Inside (3)

“INSIDE” (page 3 of 3)

There amongst the chaos of people, bustling sailors and few officers, I spotted the lead command investigator. He was working the radio. “Hey, MA1 Barkley,” I yelled. “What’s going on?”

“A sailor was stabbed, sir,” he yelled back. “Found bleeding in the passageway.”

“Where?” I asked, walking up to him.

“Next to the Engineering Berthing Three.”

“Suspect?”

“He’s inside the berthing area. At least four or five sailors are pinned down inside.”

“Weapons?”

“He’s got a K-bar knife.”

“How’s the victim?”

“Medical’s working on him,” he said. “It doesn’t look good.”

“The victim’s ID?”

“His name is,” MA1 Barkley scanned his logbook, “Fireman Ryan Ortiz.”

“Damn. Who’s the hostage taker?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

MA1 Barkley called into his radio, “Blazer Command calling Blazer One.”

The radio buzzed. “Blazer One,” a scratchy voice replied.

“Give me Thunder’s ID.”

The radio hissed, clicked, and then a voice replied, “A witness identified Thunder as Fireman Apprentice Laroy Mehl.”

“Damn.” I sat down on a chair.

The Kitty Hawk’s security force quickly contained the situation. The inner perimeter boundary was set one hatchway before the ladderway drop-off into the Engineering Berthing Three. Just outside the hatch, a hostage negotiation cell was established. Electricity to the area was isolated. Then it was cut off.

Only a dim glow of emergency electrical lanterns lit the steel encased world. I peeked round the hatchway and traced the line of a cable phone tossed in earlier by one of the master-at-arms. It disappeared down into the ladderway. Without the electrical power, the ambient air temperature quickly soared. MA1 Barkley handed me the handset. I grabbed it.

“Hey, Laroy,” I said into the microphone. “This is Ian Pierce, the NCIS agent. Pick up the phone. It’s in the small bag we tossed in.”

After a brief moment, a distraught metallic voice bled through the speaker. “I knew you’d come,” the voice said. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

“What do you want from me?”

“I don’t want anything,” the voice said. “I just wanted you to be here. You see, I’m finished. My life’s over.”

“You’re not finished, Laroy. You still have a way out.”

“There’s no way out for me. You know that.”

“Nothing’s too late. Give up your weapon. Come out. And we’ll talk.”

“It’s too late for talking,” the voice said. “But before I go, I want to make one thing clear. I never meant to kill Janette. That’s the truth. You’ve got to believe me. I loved her. I always did. I could’ve really been nice to her, much better than that asshole. By the way how’s Ortiz?”

“Medical is taking care of him.”

“I stabbed him good, didn’t I? Is he dead?”

“Laroy, you got to let the hostages go. No sense escalating it any further. Give up your weapon. Come out. Then we’ll talk about it so you can set things straight.”

“It’s fucking too late for that, don’t you understand?”

“Nothing is ever too late, Laroy. What you need is—”

“Don’t give me any crap. Everything’s fucking too late,” the voice screamed.

“You’re still young,” I said. “You can still fix things. There’ll be time to do that. But you must first make your move. Your first step is let the hostages go. Then give up your knife. Then come out.”

“You know, Mr. Pierce,” the voice said. “That night when I saw Janette walking alone, crying, I knew Ortiz had done bad things to her again. I asked her what was wrong. She told me she hated Ortiz . . . are you listening, Mr. Pierce?”

“I’m listening.”

“You see, Janette kept crying so I led her to a quiet place where I knew we could be all alone, a place I went all the time to sit and think about things, and there we sat down on the ground and I listened to her tell me what a jerk Ortiz was cheating on her. She cried some more so I put my arm around her and she let me hold her . . . are you listening?”

“Go on, Laroy. I’m here for you.”

“You see, she just kept crying and we sat there for a long, long time and with my arm over her shoulder I told her I thought she was beautiful. I told she needs a kind man who would treat her like a lady. I told her I always liked her. I told her I could really take care of her if she would only let me. When I said all that she stopped crying. Then you know what she did?”

“No, tell me, Laroy. What did she do?”

“She laughed. Just like that. She looked me in my face and laughed. Like I was out of my mind for saying what I had said.”

“I understand how that would have made you feel.”

“You’ll never fucking understand how I felt,” the voice said. “No one ever will. The way she looked at me. Her eyes, her mouth, her whole body—that bitch—all of her just laughing at me. The way she stood up, the way she stared down at me at last time, shaking her head, and the way she just walked away from me, me sitting there alone, like I was just a fucking piece of trash she’d just tossed away. Seeing her walk away from me like that, I felt something crack inside my head. Everything just went blank. When I realized I had a brick in my hand and she was lying on the ground, bleeding.”

Mehl said no more. And I couldn’t think of anything to say to him. I held the microphone, feeling the pressure of the unsettling pause that I was unable to fill. Finally, I blurted out: “Please, Laroy, just come out. Give me a chance to talk to you. Just you and me, face to face. Give me a chance to help you.”

Another silence followed. Then the voice said, “I just have one regret.”

“What is that?”

“Ever since Mom died my father hated me, and I don’t know why. He’d get drunk all the time and he’d yell at me saying if it weren’t for me he’d have had a better life. I’m worthless he said to me all the time. Said I’d fail in everything I do in my life. One night I told him I had enlisted in the Navy, told him I was leaving home, and then he looked at me—that fucking drunkard—and laughed, saying I wouldn’t last two years, that I didn’t have what it takes to make a man a real man. I hate to admit it. He was right.”

“Screw your father. You can still make things right.”

“Mr. Pierce, you don’t get it, do you? When I realized I killed Janette, something had gone terribly wrong inside of me. I felt it, like I too died the moment she breathed her last. I’m just glad Mom’s already dead. She doesn’t have to know about any of this. All I need now is a way out.”

“We’ll find you a way out, I promise,” I said. “Give yourself up. Toss you knife. And come out.”

“I’m coming out, Mr. Pierce,” the voice said. “Goodbye.”

“Wait, Laroy.” The phone went dead. “Laroy!” I looked round the corner of the hatchway, at the dimly lit gape on the deck that led below to the berthing area. In the dim glow, a shadowy figure came up the ladderway. MA1 Barkley squatting beside me turned on a spotlight. In the bright light, Mehl stood with the K-bar in his hand.

“Drop the knife, Laroy,” I yelled, instinctively drawing my weapon. Mehl held his free arm over his eyes, blocking the harsh light. He squinted into the spotlight. Blood smeared on his arm, glistening dark against his wan skin. “Drop the knife,” I yelled again. I thought Mehl smiled before he lifted the knife hand above his head and screamed and charged towards me, the blade flashing in the spotlight.

“Stop, goddamn it,” I yelled, and then holding my breath I pulled the trigger— double-tap, two shots into the center mass, just as I was trained to do.

The blast noise cracked against the steel bulkheads, tearing at my eardrums, as the charging mass collapsed several feet in front of me, hitting the deck hard.

I kept the muzzle pointed at the unmoving mass. The air choked with the smell of burnt gunpowder. I took a few steps forward. I kicked the knife away from him. “MA1, get medical,” I yelled, but I knew Mehl was dead.

I just stood there gazing down at Fireman Apprentice Laroy Mehl, laying facedown on the deck, not knowing what to do next, feeling a strange stir in my guts, way deep inside of me, slowly rising into my chest, almost choking me. I realized I still held my gun. Holstering it, I knelt down beside his body and put my fingertips on his neck to check for the pulse. Nothing. On the deck, in the harsh spotlight, his blood spread out quickly. I stepped back, shivering, as if someone had pumped chilled water through my veins. Suddenly I realized what had happened. Now I carried Laroy Mehl’s burden inside of me. And I didn’t have a way out.

*** End ***

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