It had happened without warning or preamble: One instant, everything was relatively calm and quiet; the next instant, the glass simply exploded inward, peppering the both of them, mostly Allen, with fine shards and pebble-sized particles that clung to them or fell in a shower upon the floor. Allen instantly fell backward, though whether it was from surprise, or the force of the shattering door, Jess couldn’t tell. “Guh—” he got out, then threw out an arm at Jess, powerfully knocking her in the direction of a display stand to her left. He continued to fall backward, hit the ground roughly, and writhed behind the first shelf from the door.
Jess was as surprised at Allen’s shove, as she was of the shattered door, and found herself tumbling to the floor. But before she could collect herself, she heard two things, in rapid succession: The sound of more breaking glass, this time from one of the front windows; and almost instantly afterward, the sound of a violent snap as something behind her was knocked off of a wall shelf. Her police training kicked in: Gunshots. She kicked backward and found cover behind the display stand.
Bates hadn’t been too far behind them when they’d reached the door; and after the rapid succession of gunshots, he stood there stupidly, staring at Allen and Jess, at the broken door glass, at the articulated cooling panel that had been knocked off the shelf, trying to understand what was going on. “Gun!” Jess shouted, mostly for Bates’ benefit. “Get out of sight! Get to the back!” Jess’ voice was authoritative enough to finally send him scurrying for cover in the back. Satisfied that Bates would be safe, she tried to return to Allen… but a sudden snap, an impact close to the floor, and a toppling of a display stand near her hiding place, forced her to retreat from exposure to the window.
“Sniper,” she said, loud enough to make sure Allen could hear. She looked at the blaser that she had instinctively unholstered, and silently cursed, knowing how useless a short-range stunning weapon was against long-distance gunfire. Hell, even her police sidearm would have been useless against sniper-fire. When she realized Allen hadn’t replied, she called out, “Are you okay, Allen?”
“Stay down!” she finally heard Allen reply.
“You too, Mister.” She craned her neck around the corner, but could only see the bottom of one of his shoes… the rest of him was well hidden behind the shelf, following his own advice. She finally holstered her blaser and slapped at her aide, triggering the beacon that would automatically be broadcast to all local emergency services as she spoke. “Shots fired at my location!” she reported. “Sniper fire from unknown location! Civilians at risk!” She tried again to see Allen around the corner, noting that at least his aide wasn’t sounding its medical emergency alarm, and finally added to her report, “One civilian possibly hit!”
Another bullet finished the job started by the second bullet, and shattered the right side window furthest from the door. Glass streamed downward onto the sill in a brittle cacophony, ricocheted about the front room and poured over the floor. Most of the signage that had been mounted in the top half of the window was still hanging there, but too high to offer any protection to Jess if she moved from her display stand. Likewise, Allen was pinned, and making no attempt to move from his spot. Jess suspected he’d been stunned by the shot, or his fall, and just hoped he wouldn’t blindly crawl out of his cover in confusion.
She started to ask Allen about his status, when a voice rang out from behind Jess. “Hey!”
She looked back, and saw Bates, about halfway back into the store, on his hands and knees near a shelf wall. There was something long and black by his left hand, and when she turned to him, he slid the object towards her. A sudden shot gouged a hole in the wall, sending him crawling backward and ducking behind a shelf.
Jess looked at what he’d slid at her. It was a rifle with a strange-looking scope mounted on it.
“Bless you,” she whispered as she hefted the gun and shifted her position to allow her to bring it to bear. It was a standard long-range projectile rifle, maybe a bit odd for store protection, but it was a manual action gun, which made it legal for personal ownership. She looked at the elaborate scope mounted on the body, not recognizing it, nor the series of buttons on the side, but noted that the magnification worked fine. Then she realized the rifle was a model that wouldn’t fire without its proximity—
Jess turned in time to see Bates toss the rifle’s activation bracelet after her. It hit the floor and rolled, arching away from Jess slightly, but still within reach. She snagged it as it passed, ignoring the shot that gouged the floor by her as she snapped her hand back, and slipped the bracelet quickly around her wrist. As soon as she did, she saw the green activation light on the stock.
Bates’ voice rang out again. “It’s on! Wait for another shot, and it’ll give you a bearing!”
“What?” Jess coughed incredulously, and quickly raised the gun—but not her head—to a firing position on the top of the display stand.
The sudden movement triggered another shot, which cut through the store and knocked more items off shelves. As soon as the shot rang out, Jess popped her head up and looked through the site. Sure enough, an arrow on the screen pointed left and up, and she followed the indicator, tilting the rifle backward and over. In the site, a red dot appeared, centered at a dark space in an apartment building four blocks away. An open window and a dark room, in which a sniper could sit and fire off shots invisibly. She actually couldn’t see anyone; but she decided to give the site, and Bates, the benefit of the doubt… and squeezed the trigger.
A second passed (the rifle was good, not sniper quality, but enough to get a bullet there eventually). Then through the site, she saw something move in the dark space… a shadow that may have been a person. Her bullet may have been close; at least it had been noticed. She fired again; and after another second, saw more movement, the same shadow as before. If it was a person, they were probably scurrying for cover, possibly leaving the apartment. The rifle had driven them off.
“Green button,” Bates cried from the back. “It’ll take a GPS reading!”
“Shit,” Jess muttered in appreciation, and found the green button. In the scope, a series of numbers flashed in the bottom left corner. Jess ducked back down and waited. Then she moved to a different position and sighted again. This time, she saw no sign of movement in the dark space.
Holding onto the gun, she finally ventured out from her cover. She took note that no shots rang out as she crawled over to her husband’s side; their assailant must have bolted. “He’s gone,” she announced as she reached Allen. “Are you hit?—”
She saw the huge stain of blood before she saw the ragged condition of Allen’s shirt, soaked with blood from the upper abdomen and streaming downward onto the floor. Allen lay unmoving, a hand that had probably been pressed against his stomach now laying limp across the floor, looking as if he’d dipped it from the elbow down into a barrel of blood.
“Allen!” Jess screamed, and raised her aide to her face. “Man shot! Medical emergency at this location! He’s unconscious! I need help!” She immediately tore open his shirt, and found so much blood she had trouble figuring out exactly where he’d been shot. Then a dark bubble of blood pushed up from a spot just under his left breast, and sent an incredible amount of blood coursing over his abdomen.
“Oh no no oh no—” Jess tried to push her hand down on the spot, noting that Allen didn’t react to the pressure she exerted over the wound. She glanced at his aide, which should have sounded an emergency warning when he’d been injured… but it showed signs of damage, possibly caused when Allen fell, and remained silent. She slapped at the beacon activation herself, hoping it would start transmitting on its own. “Allen, no—” So much blood…
Allen wasn’t moving. He’s already dead…
Somewhere in her periphery, she realized Bates had arrived by her side, and was saying something useless, but not trying to get any closer. Then came the sounds she did want to hear: Sirens approaching, screeching brakes, shouting from the parking lot.
She raised her head and screamed, “Help me!”