West Babylon, Long Island, New York. Monday 1st October 2012, 10:30pm.
Subdued yet determined feet hurried along the suburban sidewalk, their owners having moments earlier piled out of a large, dark SUV that had then cruised away to the bottom of the street. The five-man S.W.A.T team moved in single file, locked tight into each other’s backs and almost touching, their weapons tucked firm into their shoulders and pointed at the ground as they travelled down America Avenue. They quickly passed houses adorned with jack o’lanterns and other spooky decorations, their owners having been over-eager for Hallowe’en with the displays having been set out early in anticipation of the festivities. Across the street, and standing under a streetlamp, a man had spied the police team and, with a sharp tug on his dog’s lead, had stopped his four-legged friend from whatever bodily activity it was about to conduct, forcing the animal to follow him at high speed and away from the area but not really understanding why.
The team stopped and hunkered behind a hedge upon arriving at the target house. The leading team member whispered into his comms to report the fact. They then quickly moved up the winding path through the well-kept front garden and into their designated positions, stacking up on either side of the red front door of the pristine two-story house adorned with lattices and covered in vines. The leader then called “Ready” into his comms and awaited further instructions.
While Team One set themselves in position, Team Two – who had evacuated the van a minute earlier and further around the block – performed the same routine, stacking themselves around the rear door of the house. Then, with a glance around to check, their leader called “Ready” into his comms too.
On the opposite side of the street to the front of the house, black-suited sniper Gerry Taylor dropped into a prone position on the flat roof of a house that gave him an unobstructed view of the target building and the front team, or “element”, as it was known. Hastily, he unfurled the rifles bipod and pulled the butt of the weapon into his shoulder while sighting through its optical lens.
On the roof of a house a block away from him and overlooking the rear of the building, Gerry’s partner, Donny Carmichael, performed the same routine, settling himself into position quickly and locking his sights on the rear element and the back door.
Further away and down the street, in a large van parked directly behind the S.W.A.T. vehicle, Detective Sergeant Rosalynn ‘Rosie’ Hendricks stood with her gaze fixed on the monitors displaying the feed from each team member’s helmet-mounted camera. Removing her black leather jacket, she looked at her partner, Larry Jackson, then took a deep breath and turned toward S.W.A.T. Commander Lieutenant Frank Phillips, who stood between two seated personnel busy studying their respective monitoring equipment. After a thoughtful pause, she gave him an innocuous nod.
Frank returned the gesture, then spoke into his Bluetooth communication device. “Teams, report in.”
Sergeant Phil Barnes glanced at his entry team and received a nod each from the breach, assaulters, and rear-guard positions. “Front element in position,” he whispered into his comms.
At the back of the house, Sergeant Andy Kaminski did the same with his team. Satisfied with their nods, he said, “Rear element in position,” in the same hushed voice as Barnes.
Next it was the sniper units.
“High Ground One in position,” Gerry whispered.
“High Ground Two in position,” Donny added.
“Copy; all teams in position,” Sergeant Phillips said from the Command Vehicle. “High Ground One and Two, confirm element beacons.”
Both Gerry and Donny sighted down their thermal imaging scopes, clicking them on and aiming at the helmets of each element’s team members, to see small strobe lights pulsing at the back of each solid white figure.
Within the Command Vehicle, the team checked the display screens to confirm the pulsing beacons.
“Beacons up,” Gerry and Donny said, one after the other.
“Anything comes out of that building that ain’t our guys, we’ll know about it,” Gerry added.
“Copy. Stand by,” Phillips said. He turned to Rosie.
Gerry sniffed and blinked a couple times, then wiggled his nose. He clicked his comms unit onto the private channel used by the sniper team. “Jesus,” he said, with another sniff, “shouldn’t be suffering with allergies at this time of year.”
Donny laughed. “Probably allergic to gettin’ a round in – as always, ya stingy prick.”
Gerry snorted in response. “Hey, fuck you. I think you’ll find it’s deffo your shout this time.”
“You gotta be fuckin’ shittin’ me,” Donny replied with mock anger, “I paid last time, you freakin’ crook. It’s definitely your turn.”
“Ah, come on, brother. You owe me, remember. I took one for the team with that barmaid’s friend. Y’know, the really big chick. So you owe me, you owe me big time, Carmichael.”
Donny laughed. “Oh, that’s how it is, huh? Friendship acts determining the round score! Asshole.”
“Fuck you,” Gerry said, laughing, and his breath billowed into the cold night air. He sniffed again and looked back down his thermal sight.
Inside the Command Vehicle, after a brief conversation with the operators flanking him, Lieutenant Phillips looked at Rosie. “All teams in position, beacons up, and we’re ready to proceed.”
Rosie glanced at Larry and offered her a tight-lipped smile. She turned back to Phillips and nodded, signifying that the Commander now had control of the operation.
“Entry teams, camera for suspects,” Phillips said, turning back to the monitors.
Upon hearing the instruction, the first assault position of each element took out a fiber optic camera and accompanying hand-held monitor, and wormed the cable under their respective doors, gently pushing them into the rooms beyond; the front being the hallway, and the back, the kitchen. Each camera relayed information to their own monitor screen and to the ones in the van.
“No sign of threat, looks clear,” each operator said, then retracted their cables and stowed them back into their pouches on their webbing belts.
Sergeant Barnes glanced at his team. “Front element ready for breach.”
“Rear element ready for breach,” Sergeant Kaminski said immediately.
“Elements clear to proceed,” Lieutenant Phillips confirmed.
With that, both teams carried out their procedures almost in unison.
“Try the door,” Sergeant Barnes said to his breacher.
The lead team member reached to the door handle and turned it as quietly as he could. He looked back to Barnes and shook his head.
“Okay, bring up the ram.”
The rear-guard member then moved along the line with the battering ram, and the front assaulter moved out of the way slightly to allow him space. Pulling the ram back, he was about to thrust forward with force – an action his opposite number at the back of the house was also about to undertake – when Gerry’s voice in their comms brought them to an immediate halt.
“HOLD!” Gerry said, “Wait! What the fuck?”
“What? What is it, Taylor?” Rosie responded, her brow furrowed and her eyes searching the monitor screens.
Lieutenant Phillips eyed Rosie with a venomous glare, then quickly returned his gaze to the monitors in front of him. “Entry teams hold.” He turned off his comms unit so the teams could not hear him address Rosie. “Detective Sergeant Hendricks, I and I alone communicate with my teams when this phase of the operation is underway. Are we cl—”
Rosie held up a hand to him, an action that further incensed the man. “Talk to me, Taylor – what’s going on?” she said as she turned her attention back to the screens.
“I can see the guy, Hendricks.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What?”
“This shouldn’t be possible, but I can see the guy, I can see his thermal image in my scope through the fucking wall.”
Rosie checked her monitor; an action replicated by the other occupants of the vehicle. “The fuck you talking about, Taylor?” She turned toward Phillips, who checked the monitor and then frowned back at her.
“What the hell is he going on about?” Larry said, leaning over to investigate the screen in front of Rosie. “There’s no image here.”
Lieutenant Phillips shrugged at Larry, shaking his head.
Rosie glanced at the two men, then turned back to the monitors. “Taylor, we don’t see anything here—”
“Look, Hendricks,” Gerry said, cutting her short, “I am telling you I can see the guy’s thermal image through the wall, like he’s on fucking fire or something. Are you not getting this?”
Rosie’s frown deepened and she stared at Lieutenant Phillips again, who could only continue shaking his head, his mouth opening and closing soundlessly a couple of times.
“What’s going on, Command?” Sergeant Barnes asked. “We’re a loaded weapon here – we going or what? Over.”
“Wait one!” Lieutenant Phillips commanded.
Donny flicked over to the private channel again. “Talk to me, Ger. What’s goin’ on, good buddy?”
“Donny, I am telling you I can see the fucker, sat down in a chair in his fucking living room.”
“You’re freaking me out, Ger. IR don’t see through walls or windows.”
“Don’t you think I fucking know that, Donny? S’why I’m freaking out myself, but I’m telling you I can see him…”
Gerry’s sentence was cut short and he went silent for a second.
“Ger. Ger, you there? Talk to me, man!” Donny said.
Again, Gerry spied through his sight the thermal image of what seemed to be a large man, sitting in a chair directly facing him. He took a deep breath and quickly switched back to the general channel as the man stood up and took a few steps forward, appearing to leave another figure sitting in the chair where he had been.
“Whoa, wait, wait – I’ve got two targets now. What the fuck? I have two tangos. I repeat, another tango was sat on top of the fucker and has got up and is moving toward the east wall.”
Growing increasingly agitated, Rosie stared at the monitor again and then flicked her attention back to Larry, her mouth agape, eyes narrowed, brow furrowed. “What do you mean, Gerry? We got nothing here. Confirm, over?”
The frustration of Team One’s leader, Sergeant Barnes, peaked. “What’s happening, Command? You callin’ it or what, over?”
“High Ground Two, you seein’ this, over?” Gerry said. He followed the second figure toward the east wall while the first remained seated in the armchair.
“Nothing, I got nothing, High-Ground One. What are you seei—”
Donny’s voice was cut off. What followed was a scream so loud and horrifying, it made all team members flinch and paw at the communications devices in their ears.
Quickly, Rosie glanced at Donny’s monitor that had cut to static fuzz. “High Ground Two, we’ve lost your thermal. High Ground Two, respond, over?”
Lieutenant Philips stepped in with more vigor. “High Ground Two, report. High Ground Two, do you copy?”
“High Ground One, can you see him, over?” Phillips continued.
Gerry trained his weapon on the position where Donny should have been. “I got nothing, Command,” he said, his voice high-pitched and rattled. “Donny. DONNY! Talk to me, brother.”
Butterflies fluttered in Gerry’s stomach and a lump gripped his throat, causing him to swallow hard a couple of times. Although desperate to spy any sign of his partner, something forced him back into the moment, to his job. He swept his rifle back to the house, acutely aware of the need to keep his eye on the bizarre targets.
Then panic hit him. “I’ve lost one!” he shouted.
“What?” Rosie said, furiously checking the screens again, in the hope of seeing something – anything – that might explain what Gerry had been communicating. “What do you mean you’ve lost one? Gerry, we have nothing here in your monitor. NOTHING!”
For a few seconds Gerry struggled to speak; then he attempted to compose himself. “Err, the other guy by the east wall is gone, and the one who was sat down is now stood up and is just… standing there. What the fuck is going on here, Hendricks?”
From behind him, Gerry heard what sounded like feet landing on the ground. He turned around just in time to see a shadowy figure reach down to grab him.
Within the Command Vehicle, Gerry’s screams caused the team to flinch yet again, their attention drawn to his monitor as the image rose into the air and then the camera appeared to tumble for almost ten seconds, with an accompanying sound of rushing wind. Then the image flicked to static and Gerry’s comms went silent.
Wide-eyed and breathing heavily, Lieutenant Phillips turned toward Rosie and Larry. “What the fuck just happened?”
“Gerry? Gerry?” Rosie shouted into her comms. Her heart raced and her breathing became erratic. Her mind swam with fear, to a level that she had only felt on a few previous occasions, when a bust had gone bad or she knew something awful was about to happen. That fear had her in its icy grip. It ran all through her body. Her mouth was dry, and her eyes darted from monitor to monitor, then down to the floor and back; her ears strained in her desperation to pick up any sound of either Gerry or Donny.
“Donny! Donny, can you hear me? Gerry, talk to me. What’s happening, over?” she said, her voice quivering.
The voice of an angry Sergeant Barnes cut through the mayhem within the Command Vehicle. “Command. What the fuck is going on? We can hear movement in the house. It sounds like there are more than two targets. We need to move now. I repeat, we need to move now, over!”
Rosie’s mouth flapped open and closed. It was Larry’s stern voice, screaming at Lieutenant Phillips, that jolted her out of her trance. “SEND THEM IN! SEND THEM IN NOW!
Phillips reacted in much the same way as Rosie, startling himself out of inactivity that was alien to him, as he had never let a situation get beyond his control in all his years as a S.W.A.T. Commander. He screamed into his comms, “Entry teams move in. Assume entry point hostile, weapons free.” He immediately questioned himself within his own mind to whether he had just made the right call.
“No, wait,” Rosie said, her eyes wide.
Larry grabbed her arm. “They’re going in, Rosie. We need to take him now. This is getting out of control.”
The team member holding the ram drew it back once again and swung it at the front door, just as his opposite number in the rear element did the same. Each door took a couple of strong shunts before the hinges exploded and they opened, then those team members took steps back as the first assaulter positions threw in flashbang grenades that exploded with massive concussive force. Immediately, the other team members at the front of the house piled through the doorway and into the hall while the rear element followed suit at their position, each member shouting “Police’ and “Get down on the ground” to anyone that might have been present.
Within the Command Vehicle, the monitors displaying the team members’ helmet-mounted cameras went black. Everybody who had been watching got to their feet in shock as unfocused gunfire from multiple weapons came through their comms units, quickly followed by the terrifying screams of the S.W.A.T. members. Then some of the helmet-mounted camera images came back online, white-hot with flashes from the gunfire that appeared to be directed randomly.
Rosie drew her gun and raced past Phillips, who called out after her, but she paid no heed and instead threw the door open and ran into the street, pursued by Larry, who called to her continually as he gave chase. She bolted ahead, the screams of the men still battering her ears through her earpiece, though the gunfire had now ceased. Her breath puffed into the cold night air, and her mind raced feverishly with all the possibilities of what she might be running into, headlong and blind, as the shrill cries of the team members filled her head. Undeterred, she pushed those thoughts from her mind – she hadn’t time for them. The team members – her friends – were in terrible danger, and the only thing on her mind was to get to them. To save them. She had to save them.
She screamed as she reached the doorway and the bloody and mutilated body of a S.W.A.T. member launched through it toward her; she had to dart to one side to avoid being hit. She stopped dead in her tracks, eyes wide, eyebrows raised and mouth ajar as blood spattered into her face from the butchered torso as it hit the ground. She screamed again as someone grabbed her from behind and pushed her to the side of the door. She looked to the opposite side to see Larry with his back against the wall, breathing heavily, having caught up to her and adopted a holding position across from her.
“What the fuck. What the fuck,” He repeated, over and over, unable to take his eyes off the bloody mess at the end of the path leading up to the house. He leaned against the doorway, his gun pointing at the ground and his legs trembling. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths, desperate to compose himself, to remind himself of who he was and what he was doing there. After a few seconds, and with the screams within the house having subsided, he opened his eyes and glanced across to Rosie, who had followed his example and positioned herself in a professional manner for entry.
“Okay. Okay, look,” he said, his voice trembling. Desperate to hide any indication of his fear to Rosie, he closed his eyes briefly and took another deep breath, then exhaled through pursed lips. “Okay. Okay. Listen, we’re cops, yeah? If we are going in, we’re doing this right.”
She stared at him, her eyes wide and watering. She tried to speak, to say something but hadn’t the words. In the many years she had been on the force, no bust had come close to this event and the terror that now gripped her. Her legs shook, as did both hands gripped tightly around her weapon that was pointed at the ground. Even though her bravado had pushed her out of the Command Vehicle and had made her race up the street, what she felt as she leaned against the side of the house, waiting to go through the most terrifying, darkened doorway she had ever seen, was so powerful, so potent, that she thought she might relieve herself right there at any moment. And even though the threat had no physical appearance, she could sense it flooding out of the doorway like an evil and macabre mist, blanketing the stairs, flowing into the garden and the rest of the neighborhood.
Seeing her in obvious physical distress, Larry did his best to offer her a reassuring smile, but he struggled as his own terror was also rising fast. He took another deep breath. “It’ll be okay, Rosie, trust me. We go on three.” He closed his eyes once more, then started to count as he opened them. He had barely gotten past “One” when an unseen force yanked him inside the house and his terrified screams trailed off as he was drawn further inside.
With a scream of horror and defiance, Rosie pushed herself away from the wall and stood dead center in the doorway, panting, her eyes searching the blackness. She tried to move, to put one foot in front of the other, but could not. Tears streamed down her face. Then, the same invisible force dragged her inside and now her own screams echoed throughout the house.