I don’t read too many romantic suspense books but after reading the blurb for this book, I was curious. Allison Brennan must be doing something right if she’s writing the fourteenth book in this series and it sounds like a good one so I’m thrilled to be spotlighting it here on Book Binge.
FBI Special Agent Lucy Kincaid geared up in the back of the SWAT van and followed team leader Leo Proctor to the staging area kitty-corner to the coffeehouse that was currently under control of a gunman. Lucy wasn’t part of the SWAT team. She was the newest trained hostage negotiator, though she would be second to Proctor for a minimum of six months. She wouldn’t be talking to the suspect today; she was tagging along on her first official outing after completing Hostage and Crisis Response Training at Quantico.
As soon as she stepped out of the air-conditioned van and into the hot Texas humidity, she began to sweat. Fortunately, she wasn’t decked out with an extra twenty- five pounds of SWAT gear; she was only required to wear her Kevlar vest and sidearm.
The FBI was here to back up the SAPD, who were taking lead in the hostage situation at Java Antonio, a small but popular independent coffee shop in downtown San Antonio.
Lucy followed Leo from the van while the rest of the team checked their weapons and gear.
“Lieutenant, sit-rep?” Leo said to the man clearly in charge who was directing personnel from the back of a police communications van. There were a dozen city and county vehicles filling all four streets that led to the intersection, which now held a tactical truck. Each street had been blocked off, and all businesses in a two-block radius evacuated or locked down.
“Proctor. Glad you’re here.” He glanced at Lucy. “Agent Kincaid, hostage negotiator. Kincaid, Lieutenant Jordan Young.”
They shook hands. Young was forty and had the aura of former military officer, and it was clear by how his officers spoke to him that he garnered respect from his men and women.
“I need you to negotiate, Leo—I’ve already set up a command, I’m the highest-ranking officer here.”
“My people are your people,” Proctor said. “Kincaid’s my second.”
Being second essentially meant backing up the primary negotiator. Listening to all communication, taking notes, passing along information between the negotiator and command and vice versa.
Generally, the individual in charge of the scene was not the same person negotiating with the suspect. That SAPD and the SA-FBI worked well together was a testament to the men and women who led each department and the teams who cross-trained together.
“I have two snipers, one on each corner building,” Young said, gesturing. “Two men in the back. If you can spare a pair I’d like to have them tag up with my team in the alley, and if you have a sniper we can use one back there. The rear is the only exit other than the front door.” Proctor said in his radio, “Dunning, take your team and secure the back with SAPD; Ramirez, find a roost with clear line of sight to the emergency exit. From here on out, Lieutenant Young is in command of this operation and you’ll take direction from him, primary emergency channel.”
“Roger,” the team leader said over the radio. “Suspect?” Proctor asked.
Young shook his head. “Working on an ID. No cameras inside, but we have a description from one of the hostages who escaped during the initial confusion. In fact, a dozen people got out before the shooter locked down. From preliminary statements, the guy was talking to himself and acting ‘off’—weird was the word most used. He was wearing a thick windbreaker and it’s over ninety degrees and humid as hell. When the manager confronted him, he snapped—per a witness. Another witness said he acted like he was quote, ‘off his meds.’”
Unfortunately, Lucy knew that mental illness was one of the leading causes of spontaneous hostage situations. But generally, if the individual was mentally ill, they took people they knew hostage—family or friends—in a residence. This situation was distinctly different.
Young continued. “He fired two shots. Per witnesses, they both went into the ceiling. No one saw anyone injured inside. There are conflicting statements as to how many guns he has and what kind, though I’m going with one of the witnesses who stated he’s a gun owner and identified a nine-millimeter in the shooter’s hand, standard-capacity magazine, and a second handgun in his waistband, also a semi-auto—either a nine-mil or a forty-five.”
“Number of hostages?”
“Best guess is fourteen. Do you have thermal imaging in your truck? Fire can set up as well, but they’re still en route.”
“We got it,” Proctor said. “My tech just needs a minute.”
“Good. We need to know where he is, get some sense as to what’s going on in there.”
“Is this personal?” Proctor asked. “Target an employee? Customer?”
“Don’t know. We asked the witnesses for the basics, everyone said that he was alone and didn’t appear to know anyone. They are all sequestered down the street, my people are working to get more information. He hasn’t called out or made demands, but this whole thing started less than an hour ago. I need you to make contact, develop a rapport as we gather additional information. We need to de-escalate this as fast as possible.”
Proctor listened to his com then said, “Roger, hold positions.” He said to Young, “My team is in place, Ramirez has one hundred percent visual of the rear door.”
“Excellent.” Young handed him the bullhorn. “Work your magic, Leo. Godspeed.”
Proctor took a breath, visibly relaxed, then turned on the bullhorn.
“This is Leo Proctor of the FBI. I will be calling into the coffee shop. I’d like you to answer, just to talk. Just see how you’re doing, how the other people are doing.”
He then nodded to Young’s assistant, a uniform by the name of Jones, who handed him a phone already set to dial into the Java Antonio main number and record the conversation.
They let the phone ring more than thirty times. There was no answer and Proctor ended the call.
“Lieutenant,” Jones said after listening to his radio, “we have an ID. Charles James McMahon, forty-six, address in Helotes per DMV. Two deputies are on their way now.”
“Married? Kids? Employer?” “Unknown, we’re working on it.”
“Work faster. Something triggered him, we need to know what so no one gets hurt.”
“Yes, sir,” Jones said, already on his phone.
Proctor got on the bullhorn again. “Mr. McMahon— Charles—this is Leo Proctor. I really need you to pick up the phone. I know you don’t want to hurt anyone. We need to talk. You and me. We can work this out, but I’m sure you don’t like shouting through a bullhorn any more than I do.”
He dialed again, waited. No answer. He hung up. He didn’t show any frustration, any rush. “As long as he’s calm, we can get out of this,” he said almost to himself. “Lucy, get Yancey out here. We need eyes in.”
Lucy briskly walked to the tactical van. Tim Yancey was a technology analyst in their office and in charge of the equipment during tactical operations. He was a bit high-strung, skinny, and sharp on his feet.
“I know, I know,” Tim said before Lucy could speak. “It’s almost calibrated. Okay, okay,” he said to himself and followed Lucy over to the staging area which had a direct line of sight to the coffee shop.
“I need to expand the range,” he said as he walked up and put the thermal imaging camera on a table next to the SAPD tactical van. “Okay, okay,” he mumbled again and pressed a few buttons to expand the field.
A blob of orange quickly took on distinct human shapes. Most were on the floor. Young immediately pointed to one on the left that was moving and had another shape close to him. “That’s our guy. He’s holding a hostage. I count . . . fifteen plus the gunman?”
“I concur,” Proctor said.
Young asked Tim, “Why are these three shapes faded?”
“They’re in another room,” Tim said. “Probably the storage room, a bathroom—I don’t have the exact lay- out.”
Young motioned at one of his men. “Where are the blueprints I asked for?”
“I needed them five minutes ago.” “He didn’t plan this,” Lucy said.
Everyone looked at her. She didn’t realize she’d spoken out loud.
“If he did,” she continued, “he would have made sure that everyone was in the main room. Those three had time to hide in the back and he didn’t notice? Others es- caped? A dozen people ran out before he locked the place down. I think he would notice if he had a room full of customers and no employees.”
“Point taken,” Young said. “Don’t know if that makes him more or less dangerous. Get him talking, Leo, I’m going to push my people to get us more intel.”
Leo used the bullhorn. “Charles, this is Leo Proctor again. I’m calling you now. Please pick up the phone.”
He hit redial.
Lucy adjusted her earpiece and heard the ringing phone. She watched Tim’s thermal imaging system and saw the suspect cross the room—with a hostage in tow—and stand next to what she presumed was the phone on the wall behind the counter.
“Answer it, buddy,” Leo mumbled. “Pick it up, you want to.”
The man put a hand on his head—more like he was banging the side of his head with his gun hand, as if flustered or frustrated. He walked away a couple of feet. Leo hung up. He counted to ten. Then he hit redial.
McMahon went back to the phone. He answered.