This might seem like a predictable story. A killer goes on a rampage. They get caught, or they die. They get away, or they attack. They do it for a reason, but really is there ever a reason to take another’s life?
It follows along some of the lines you would think. But when I say it involves much more, you won’t believe it until you’ve read it. It’s a soundtrack of pain, betrayal and hurt. So, sit back and get ready for a wild ride.
She finished her hair just before 7:45 a.m. and spotted the time in the reflection of her vanity. With just 15 minutes to get dressed before she needed to leave for her interview with Capt. Ray Johnson, she busied herself with final touches. The captain wanted her there at nine o’clock on the dot. He wasn’t known for being a patient man. He called her three days earlier to let her know that the West Bureau was going to be the “guinea pig” for a project the Chief of Police, Demtriana Cortez, decided to try. Chief Cortez was calling it a “community event series.” The test run would start in the West Bureau with six events before branching out to the rest of the county if it was successful.
As soon as she knew about the plan for the series, she set up an interview with the chief as well. Janelle Carrier had built a relationship with almost every important person involved in law enforcement throughout Southern California, and parts of Central and Northern California, over the past seven years or so.
The captain told her he would have only 30 minutes to spare, so she was not going to waste even a second. Capt. Johnson worked out of the West L.A. division, which was only 10 minutes from Janelle’s house. With traffic on Sunset Blvd. as unpredictable as always, she planned to leave earlier than necessary. Plus, she liked to arrive early. It allowed for last minute prep if she had any.
After quickly pulling on her red pumps which matched her long sleeve blouse, she checked her curly, indigo hair making sure it was still laid how she had finished styling it moments earlier — the sides and back shaved low, the top and crown in long, tight coils flipped to the right, stopping just below her jawline. She put on a pair of sterling silver hoops and made sure her other earrings were in place — three in each lobe and two in the cartilage on the right. A small heart tattoo connected around another piercing on her left ear. Makeup wasn’t her style. With her earrings and tattoos there was more than enough for her ‘on edge’ appearance.
Her mocha skin was dotted with images and scribbles and she wasn’t known to be abashed for her figure, where her tattoos were or what she wore. She was full figured — thighs larger than most, breast not so much, arms with a little bit of flab and a stomach just on the other side of chubby. She was intrepid in style and if you didn’t like it, she didn’t care. Her 5’7” height and now valiant heart helped her get over years of being teased in grade school for being the “girl with a little too much meat on her bones.”
She was pleased with her look and after adjusting her black chiffon blazer which complimented the high-low skirt, she grabbed her miniature backpack, phone and keys, and headed out the front door.
While waiting in the lobby of the police department, she pulled out her reporters’ notepad and two pens. Then tucked her keys into her backpack and stuck her phone into her blazer pocket. There was twenty minutes before her interview. As always, she thought of a few additional questions to ask, but before she could write any of them, the captain came barreling down the hall.
“Janelle, I’m gonna have to reschedule. Got a hostage situation down at Westcrest Banc. All hands on deck.” he said.
Janelle snatched her keys out of her backpack, slinked it over her shoulder and hopped up. “I’m coming.”
“No, they’ve already shot a guard. The press needs to stay back.”
“I’m sure the news stations are going to catch wind of this if they haven’t already. I’m coming.” She started toward the entrance ahead of the captain and he sighed heavily. “By the way, do you know the status of the guard who was shot?”
“Janelle.” He knew it was a slip of the tongue, but when she got her teeth into a story, she wanted every bit she could chew.
“Fine, I’ll wait.” She threw her hands up but kept backing out of the entrance ahead of him before spinning on her heel. After rushing over to her car as more officers poured out of the station, she called her editor as she was backing out of her parking spot.
“Steve, there’s a hostage situation at Westcrest in Century City. I’m on my way. I’ll update you as soon as I have more. I’ll get a brief over to you before 9:30.”
“How do these stories just fall in your lap?” Steve asked.
“I’m the crime whisperer. Thought you figured that out by now.”
“Just get me something before those other pricks break the story.”
“Don’t worry. Capt. Johnson already slipped and said something. Just going to confirm it when I get there before I use it.”
Less than 10 minutes later she arrived at a barrier pushing back bystanders and reporters at least half a block. She pulled out the camera she kept in the backseat for such occasions. Hopping out of her car, she started snapping a few photos which transmitted through her hotspot to her phone. Walking toward an ambulance loading the injured guard, she snapped a couple more shots. The guard’s shirt was unbuttoned and a bloody gauze, held in place by one of the EMT’s, covered a wound on his abdomen. His eyes were screwed shut and his lips stretched into a straight line. After noting the guard’s last name from above his shirt pocket, she looked for an officer she could get information from.
“Officer Hernandez.” She said, just loud enough to get his attention.
Robert Hernandez was a six-foot-tall rookie in his mid-twenties. He was on crowd control. He looked over when he heard his name and his eyes lit up. She was positive he had a thing for her, but she never played into it too much. She was dating someone, after all. Officer Hernandez walked toward her, but kept his eyes moving across the crowd.
“You know I can’t comment on the situation, Janelle.” Officer Hernandez said.
“Come on, Hernandez. Give me something to work with.”
“I don’t know anything to give you. Plus, the captain would have my head if I did.”
“Sounds like you know something to me.”
“Janelle.” Lt. Hazel Black said, walking over as Officer Hernandez hastily padded away.
Hazel Black: a hard nose buzzard, probably because it was hard enough to be a woman but if you threw in police work, you’d have to work even harder to move up the ranks. At least, that was how she made it seem. Lt. Black also liked to throw around that women of color had it bad enough, without the ones who sold out to the “man.” Whatever that meant, seeing as though she worked under a white male captain and was Latina. To top it off, she was only 5’3”, so she had a slight Napoleon complex. That seemed to be her truest issue. Janelle didn’t bend to Lt. Black’s whim and that was the major cause of the strain between them. Janelle also thought to herself sometimes, “wonder if she has a stool in her kitchen, laundry room and next to her bed.”
“Hey, lieutenant.” Janelle said.
Although they butted heads, Janelle did her best to keep a good rapport with everyone. In this case, she had to fake it.
“Don’t cajole my officers.” Lt. Black said as she stopped right in front of Janelle.
She rested her hand over her weapon and stared into Janelle’s eyes, which was a feat in itself since she was literally four inches shorter than her without the added three inches from Janelle’s pumps.
“I’m not cajoling anyone. I was just having a conversation with Officer Hernandez.” Janelle said.
“You know better.”
Janelle only smiled and waited for the inevitable condescending comments that were to follow those three little words. She knew Officer Hernandez wouldn’t talk, but she figured it would bring over someone who would. What Janelle hadn’t imagined was that it would be Lt. Black. Although, she should have known better. It was Lt. Black’s department that responded. She had just spoken with her captain not 15 minutes earlier. A moment of divine stupidity smacked her for that oversight.
“All of you journalists are the same. You can’t even take a hostage situation seriously. People are in danger; can’t you go do something useful? Like not be here?” Lt. Black said.
“Would you like to be quoted on that lieutenant?” Still smiling, Janelle raised her notepad and brought the pen to the paper before looking back to her.
Instead of responding, Lt. Black walked away, letting Janelle win the battle. She did hear her mumble something that sounded like “snarky bitch,” which only made her chuckle. Janelle started looking around again. She still needed to confirm the situation before writing the brief. She had no idea what was happening inside the bank and didn’t want to assume anything.
Television reporters had their mics to their mouths as they spoke into their cameras on tripods. They were getting their reels together. Newspaper reporters and bloggers were typing away on their phones. Some were snapping photos, but no one was talking to any of the officers on the scene and Janelle wanted something.
That was when she spotted Detective John Kelly. He was one of the first people she met when she started at the newspaper almost a decade ago. She was an intern then. He was about 20 years older than her, the telltale signs revealed by the grays he attempted to hide in the sides of his low-cut hair and mustache. Detective Kelly was a dark-skinned man with a guttural voice, who you would think was mean as the day is long. Janelle was one of the few journalists who had known him long enough to know he was as sweet as honey covered sugar cane. Since their working relationship was nearly a decade old, he knew her well enough to know she would always bombard him with questions he couldn’t or wouldn’t always answer. He called her “the greedy little journalist who never gave up,” but was always willing to help if he could.
“Janelle, don’t start.” Detective Kelly said.
“Come on John. I just want to ask you two questions.” She wiggled two fingers next to her pouty face.
“Fine. Doesn’t mean I’ll answer them, though.”
“Alright. I’ll just put ‘no comment,’ then.” She straightened her shoulders and started to write his name as she glanced up at him.
He narrowed his eyes and huffed out a breath. “I may not have an answer for you, Janelle.” he said.
“Okay detective. That’s better.” She smiled proudly and relaxed her shoulders before falling back into her friendly demeanor and focusing on him again. “So, this is a hostage situation. Any idea how many people are inside?”
“There are 15 employees, including four who work part-time in the afternoon. If everyone is inside, then 11 are on duty. We don't know how many customers there are since the bank just opened at 8:30 and the blinds are drawn. All I can say is there are probably around a dozen people inside, maybe more.”
After taking note she looked at him to gauge his responsiveness. She knew he would probably huff when she asked her next question.
“Is this a bank robbery or something else?” Just like she thought, he breathed out, intensely frustrated.
“It’s been 30 minutes, Janelle. We pretty much don’t know anything, yet. We don’t know if it’s more than one person. We don’t know the motive. We don’t know why the guard was shot. We are waiting on hostage negotiators and SWAT. We haven’t questioned the guard yet. We don’t have anything to tell you.”
“Alright, alright. I get it. Thanks, John.”
He nodded and walked away. She turned around and furiously typed away on her phone. She saw some of the other media were trying to get a comment from various officers. After proofing the short brief, she shot it off to her editor along with the photos. Social media is where she thrived. She made a few posts about the situation and directed everyone to the website for more information. She left the guard’s name out, planning to save it for her next line of questions. Even though she was like a bloodhound when it came to reporting, she never overstepped unless it was absolutely necessary.
One thing that was nagging at her was whether the guard was shot inside or outside of the bank. When she thought about that, other questions popped into her head like how the place was locked down so quickly, whether an alarm was tripped or if the gunshot was heard and someone called it in. She also wondered if the shooter was a man or a woman or if it was more than one person and if it was a vendetta or an actual robbery. She knew that men typically held up banks, but she would need to wait a little longer to find out these answers. She wrote down everything she planned to ask later if they weren’t answered in the next few hours. Hearing the ambulance take off, she glanced at its retreating frame and finished making notes for later.
Not ten minutes passed before her editor was on the phone. “Yeah, Steve?” She kept her eyes trained on everyone around her. It was something her boyfriend told her to do but was also part of her routine. Assessing the situation was one of her biggest pet peeves, especially when it came to situations with guns. She learned that at a young age. When she noticed a figure in a jacket with their hood pulled up, she tuned out Steve. The person’s appearance would be fine if it wasn’t the middle of July. It was already 90 degrees, which was abnormal for a California morning, but Los Angeles had been mimicking Death Valley’s behavior as of late. The figure’s hand disappeared into the pocket resting on the stomach of the hoodie and Janelle’s eyebrows crinkled trying to get a better look. Her view was obstructed by the crowd they were moving through. She decided to move closer as she continued to watch them carefully. Steve barking in her ear pulled her focus back to the call. She kept her eye on the hooded person but stopped momentarily. “What?”
“Are you listening? What the hell are you doing? I’ve been talking for two damn minutes.” he said.
She tuned him out again, looking skyward. It had started to sprinkle. Damn summer showers. She wasn’t prepared for rain at all. The way she was dressed would be sending her back to home before she went into the office if a downpour started. She blinked droplets from her eyes and when she returned them to the hooded person, something had been pulled from their pocket. The amount of people scattered in the crowd made it difficult to see what the person was holding. But when she finally got a good look, she saw something fairly small and box shaped.
It could be mistaken as a garage door opener, if she hadn’t been working the crime beat as long as she had. With a small backpedal, her eyes widened. Steve’s complaining was completely silent as her entire being focused solely on the hooded person.
“Everybody get away.” She screamed as loud as she could.
People turned to look at her. The faces that stared back at her reflected all the annoyance and frustration of a child who was interrupted while watching their favorite cartoon.
“Get away from the person in the hoodie. Now.” She continued yelling, never stopping her backpedal.
Confused faces looked around for a person in a hoodie. When they finally spotted them, they slowly started to back away. The police also tuned in. No one was sure exactly what was happening. The only real problem with yelling was it alerted the person, who had turned to look at her. That allowed her to see that it was a relatively tall man. An older man. She wasn’t sure exactly how old he was, but she knew he was probably around Detective Kelly’s age. She began backpedaling even quicker, careful not to fall because of the heels she was wearing.
“He’s got a bomb.” She yelled again.
That put the police on high alert. Their hands went from resting over their weapons to drawing them. They yelled commands at the hooded man. He ignored them. His focus was singular. It was on Janelle. He unzipped his jacket to reveal a vest covered in what appeared to be C-4. Maybe they were pipe bombs. She wasn’t sure, and she damn sure wasn’t going to stop to find out either. People went from slowly walking away to scrambling like a pack of wild animals. The officers no longer had a clear shot, but even if they did, it wouldn’t have stopped the man from advancing toward Janelle. “Shit.”
A break in the crowd gave multiple officers the shot they needed, but it was too late. The man had raised his hand and released the button on the device as four shots rang out. The blast spread out at least 250 feet in all directions from the man’s body. Those closest to him were sent flying. Officers were thrown back into walls and police cars. Media personnel and onlookers were knocked to the ground and sprayed with debris. Janelle was thrown back into the grass between the parking lot where she left her car and the sidewalk.
Her phone skid under her car. All that could be heard was the deafening ringing that followed the blast.