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Authors: B. David Warner

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BOOK: Freeze Frame
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But not now.
Not ten days from
retirement. Screw this up, and the reputation you’ve nursed for
thirty years goes into the tank like a trick pony off a high
board.

Banner looked around, sizing up the situation
for the nth time tonight. Half a dozen police cars parked side by
side on the street, headlights trained on the reporter’s white
two-story house. The house, with its postage stamp cement porch and
tiny front lawn, sat close to the street. The porch, sidewalk and
grass were still damp from the rain that fell for a few minutes
just after dark. The street had been cordoned off at both ends, and
houses on either side of the reporter’s evacuated. The crowd had
grown steadily since the police cars arrived just before dark, and
stood behind ropes three houses away on either side. The small
group of people milling around inside the roped area included
police, emergency personnel and a few reporters.

“They say stall him, Lieutenant.”

Banner squinted toward his sergeant, John
Wolenski, seated in the squad car six feet away. The car’s two-way
radio connected them with the Chief of Police and his staff
downtown.

“Stall him? Stall him? A mob killer’s
demanding a car and a thousand dollars cash, and that’s the best
they can do?”

Banner went on. “I can see them sitting
around that table in the Chief’s office right now, figuring what
they’re gonna say when everything blows up in my face. Which it
damn well may do,” he looked down at his wrist, “in exactly seven
minutes.”

Chapter 2

A headache formed at the base of his skull as
Banner pictured the front-page headlines of all three Detroit
newspapers if he screwed this one up.

They had been here, twenty-two cops strong,
in the middle-class east side Detroit neighborhood for almost three
hours. The sun disappeared a half hour ago, but windows stayed open
this warm June night of 1943. A soft breeze carried the hint of
newly minted elm leaves and Billie Holiday sang
I’ll Be Seeing
You
on someone’s radio.

The irony of the song’s title wasn’t lost on
Banner.

“Everything under control, Lieutenant?”

Banner turned to a tall, gaunt figure behind
him. With the collar of his long trench coat pulled up around his
face, Reese Cobb looked like the grim reaper. Cobb, from the
mayor’s office, had a reputation as one of the Police Department’s
staunchest critics. At the sight of him another knot seemed to
twist in the Lieutenant’s stomach.

Banner nodded, affecting a coolness he didn’t
feel. “Hello, Cobb. You just happen to be in the neighborhood?”

“Got a call from one of the taxpayers around
here saying there’s someone inside holding a woman hostage. The
mayor’s always interested when the life of one of his constituents
is threatened.”

Especially when it’s a popular reporter,
Banner thought.

“Know who the gunman is?” Cobb had a way of
talking without much moving his mouth. In calmer times Banner got a
laugh picturing the man with Charley McCarthy setting on his knee.
Not tonight.

“Frank Valvano. Small time punk. Works for
the mob.” Banner reached inside his dark blue uniform jacket for
the half-empty pack of Luckies in his shirt pocket. He’d switched
to Lucky Strikes when they changed from the old green pack to the
new red and white. In a weak moment he’d confess it wasn’t taste of
the cigarettes that prompted him to change after twenty years of
puffing on Pall Malls. He liked the slogan,
Lucky Strike
Green
Went to War
. Sounded patriotic.

“He’s holding a woman reporter hostage, I
hear,” Cobb said. “One who works for the Times?”

“Name’s Kate Brennan.” Banner struck a match
and held it to his cigarette. If Cobb wanted facts he’d get them,
one at a time; pulling them out like wrestling tent stakes from
hard ground.

“She the one behind those stories about the
mob counterfeiting gasoline rationing stamps?”

Banner shook out the match and dropped it on
the ground. He took a deep drag from the Lucky and nodded.

The mayor’s man whistled. “Looks like they’re
trying to put her out of business.” When Banner simply inhaled and
blew long trail of smoke into the night air, Cobb spoke again. “Who
called you?”

“The woman.”

“The woman?”

Banner nodded. “Found Valvano in her living
room when she came home. He apparently planned to take her for a
ride, one-way. She broke lose, ran into her bedroom and locked the
door. She barely had time to phone the switchboard downtown before
he forced his way in and grabbed the phone.”

“Excuse me, Lieutenant.” Wolenski, now out of
the squad car, stood next to a man holding a canvas rifle case.
“There’s a Corporal Harrison here. Says the Chief sent him.”

Chapter 2

The Corporal stood taller than Banner, well
over six feet. He had salt and pepper hair and Banner guessed him
to be in his mid-fifties. Banner cocked his head to the side,
looking at the man. “The Chief sent...who the hell are you?”

“Harrison. Corporal Ben Harrison, sir. Chief
thought you might be able to use me.” Harrison looked down at his
rifle case.

A marksman. The Chief of Police wanted him to
force the hood’s hand. What if his marksman misses? Banner could
envision a small trick pony beginning to climb the metal stair to a
high board over a water tank in the center ring of a circus
somewhere.

“Why haven’t I heard your name before,
Corporal?”

“Moved up here about a month ago from
Nashville, Lieutenant.”

“You any good with that thing?” Pointing to
the rifle case.

“Get me a clear shot and you’ll be home by
eleven thirty.”

Yeah, if you do my paperwork, Banner thought.
But, he took it as a good sign, the guy being confident.

“Where do you want to set up?”

Harrison looked around, then pointed to a
thin tree in front of the house two doors down. “I’ll stand over
there on the lawn. Use that tree for support.”

“Why, the trunk of that tree isn’t more than
three inches thick. You’ll be an easy target.”

“Chief said he had a small-caliber pistol.
I’ll be out of his range. But he won’t be out of mine.”

“He’ll spot you.” Banner’s nervousness seemed
to grow by the second. He could see that trick pony on top of the
ladder, almost to the diving platform.

“That’s the idea. Him knowing there’s a rifle
pointed at him might cause him to think twice about killing the
lady.”

“Lieutenant, someone’s coming out of the
house,” Wolenski called.

The gunman, Valvano, had moved onto the porch
of the white house, lights from the police cars playing on him like
spotlights. He held the woman directly in front of his body, one
hand pressing a small pistol tightly to her temple, the other arm
wrapped around her upper torso. Only the top half of her face
showed, but Banner could see she was an attractive woman, with a
thin, straight nose and large, expressive eyes.

“You cops got the car and the grand, or do I
kill the woman?”

Chapter 3

At the sound of the gunman’s voice, Harrison
began sprinting toward the tree he had spotted two houses down.
Ripping the rifle case open as he ran, he checked the clip in the
M1 CD. As he reached the tree, he pressed the rifle against its
damp trunk.

Through the scope, he could clearly see the
pair on the small cement porch. The gunman clutched the woman so
close that Harrison couldn’t chance a shot. When he saw the man’s
face just for an instant, it appeared dark and thin with eyebrows
that seemed to meet in the middle. Harrison felt shaken by the
brutality in the eyes. Some people are born cruel, he thought,
cruel and crazy. This woman would die if the son-of-a-bitch didn’t
get what he wanted, no question.

Still looking through the scope, Harrison
moved the tip of the rifle muzzle downward. That’s when he saw what
she was doing and thought,
God, that woman has balls!

She must have seen him running toward the
tree, because she appeared to be signaling to him. She had to be;
why else would she be doing that with her fingers? He focused the
scope on her hands, held together in front of her. He could see her
pointing straight downward with the index finger of her right hand.
Then, with her left hand clenched, she extended each of three
fingers, one at a time, in a one-two-three counting motion.

God, that woman has balls
.

Harrison moved the scope back to the woman’s
face. She was pretty, and young; and should have been scared out of
her wits. Instead of fear, though, her eyes burned with defiance.
Screw the bastard with the gun at her head, she seemed to be
saying, she was going to hit the ground on the count of three.

But she had to be sure he saw what she was
doing.

“Lieutenant!” Harrison fought to get Banner’s
attention. The Lieutenant was busy calling back and forth to the
gunman on the porch, trying to stall, to negotiate. Something.
Anything.

“Lieutenant Banner!” Banner finally swung
around.

“Lieutenant, have one of your men shine a
light on me. I want the two on the porch to see me.”

Banner had momentarily forgotten about
Harrison, pushing him to the back of his mind, hoping he wasn’t
serious about shooting at the gunman. No one could be sure of
hitting a target that small from way back there. Nearly two hundred
feet. And if he missed by just a little… Banner could see the pony
poised at the end of the diving platform.

But he gave the order and one of the black
and white jockeys swung the spotlight on his car over to illuminate
the rifleman behind the tree. The gunman saw him from the porch,
but didn’t move, keeping his pistol pressed to the woman’s temple.
Harrison made sure she saw him, holding the M1 sniper rifle against
the tree trunk, raising and lowering it slowly three times. Then he
called. “Okay, lights out.”

Back in the scope, Harrison watched the
woman’s face and saw by the way her eyes looked straight at him
that she had understood. He lowered the scope to look at her hands
… but they weren’t moving. What the hell was she waiting for?

Bringing the scope back up, he saw. The
gunman had tightened his grip around the woman’s head and neck. No
way could she get loose enough to drop. Her lips moved, she said
something, maybe asked him to loosen his hold, because that’s what
he seemed to do as she let out a breath. Her eyes dropped to the
ground once again. Harrison lowered his scope to her hands. Again
the index finger of her left hand pointed downward. She was
ready.

One
. Her right index finger shot
out.

Two.
The middle finger came out and
Harrison raised the scope to head level. There would be just one
chance.

One shot
.

The woman’s face now filling his scope,
Harrison couldn’t see her finger signals. But on what would have
been the count of three her head dropped from the frame, exposing
Valvano’s face for an instant before he moved quickly to raise her
up.

Not quickly enough.

The .30-06 slug from the M1, traveling at
2,837 feet per second, tore through the right side of Valvano’s
scalp, blowing away a portion of his head. His body slammed back
against the door of the house, then sagged to a heap on the porch.
Having regained her balance the woman stood, hands clenched,
glaring down at her would-be-killer lying in a pool of blood
rapidly spreading over the porch.

God, that woman has balls
.

Chapter 4

If you’re wondering where the woman on the
porch got the guts to act so bravely, you’re not alone.

I lay in bed later on that evening wondering
the same thing.

I rolled over and reached into the drawer of
my bed stand and retrieved an envelope with its carefully folded
paper inside. I read the printed message for what must have been
the one-thousandth time:

 

Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Strickland request your
presence

at the wedding of their son Ronald Jr. to

Kate Brennan,

daughter of the late Harold and Margaret
Brennan.

 

We had picked the perfect date for our
wedding; Valentine’s Day fell on a Saturday in 1942. But it never
happened. World War II got in the way.

Ronny enlisted in the Navy the day after
Pearl Harbor, a cloudy, snowy Monday in December. He got to stay
home for Christmas, a time I’ll remember forever, because it was
our last together. Ron shipped out for the Great Lakes Naval
Station on January 2, 1942. It was a cold, dark day. But not as
dark as June 5, when word came that Ronny had been killed when the
Japanese torpedoed the Yorktown at Midway.

I cried every day for weeks afterward.
There’s still an emptiness that surfaces every time I pass one of
the places we used to frequent, or hear a joke I know would make
Ron laugh.

The healing process came slowly. In time, I
got past Ronny’s death, but I know I’ll never get over it. The
healing left an emotional scar that gave me a new outlook on life.
Things that once seemed terribly important aren’t quite so vital.
Events that once would have terrified me aren’t so frightening.

I think that’s what saved my life
tonight.

 

You’ve just met Darcy James’ great aunt Kate
Brennan, a 21st Century woman who just happens to life in the
1940s.

Leaving Detroit and taking a job with her
grandfather’s newspaper at the Soo, Kate uncovers a Nazi plot to
destroy the locks and paralyze the U.S. war effort.

Watch for
Dead L
ock
coming soon
in hardcover and paperback.

  

BOOK: Freeze Frame
5.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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