?"

Andi glanced at him, wondering if she was supposed to answer. After a few silent seconds, she decided a response wasn't expected.

But it wasn't right. Mallick wasn't picking anyone up and he had his stuff in his backpack on his shoulders.

He wanted to get on a plane and fly home to Michigan. He remembered walking with his parents to a desk, where he then got a boarding pass.

That got him on the plane. He needed one of those. Where could he get one?

"Hey, kid," someone said.

Mallick turned to see a policeman looking at him. He stared back, trying not to show that the policeman had surprised him.

"He's in trouble now," John remarked.

Andi didn't bother to see if he awaited a response.

"You okay, kid?" the policeman asked.

"Yeah," Mallick replied, trying to sound tougher than he felt. He thought they'd found out what he was trying to do.

"You here alone?" the policeman asked.

"No," Mallick said.

"Where are your parents?"

"Dad's a pilot. He's flying right now."

"Where's your mom?"

"Hey," John said. "What cop asks all those questions? When will he put the kid in cuffs?"

Andi looked at him again.

"Real life doesn't happen like that," John continued.

Andi wasn't going to involve herself in that argument. At this point, it might lead to gunfire. She kept reading, skipping back a line to keep the context.

"Where are your parents?"

"Dad's a pilot. He's flying right now."

"Where's your mom?"

"Over there," Mallick replied, pointing.

The policeman turned to look. There was a woman by one of the belts, pulling off a bag. Her hair and skin looked like Mallick's. The policeman was white and Mallick's grandpa always said they couldn't tell the difference.

"Grandpa's right about that," John said.

Mallick wondered about this. But he wouldn't wait to see if his trick had worked. He snuck away while the policeman was still looking.

"Smart kid," John said, actually sounding impressed.

The airport was large, so it was easy for Mallick to get away. He walked past more belts, more suitcases and bags, and more people. He still couldn't find the desk to get a boarding pass. He also wasn't sure what he would say if someone there asked about his parents. He hadn't thought of that.

"Maybe not that smart," John amended, seeming to be thinking out loud.

Andi wasn't even thinking about responding anymore.

Maybe, if he told them his dad's name and said his dad was flying in to get him, they'd believe him. They had to know who his dad was because they wanted him to come work here.

Mallick kept walking. He was still thinking about his plan when he bumped into someone.

"Oh," a man said. "Sorry."

Mallick stopped and looked up at the man. It wasn't really a man. He looked like a big boy. He had short blond hair and was wearing a black shirt with a hood and "UMD" on it in big, white letters.

Andi's pause was unconscious. She was so used to John interrupting, she was expecting it again.

Scanning the last paragraph she'd read, she remembered John too had attended college and got an Associate's Degree. She supposed he didn't have to say anything about this story's college kid. Her eyes shifted down to the next paragraph.

"You okay, kid?" the big boy asked the way the policeman had asked earlier.

"Yeah," Mallick replied, not able to sound so tough anymore. Everything was not working like he had thought it would.

"You lost?"

"No. I'm going home."

The big boy nodded.

"Me, too," he said. "Well, kind of."

Mallick looked at him. What did he mean by that?

"My parents moved here last year," the big boy continued. "We used to live in Pennsylvania. It was easy for me to drive there from school to visit. Now, I have to fly."

"Boo-hoo," John said in a sarcastic tone. "Let me guess ... your 'big boy' is white."

Andi skimmed the page, but the big boy's race wasn't specified, even though the mention of his blond hair was very suggestive. Having left her thumb where she'd paused, Andi moved back to that spot.

Mallick thought about all this. He'd seen Pennsylvania on a map. He couldn't remember exactly where it was, but he knew it wasn't near here and nowhere near Michigan.

"My parents took my stuff with them when they moved," the big boy said. "I've got my own room in the new house and I can come by whenever I want. It's nice."

"Don't you miss Pennsylvania?" Mallick asked. "Don't you miss living there?"

The big boy shrugged.

"Sure," he said, "but it's okay. Home is with your family. That's what matters."

Mallick thought about this. He then heard what sounded like a bell. He watched as the big boy pulled a phone out of his pocket.

"I gotta go," the big boy said after looking at the phone for a few seconds. "My dad's waiting outside. Take care."

"And Daddy's there to pick him up," John said. "How sweet."

He walked away, pulling a large suitcase behind him.

Mallick stood there, still thinking. Home is with your family. His mom was here. So was his dad when he wasn't flying. They'd moved here because of his dad's job, but his grandpa and grandma also lived here. His mom had said how they could help them now that they lived closer.

"They could use our help," his mom had said, "and you help your family."

Mallick knew kids back in Michigan who'd moved there from somewhere else. Yeah, they missed the places they'd come from, but some of them became his friends and they were happy.

At his new school, there was one other kid, Nathan, who was new like him. Nathan came from Florida, but he was always saying how much he liked it in Michigan.

"There you are," a voice said, interrupting Mallick's thoughts. He turned to see the policeman walking towards him.

"Busted," John said, snickering.

"Nice trick," the policeman said, his hands on his hips, one near his shiny handcuffs. "You wanna tell me what's going on? Where are your parents?"

Mallick studied the handcuffs. He'd seen the police use them on TV. He wondered if this policeman would use them now because he'd lied. But he remembered how everyone in his family said he could always ask a policeman for help.

"Just be polite and ask for help," they all said.

John laughed again.

"What?!" he asked. "Who is deluded enough to think that? What rock are they living under?"

Andi waited for him to stop laughing before she resumed reading.

"Dad's flying," Mallick said, making up his mind. "He really is a pilot. I told the truth about that."

"And your mom?" the policeman asked. He didn't sound angry about the earlier lie.

"She's at home," Mallick replied. "I want to go home, too."

The policeman nodded.

"Where's home?" he asked.

John started laughing again and Andi had heard enough. She glared as he kept snickering.

In my original manuscript, I used a different font for the story Andi reads to her class. I'm not sure if that shows up on FanStory (my screenreading software doesn't tell me these sort of things.) Fingers crossed.

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.

Oren Fischer: Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Andi's grandfather.

Marshall Shaffer: Andi's husband.

Mallick: the main character in a book Andi reads to her class.

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