Foster held his position behind the tree, his eyes locked on the big bay window where moments before, a frumpy, middle-aged man in wire-rimmed glasses had appeared and made his demands. Those demands boiled down to Foster and his fellow police officers leaving the property, but since the man making the demands had recently threatened to kill his ex-wife, that wasn’t one of the choices available. The man’s options narrowed even further when a gunshot rang through the otherwise peaceful suburban neighborhood.
The sound froze Foster in place. He’d seen combat during his time in the military, and he’d seen men die before from a panicked response. The officers and sergeants on the perimeter of the crime scene apparently had different experiences, because the gunshot set them off like a bowling ball dropped on a hornet’s nest.
“Was that us?”
“Hold what you have.”
“Does anyone have eyes on the suspect?
“Cover! Everybody get behind something.”
The questions and commands flooded the radio, none of it useful. Foster turned his radio down out of habit; he didn’t have an earpiece, and if the frumpy man was snapping off rounds, he didn’t want to give away his position. That was why, a few minutes later, he didn’t hear the command to pull back.
“What the hell are you still doing here?” the SWAT sergeant hissed at Foster when he found him still holding is position on the window. “I gave the order for everyone to hand over their positions to SWAT.”
The name on front of the man’s high-speed plate carrier read “Parker.” Foster started to explain, but the glare coming from below the lip of Sgt. Parker’s ballistic helmet told him it would be wasted breath. Run-of-the-mill patrol officers were well down the pecking order from SWAT sergeants. On top of that, Foster was a rookie. He’d only been a cop for a little more than a year, and that meant that he had exactly zero pull with this man.
A second SWAT operator joined them behind the tree. Even as he moved quickly and smoothly behind cover, the man kept his rifle trained on the bay window.
“Sarge,” the new man whispered once he was in position. “This is Foster. He’s solid. He’s a combat medic.”
Sgt. Parker reappraised Foster. “That true, son? You got a med kit with you?”
Foster lifted the black nylon bag that contained his extra tourniquet and QuikClot bandages.
The sergeant nodded approvingly.
“Okay, Foster. We’re short. Right now it’s just me and Kell. You can stay until we get the rest of the team on scene. But you stay in my hip pocket, understand? Don’t go cowboy on us.”
Foster nodded, and that was good enough for the sergeant. The officer who’d spoken up for him, Kell, gave him a thumbs-up.
“Intel says there may be a hostage. Maybe a roommate,” Kell said. “We need to get him negotiating and find out what that gunshot was about.”
Sgt. Parker grunted. “He’s not answering his phone. I’m going to try and call him out. Keep that window covered. You,” he looked down at the patrol officer, “Foster, is it? Foster, what’s the guy inside’s name?”
“Rick Morrison,” Foster answered, thankful that he’d remembered it from the call comments. No new officer wanted to look incompetent in front of the SWAT team. Reputations like that stick around for years, and in the police world, reputation is everything. The last thing Foster wanted to do was give the sergeant cause to doubt his decision to let him stay.
“Mr. Morrison,” Sgt. Parker called out. He had a full, booming voice that didn’t require a megaphone to carry. “Rick… come to the window and talk to us. Let me know what it is that you want so we can start figuring things out.”
For a minute nothing happened. Sgt. Parker repeated his invitation twice with no response. He’d just started his third attempt when a figure appeared in the window.
“Go away,” the frumpy man said. The glasses were gone. In their place, tears streamed down the bridge of his nose. One hand trembled as it pulled his green and silver tie loose; the other hand, the much steadier of the two, held a chrome-plated 1911 pistol.
“If that gun points anywhere else besides the ground,” Sgt. Parker whispered from the side of his mouth, “drop him.” Foster reset his grip on his own handgun and settled the sights over Rick Morrison’s chest.
“Rick,” the SWAT sergeant said in a calm, clear voice, “we are here to help you. Let me help you.”
It did not go over well. A sob tore from the frumpy man’s throat. “I don’t want your help!” he cried. “Don’t you understand? I have to do this.”
The words sent a chill up the back of Foster’s neck, and he realized that this situation was not going to end well for anyone. The man was clearly experiencing a mental breakdown, a crisis, and people in crisis with firearms rarely made good decisions. Something about the words tripped another switch in Foster’s brain. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what his subconscious was trying to tell him. It was an itch at the base of his skull, but he ignored it in favor more pressing demands on his attention.
Rick Morrison clenched a shaking fist around the bundle that was now his tie.
“I was chosen!” he declared.
Beside Foster, Kell whispered, “Oh, shit. That’s not good.”
“You don’t have to do this, Rick,” Sgt. Parker said even more calmly than before. This was obviously not the sergeant’s first time doing this, but his exaggerated calm was its own sort of tell; he knew this going poorly, too.
“This is my moment!” Rick Morrison screamed. “My family is counting on me. My father… he was everything to me. Now he’s just a shell, a drunk.”
“That sounds like a lot of pressure Rick,” Sgt. Parker assured the man in the window. Out of the side of his mouth, he whispered, “Do we know anything about the father?”
Foster shook his head. Kell shrugged.
The SWAT sergeant made placating gestures with his hands. “Rick, maybe we can get your father some help. There are programs--”
“Programs?” the frumpy man cut him off. “I’m the only one who can help him. If I do this, all will be forgiven. The Dark Lord will welcome us back. It will be like it was before.”
Sgt. Parker moved deeper behind cover and said in a voice so low only Foster could hear him, “Dark Lord? Is this guy satanic? This is turning into a shit-show.”
“No,” Foster said, and sighed. The sigh wasn’t from frustration on impatience. It was a sigh of resignation. The former soldier knew what the frumpy man was talking about now.
Foster knew what he had to do. And he knew he would never live this moment down, not for the rest of his career. Still, there was a life at stake. If he stayed quiet and they had to shoot this man, Foster wouldn’t be able to live with himself.
“What about your friends?” Foster asked as he stepped partially from behind the tree. “What about the people that look up to you?”
“What are you doing, rookie?” Sgt. Parker hissed. “Shut your pie-hole and let me handle this!”
Having resolved himself to a career spent writing parking tickets, Foster held up a hand and said, “I’ve got this one, sarge.” Then he holstered his pistol and called out to Rick Morrison.
“Have you thought about your friends?”
The frumpy man squinted at Foster. His missing glasses hadn’t just been a fashion statement. “I don’t have any friends!” he shouted vaguely in the direction of the officers.
Foster waved away the declaration. “Sure you do,” he said. “What about Crabbe and Goyle?”
It was a gamble, but if he was wrong, it wouldn’t cost Foster anything but some embarrassment. Luckily, Rick Morrison answered the question at face value.
“They don’t really like me,” the frumpy man said sheepishly.
“No, they look up to you. You’re their hero, their leader. They need you. And what about Pansy? Everyone knows she worships you.”
“They wouldn’t, not if they knew the things that I’ve done. Not if they knew how scared I am all the time.”
“You’ve had a tough life. Anyone who’s been through all that you’ve been through… a man would have to be stupid to go through all that and not be scared sometimes. And you’re not stupid. I can tell.
“Oh, yeah? How can you tell?”
“They don’t put stupid people in your house, do they? Only the cunning ones.”
Even from across the yard, Foster could see the gears turning in the man’s mind. For the first time since this all started, someone understood the way he was viewing the world and had given him something to consider. Foster chose to concentrate on that and not the confused murmurs and hissed questions coming from the nearby SWAT guys.
“Set the gun down,” he said. “You don’t need it. You can walk out of that house right now and go to the hospital wing with me. You have the power to do that.”
Rick Morrison mopped the sweat from his forehead with his tie.
“It’s my choice?” he asked.
“It’s always been your choice.”
“And we can just go see Madam Pomfrey? No dementors?” Something pitiful came through in the man’s voice, something small, like the echo of a scared child.
“No dementors, I promise.”
The frumpy man’s hand moved and Foster thought in that moment that he’d failed, that they were going to have to kill this man. But no more gunshots rang out. Rick Morrison was just lifting the gun to set it on the table behind him. Thirty seconds later, the man walked out the front door, his hands above his head, his green and silver tie hanging around his neck. Sgt. Parker barked a series of commands to the man, and Kell kept his rifle leveled at him the entire time. Foster hung back, aware that he’d already badly overstepped his bounds. And that he’d just outed himself as a giant nerd. Cops, particularly black male cops who were former military, weren’t supposed to be able to quote lines from Harry Potter. That little bit of specialized knowledge, however, had ended up saving at least one life.
“Maybe it won’t be that bad,” Foster said to himself. The only people who knew what he’s said had been Kell and Sgt. Parker. If they hadn’t paid too much attention to what was coming out of Foster’s mouth, he might still get through the day with his reputation as a hard-as-nails, competent-as-hell street cop intact.
“Hey, you,” Sgt. Parker called over his shoulder, “Dumbledore. Come up here and put some handcuffs on this guy. You promised to take him to the infirmary.”